The main theme of Fil Barlow and Helen Maier’s arc “Yorris” for 8House appears to be transgression. Little Yorris rebelled against her culture by presuming to suggest that war isn’t automatically the answer to every problem, and that communication is the key to successful coexistence. Surely we all know how that metaphor plays out in the real world, particularly our Patriarchal culture with its obsession with hauling out the guns at the slightest provocation. Yorris, in the previous issue, was contacted by a spectral assassin during a sacred ceremony of war, and speaking out about what she saw earned her a place in the proverbial dog house of her society, a rather grim procedure involving mind parasites and institutionalized torture. Throughout this issue, with its various psychic links between characters and dimensions, I kept coming back to the notion of what Yorris’ crime really was. Based on how she’s treated here, one would think that she had let a terrorist movement or incited some revolution, rather than just interrupting a ceremony. The fact that she is experiencing anything negative at all, let alone being institutionalized and tortured, speaks volumes about the insecurity of her culture, and how easily threatened it is.
8House is basically an anthology series, so seeking connecting themes in other arcs is something of a fool’s errand, but there is no doubt that Yorris, and her fate, are an echo of the Monster Lady of the Arclight saga, or the banished soldier of Kiem. All characters have crossed some sort of arbitrary boundary, all mix science fiction with fantasy magic, and incidentally, all are female. Perhaps that isn’t an accident, and I hesitate to point it out because in 2015, that shouldn’t be as unusual as it is. But the rich resonance of having three stories featuring female leads, all guilty of violating society’s boundaries, in a medium still suffering from a tremendous gender gap (alas), probably shouldn’t be ignored. I hope we someday find female comics heroes to be more or less commonplace, but for now, we need to take things one step, and one book, at a time.
In any case, Yorris finds herself reaching out (or in) emotionally in this second issue of her arc, and the book takes its time, spinning vision within vision, layering in back story, before showing us whee the unfortunate girl has found herself in the “real world”. The institution in which she is being subjected to mental torture also contains a rogue’s gallery of transgressive characters straight out of Tod Browning’s Freaks, with shades of the strange characters from THX1138. They, in keeping with the subversive twists on character sympathy, are much more human than the power brokers in society, and welcome Yorris in various charming ways. Meanwhile, the characters to whom we were introduced at the end of the previous issue, setting off on a mission across the desert, have attracted the attention of the authorities. What’s missing here is a sense of how all of these various story components fit together, except in a metaphorical sense. Since this is only the second issue of the arc, some reader patience is in order, and such is the nature of serialized storytelling. Sometimes we just have to wait.
The art in this arc is in a more conventional style than we’ve seen so far in 8House, with bright solid colours and cartoon faces, but in a way that makes the subject material all the more disturbing. For a character in a self-consciously cartoon style to be subjected to mind parasites might almost be too unsettling where the action to be presented using the haunting brush strokes of Arclight or the dense geometry of Kiem. Imagine the Real Ghostbusters, only with truly frightening spectral worms and mental hospitals. The lettering here is particularly effective, blending into the art itself and highlighting the power of that peculiar mix of words and pictures that we call “comics”. When Yorris first connects with another being (he may be another patient/prisoner, or he may be something else entirely), the text is written literally in the space between their minds, for example, in glowing letters as it may appear to someone having this experience.
Let us not forget that Yorris’ people are engaging in psychological warfare against their enemies. Through the use of mental projection, they are able to conjure any number of nightmarish visions and let pure fear do their work for them. In the real world, there’s no better name for that sort of trick than “terrorism”, which tests, perhaps even beyond what should be excused, our sympathy for her society. The truly horrific thing about this issue is the realization that the weapons her people have turned against her enemies can also be turned against itself. The parallels with the real world issues of media manipulation, cultural shaming and subliminal programming, combined with weapons designed for “shock and awe” are inescapable. The best sort of science fiction is always about the present, of course, and in the final analysis, that’s what gives 8House its power, especially in this grim but compelling third arc.