Zach McKinley is a stereotypical self-described loser, a pop culture-obsessed twenty-something scraping by with a lousy pizza delivery job and a crappy apartment and a guy who is too insecure to ask the girl of his dreams to go out with him. Zach is jerked out of his mediocre existence by the unexpected reappearance of his “uncle” Archie, who warns the young man that the end of the world is near. Only Zach can save Earth from an invading alien army— an army, Archie warns, that is led by an advance scout team comprised of Zach’s pop idols. Suddenly, Zach’s inability to ask Vicki out is the least of his problems.
While certainly not original, the premise behind The Advance Team is clever. However, the execution of the graphic novel lacks coherence and finesse. Zach has the potential to be an interesting protagonist, but Pfeifer doesn’t give the story the necessary depth or character development to elevate it beyond mediocre science fiction. The skips and jumps from action to reaction are unwieldy, and the plot sometimes seems to include more plot hole than comprehensible content. Torres’ art doesn’t always compliment or complete the story – the sparse details and heavy lines feel more like rough draft sketches than a finished product. For a story in which images are an important clue to the unfolding mystery, this lack of polish is especially frustrating.
The Advance Team does have positive elements. Vicki, Zach’s co-worker and would-be girlfriend, is a solid supporting character: clever, witty, and drawn with a modesty uncommon in the women of comics. The villains are also fun, with the sociopathic disdain for humanity and exaggerated arrogance of science fiction bad guys everywhere. But they, too, are more trope than characte. As for Zach, there is a lack of character depth and development. The ending is perhaps the most interesting turn of The Advance Team when it turns out that Zach’s heroism has an unexpected twist.
The Advance Team isn’t a bad graphic novel, but it doesn’t stand out from the pack. Invading aliens has been a science fiction standard for decades, and the basic elements of Zach’s origin can be found in countless other stories. There are violent killings in this story—for instance, Zach beats a humanoid alien to death—yet this violence is muted by the lack of color. Blood isn’t as gory when it isn’t red, but some parents may still be bothered by the body count. Another potential concern is Archie, the only African-American character, and his resemblance to the literary “magical Negro” who shepherds the white male protagonist to the realization of his uniqueness and destiny. However, readers who enjoy science fiction graphic novels are likely to overlook the flaws here and enjoy Pfeifer’s space invaders.