Silent Invasion volume 2: Red Shadows


By Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock (NBM)
ISBN: 978-0-91834-850-0

During the vast expansion of opportunity and outpouring of innovation that graced comics during the 1980s, much of the “brain-rotting trash” or “silly kid’s stuff” stigma which had plagued the medium was finally dispelled. America started catching up to the rest of the world; acknowledging sequential narrative as an actual Art-Form, and their doors opened wide open for foreigners to make a few waves too…

One of the most critically acclaimed and just plain fun features of the period came from semi-Canadian outfit Renegade Press which set up shop in the USA and began publishing at the very start of the black & white comics bubble in 1984. They quickly established a reputation for excellence, with a strong line of creator-based properties and some genuinely remarkable series such as Ms. Tree, Journey: the Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire, Normalman, Flaming Carrot and the compulsively backwards-looking Cold War/UFO/paranoia-driven The Silent Invasion.

That last was a stunningly stylish saga, bolting 1950s domestic terrors (invasion by Reds; invasion by aliens; invasion by new ideas…) onto Film Noir chic and employing 20-20 hindsight to produce a phenomenally fresh and enticing delight for the strangely similar Reagan era.

I firmly believe that in this business nothing good stays lost, but I’m fed up waiting for it to be rediscovered so I’m continuing to revisit my battered old copies of the original album compilations as no one has tried to revive it yet. At least they’re all still readily available if I successfully brainwash you…

This second superbly oversized monochrome tome – a whopping 298 x 2058 mm – gathers the lead story from issues #4-6, with co-creators Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock piling on the paranoiac pressure in a delightful confection combining all the coolest genre elements of classic sci-fi, horror, spy, conspiracy theory, crime, romance and even comedy yarns…

The 1950s in American were a hugely iconic and paradoxical time. Incredible scientific and cultural advancements and great wealth inexplicably arose amidst an atmosphere of immense social, racial, sexual, intellectual and political repression with an increasingly insular populace seeing avaricious plots and subversive attacks in every shadow and corner of the rest of the world.

Such a melting pot couldn’t help but be fertile soil for imaginative outsiders to craft truly incisive and evocative tales dripping with convoluted mystery and taut tension, especially when wedded to the nation’s frenzied obsessions with gangsterism, rogue science, flying saucers and espionage…

Last Time: In April 1952, famed Union City private eye Dick Mallet saw a strange light in the night sky. Next morning the cops found his empty, crashed car. A month later reporter Matt Sinkage was still getting grief from Frank Costello, his Editor on the Union City Sentinel. Matt wanted to expose “The Truth behind Flying Saucers” but was quickly becoming a laughing stock. He was also starting to think his foreign-sounding neighbour Ivan Kalashnikov was a Russian spy….

Sinkage was alienating his family and worrying his fiancée Peggy Black. All he could think about was that night six months back in Albany when he saw a UFO and impetuously chased after it: a crazy night everyone but him remembers…

Getting drunk, Matt broke into Ivan’s apartment where a quick glance revealed the foreigner and others in front of a huge, weird machine. It confirmed his suspicions that they were Atomic spies!

Days later Matt collided with Mr K’s pretty friend Gloria Amber, and asked her out to lunch. Things developed when Gloria begged him to save her from what she claimed were Red operatives. They subsequently claimed to be Federal agents…

Hiding out at his brother’s Walter’s place, Matt was still seeing flying saucers everywhere and could not understand why everybody else thought they were just jets. Back in Union City, Frank was being pressured by FBI Agent Phil Housley: an old acquaintance who regularly forced him to suppress news items…

This time though, he wanted Sinkage. What no newsman knew was that Housley was also working for a shadowy agency calling itself the Council. What Housley didn’t know was that he was not their only operative in this matter…

Back in suburbia, Walter’s wife Katie – convinced Matt and his new floozy were up to no good – had contacted the FBI…

Fugitives Matt and Gloria were heading out in Walter’s car when Peggy showed up. She couldn’t understand why her man was with a flashy trollop even though Gloria had told Matt the Reds were after Kalashnikov’s memoirs and files. Although Matt knew Gloria was playing double game, he agreed to go with to a remote town where a “contact” could protect them both…

Mr K meanwhile had called in his own heavies to hunt the couple. All were unaware that the FBI had visited Katie and a net was closing around Sinkage and the mystery woman…

As the Council discussed their Sinkage problem and heard Housley’s reports, they learned the reporter was involved in the “Albany event” and near-panic ensued. Matt meanwhile had succumbed to suspicion. Gloria kept vanishing and refused to acknowledge it. Later, she helped Kalashnikov’s hoods Zanini and Koldst abduct her and rough up Matt. After that the FBI interviewed Walter and Katie about Matt, and let slip that they were the only Feds working the case, denying any other government officials were involved…

Katie spilled all she knew and the agents went into overdrive, marshalling all their forces and heading for sleepy Stubbinsville. Matt meanwhile had called the only guy he still trusted. Fellow researcher Dan Maloney warned him of the confusing profusion of agents all claiming to be working for the government, before sharing the same info with Costello…

As Housley’s team flew in, Matt decided to push on, hitchhiking to a rendezvous with destiny. En route he reunited with the oddly-compliant Gloria, and they battled on to Stubbinsville in a stolen car. With less than 100 miles to go she fell ill but made him promise to get her there at all costs…

As the assorted pursuers converged, she directed Matt to a lonely wilderness region. The net closed around them as a fantastic and terrifying light-show ignited the dark skies. By the time Housley reached them Gloria had vanished and Sinkage was slumped in a coma…

Days later, Matt was freed and all charges dropped. He was strangely content. Despite another blatant cover-up and no clue as to whom all the various parties hounding them really were, Sinkage knew what he had seen when Gloria vanished. Now he could only wait for her inevitable return…

Preceded by Max Allan Collins’ expansive Introduction ‘Dick Tracy, Tintin and Serious Comics’, this titanic tale resumes with ‘Chapter One: A Pink Slip for a Pink’. It’s June 1952 and Matt Sinkage is tormented by nightmares of lights in the sky, Housley hunting him and Gloria beseeching him to join her kind…

His life has gone rapidly downhill. Stories of his being a “Commie” are everywhere, the FBI shadows his every move and the oppressive tension is becoming overwhelming. When he gets a phone call from long-missing Dick Mallet, Matt arranges to meet the PI, consequently noticing sister-in-law Katie is always listening and has become very chummy with his ominously ever-present FBI surveillance detail…

First, though, Matt has to get the last of his belongings: the “Red” smear has allowed his landlord to terminate his lease. Aided by faithful fiancée Peggy and ever-friendly custodian Mr. Schneider, Sinkage collects his things and has an uncomfortable meeting with Kalashnikov. Almost in passing Matt notices that he now has a different team of Feds dogging him.

When he finally meets Mallet, the detective shows him an incredible set of photos: interior and exteriors shots of the flying saucers taken by the aliens…

At the Sentinel, Dan Maloney has made progress investigating Kalashnikov and Gloria but wants to finish his research before sharing. Sinkage has bigger problems though, his fellow workers have sent him Coventry and the paper’s owner wants the “Commie” fired. Costello is fighting back though. He suspects Housley is behind the smear tactics targeting Matt.

Staying with Walter and Katie isn’t helping his mental state. As visions of the Albany event haunt him, Matt’s life takes another plunge as he finds Mallet murdered. Housley is there but frankly admits he knows Sinkage is innocent and (probably) the patsy of a cunning contrived frame-up. That doesn’t stop him trying to pump Matt for further information – just as his Council bosses ordered him to…

When Matt is finally fired and Maloney is killed in a freak accident he knows is murder-by-aliens, Sinkage feels the walls closing in and makes a run for it…

‘Chapter Two: Identity Crisis’ opens one night in July 1952 with Matt holed up in Maloney’s old hunting shack. He’s been utterly alone for weeks but is still seeing flying saucers in the night skies. He’s also reliving past events, helplessly mixing memories of Gloria with other moments. He’s so confused that when Peggy suddenly turns up he mistakes her for his missing blonde mystery-woman…

Peggy visits him every night, offering food and company. She seems so different, warm and vivacious, but is always gone when he blearily wakes up in the morning.

Back in Union City, Housley and his secretary Meredith Monroe are going over the facts and reach a disturbing conclusion. Somebody on Phil’s team has their own agenda. He fears it’s his own boss – and Council stooge – Buzz Brennan but can’t find reasons to ignore their orders. Both his official employers and the secret ones want Sinkage found at all costs…

In the wilderness Matt is starting to crack. Anonymously buying a gun from a local store he travels back to the city for Dan’s funeral and sees Housley and Brennan clash with Costello. He then sneaks back to his old building and breaks into Kalashnikov’s apartment. He finds a cache of files and as he reads them experiences a horrifying flashback: he’s strapped into some sort of brainwashing machine in a spaceship…

Matt is roused from the memories by Ivan’s return and bolts, leaving the scattered files behind. He then visits Peggy’s house where her mother’s hostile reception confirms a suspicion that has been growing in his mind…

His intended is waiting in the truck he borrowed, and as they furtively drive out to the country Matt drops his bombshell. He believes he’s an alien consciousness improperly overlaid on a human mind and he knows Peggy is too: the same one he used to know as Gloria Amber…

‘Chapter Three: What We Really Know about Flying Saucers’ pushes the drama into overdrive as Peggy frantically tries to dissuade Matt. He is adamant and, as Peggy storms off, Matt goes to Costello. They compare notes, unaware that the Council is mobilising all its covert assets in Housley’s FBI team to get Sinkage at all costs…

It might have worked had not Matt surprised everybody by turning himself in and sharing what he saw in Kalashnikov’s files with Housley and Meredith. Sadly, as he’s being taken to a safe-house Zanini and Koldst kidnap Sinkage and drag him back to Ivan… and Peggy!

By the time Housley realises what’s occurred and rushed to the apartment, it’s too late. The files are gone, but no one can determine whether they were cleared out by the foreigners or simply lost in the fire set by the Council’s inside man…

Matt has a different story. He survived the conflagration by rushing to the roof where he saw a saucer pick up one of his abductors, coldly leaving the rest to perish. It was a story he stuck to, even after he was committed…

To Be Continued…

Potently evocative, impeccably tailored and fabulously cool, The Silent Invasion remains a unique, boldly imagined and cunningly crafted adventure. Rendered in a style then considered revolutionary and even today still spectacularly expressionistic, this is a classic epic long-overdue for a modern revival: an unforgettable gateway to an eerily familiar yet comfortably exotic era of innocent joy and a million “top secrets” which no fan of fantastic thriller fiction should ignore.
© 1988 Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock. Introduction © 1988 Max Allan Collins. All rights reserved.