8House brings us yet another new world this week in the form of 8House: Yorris. For those keeping track, we’ve already seen Arclight (still a personal favourite) and Kiem, which featured some very arresting and interesting artwork. Yorris continues the tradition of blending science fiction and fantasy elements together in a spare, confident comics universe created by Brandon Graham. This arc is created by Fil Barlow and Helen Maier, and the first issue is essentially about a young girl fidgeting through a boring church service, only she is gifted with the ability to see the psychic and spiritual realities surrounding her people.
8House, overall, is the story of a number of different clans, or “houses” (three guesses how many…) and how they are connected in this science fiction world. We’ve already seen conflicts between the houses in previous issues, and here the conflict between 8th house “The Bound” and their neighbours, the “Un-Tied” is front and center. Lest one should get any hint of kinkiness in the notion of calling the rivals “Bound” and “Un-Tied”, this is simply a reference to the fact that the Bound have a secret code, represented through knots, and the Un-Tied use the symbol of two ropes apart from each other to represent their freedom.
The title character, Yorris, is a young girl whose father is an important person and whose family seems to occupy a place of leadership in her society. The ritual she is sitting through, uncomfortably, involves the harnessing of powers of thought and magical force to be sent over to their enemies, the Un-Tied. These forces are an interesting metaphor for propaganda: not physical weapons, but mental and spiritual ones that cause their enemies to become paranoid and upset, and continue to rebel against their government. For just about everyone in the Bound, using these dark powers seems like a reasonable and logical thing to do, as it continues a smouldering war of attrition between the two nations. But Lady Yorris sees things differently, and understands the true potential of the weapons they use.
“Only light can dispel shadows and find the light within,” says a vision appearing to Yorris alone during the service. Her special gift allows her to see how ugly her clan’s methods really are, and how much using them has corrupted their own souls. She sees, for example, that her father has a brain tumour he has not yet noticed, and how the use of these weapons has infected her older brother’s heart with a hateful vapour. Her people are bound together not out of love, but out of hate for their enemies, and it’s that hatred that seems to power the astral-projecting spirits they unleash upon the Un-Tied. Yorris seems to be alone in feeling that using these powers for ill, and performing this dark act of psychic manipulation on their rivals is morally wrong and brings out the worst in everyone involved. The twist is that someone, whether it’s the Un-Tied or some rogue element in their own society, has managed to create a counter-balancing force, animated by light and love rather than darkness and hate.
Yorris’s ability to see the truth of the situation makes her something of an embarrassment to her family, and she is led away so that she can’t be too disruptive to the proceedings, but in fact her voice is precisely what the Bound need to hear at this moment in their history. “No one here realizes the consequences of their actions,” she narrates at one point, and it’s that short-sightedness that threatens their survival, not their actual enemies.
As a metaphor, this is a rather rich material. In another era, one might have applied this situation to the use of the atomic bomb, but here the target of the informed satire is more general. Power in general, especially the use of hateful language and a continued policy of constant attack, is the real enemy. The projection of American military force overseas, for example, in the guise of keeping the peace but really just keeping the forces of conflict and disarray at a low boil, is a fair analogy for what the Bound are doing. For a sensitive person like Yorris, so far untouched by the brush of hate and bitterness that has literally infected the souls of her family, it’s a terribly vulnerable situation. She has, in fact, adopted a spiritual “pet”, a lizard-dog, to protect her from the magical forces so that she can keep her emotional integrity. It’s also a nice, though well-worn, touch to have this story told from the perspective of a child, whose power over her own life is so restricted. She’s at the mercy of those older, but not wiser.
Fil Barlow’s artwork here is in a strong comics style, but more conventional that previous instalments of 8House. But her ability to focus on face-acting, particularly eyes and lips (Yorris “acts” with her lips very effectively) is well-suited to this sort of story about moral apprehension. The members of the Bound house, for example, have certain subtle connections to the fetishism of ropes, all wearing tight corsets that emphasize their necks and shoulders.
All of the various stories under the banner 8House have true promise, and now there are no less than three going simultaneously. It’s a thoughtful science fiction universe that will no doubt grow in richness as it proceeds.