'Resident Alien' is a good TV show, but it's a better comic book

 

The first three Harry Vanderspeigle stories are collected in the Resident Alien Omnibus Volume 1. (Cover art by Steve Parkhouse, copyright Dark Horse)

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

Feb. 4, 2021 — Now that you’ve watched Harry Vanderspeigle on Syfy’s Resident Alien, you should read about him in Dark Horse Comics. I think you’ll like the comics version better.

Not because the TV show isn’t good — from what we’ve seen so far, it is. But that’s mainly because of the comic timing of Alan Tudyk, who plays Vanderspeigle.

Tudyk is a familiar face (and voice) to fans of genre shows. He played Vandemeer “Van” Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s hapless cousin, in the underrated Powerless. He portrayed Mr. Nobody, the big bad in the first season of Doom Patrol. He was the voice of K-2SO in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. And so on. Like Chicken Man, he’s everywhere, he’s everywhere.

And he is brilliant as Vanderspeigle, an alien pretending to be one of us, whose only guide to human behavior is television (primarily Law and Order, it seems). And the Internet, of course, which must be where he learned how to do the autopsy he performs in the first episode. Tudyk’s practiced fish-out-of-water act is cranked up to 11 on “Resident Alien,” and it’s brilliant.

From left, Corey Reynolds stars as Sheriff Mike “Big Black” Thompson, Sara Tomko is Asta Twelvetrees and Alan Tudyk is Harry Vanderspeigle. (James Dittinger/SYFY)

But the character him-/itself is not so likable. In the first episode, the alien brutally murders the real Dr. Vanderspeigle in order to impersonate him. He cuts a corpse’s head open to satisfy his urge to squish its brain. (Funny, yes, but still a sick impulse.) He attempts to murder a child who has seen through his disguise. And his mission, revealed at the end of the first episode, is to trigger an extinction event and wipe out humanity.

He is, despite our natural sympathy and Tudyk’s bravura performance, not a very nice man. Person. Alien. Entity. Whatever.

This is in contradistinction to the comic book version, created by writer Peter Hogan and artist Steve Parkhouse. That Vanderspeigle is entirely more sympathetic, because he’s genuinely gentle and harmless.

In the comics, the alien crash-lands on Earth not because he’s come to kill us all, but because he’s here to pick up a malfunctioning probe, whose technology the unnamed alien race doesn’t want in the hands of a “level-three civilization.”

“They appear to be an intensely warlike species,” says the alien’s boss, viewing images from the probe. “Even their imaginative works are laced with violence.”

“As is typical of level three,” responds our hero. “So they will either evolve or perish. I assume our course is one of periodic monitoring?”

Sadly for the Harry-to-be, no. The probe’s self-destruct mechanism is damaged, and he must go to Earth and manually destroy it before we uncivilized apes get our grubby mitts on it. Which is where things go awry, and he crash-lands. Now he must hide among us humans until rescue comes — if it does.

But he doesn’t kill Harry Vanderspeigle. There’s no explanation for the name in the comics so far, but it’s one the alien adopts when he rents a remote cottage on a lake in Patience, Washington. (In both TV and comics, the alien is wise enough to limit his contact with humans — until circumstances force him to become Patience’s town doctor.)

Now, a standing joke I have in these columns is that any time TV adapts a comic book series, there’s a 50/50 chance it’s going to be transformed into a police procedural. Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim, TV gotta do homicide investigations.

But Resident Alien is unlike shows like Lucifer or Riverdale, which began in the comics as some other genre, only to become crime shows on TV. Alien was a police procedural from the get-go, with a lead character solving a homicide in his first comic book story. “As I sat down and started writing the very first script, I was immediately struck by something,” writes Hogan in the foreword to the first Resident Alien omnibus. “'This feels like a TV show,’ I thought.” Well, duh, I thought.

As the town doctor — and therefore the de facto forensics expert — Vanderspeigle is an integral part of the law enforcement structure in Patience, such as it is. Outside of his nurse, Asta Twelvetrees, his best friends are the mayor and the police chief. Each of the five completed “Resident Alien” miniseries has a mystery at its core, which due to various extenuating circumstances, Harry must solve.

The alien Harry on TV is much scarier than the comic book version. (James Dittinger/SYFY)

Well, Harry and friends. And herein lies another difference between comics and TV: the rest of the cast. By and large, both media have introduced the same supporting characters, but on TV they are really characters. In the comics, not so much.

On TV, the sheriff is a tall, young Black man who insists on being called “Big Black.” In the comics, he’s more of the cliché version of a rural sheriff: white, middle-aged, slightly overweight, gruff but good-hearted. The mayor is similar, albeit even older and more overweight, whereas on TV he’s a brash young man.

Weirdly, Asta goes the opposite route, becoming older on TV than in the comics. Sara Tomko, the actress who portrays Asta, is thought to be in her mid-30s, whereas Asta in the comics is depicted as early twenties.

But here’s another difference: In the comics, Asta is one of the few (“one in a million”) who can see through Harry’s disguise. (The disguise in comics is actually a sort of hypnosis, as Harry seems to have some mild telekinetic and telepathic abilities. On TV, the much more alien-looking alien physically shapeshifts into Vanderspeigle.)

Asta doesn’t actually “see” the alien. Harry’s face is always a blur to Asta, and this is attributed to her being the daughter of a Native American shaman, who occasionally takes her on dream walks, where she does see Harry as he actually is. These two — Asta and her father — become Harry’s in-the-know allies, and Asta is on the verge of becoming something more.

Like on TV, there is also a child in the comics who is among the “one in a million” who sees Harry’s real face, but Harry doesn’t try to kill him. The kid is obviously a problem, but there isn’t a mean bone in the alien’s body and his instinct is to run away.

Other differences: In the comics, Harry landed three years ago, while on TV it’s only been four months. In the comics, the Men in Black — no specific agency has been named, but it’s obvious they work for a government bureaucracy — are on Harry’s trail, whereas on TV they haven’t been mentioned (yet). In the comics, Harry doesn’t drink alcohol (“It … doesn’t agree with me”), whereas the first episode of TV’s Resident Alien has an extended comedy sequence involving Harry’s first experience with whiskey.

Also, in the comics Harry left a sweetheart behind on whatever planet he’s from, and we see their bittersweet parting — it’s likely to be permanent — in various flashbacks. This may become part of the show later on, or may not. But in the comics, it certainly makes Harry easier to identify with, and feel sympathy for.

By and large, these variances are to be expected when one adapts a property from one medium to another. And Resident Alien’s creator doesn’t mind a bit.

“Harry’s character develops more gradually on the show — he starts much more morally ambiguous and learns more about empathy as the story plays out,” Hogan writes in the omnibus foreword. “Whilst the comic is gently humorous, the opportunity for physical comedy (harder to pull off in a comic) is also more fully explored in the ‘small screen’ version. … I think the comics and the TV show both play to the strengths of their different mediums.”

But changes, while necessary, are not always for the better. Harry murders a man on TV, and tries to murder a child, which, for me, deserves a stronger condemnation than “morally ambiguous.” No matter what empathy Harry develops down the road, I may find him irredeemable.  

But I’ll give the show time to convince me. In the meantime, there are all the wonderful comics, which I can recommend without hesitation, as they don’t require one to ignore cold-blooded murder. The first three miniseries — Welcome to Earth!, Suicide Blonde and The Sam Hain Mystery — are collected in the aforementioned omnibus, as well as in individual trade paperbacks. The next two — The Man With No Name and An Alien in New York — are also available in TPB, while the sixth — Your Ride’s Here — is still in progress, but will inevitably be collected when the last issue ships. 

The print Harry may not be as funny as Alan Tudyk, but he’s a genuinely sweet guy who doesn’t want to eat, probe or murder anyone. If you’re going to have an alien doctor, that’s the kind to have.

Find Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), on his website (captaincomics.ning.com), on Facebook (Andrew Alan Smith) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).  

Views: 558

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

I love the comic book... and so far, I've been enjoying the series, too. My qualms are the same as yours, but I'm also not quite as sold on Tudyk's performance. Or rather, I think he's doing a great, funny job, but I'm largely not yet sold on why anyone else in the town would put up with him -- when he's unpleasant, he's REALLY unpleasant, not simply awkward.

But I liked the second episode more than the first, and I expect I'll like the third even more, as the town and Harry reveal themselves a little more each week.

I didn't even know it started as a comic book! I'm enjoying the TV show, but will certainly plan to check out the source material.

I agree with your assessment Rob. I have exactly the same reaction to Vanderspiegle's worst moments. It's baffling that Asta, who sees the most of his aberrant behavior, likes him the most. I think that in this case especially, familiarity would breed contempt.

He's treated every other character on the show in a manner that could only breed intense dislike. If you look at his behavior from their point of view, without knowledge that he's an alien coping as best he can, they would see ... well, in the case of the bartender who is inextricable attracted to him, he behaves from her POV like a serial killer.

I'll give credit to the sheriff, who finds Vanderspiegle's behavior "weird" and had no qualms about searching Vanderspiegle's cabin -- essentially suspecting him of murder. But he never follows up on his suspicions, because then, of course, there'd be no show.

That's in contradistinction to the comics, as I say above, where he's a virtual angel of kindness.

I've seen a gazillion promos for Resident Alien (while I was clearing the episodes of The Twilight Zone I recorded on New Year's off the DVR), and they nearly pummeled me into watching it ... 

... until I read that the alien murdered the guy he's impersonating. No sale. After all, the Martian Manhunter didn't murder Professor Erdel, amirite?

 

That was one of the most off-putting things about the premiere for me. I encourage you to read the comics; they're fantastic.

Wait — what happened to the original Det. John Jones?

ClarkKent_DC said:

I've seen a gazillion promos for Resident Alien (while I was clearing the episodes of The Twilight Zone I recorded on New Year's off the DVR), and they nearly pummeled me into watching it ... 

... until I read that the alien murdered the guy he's impersonating. No sale. After all, the Martian Manhunter didn't murder Professor Erdel, amirite?

 

I suspect your tongue is firmly in cheek, Cap.

What luck that J'onn J'onzz found an established detective whose name sounds just like his Martian name who was willing to give up everything for a guy from Mars. That's like Princess Diana finding a woman named Diana Prince who was willing to desert the Army and give up everything for a woman she just met.

Almost as unbelievable is that the police department hired a guy off the street named John Jones to be a detective. 

J'onn J'onzz had all sorts of Martian mental powers, with a new one turning up most months.  It can't have been all that difficult for him to deploy a new power to persuade the police department that he had all the requisite paperwork to work for them.  After that, everyone in the PD probably remembered him having worked with them for years.

Both Tracy and I LOVE Resident Alien (the TV show). I find the "murder" aspect refreshing, definitely not to be taken seriously, because the wholle series is so over-the-top. As far as the comic book is concerned, I am only tangentially familiar with it. It was one of the series featured in the revival of the Dark Horse Presents anthology a couple of years ago, which I bought initially for Baron & Rude's Nexus but eventually dropped when I realized I was paying $10 an issue for an anthology in which all of my favorite features were being collected when completed, anyway. 

I thought of Resident Alien (the comic book) as being an updated version of the Martian Manhunter. I remember liking it (and I think I bought a one-shot as well), but I don't remember much about it, other than that I liked it. I didn't remember the "genocide" angle, but your article cleared that up. Thanks for the reminder to look for a collection. I would have re-read the ones I have already, but I have no idea which box they might be in. If the comic is better than that TV show, so much the better. 

I posted my thoughts on the first volume to "What Comics Have You Read today," but Tracy's reading this series, too, so I thought I'd move my comments over here and make a discussion of it.

RESIDENT ALIEN Vol. 1 - "WELCOME TO EARTH!": "Resident Alien" first appeared serialized in Dark Horse Presents in 2011, which I was reading at the time primarily for Nexus. The serialized chapters were then collected in Resident Alien #0, which I also bought, followed by a limited series. I didn't remember much about it other than that I liked it and planned continue reading the series. But the "zero issue" was the last one I saw (or noticed, anyway). Skip ahead ten years and Resident Alien has been made into a very funny television show. Inspired by the TV show, this week I picked up the first Resident Alien tpb, "Welcome to Earth!" reprinting #0-3. It's funny... I'm too impatient to wait a month between issues, yet I'm perfectly willing to wait a decade for enough issues to be build up to read at my own pace. Resident Alien (the comic book and the TV show) reminds me a little bit of The Walking Dead in that, while different from their respective source, both version of each are top notch. 

NEXT WEEK: Volume 2.

Yep. It was hard to talk with my tongue planted where it was. (Insert wisecrack here.)

I was drawn to the Martian Manhunter in the 1960s Justice League of America precisely because he was so badly handled there. As others have said, his more esoteric powers rarely came into play, and he was treated as a "green Superman." Only a weaker Superman, who could be overpowered by fire, and seemed to rely way too much on "Martian breath." And, of course, his appearances were sporadic, and rarely given cover prominence.

Even Green Arrow got more respect, and he didn't deserve any. J'onn seemed like an underdog to me, and I always side with the underdog.

But I knew he had those other powers, because I had a bunch of issues of House of Mystery when he starred there. I didn't have all his appearances before Robby Reed took over, and I had zero issues of Detective when he was the backup there. (Although I had read his first appearance a number of times in various 80-Page Giants, so I knew all about Dr. Erdel. Well, as much as anyone did, I guess.)

So it was something of a revelation when DC finally collected those 1955-65 stories in a Showcase Presents. Man, was that strip badly written! Especially, as you mention, the New Power Every Issue issue. He even developed powers he didn't need, like "See-Around Corners Vision" when he already had X-Ray Vision.

I still have a fondness for ol' MM. But I can't read those 1950s stories without laughing.

Richard Willis said:

I suspect your tongue is firmly in cheek, Cap.

What luck that J'onn J'onzz found an established detective whose name sounds just like his Martian name who was willing to give up everything for a guy from Mars. That's like Princess Diana finding a woman named Diana Prince who was willing to desert the Army and give up everything for a woman she just met.

Almost as unbelievable is that the police department hired a guy off the street named John Jones to be a detective. 

I laugh out loud during every episode. Doc Harry (the alien) is quirky and naive in so many ways. I am not bothered by the less human aspects of the character because he is not human. I don't expect him to have the same ethical behavior as most people of Earth. 

I also like my entertainment a little darker than most. For instance, "Hannibal" is one of my favorite television series. 

I only know Alan Tudyk from "Firefly" and "Serenity." He was charming and funny and tragic in those performances. 

In the episodes of "Resident Alien", I love his interactions with the kids. Max doesn't let the alien intimidate him, doesn't let fear take hold. They have a fun bond forming and I am excited to watch it develop. 

I didn't know anything about the comic before I saw the teaser trailers. I didn't start watching expecting a gentle, well-behaved character. 

I read the first story which was similar to the tv show. It is a good comic with likable characters. I will keep reading as Jeff collects them. 

However, I am enjoying the tv show more. Much more. 

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Both Tracy and I LOVE Resident Alien (the TV show). I find the "murder" aspect refreshing, definitely not to be taken seriously, because the wholle series is so over-the-top. 

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Welcome!

No flame wars. No trolls. But a lot of really smart people.The Captain Comics Round Table tries to be the friendliest and most accurate comics website on the Internet.

SOME ESSENTIALS:

RULES OF THE ROUND TABLE

MODERATORS

SMILIES FOLDER

TIPS ON USING THE BOARD

FOLLOW US:

OUR COLUMNISTS:

Groups

© 2021   Captain Comics, board content ©2013 Andrew Smith   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service