I’ve always personally found that the best science fiction – that which remains truest to the themes only the greatest sci-fi authors usually explore – is those tales told of a time just around the corner from today. Vaulting centuries into tomorrow might help serve a narrative purpose, such as has been the case with almost every incarnation of STAR TREK, but all that matters when the pop and sizzle of the special effects fade is what the story teaches us about ourselves. Consequently, positioning any sci-fi yarn much closer to the here and now requires the audience to not only suspend disbelief of the science endemic to the adventure but also forces it to better evaluate just how ‘that would work’ for them. This serves to make what fabric being spun is a vastly more personal experience for both parties – the storyteller and the reader or viewer – and that’s something definitely at work in Aron Warner and Philip Gelatt’s PARIAH.
Their story takes place just around that corner I mentioned above. How effectively it reaches common ground is something I’m keeping until after this short break …
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Approximately ten years from today, a presumed terrorist event will take place on American soil, and that act of terror will rock the American cultural and political structure to their core precisely because what Abraham Lincoln once warned: we have become our own enemy. In this not-too-distant-future, citizens known as Vitros – manufactured humans – will be presumed responsible for unleashing a virus on mankind … but what purpose it all may’ve served remains a secret. Were they truly responsible, or was this event little more than the strings being pulled by some grand puppetmaster hoping this new breed of man would be implicated?
Well … the truth is you’ll have to wait to find out, and that’s a bit disappointing with this much heralded release from Dark Horse Comics. PARIAH arrives on the scene with pronouncements that it’s quite possibly on track to be one of the next big things in graphic storytelling. That’s a mighty big promise, and, as much as I’d like to say this trade delivers, I’m left with more questions than I am answers … never quite a place a reviewer (much less a reader) likes to be.
In fairness, that’s because there’s a great amount of world-building that takes place in PARIAH. These four ‘chapters,’ if you will, go to great lengths to not only establish where and when we are but also we spend an great deal of time inside the heads of these near-humans, so much so I started to wonder why. Did Warner and Gelatt want to establish the emotional complexity of the great novel in their comic story? If so, then I’d have to give ‘em kudos for making the effort, though I do personally prefer a bit more actually “happen” in my titles. There are parts where these characters – they’re all presented as teenagers – remind me of some time spent in the heads of Stephen King’s younger characters from THE STAND (not a bad comparison), and that’s largely why I tend to think it’s where the writers are heading (some epic showdown).
Still, some of the psychological reflections by one of the more sinister types ends up feeling largely empty – like he’s being a manipulator of men and women only because he can while his motivation is purposeless. When this happens gradually – imagine the way it does over the course of a novel – it’s usually structured with the balance of interludes into the lives of others; however, as this trade takes much time in establishing only a few characters, I’m left wondering if all of this will truly add up to the epic only hinted at before it loses its readership to other, quicker titles.
PARIAH, VOLUME 1 is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story is written by Aron Warner and Philip Gelatt; and the art and lettering are by Brett Weldele. The trade comes with a retail cover price of $14.99, and that’s not a bad deal … so long as you go in knowing this tale works mostly as set-up for what’s destined to follow: I suspect that’s where the action will be.
RECOMMENDED. The first volume of PARIAH is all set-up. The action remains extraordinarily slim, and much of the time is spent in the heads of these various characters – these genetically engineered youth geniuses – not exactly a bad place to be but one that sacrifices action in favor of reflection on the state of the world around them. It’s hard to predict where this kinda/sorta “Lord of the Flies In Space” might go – there’s ample room for speculation, though the tone leads me to predict it’ll all end badly. Based entirely on this trade paperback, I’d be far more inclined as a reader to await the next trade paperback than I’d be inclined to pick it up monthly: I found little meat worth picking from the bones of the separate chapters/installments, and I prefer my meals a bit more filling.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of PARIAH, VOLUME 1 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.