Assimilation by an alien race has been a staple of science fiction for decades. There is a primal fear in humanity of the “other,” the unknown intelligence that lurks somewhere out there, just waiting to get its claws into our minds when we aren’t looking. So what would happen if the Borg collective assimilated us? What if the Phalanx or the Protomolecule got into your head and invaded your most personal space, the one place where you can truly know that you’re human: your mind? This is the question that Strange Skies Over East Berlin asks with its unique blend of hard-boiled Cold War intrigue and cosmic horror. Coming strong off of its first issue, the series begins to delve into harder sci-fi with its second and in doing so questions the nature of humanity.
The main focus of Strange Skies #2 is truth and how it can be skewed, both as one lies to themselves and as they are lied to by the world. Set against the backdrop of the early days of the Cold War, lies are everything. The main point-of-view character is a counterintelligence operative tasked with discerning the truth from those who would obscure it by any means necessary. In this, there are obvious parallels to modern society, as it becomes increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction, or worse- propaganda. In such a disheartening world, it is comforting to know that one’s mind is safe, that there is respite in one’s own humanity. Strange Skies challenges that notion with the simple tactic of narration. The internal monologue as the issue progresses becomes more and more questioning, more deprecating. This would be expected with the characters in an existential crisis, but it slowly becomes apparent that this little voice doesn’t belong to them. This questioning and inability to rely on the truth illustrates the untold horror of the situation, the fact that the inalienable truths we know might not actually be true. This is sci-fi at its best, showing the slow descent into madness when confronted by the unknown.
One of the most interesting things about Strange Skies #2 is the shift in tone in the work of Estherren and Delpeche. What was once beautiful and celestial art is now horrifying, creepy, dread-inducing. Their range is incredible, somehow befitting both dialogue heavy political maneuvering and skin-crawling horror. The coloring from Delpeche is fantastic in particular, establishing a palette of natural tones, designed to be broken by the unnatural blues of the Silence. This is not to discount Estherren’s linework by any means, of course. Both artists do an incredible job setting the atmosphere for the series and make a fantastic team.
Strange Skies #2 offers a new perspective on an old sci-fi staple, and the series continues to impress with its excellent balance of reality with the supernatural. The questions asked in this issue are relevant to both real world problems and science fiction as a whole, dealing with truth and how we as humans perceive it. The issue impressively manages to not only tackle this perspective, but also to move the plot forward in a meaningful way, introducing the reader to their new nightmare, the Silence. Setting up plot threads that will propel the rest of the series forward, the issue promises hard sci-fi, and delivers in spades.