Written by Brian Holguin
Art by Jay Anacleto and Brian Haberlin
While I am unfamiliar with the Aria comics from the ’90s, this one certainly makes an impression for a first-time reader. Set in Victorian England, Aria has a supernatural element that is at home being macabre. It shows the dingy aspect of the Victorian high-class obsession with the exotic that is reminiscent of the classic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. The art done by Jay Anacleto and Brian Haberlin plays a big role in establishing that setting. It draws in the reader by showing 1800s smoky London, keeping the background a dark color scheme. The character designs are similar to those of Victorian portraits in that there is a creepy glossiness to the faces, which, combined with the natural shading, is unsettling in the right way. The tone of the comic is dark, so this art style works by design.
The setting – more than the plot or characters – appears to be the heart of this comic. There isn’t much depth to the characters, although I will take into account the previous Aria comics from the ‘90s I haven’t read that may have expanded on that. However, for a first-time reader, the focus on the setting and plot makes it difficult to get to know the characters. Only in the introduction is the main character’s personality best displayed, from her reactions to Victorian society.
This intriguing introduction has a narrator that makes the existence of supernatural fae type creatures in hiding clear from the beginning. In a setting where the exotic is fetishized, the supernatural keeping a low profile makes for an exciting adventure into the Decadent movement. Along with a character older than their appearance and high class “dandy” parties, I am inevitably reminded again of Dorian Gray. However, once the plot takes hold and the pace quickens, the similarities begin to fade.
Between the inciting incident and the second act, the scene transitions are too abrupt, because it introduces new characters suddenly. From here, the story stops giving the main character a chance to breathe and react to the inciting incident. This is one of the places where the lack of character depth is apparent, and the comic continues this aspect by prioritizing plot action over the characters’ reactions and feelings. With a setting so rich, character reactions would enhance the ambience, as it did in the introduction. Especially from the supernatural characters with the interesting position in a world that superficially views them only as a means to frivolous amusement.
That said, the flow of the action is quite dynamic in both the art and the writing, even if the plot is a bit rushed toward the end. The dialogue fits the era well, and each character has their own distinct voice, including the narrator. The use of the narrator suits the style of the comic well and helps to set the dark tone. It also helps the readers assert the stance of the supernatural characters in a non-magical world. The opinionated narrator also adds a whimsical feel that makes the story sound like an old legend. This is one of the strongest points of Aria; the writing made me feel very intrigued about the story. It knows how to reel in the readers and keep their eyes on the page.
The fight scenes are very well illustrated and a bit graphic, which matches the general gothic aesthetic. Although the female warrior outfit is impractically sexualized, the supernatural characters battling it out is gritty and works well. However, the sudden resolution to the final fight leaves me wondering if there is some information I am missing from the older Aria comics that would improve it. Since it is fantasy mixed with gothic genre, it is a difficult task to combine the magical with the Victorian, as they are both very distinct and may overpower the other. And while the resolution struggles with this balancing act, the rest of the comic does a great job, giving a unique environment for readers to delve into.
Another thing that is missing are deeper character interactions. The scenes where two significant characters talk to each other are cut short before they can discuss anything meaningful. This takes away from the relationships and makes it difficult to get deeply invested in them. It also removed the potential for exposition on certain plot points, although the narrator makes up for that by filling in some gaps.
Despite its flaws, Aria is a wonderful hybrid of genres and tones, ranging from fantastical to mysterious to horror. It mostly does a great job balancing them and creating a setting that is extremely dark and captivating. The main characters, while they could use more depth, are charismatic, and their dialogue seems to have more meaning lurking beneath the surface. By the end, it leaves the reader wanting more and desiring answers to certain questions. Anyone who likes disturbing supernatural gothic fiction in the tone of The Picture of Dorian Gray is likely to enjoy Aria, since I can easily imagine the latter’s wonderfully creepy art and setting in the former. Although Aria doesn’t quite match up to Dorian Gray´s psychological themes, I thoroughly enjoyed the eeriness pertaining to the Victorian fetishism of what they deemed exotic and how it meshed perfectly with the presence of supernatural beings.