Current Reviews


Stuart Moore's Para

Posted: Wednesday, November 15, 2006
By: Steven G. Saunders

Creation & Script: Stuart Moore
Pencils: Pablo Villalobos, Claude St. Aubin, Federico Zumel
Inks: Mostafa Moussa, James Taylor
Colours: Mike Garcia
Letters: Richard Starkings
Painted Cover: Stephen Martiniere

Publisher: Penny Farthing Press

From the inside flap:

"*Deep beneath the heart of Texas it lies: The Supercollider; the world's largest, most powerful particle accelerator. But a horrific disaster in the mid-'80s left it highly radioactive, killing everyone including the project's head scientist, Dr. William Erie.*

* *

*"Now, twenty years later, Sara Erie- the doctor's daughter *is determined to find out the real story. But when Sara and an investigative team descend into the Supercollider, they find no bodies- just abandoned radiation badges; shadowy, inhuman figures that move very fast, keeping out of sight in the darkened tunnels; frogs frozen in an amber-like substance* And one word, scrawled repeatedly on the walls in blood: PARA.*

* *

*"What does it mean? The answer may be the key to the universe's origins- or to its end.*"

Sound intriguing? Well, it is. And it also describes the work that just made me a big fan of Stuart Moore. Para is utterly brilliant, to put it simply. Anyone who is a reader of science-fiction should really enjoy this book, especially those who liked the better episodes of X-Files or Outer Limits (both old and new). I've seen Para also compared to The Abyss, but I have to say: If The Abyss was this good then it might have stood a chance against Batman in theatres. That's not to say it's a bad movie or anything; it's just not as good as Para, that's all.

This is a volume collecting issues #1-#6 of the Para comic series that came out a couple or so years back. Along with the great, engrossing story contained within, the stunning covers are particularly memorable, as well. I didn't have the pleasure of picked them up, unfortunately, but I remember those covers. Damn, they're good. Now, Para is available in trade paperback and Penny Farthing Press delivers, albeit with a minor, and non-bullet detracting, flaw.

Stuart Moore gives us a rich story, full of mystery and complexity without it weighing down and suffocating the reader in arbitrary convolution; and his tale has meaning without it being a burden. This I found to be very refreshing, and it's worth the highest score I can give it alone, as so much out there is masquerading as "science-fiction" in comics form is really just "sciencey" spray-paint on a horror/superhero/war/crime/etc story. Para is pure science fiction with a bit of mystery and creepy-weird stuff thrown into the mix. Yes, folks, even some big words and concepts are used; but Moore makes sure they are not daunting at all for the reader, having Sara Erie (a social worker) be the layperson the scientists translate their "science geek-speak" to, thus allowing those out there lacking in knowledge of, say, theoretical physics to completely understand what's going on.

The story itself is wrapped in a mystery. It kicks off with a superb intro piece, of which I've seen few better before. There we are introduced to Dr. William Erie and his daughter Sara, as well as Dr. Andersen, who is a good friend of Dr. Erie's. Then the accident happens, and everyone in the supercollider is presumed killed, including Sara's father. After radiation levels are believed to be within safer limits (20 years later) a team headed up by an aging Doctor Andersen is assembled to go down into the enormous supercollider (it's 28 miles in diameter) and find out what exactly happened. Sara wants to go, but she's since given up on science and became a social worker. After some cajoling, Sara convinces Andersen to falsify some credentials and get her on the team. A little later, we find out that the team also consists of Sara's ex-boyfriend Roger (Andersen's grad student assistant) and government Agent Sanchez. They all go descend into the supercollider to find no dangerous radiation levels at all and a black substance laying around, usually with the radiation badges of the dead scientists in it (with no radiation indicated on the badges, either). Sara eventually bumps into frogs encased in a clear, hard substance (like ice, but not cold; also she's been dreaming about frogs) and then a strange creature. That's when the team discovers the word "PARA" scrawled on a wall in blood. Later a paranormal investigator named Dr. Zakaraius (Dr. Z) joins them, and the story with the great mystery goes forward.

I don't want to say much more, because I'll give too much away. Let's just say that this book is both exciting and touching, a rare combination in any genre. You'll gasp, you'll laugh, and you'll cry, and all that. Stuart Moore's Para is one of those things that only come down the pipe ever so infrequently. The characters are fleshed out and explored so well that you to grow emotionally attached to them, and even the supercollider itself seems to have an acting part in the story. The dialogue is terrific and I can't think of it getting any better, considering the material it's written for. Even the elements that could normally seem like lame plot-tools (such as Sara being a marathon runner) work to great effect in Para. The story also reminds me of Michael Crichton's Sphere a bit, if only in impression, except Moore made me feel more while I was reading this. He also adds some nice prose with sparse illustration sections that really, really adds to the mood and flow to this book. By the end, I think anyone reading it will be convinced of Stuart Moore's story-telling prowess. He takes you on a journey first of mystery and perhaps even terror then discovery, and I certainly enjoyed the ride in full.

The art matches the story perfectly. There's nothing garish or exaggerated about the pencils and the colours and inks compliment them well. Indeed, it's almost as if you don't notice the art as a separate entity and just absorb the story as a whole. Yeah, I know that sounds kind of silly, but that's how I see it. The art is great, but not obtuse, if that makes sense. This book is a creature unto itself, not just words stamped on pictures. There's something to be said about that; Oh, yeah! It's "brilliant."

The extras in this trade are nice and they include the obligatory collection of outstanding and weepingly gorgeous covers of the individual issues as crafted by Stephen Martiniere.

There's also a short story about the first team that was sent in by the government ("First team?" you say), an afterword, and a nice team bios section. The trade paperback itself is on nice glossy paper and enclosed in a similarly glossy cover, complete with flaps. This is a quality release, no question, and it only heightens the marvellous experience this book has to provide.

And what about that flaw I mentioned? It has to do with some frames that probably read much better in the single issues as the middle frame in a two page spread is obscured by the trade's spine. This probably wasn't a big deal with the thinner comic books. Still, it doesn't detract enough to lose it any points, as I said before. It's a very minor annoyance that is totally buried by the sheer weight of excellence this book has.

In closing, I must stress that you go forth and purchase as soon as you can. Find some way to read it. Para is a story that you won't soon forget and it will make you want to get your friends to check it out. Bravo to the entire team that worked on this book and helped renew my faith in the comics medium in a huge way. This book is worth every cent and second put into it. I only hope that these fine folks produce more great works in the future.

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