When characters die in a story, it’s not always clear what the resulting impact will be from the person’s absence. In Lifeformed: Cleo Makes Contact, it’s made clear that the main character will be dealing with an alien invasion “and her father’s death.” Dark Horse Books tells you up front in the synopsis, but it’s not enough. It still doesn’t prepare the reader for the shock that comes within those pages, and that translates to the story being told by writer Matt Mair Lowery and artist Cassie Anderson.
The father, in a relatively short span of pages, we find out is the best father in the world. At least, he’s the perfect father for Cleo. The facial expressions crafted by Anderson depict the silliness in his antics, and dance moves, while clearly indicating how he’s able to turn Cleo’s bad mood into something completely opposite. The joy expressed between the two showcase the love he has for her, and the love she has for him. You can see it in their faces, and the horror that comes when something goes wrong.
Anderson’s drawings, and Lowery’s introduction to these two characters, with “dad jokes” and all, provides a tragic backdrop to the start of an intense, engaging story that readers will want to finish in one sitting. What’s incredible is that they prepare you for the death – it’s listed on the back cover – and yet, the manner in which it happens is shocking, and you feel the loss as equally as Cleo does. In the blink of an eye, Cleo’s world has changed, and that also includes the alien attack happening right outside of her home. In an equally quick fashion, Lowery moves the main character forward, not allowing her to fully process the psychological terrors she’s witnessed.
Lowery creates a young female character well and does so in a way that seems superhuman – intelligent to understand the circumstances and her new friend who is protecting her, and emotionally strong to continue pushing ahead in her life, trying to stay alive, while still seeing her father’s dead face day after day. Her new “friend” is one of the aliens who has the ability to take the form of a person he touches. This rebel alien crash landed immediately after the death of Cleo’s father, and he transformed into her dad. How does someone deal with traumatic experiences like that, one after another, seconds or minutes apart, and still be able to function?
Cleo is smart, smart-mouthed, and willing to learn how to survive. Her new friend, despite his appearance, is not her father; yet, they form a bond that irrevocably changes our hero-in-the-making. Yes, there are aliens looking to take over the world, but that is only one speck of a star in the night sky compared to the larger, amazingly wonderful universe of a story being told.
Anderson enhances Lifeformed by creating a great blend of colors, while further capturing our attention with the sincerity in Cleo and her friend’s eyes. Both creators, in their debut work, gracefully present a story to believe in with characters to adore, while sharing their feelings and sense of urgency. The connection formed within these pages, with the alien friend, does not erase the death of Cleo’s father. It’s a constant reminder that Cleo is tougher than many other characters ever created, and one might easily forget she’s only an eleven-year-old girl.
Lifeformed: Cleo Makes Contact is a graphic novel that is currently available in print and digital form.