REVIEW: Strange Skies Over East Berlin’s Terrors are Equally Human and Alien

Selection of Strange Skies' TPB cover.

Is there anything more terrifying than the truth? Strange Skies Over East Berlin, from Jeff Loveness, Lesandro Estherren, Patricio Delpeche, and Steve Wands, asks this question with every dread-inducing page. Following an American spy trapped within a Soviet bunker during the heights of the Cold War, Strange Skies is equal parts chilling extraterrestrial horror and tense spy drama that will leave you wondering what the real monster of the story is: the alien creature clawing its way through human lives or the ghastly lies and pain caused by those in its path.

Strange Skies Over East Berlin

Evan Cagle (cover artist), Patricio Delpeche (colorist), Lisandro Estherren (interior artist), Jeff Loveness (writer), Steve Wands (letterer).
BOOM! Studios
August 12, 2020

Strange Skies Over East Berlin TPB Cover by Evan Cagle.The four-issue miniseries stars Agent Herring, an American asset embedded inside East Germany in 1973. Herring has led a life of duplicity and false identities for years before the events of Strange Skies, where he witnesses an otherworldly spacecraft split the night sky above Berlin and crash on the Soviet-controlled side of the wall. Having earned a reputation for survival, Herring is tasked with investigating the object and preventing the Soviets from making use of anything they find from the wreckage.

Avoiding one of the most common pitfalls of Cold War fiction, Herring is not cast as a noble hero trying to stop the filthy communists from conquering the globe. A cold, cruel man weighed down by the guilt of his actions, Herring is anything but a hero and consumed by the broken lives left in his wake. Likewise, his Soviet counterpart Inspector Kleiner is not a simple villainous caricature. While he is indisputably monstrous, we are granted glimpses at the pain and trauma that led to his current role, and he is treated as an equally complex and flawed figure as Herring.

Herring's past exploits as a spy are shown.

The plot itself, a dense and flashback-filled web of characters and their pasts, uses its four-issue length well and doesn’t pad out the scares or reveals. The growing tension and terror as the unnamed alien gradually works its way through the bunker, infecting the minds of everyone it comes into contact with, never falters, and lands with a satisfying conclusion. A conclusion that, in horror tradition, leaves the door open for an eventual return. 

The alien itself, an unnamed horror from beyond the stars, stands out as a memorable highlight of the series. The creature’s spindly and just-too-human looking design creates an immediate sense of unease that is reinforced from the way it roots around in the parts of people’s minds that make them who they are. Rather than brainwash or mind control like so many other alien creatures in horror fiction, Strange Skies‘ sinister visitor turns our own human flaws against us and breaks down our very sense of self-worth and identity.

Review: Strange Skies Over East Berlin panels

Loveness has established a fairly sterling critical track record since arriving onto the comics scene several years ago, with titles such as Groot, Judas, and Nova receiving wide acclaim at the time of their release. While that streak remains unbroken, Strange Skies does not hit quite the same heights as his previous work, with dialogue falling flat at times and characters not given much time to shine outside of expository flashbacks. While the character work suffers, it is not a deal-breaking issue, and the sense of dread and unease he can permeate into every scene remains exceptionally effective and is only aided by the title’s outstanding art team.

Argentinian artist Lessandro Estherren has kept a fairly low profile within the American comics scene, mainly working on Redneck with Donny Cates, but establishes himself as one of the top tier horror artists in the business with his work within Strange Skies. The raw fear and urgency within the eyes of men fleeing for their lives and the pain of someone being forced to relive their greatest regrets are incredibly potent and proof of Estherren’s skills. Equally noteworthy is Patricio Depleche’s coloring. Moody watercolors that give way to eerie, unnatural lights as the story veers deeper into paranormal territory seal the entire work together and boost it to the success it ultimately finds.

Review: Strange Skies Over East Berlin panels

The horror of Strange Skies Over East Berlin isn’t something easily shaken. The idea of an alien creature invading your mind is not a new one, but the weaponization of every guilt-ridden misstep and life you have hurt or destroyed is an all-too-real threat to throw at readers. While its characters and dialogue are not particularly memorable, the breathtaking art and overall well-crafted execution makes the miniseries an easy recommendation for horror and spy fans alike.

Zoe Tunnell

Zoe Tunnell

Zoe is a 29-year-old trans woman who has been reading far too many comics for most of her adult life and can't stop now.