I have been following Aron Warner’s Pariah for the last few months, but I had reserved judgment until recently. I could tell that there was something different going on with this series and I didn’t want to immediately dismiss different as bad. Overall, it’s still not working for me, but I think that there’s definitely an audience for this book and I’d like to help find them.
Despite all my nay-saying I still find myself curious about the outcome of the story. Tension has been rising steadily throughout the first four episodes, with a dramatic resolution anticipated in the next issue. This would be a great time to catch up before the arc concludes, or to pre-order the first volume if you trade wait.
Dark Horse lets Aron Warner put his name all over the cover because he won an Academy Award as producer of Shrek. Warner takes story credit along with writer Philip Gelatt. Artist Brett Weldele on lines, color, and lettering provides the story with an unexpectedly organic visual style considering the rational science fiction premise of the story.
I really love the gestural quality of Weldele’s line work, the dull color washes, and the subtle background textures. In fact, I like the art so much; I would rather see Weldele tackle more compelling content on a larger scale where the details of his work can be appreciated. Once you’ve seen page after page, and panel after panel of kids talking in small rooms the end result is mushy, messy, and a little difficult to follow. In particular, this is a story taking place almost entirely on a space station, but after gravity is restored I still can't tell if the characters are floating around because of the loose lines and abstract backgrounds.That's a strike.
Warner and Gelatt focus on story rather than exposition, so precise context is as uncertain as the characters’ fates. From the available background information, "Vitros" seem to be genetically engineered or modified human teenagers endowed with exceptional intelligence and moodiness. Despite their exceptional intelligence, all of the Vitros on Earth have been tricked into turning themselves in and moving onto a nearly defunct space station.
Now in orbit and confined to the space station, the Vitros are attempting to survive a government mandated extermination conspiracy. In issue 1, an engineer sacrifices himself to stabilize the orbit of the space station after government sabotage. In issue 2, the leader’s boyfriend chases down a prankster who is remotely manipulating financial markets. Issue 3 follows an earth-bound survivalist Vitro who breaks into a government facility, sending information to the Vitro’s leader in orbit and providing justification for a missile strike against the space station. In issue 4, the Vitros survive the missile attack and stand poised to return fire on Earth.
Each issue is told from a different point of view, which serves to highlight the subjectivity of the events and the human fallibility of the characters. Unfortunately, the point of view characters are not always driving the plot, they are not making the decisions, they have incomplete information, and they tend to be expendable. Worst of all, the point of view characters seem to lack any real agency in a free-will versus determinism sense. I might be accepting of fatalism in my literature, but I'm not ready for such a depressing world view in my comics.
All of this culminates in a different sort of comic reading experience. The relatively unique narrative structure and the emphasis placed on characterization makes Pariah feel somewhat modern or mature. The art is beautiful and supports a humanist interpretation of the story, but isn’t well suited for realism or action sequences. I give Warner and his creative team a lot of credit for attempting something more involved than mainstream superhero titles. I applaud Dark Horse for taking a risk on a more sophisticated and original project. In the end, there isn't a big enough pay off for me to keep reading. Hopefully, Pariah finds its home with other readers.