Dwight Jon Zimmerman. Area 51 - The Graphic History of America’s Most Secret Military Installation. Illustrated by Greg Scott. Zenith Press, 2014.

Who has not heard of Area 51? For a secret base, it is a complete failure. Not only is it discussed far and wide by those who feel that aliens are housed underground whilst their circular craft are parked in the hangars above but also coach parties wheel up to peer through the fences until guards arrive and shoo them off. Even when I briefly visited Germany roughly fifteen years ago, the small town of Rendsburg had a large poster for sale in one of its boutiques vividly announcing the name of the ‘secret’ location. There have been films, books and video games that feature it, and many of those depict some sort of battle where humans have to beat the alien Greys (and it’s virtually always Greys) to save the planet and our way of life from the unspeakable, and indeed unspoken, horrors that await us all if we let them take us over and rule unopposed.

There is, of course, some more verifiable and credible activity that took place there over the years, and nearly all of it classified. Chosen because of its proximity to the site of the first nuclear weapons tests, its remoteness and the fact that there was an airstrip already conveniently on site, it was to be the site where the most notorious Cold War spy planes were assembled and where they operated from. It then morphed into the developmental centre for the generation of stealth fighters and bombers that were first brought to the world’s attention during the Gulf wars. The future is then briefly touched on, bringing the tale up to date with DARPA-designed shuttles and/or space vehicles. There is a brief bibliography as well, although there is no index which, to be fair, is normally the case in graphic books.
This, then, is where this book comes from. Apart from the briefest glimpse of Greys on the cover and various conspiracies mentioned up to page 8, this is a very conventional nuts-and-bolts history of the least-secret secret base in the world. We get to see the politics behind what was acknowledged to have gone on and what the powers who used the complex around the area hoped to achieve.

Despite the omission of the elusive conspiracies, this is a compelling read. I got through it in one sitting overnight, without realising how quickly I was devouring it. The political machinations combined with elaborate technical projects plus the inevitable catalogue of mistakes and errors unavoidable in this much human endeavour, drive the book along rapidly. This is where we get to the part where the “graphic” ingredient is finally acknowledged! When the technology is mentioned then nothing could help more than pictures, and they are skilfully supplied by Greg Scott. His expertise is evident in something I use as a personal yardstick when it comes to artistic competence; his drawings of famous politicians actually look like who they are supposed to without having to resort to the labels. His depiction of the aircraft (and it is mainly aircraft) are also enough to reassure the reader that what they see is close to the original. You may be surprised to learn that this is not always the case.
It therefore comes as no surprise to learn that Dwight Jon Zimmerman is an award-winning journalist and that Greg Scott’s work has been published by DC and Marvel, among others. What they have put together is a concise and lively overview of the conventional parts of Area 51 history, which is something that should be known, especially if one is to go on to debate the existence of extraterrestrial guests.

What is here, then, is a safe and sound look at the controversy that is Dreamland by an author and an artist who know what they are doing. It is a tad pricey, but it is good. Worth getting for someone who appreciates decent comic art and wants the basics on an American conundrum. -- Trevor Pyne.

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