Panelology is a weekly podcast about comics. We talk about current books, what we're looking forward to, and how to get into reading comics in the first place.

They’re Not Like Us: “Black Holes for the Young” (Image Comics, 2014; #1-6)

Welcome to week seven of Clearing the Backlog. I am pleased to announce that in our six weeks together so far, I have managed to drop my backlog from 55.1% of my library unread to a scant 53.8% unread. Go team.

Speaking of teams, have you ever wondered what the X-Men would be like if they were all jerks? Well, Eric Stephenson has you covered. That’s the basic premise of They’re Not Like Us: teenagers have powers and are misunderstood, and an antisocial telepath called The Voice brings them together to do whatever they want (and sometimes hurt bad people) in anonymity. The story follows Syd, a young telepath who has struggled with hearing voices her whole life.

The driving question behind this arc is whether Syd will accept her new benefactors’ lifestyle, living in the shadows and accepting others’ fear and lack of understanding as cause to take what they want. It’s a philosophical question: at what point, when society marginalizes you, do you cease to play by society’s rules? That the books’ characters feel justified in accepting this lifestyle does make it challenging to invest in anyone but Syd at first, but as the arc progresses and they begin to open up, other characters become relatable and even likable.

Simon Gane’s line-work for They’re Not Like Us is richly detailed, shifting from dingy, dirty streets to opulent decor without missing a beat. Jordie Bellaire’s colors provide depth and texture by managing light and dark and color temperature. When Syd picks up on unfiltered thoughts, reds, oranges, and yellows convey the sense that her mind is on fire. Glowing greens give nightmares an otherworldly quality. The cold shadows of night hide characters’ anxieties and inner monsters.

In many ways, They’re Not Like Us comes across as a more realistic, more cynical take on the classic X-Men team. If you’re interested in seeing a similar team based in moral relativism rather than Charles Xavier-versus-Magneto black-and-white morality, you should definitely check this out. It is character-driven and asks uncomfortable questions, and once I started reading it, I did not set my copy down until I reached the end of the arc.

Collected in

  • They’re Not Like Us, Vol. 1: Black Holes for the Young (#1-6)


Writer: Eric Stephenson | Artist: Simon Gane | Colorist: Jordie Bellaire | Letterer/Designer: Fonografiks

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “The Coulson Protocols” (Marvel Comics, 2016; #1-6)

Batgirl: “Batgirl of Burnside” (DC Comics, 2011; #35-40)