Writer and Artist: Sloane Leong
Publisher: Image Comics
Prism Stalker is a new science fiction series from Image comics. These days “a new science fiction series from Image” is not quite an exciting announcement as it once was; March 2018 alone sees five number ones in the field of serial science fiction, including new series from top sellers Robert Kirkman and Jeff Lemire (along with a revival of Cyberforce). It’s hard for a new series to shine when even the company it operates in, never mind the industry as a whole, feels saturated.
Still, Prism Stalker #1 has a way of popping out even on the busy pages of the Previews catalogue. The combination of writer / artist Sloane Leong’s unique pencils and eye-popping color work creates not only a good looking cover, but one that grabs you. This book doesn’t look like it wants to be a TV show, or a movie, or a BBC audio drama – it looks like it wants to be a comic, which means it gets immediately on my good side.
Like From Under Mountains (which Leong illustrated but did not write), this first issue takes its time; it feels more like an exercise in world and character building than a particularly plot-driven project. Our protagonist is a young member of tribe whose members are being used in dangerous field work by the planetary overlords for “their own good.” Naturally she rebels against the will of the dominant culture and gets marked out for even more dangerous (possibly lucrative) work, far away from home.
As you can guess from Leong’s previous work, it is a ridiculously good-looking series, and all the characters feel well-defined from the moment they appear on the page. There’s a sense of truth both to their expressions and to their body language.
Look at how much, in both character and story terms, is expressed in this silent scene – the way the protagonist’s face moves from hesitations to happiness, the way she craves acceptance, and how she reacts when it’s given to her. Now contrast that with the earlier scene of her slipping away undetected, doing what she’s not meant to do, and how much more certain she appears to be. We learn so much about her, so much about the culture she operates in, without a word being spoken.
That the characters already feel so well-defined is important to a series whose subject is the autonomy of a people who had it not only taken away but denied that it ever mattered. “It’s important for your social health to move beyond your base traditions,” says one of the overseers. He says it with his hand (tentacle?) upon her brow, not in the harsh gesture of a slave-master, but like a teacher would to a shy student or a father would to a child, like she is simple and must rely upon his wisdom. (And how great is the hint of rage in her small frown, bubbling barely contained beneath an accepting surface?) This is, in many ways, much worse. It’s not a very subtle scene, but it’s not trying to be.
Another pleasant effect of the art is a constant sense of movement to the characters and the world, a reflection of our heroine’s restless nature as she pushes herself through the unknown scenery. This comic always feels like it moves forward. Even in the talking scenes the art is never static – not so much rushing as flowing around, showing us the world, exploring the way various characters interact with it. Even the way the main colors shift throughout the issue: the blue of the cover, the pink of the heroine sneaking around, the green hues of the ceremony she participates in, to the red of her communal home – they all give the story a sense of momentum.
The negative side of it all is, as mentioned before, in terms of pacing for serialization: this issue stops at a point that feels like the end of a prologue in a graphic novel (another similarity to From Under Mountains, which read a lot better in collected form but was rather grueling as a monthly). This a problem for many Image series in recent years; they spend too much of the first issue setting up a story that won’t kick in until a later issue. A good solution to this problem would’ve been to make an extra-long first issue. (It did wonders for Monstress – a fantasy series that took its time setting up the world but had a lot more page space to work within.)
For this series to work as a serial, the next few issues would need to pick up the pace. It’s a very crowded market (for good and ill), and one needs to make sure the reader always feels like he or she must come back for the next issue rather than waiting six months for a trade collection. Still, despite these flaws Prism Stalker is a unique-looking series with grand ambitions that might very well end up as one of the best 2018.