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.
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 (email@example.com), on his website (captaincomics.ning.com), on Facebook (Andrew Alan Smith) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).
Good to hear from you, Tracy!
We just watched the latest episode of Resident Alien tonight, and marveled again that anyone tolerates him. But it is funny.
We are still laughing about the scene where he and the kid insulted each other, and the kid easily had the far superior taunts.
I was concerned when an episode ended with the two kids in a duffle bag.
Whether he realizes it or not, the alien is changing. He obviously chose to let them live when he didn't have to with that lake close by.
"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."
"Harry murders a man on TV, and tries to murder a child, which, for me, deserves a stronger condemnation than 'morally ambiguous.'"
"My qualms are the same as yours..."
"... until I read that the alien murdered the guy he's impersonating. No sale."
I think you guys are taking the murder aspect much to seriously. This is a dark comedy ("over the top" as I put it the other day). As Peter Hogan wrote in his introduction to the omnibus, “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.” Plus, Alan Tudyk's performance is truly alien... very convincing!
As of right now, I agree with Tracy: I am enjoying the TV show much more than what I have read of the comic book (#0-3) so far. But she and I are continuing to read, and continuing to watch, and if our opinion changes we will report it here.
I'm about to finish the first Omnibus of the comic (which contains the first three TPB collections). I'm still enjoying the TV show, especially Alan Tudyk's bizarre mannerisms. But I have to say that I think I would have hated it if I had read the comic first! It's hard to see how the TV Harry can ever get to the empathetic character portrayed in the comic. I am really enjoying the thread of the government agents trying to find Harry in the comic, and there's only a bit of that so far on TV. Just now remembered the agents discovering his ship by bumping into it while cloaked.
RESIDENT ALIEN Vol. 2 - "THE SUICIDE BLONDE": I've read another four issues of the comic book and I've got to be honest: I still think the TV show is a better TV show than the comic book is a comic book (and I still like the TV show more, which is a different scale). What has me scratchin' my head, though, is that most of the rest of y'all seem to prefer the comic book to the TV show. In almost every case, I prefer an original comic book to a TV or movie adaptation, but it's usually because I encountered the comic book version first. I generally feel that adaptations have to be "dumbed down" to appeal to a TV audience. Is that the case here? do I like the TV show because it makes me laugh and not think? No, I don't think so.
I think the TV show is genuinely funny (although some of the humor is admittedly somewhat lowbrow), whereas, except for the main character being an alien, the comic book is merely a mildly entertain police procedural. I don't watch those kinds of TV shows or read those kinds of books, so that's probably why the comic book doesn't really appeal to me. Last week I compared the comic book/TV spin-off aspect to The Walking Dead, but there's another example from the literary world that occurs to me.
Tracy is a big fan of those "Sookie Stackhouse" novels. I never read them, but I did watch the TV show based on them (True Blood). Tracy loves the books and the TV show but, based on what she has told me about the books, I wouldn't care for them at all. It might be the same thing with Resident Alien, but I'll keep reading.
I enjoyed the second Resident Alien storyline. I enjoyed it more than the first. It had a faster pace mixed with the search for the alien pilot.
I still completely enjoy the tv show more. I love the Harry's weirdness and awkward social interactions.
Season 1, Episode 8 - "The End of the World as We Know It" - That was a game-changer.
RESIDENT ALIEN Vol. 3 - "THE SAME HAIN MYSTERY": So far, in my comparison of the comic book to the TV show, I have concentrated less on plot than on which version I preferred. I'm not a huge fan of mysteries, but those I like best are the ones in which the author has provided enough clues for the reader to solve it himself, but I fail to solve it. I figured out "The Sam Hain Mystery" about half way through and I enjoyed patting myself on the back for my ingenuity... but I was wrong. Peter Hogan constructed the story in such a way the facts led me to a wholly different conclusion. Maybe most mysteries do that, I don't know; like I say, it's not my genre.
In a previous post, I compared Resident Alien to other television shows (True Blood, The Walking Dead) which differed from their literary antecedents. Resident Alien is definitely numbered on that list. I would go so far as to say that the TV show is actually the antithesis of the comic book.
Another thing about the comic book: judging from the indica, the stortlines were originally presented in four-issue mini-series, all numbered #0-3. I'm glad I didn't follow the series issue-to-issue; that would have bugged the hell out of me if I had been reading the series on a monthly basis.
I have never read the comics or seen the movies but, from what I have heard, Men in Black is another example of a comic book property that changed significantly from its literary roots to the (in this case big) screen. Which leads me to this week's television episode (which points out that, even though they are not all men and don't all wear black, "Men in Black" is a better title than "Humans in Clothes").
[SPOILER] The highlight of this week's episode was probably Sheriff Mike singing karaoke with Liv, but the game-changer (following last week's game-changer) was D'arcy finding Harry corpse in the deep freeze. [END SPOILER] Next week is the first season finale.
At this point, I'm liking the TV show and the comic book equally, but you know what? I don't have to choose between them because this is America, buddy!
Also, until I read this volume, I had no idea that "samhain" was pronounced "SAA-wn."
His basketball talent reminds me of me.
Tracy of Moon-T said:
We watched the season one finale of the Resident Alien TV show last night. For those of you who were put off by the thought of the main character murdering the man whose identity he assumes (and are still reading this thread), steps were taken in the final episode to ameliorate that. If this show hadn't been renewed for a second season, this would have been a good point to end it.
Up until this point I have been comparing the Resident Alien comic book to the Resident Alien TV show, and that's "apples to oranges" (as they say). What I should have been doing was comparing the comic book to other comic books, and the TV show to other TV shows. I have always been particular about which TV shows I watch, but I've only recently (within the last decade or so) become particular about which comic books I read.
The Resident Alien TV show ranks among my current favorite TV shows, yet the comic book hovers somewhere in the middle (toward the bottom, actually) in comparison to the new comics I read. Therefore, I have to conclude the the TV show is a better TV show than the comic book is a comic book. Having said that, though, I do plan to continue reading the rest of the tpbs. Meanwhile, volume three is still sitting by Tracy's chair waiting to be read.
Last week I overheard her speaking on the phone to someone who knows Resident Alien via the TV show only, explaining that the show was based on a comic book and that she read the first two volumes. the next thing I heard her say was, "No, it's boring," so that third volume may be sitting there for a while.
If my opinion changes I'll let you know.