area51Crashed UFO remains. Black helicopters. Alien autopsies. Men in black. Captured extraterrestrial beings. There seems to be no end to the conspiracy theories that surround Area 51. The mysterious Nevada military installation is well-known in pop culture, but its true purpose and place in U.S. military history has been largely obscured by top-secret classification and a dedicated rumor mill, which helped to cover up its true mission from prying eyes.

Now, in Area 51: The Graphic History of America’s Most Secret Military Installation, Dwight Jon Zimmerman opens the gates of Area 51 to reveal a fascinating history of its importance in American aviation and espionage history as the secret location for the development and testing of experimental aircraft. From Cold War spy planes designed to infiltrate Soviet airspace to unmanned drones for targeting and eliminating key players and strongholds in the War on Terror, Area 51 designers, engineers, and test pilots hid in plain sight, allowing the conspiracy theorists and alien enthusiasts to conceal their work amongst rumors while they developed new, better, faster, and more radar-resistant aircraft for the CIA, Air Force, and NASA. Zimmerman has done his research, and this meticulously detailed history is a thorough and accessible historical overview of Area 51’s true military role.

Accompanying Zimmerman’s text, Greg Scott’s art gives face and shape to the people and the planes of Area 51. Done in grayscale with detailed line drawing, Scott’s art provides visual reference for understanding the evolution of Area 51’s aviation technologies—both the successes and the failures. In this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words; the graphic nature of the work allowing the reader to see and understand these aircraft in a way that no textual description could provide. The art isn’t flashy, but it is engaging, adding substance and depth to this unfolding of this piece of history. Together, Zimmerman and Scott provide an excellent introduction to this important piece of American military, political, and aviation history.

Zenith Press doesn’t rate Area 51, but the title is probably suitable for most older teen or adult graphic collections. While there is nothing particularly inappropriate for younger readers, the depth and detail of the history is likely to overwhelm readers without some prior interest or knowledge of the topic. There is little actual violence, though there are references to drone killings and test pilot deaths. A basic knowledge of the Cold War and associated people and events is helpful for understanding how twentieth-century political events influenced the work of Area 51. The most likely audience for this title would include aviation/military history aficionados, whether adult or teen. Zimmerman includes a bibliography of further reading for those interested in exploring further into the history of Area 51 and America’s secret aviation programs. From Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama, Area 51: The Graphic History of America’s Most Secret Military Installation is an overview of the politics and the practicalities of espionage and warfare, of America’s changing aviation and technology needs, and how dedicated individuals have worked to keep their country on the leading edge of what is possible in the sky.

Area 51: The Graphic History of America’s Most Secret Military Installation
by Dwight Jon Zimmerman
Art by Greg Scott
ISBN: 9780760346648
Zenith Press, 2014

  • Beth Rogers

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Beth Rogers is Coordinator of Reference, Instruction, and Outreach at the Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library at West Virginia Wesleyan College, where she has worked to introduce and develop the library’s graphic novel collection. Also a part-time lecturer in English, Beth has taught courses on graphic novels for college students, lead book discussions on graphic novels including Watchmen and American-Born Chinese, and guest lectured on superheroes in American culture. She also maintains a book review blog, Do I Wanna Read THAT?!?!? When she’s not working, Beth enjoys action movies, knitting wee Avengers, and spoiling her dog.

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