Lifeformed: Cleo Makes Contact
Publisher: Dark Horse
Writer: Matt Mair Lowery
Artist & Letterer: Cassie Anderson
Review by Anelise Farris
Lifeformed: Cleo Makes Contact is an “aliens attack” story with a determined, spirited 11-year-old girl at its center. When we first meet Cleo, we witness a familiar scene: panic at the thought of giving a class presentation. To make a bad day better, Cleo’s dad fixes her dinner and throws an impromptu dance party. This happy scene, however, is short-lived when aliens show up to ruin the fun. Things turn grim real quickly, as Cleo is left parentless, grandmaless, and directionless—when only moments ago she had been trying to convince her dad to get her a cat. However, this is more than just a story of a lone survivor trying to make her way in the world. It’s a whole lot more uncanny than that. When one of the good aliens shows up and takes on her dad’s form, he and Cleo become unlikely partners in this intergalactic battle.
The team behind Lifeformed: Cleo Makes Contact definitely knows how to use panels to convey their story. When Cleo witnesses her father’s death, it is depicted on a full splash page, with smaller panels at the bottom that break down the trauma from Cleo’s perspective. The cartoonish art makes sense with a youthful comic and does not take away from the gravity and horror that are present here. The pastel colors both work to emphasize how Cleo’s life as she knew it has been drained and to give the comic an ethereal, otherworldly vibe. And, there is a great use of light and dark backgrounds to reflect the emotional tone of each panel.
Cleo’s personality is carefully revealed through her detailed facial expressions and body gestures. For example, when Cleo initially sees the UFO, her first reaction is to get her coat and go outside to investigate. She has a wonderful childlike optimism and ingenuity that brings some necessary lightness to an otherwise dark tale. She insists that peanut butter s’mores are a must in a post-apocalyptic disaster, and she is determined to get her dad-looking alien to understand the complexity of dad jokes. Although at times it feels that this comic could have more philosophical depth or emotional weight, it is important to remember that Lifeformed: Cleo Makes Contact is a YA comic. It does not shy away from trauma, but it is more focused on a hopeful coming-of-age narrative about finding the freedom to be yourself.
Buy it! Lifeformed: Cleo Makes Contact is a YA comic that will appeal to readers of any age who enjoy a well-written alien encounter tale with youthful flair.