Dr. Love Wave and the Experiments is a genre-crashing comic bursting with aliens, music and psychedelic weirdness, with a side helping of meta Silver Age-style super-heroics thrown in for good measure. Vibrant and energetic it has an amiably off-centre vibe which sees an array of fantastic elements arriving in smalltown America and the lives of a cast of otherwise ordinary folk. In parallel, though, it’s also a far more down-to-earth title about grief, how we process it, and how loss can quietly overwhelm us. Graphic medicine wrapped up in the trappings of over-the-top science fantasy, then.
A year after his mother succumbed to cancer Milt Summers is attempting to navigate that profoundly affecting anniversary by playing a concert with his “sci-fi surf rock band” Dr. Love Wave and the Experiments. But his home town of Madre Bay is facing other troubles. What has drained the local harbour and left the area’s boats adrift? Who is the mysterious Mika who claims to be the band’s greatest fan? And what is the explanation for the strange alien presence that is lurking in the town’s environs…?
Greg Gustin crafts a tale that is both fantastic yet relatable, tackling themes of bereavement, purpose and mental health within the framework of a quirky sci-fi mystery. There’s a lot set up in this first instalment but Gustin succeeds in balancing the need to introduce the audience to an extensive cast of local characters with teasing just enough about the wider otherworldly forces at play here to keep us hooked.
V. Gagnon’s visuals perfectly encapsulate this contrast of the extraterrestrial and the everyday, with a number of “silent” scenes bringing us more fully into the characters’ worldviews, and one moment of awe-filled discovery being particularly effective in terms of both panel structure and colour shifts. Joamette Gil’s lettering also plays a significant role in emphasising the varied ways in which information is communicated, from social media conversations to multimedia insertions, through to song lyrics.
Gustin also provides a back-up story illustrated by Michael Kennedy that quickly diverges from what initially appears to be yet another Silver Age comics pastiche into something far funnier. Here we learn the unlikely “secret origin” of Milt’s stage persona Dr. Love Wave. Quite how this tale ties into the main narrative (presumably it’s an apocryphal rendering of the performance art elements of Milt’s musical alter ego) remains to be seen, but Kennedy catches the 1960s sensibilities of the super-hero world with a witty familiarity than still largely resists the urge to slavishly reproduce the stylistic tics of Kirby and Ditko.
As with any serial comics venture, it remains to be seen how effectively the creative team builds on this narrative groundwork from here, but the foundations are strong. Offbeat, unpredictable and yet ultimately oddly relatable, Dr. Love Wave and the Experiments is a fun piece of escapism with a poignant heart.
Greg Gustin (W), V. Ganon and Michael Kennedy (A), Joamette Gil and Michael Kennedy (L) • $3.99
Review by Andy Oliver