Alternative history stories captivate the human desire to explore the unknown. In many ways, the genre is a form of exhaustive ontological horror — it stipulates how helpless one’s life is against the causality of change. One difference in the timeline creates a cascade of differences, and so the world as we know it changes. Nuclear Family tells the story of the McCleans. Once a relatively ‘normal’, all-American 1950s family, they have been mysteriously transported to 1968. In this future, the US has been decimated by nuclear war, with the remaining population forced to live in super-bunkers. In issue #3, readers follow the McCleans, as they discover more about the dark dystopia they find themselves in.
The creative team behind Nuclear Family continues to set a cinematic tone for the series. Writer Stephanie Phillips combines dramatic dialogue with quick action scenes in a way that makes the exposition feel natural and integrated into the plot. This is compounded by Tony Shasteen’s interiors, which look like they could be screencaps from a Cold War cinemascope espionage movie. The colors complete the stylized look, as JD Mettler cleverly plays with the shadowy lighting to maintain a tense and ominous atmosphere. Indeed, Nuclear Family #3 stands out for how it uses a confined and stifled space to tell an exciting and visually interesting narrative.
The pacing of this issue, however, sometimes gets ahead of itself. The introduction of a particular character feels slightly rushed and convenient. This may well be explained further ahead in the series, but in the context of a contained installment, it is jarring. Moreover, the art occasionally falls short in close-up shots. A few faces here and there appear twisted and detract from otherwise impressive interiors.
It remains too early to fully analyze and review the politics of the series. Issue #3 goes further to explain the history behind Nuclear Family’s alternative 1950s, and it certainly begins to explore the more sinister side of this US proto-government. However, the narrative is yet to explore the discursivity behind the Cold War, beyond propaganda. The ending of the issue, however, suggests that there is more to come on this front.
Nuclear Family #3 offers readers some cinematic, fast-paced Cold War drama. Despite a few stumbles shared between the art and plot, this series continues to show promise.
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