In the world of comics, strong female leads who wear clothes are often pretty alien. Arcadia Alvarado, the star of Saucer Country, is pretty alien, but for entirely different reasons.
Ms. Alvarado is the governor of New Mexico, about to announce her presidential candidacy, and she realizes she had been abducted by aliens recently. In #1’s final lines, Arcadia explains to her advisors, “I was abducted by aliens. We’re being invaded.” That’s the basic story that the first issue sets up, plus a Harvard academic who just lost his job for publishing what the institution sees as a crackpot book about UFOs.
So far, I’m on board. Paul Cornell openly plays with the definition of “alien,” often choosing the word instead of another, like “immigrant.” Arcadia’s parents were themselves aliens who came to the US. I like the parallels, but I do hope they don’t become heavy-handed in future issues.
Beyond the alien connections Cornell obviously wants the reader to make, it’s clear that Arcadia is alien in all kinds of ways, particularly for a presidential candidate. She’s female, Latina, and divorced. That sounds just like the candidates in this year’s GOP race, right? If Cornell wanted to write a series that only parallels space alien invasions and the perceived “invasion” of immigrants, he could have easily written a male protagonist, or at least a female protagonist without an ex-husband. Instead, Cornell chose to write about a character with multiple layers of alienness. Arcadia’s advisor says to her, “America is ready for a female, divorced, Hispanic president, if it’s you.” Obviously Cornell is aware of the Otherness of his protagonist. I hope that he continues to work this other alien subtext into the story, if only because it provides a skillful complement to the pre-existing space/immigrant parallel (and probably subtle enough that it wouldn’t… alienate? readers who don’t want to dwell on possible political statements about the alienness of women in politics).
A female politician (a rarely well-portrayed person) in a comic book (a genre well-chided for unfair portrayals of women) could go horribly wrong. It could mix the worst parts of how women in politics are portrayed (backstabbing, unfeminine, power-hungry, etc.) with the worst ways artists draw women. But, judging by the first issue, Saucer Country will not be like this. Ryan Kelly’s artwork is wonderful. Even when Arcadia is in the shower or her nightgown, there is nothing sexual in the way she’s drawn. The series doesn’t even seem like it will grapple with the age-old questions asked in order to discredit women in politics: How can she reconcile her womanness with politics? How will she deal with the loss of femininity inherent in being a politician? It seems like Saucer Country will avoid those questions, focusing instead on the more interesting/valid questions of what it means to be alien. The only times, with one exception, anyone explicitly mentions her sex is to use it as yet another reason why she is alien. The exception happens when the (female) advisor Arcadia’s campaign hires in order to help win Republican voters suggests that she use an invented subtext of being beaten by her now ex-husband. This suggestion is knowingly sinister, the advisor herself calling it “useful sexism.” Arcadia is appalled by it. The writing makes it very clear that the reader, too, is supposed to feel shock at reading about such a plan.
So, to sum up my feelings on Saucer Country, I haven’t been this excited about a new female character in comics since Alejandra was being groomed to destroy all sin.