New Comic Reviews! (8-6-14)

Pariah 6

Pariah #6

Aron Warner and Philip Gelatt (writers), Brett Weldele (artist and cover).

 Pariah tells the story of a group of teenagers who, due to a genetic fluke, are so intelligent that they have become outcasts from the rest of society. Following a mysterious explosion, these “Vitros” are branded terrorists, and are rounded up and summarily exiled to a decrepit satellite high in orbiting. By this point in the story, the Vitros are preparing to leave their home system for a new life on a distant planet, when a global pandemic back on Earth forces them to consider their moral responsibility to either help or abandon the world that rejected them.

 Pariah is the brainchild of veteran film producer Aron Warner (best known for producing the Shrek series), with his stories realized by writer Philip Gelatt (screen writer of last year’s underrated box office bomb Europa Report) and artist Brett Weldele of the comic series The Surrogates (which was adapted for the 2009 Bruce Willis film of the same name). With all the Hollywood connections in play, one might expect Pariah to be just another vanity project from an outsider looking to dabble in the comic book medium, but in fact there’s actually quite a lot of quality content here.

 The backstory of Pariah plays on society’s fear of the future in a few different ways. Both the Vitros’ origin and the viral outbreak of this issue mirror the worst-case scenarios that crop up with any advance in the biological sciences. The Vitros themselves are a more literalized version of a generation of teenagers that have virtually nothing in common with the people currently running the world (which could more or less describe the youth of the world at any time in modern history).  At the same time, the reality of the Vitros’ lives in exile touches on a more primal side of the human psyche, as their de facto tribe clashes over conflicting personalities and ideologies. Warner and Gelatt have come up with a fascinating variety of characters, with varying degrees of maturity and emotional control, some of whom are clearly doing a better job of coping with their situation than others. The would-be leaders, schemers and outcasts reflect both a complex self-governing system, and a warped version of the rivalries and cliques you’d see on any schoolyard. Thematically, Pariah resembles nothing so much as Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Shadow series, by way of Lord of the Flies.

 There are a few minor things that stretch credulity within the world of Pariah – for me, the biggest stretch is accepting just how convenient and well equipped the Vitros’ satellite home turned out to be, considering they were sent there specifically to eliminate the serious threat they posed to the worlds’ governments. I suppose that’s just one of those little things you need to accept as fact going in to the story; if you pull on that string too hard, you’re going to have to ask why the Vitros weren’t just rounded up and summarily executed, which would have resulted in a much darker (and much shorter) series.

 With just two issues left in this miniseries, there’s still a ton of room to run with this concept, and Warner has already said in interviews that he has ideas for two different follow up stories. I hope those projects indeed end up seeing the light of day – we’ve only just scratched the surface of where Pariah can go.

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Armor Hunters Harbinger 1

Armor Hunters: Harbinger #1

Joshua Dysart (writer), Robert Gill (artist). Covers by Lewis LaRosa, Clayton Crain, Trevor Hairsine and Diego Bernard.

 Continuing with our current theme of precocious teenagers possessed of superhuman skillsets, we come to the kids of Harbinger, in their tie-in to Valiant Comics’ big Armor Hunters crossover. That story sees a powerful alien armada showing up in Earth’s orbit, looking to claim X-O Manowar’s suit of extraterrestrial armour, and more than willing to slaughter millions of humans without giving it a second thought. Even before the first panel of this three-issue tie-in miniseries, Armor Hunters can already boast levels of carnage usually relegated to a Warren Ellis book.

 The characters of Harbinger have always worked as a darker shadow to the early X-Men or Young Mutants stories, transplanting all of Marvel’s mutant angst into even uglier, more violent and nihilistic world. These are characters born of trauma, tortured and manipulated their entire lives who ultimately emerge into society as super-powered bundles of neuroses and scar tissue. These are damaged kids, and in this story they’re thrown into a damaged world, as the last two members of the Harbinger team, and their Pepsi Challenge counterparts Generation Zero try to provide humanitarian relief to a city that’s been all but scorched off the face of the planet. And of course, things quickly devolve into violence thanks to roving bands of drug dealers and kidnappers, who are just begging to be killed off in various violent ways.

 Back in the early- to mid-nineties, Valiant Comics was a big deal in the comic industry, and the company’s flashy return in 2012 proved that these characters still carry a huge cache of nostalgia for some fans. In all honesty though, I can’t claim to be one of them… I’ve only read a relative handful of Valiant books, new or old, and none of these characters really mean much of anything to me. I suppose I can see the appeal of Harbinger, at least in an abstract sense… if you’re looking for escapism from your comics though, the Valiant Universe is certainly a grim place to escape to.

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Iron Patriot 5

Iron Patriot #5

“Unbreakable pt. 5”

Ales Kot (writer), Garry Brown (artist and cover).

 In the final act of “Unbreakable,” Jim Rhodes has lost control of his Iron Patriot suit, and an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in power armour of his own is about to assassinate an ex-president right in front of him. Rhodey’s father has unexpectedly shown up in a spare Iron Patriot suit of his own, but as inexperienced as he is, stands little chance to stop the nameless villain. With no other options, Rhodey is forced to eject out of his armour and fight his anonymous enemy barehanded, in one of the most brutal fight scenes in recent memory.

 After finishing this book, I was surprised and disappointed to learn that Marvel had quietly cancelled the series as of this issue. I was even more surprised to learn that writer Ales Kot has gone on record saying that he considers this to be the weakest work of his career.  In just one issue, Kot made me far more emotionally invested in Jim Rhodes than I ever have been before. With so much left unresolved, it’s a crying shame that Iron Patriot is ending just as it started to hit its stride.

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2000 AD 1892

2000 AD #1892

“A Night in Sylvia Plath pt. 1”

John Wagner, Dan Abnett, Gordon Rennie, Ian Edginton, Leah Moore, John Mark Reppion and Cat Sullivan (writers), Colin MacNeil, Jake Lynch, Leigh Gallagher, Ian Culbard, Steve Yeowell and Sullivan (artists). Cover by MacNeil.

 While pretty much all Judge Dredd stories are laced with irony, the latest serial that opens this issue is more openly silly than most, thanks to the return of Dredd’s logic circuit-addled ex-service droid Walter the Wobot. Behind the wacky comedy, there’s a more serious story brewing, in the form of a con man who’s been dressing up as Judge Death to rob the elderly and infirm. Other serials this week feature assassins, gladiators, Vikings and doomsday supercomputers.

 Although the tonal shift in the Judge Dredd lead is a nice change of pace, this is an issue where none of the serialized stories really pop. It’s just an unfortunate bit of timing, but with nothing much to sink one’s teeth into (and very little for me to talk about), this is just another run-of-the-mill issue of a consistent series – good, not great, and not worth grabbing unless you’re in for the long haul.

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Detective Comics Annual 3

Detective Comics Annual #3

“Icarus: Chaos Theory”

Brian Buccellato (writer), Werther Dell’edera, Jorge Fornés and Scott Hepburn (artists). Cover by Guillem March.

 “Chaos Theory” tries to do the impossible, by actually creating a nuanced and compelling origin for one of the lamest of Batman’s villains, Julian Day a.k.a. the Calendar Man. The story involves dirty dealings for the designer drug Icarus, which has a nasty side effect of occasionally causing its users to burst into flame (a concept that would seem to be more at home in the Marvel Universe, dealt alongside Kick, Toad Juice and MGH). There’s also a recurring theme of unintended consequences, as Batman’s attempts to help a young boy almost gets the kid killed, and sets Julian Day on an even more dangerous path than he was on before.

 It’s always refreshing to read a comic where Batman actually possesses the capacity to smile once in a while, and even more pleasing to see that when he’s not terrifying criminals, he can be a friendly and inspiring figure to the downtrodden. This is also a comic where Batman beats the piss out of an abusive father, blows up a salt quarry to shut down an illicit weapons deal, and dons a massive suit of Bat-Armour to charge head first into a heavily-armed gang of thugs. In short, this is exactly the kind of Batman comic I enjoy reading.

 My only complaint about this comic comes from its three separate pencillers. Dell’edera, Fornés and Hepburn are all competent artists in their own right, but they don’t gel very well together, and the divergent visual styles between scenes kept pulling me out of the story. That’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it did result in my enjoying this comic less than I might have with a more consistent art team. Over all though, this was a satisfying done-in-one story, and the kind of story that works well for an annual like this.

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V-Wars 4

V-Wars #4

“Red State”

Jonathan Maberry (writer), Alan Robinson (artist). Cover by Ryan Brown.

 In the world of V-Wars, melting polar icecaps have somehow led to the revival of a dormant gene within the human genome, causing a portion of the race to become vampires. Yeah, that’s not how any of that works, but just go with it. As a result of the change, humans and vampires coexist in a state of cold war, with extremists on both sides of the equation screaming for the other group’s utter annihilation. Caught in the middle are rationalist science guy Luther Swann, and the V-8 counter-vampire military unit, led by the unapologetic anti-vampire bigot “Big Dog” Nestor.

 While V-Wars could have easily worked as either a work of satire or a serious, thoughtful dissection of prejudices and race wars, it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. There’s certainly a level of social commentary – it’s no coincidence that the racist Big Dog is one of the few people of colour in this story, as is the young vampire girl he ultimately dismisses as being a parasite. Yet overly clichéd moments like Big Dog’s “rah-rah America” speech serve to strip away any sense of subtlety to the narrative, and as a result the symbolism feels manipulative and facile. Points given for the concept, none for the execution.

 

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