PARIAH, vols. 1-4 by Aron Warner, Brett Weldele & Philip Gelatt
Sea Lion Books, 12-volume series
My name is Brent Marks. And I am not a freak.
So begins Pariah, and so are we introduced to a world not unlike our own, save for the “vitros”—genetically enhanced children who possess massive intellectual capacity. These individuals are universally feared, and when a devastating terrorist act is blamed on the vitros, it instigates a witch hunt that forces all vitros to turn themselves in—or run.
Pariah’s art will immediately catch your eye. It’s simple, clean, and does not distract from the storytelling. The facial expressions, in particular, exemplify this. They are drawn simply, and, at first, may not appear striking—until you take a moment to look closely. Additionally, the subdued colors create the subtle mood of a world that is vaguely futuristic yet primal.
Perhaps this artistic dichotomy is also meant to illustrate the characters. The vitros possess depths ranging from devious to philanthropic to pragmatic to hopelessly romantic. Non-vitro humans, on the other hand, are selfish, lazy, greedy, intolerant, simple-minded, and brutish. This obvious division disappoints me. I’ve never appreciated stories that vilify an entire group in order to make the “enemy” distinction easier to swallow.
The main characters (all vitros) display an impressive range of character, and I can honestly say that I never found myself bored with any one of them. Sometimes we follow Brent Marks, the kid who’s just trying to be “normal,” and other times we follow Robert Maudsley, the manipulative, self-proclaimed “expert” of human nature. Within those two examples you can see one challenge of a story like Pariah—the reader must enter a world of very different people and discover surprising aspects to them. For example, who would find Maudsley sympathetic? Yet, at times, I did. I felt sympathy for a semi-psychopathic super-child.
Maudsley does bring up a problem with the story. Occasionally, suspension of disbelief is wrecked in favor of a plot point. For example, I genuinely don’t believe that a child (even a semi-psychopathic super-child) can prompt an older man to stand up and fight with a random stranger just by having a seemingly benign conversation with him. Judging by how the crucial moments of said conversation are skipped over in favor of narration, I’m guessing the writer doesn’t really know how that happens either.
Despite this, the writing is solid overall. Philip Gelatt deserves some recognition for taking a potentially predictable outcast story and adding enough detail and wit to hook the reader. Each issue of Pariah is relatively short and often ends on a cliffhanger, so the story simply begs you to keep reading.
Pariah is great “popcorn sci-fi.” It won’t challenge your worldview or question your basic assumptions about life, but it’s not really trying to. The setting is interesting, the characters are engaging, and if you let yourself get caught up in it then you might be surprised to discover how much you want to read the next installment.
Thank you to Sea Lion Books for providing a review copy of this graphic novel.