Pariah #1-2 (Sea Lion Books)

Supersmart teenagers go on the lam when a deadly virus is unleashed in this new series from the producer of Shrek.



23/27 pages color; $3.99/ea

(W: Phillip Gellatt; A: Brett Weldele; created by Aron Warner)
So long as there are nerdy, misunderstood youth with cash to burn, there will be stories about nerdy, misunderstood youth to read. This is more or less fine, but it does mean that sifting through the masses to find stories that are compelling gets harder and harder every year. Enter Pariah, a new series published by Sea Lion Books about a group of hyperintelligent kids struggling to find their place in the world. The first issue debuted at Comic Con International in San Diego in July and subsequent issues are being released on a monthly basis.
Pariah‘s pedigree is strong and it shows. With the help of writer Phillip Gelatt (Petrograd, Labor Days) and artist Brett Weldele (The Surrogates), creator Aron Warner (Oscar-winning producer of Shrek) spins an intriguing tale. Within the first few pages of Issue #1, you can tell that nerdy, misunderstood Brent is different. He is a "Vitro,” and while what that is is initially unclear, it’s immediately apparent that he is hyperintelligent and his classmates are idiots. His awkwardness around Anna, the closest thing Brent has to a friend, makes him instantly relatable despite his superpowers. Brent is an awkward, misunderstood teenaged boy before he’s anything else. His struggle to fit in with his peers and even his parents is aggravated by a news story from elsewhere in the country: several people at Marinus Laboratories have been killed and a deadly virus has been unleashed. It isn’t immediately clear whether it was an accident or an intentional act of terrorism, but it doesn’t matter. Marinus Labs employed a large number of Vitros, who fled the scene after the event. It confirms the common suspicion that there is something wrong and dangerous about the Vitros, and the entire country goes on high alert. By the end of the issue, Brent has unintentionally done a Very Bad Thing and is taken into custody. By whom and for what reason is left unanswered.
Brent’s fate is unknown through the second issue. Instead, it picks up a week later with the introduction of a different Vitro, Lila, who was involved in the accident/attack on the lab. She and several surviving Vitros are living in the woods and fighting for their lives. Similar to Brent, Lila has her own struggles with the opposite sex, but in her case it’s the equally relatable "are we actually dating or just making out occasionally?" dilemma with a fellow Vitro, Brandon. While Lila reflects on how they got into this situation, we learn that the event at the lab was both an accident and an attack, and that, for whatever reason, she’s the Vitro that has been framed. Through the issue, we watch her struggle to keep the ragtag group of geniuses together despite their genius-sized egos. It is not an easy job and it becomes clear that, despite Lila’s protests to the contrary, her strengths include strategy and interpersonal relationships along with dark matter theory. The issue ends with a cliffhanger of its own. A well-dressed man approaches the group, identifies himself as a closeted Vitro and warns them to surrender during an upcoming raid so that they can work together in the future. Lila struggles to keep the group together and frets over Brandon’s fate as the predicted attack tears her group apart.
Warner’s ideas are fresh, and Gellatt’s writing definitely creates an engaging story, but Weldele’s art is what makes Pariah stand apart. In the first issue, cells are painted in alternating palates of blues and browns. The faded dreariness highlights Brent’s perception of his world. In the second issue, it’s Lila’s moods and her colors: bold oranges and reds to match her passion and the battle she’s waging. In both, the lighting accents are unbelievable. The pages glow so powerfully that you end up squinting right along with Brent when the world is too bright for him to handle. Very little green is used in Lila’s issue, despite taking place in an evergreen forest. Brent’s isolation and Lila’s fire come through visually long before you read a single word, but not so strongly that you feel hit over the head with it. It’s gorgeous and when I go back to reread something to piece the story’s puzzle together, I find myself getting lost in the beauty instead.
WIth the first two issues, the creators of Pariah have introduced a world and a few characters, and I’m eager to learn more. I don’t know what the third issue will bring, whether it will introduce a story arc or link Lila and Brent, but I’m looking forward to picking it up. | Kelly Stephenson
Click here for a preview of Pariah, courtesy of Sea Lion Books.

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