Syndrome is what happens when you have a quite brilliant high-concept and a limited page count. Clocking in at 110 pages (including bonus art breakdown pages) it feels like it’s on the cusp of getting started right as it ends. Which is a real shame, since this Synecdoche, New York meets The Truman Show meets Shutter Island* meets the DSM-IV has one of the best loglines I’ve read in recent memory: scientists, artists, and actors participate in a facility designed to observe and remedy the processes that lead to sociopathic/murderous behavior.
The subject for this endeavor is serial killer Thomas Kane, who was “executed” for his religion-linked murders but winds up in the facility. The book’s chapters jump between Karen, as aspiring actress who takes a role in the experiment to cure Kane, narcissistic production designer Alexei, who is responsible for creating the elaborate sets out in the middle of the desert, and Dr. Chitel, a psychologist who’s determined to find and cure the mental component that makes a person a killer. Besides Chitel whose motivations are pretty clearly articulated, the others have intriguing hints as to what makes them want to be part of this grand experiment.
In fact, the script by Quantz and Ryan based on an original concept from Leibel is quite deft in getting into the heads of its cast and making a compelling case for re-visiting them in hypothetical future installments. What’s frustrating is that we only get to spend a short time with the characters and inside the facility. It’s such a tantalizingly brief exploration of the concept that, while technically stands on its own, still feels like the thrilling set up for a show you’re not sure is returning past the pilot. Oh the one hand, I’d love to wholeheartedly recommend the book and hopefully drum up interest, thereby ensuring future installments, and on the other hand the book gives the reader a slight case of literary blue balls, if you’ll pardon moi francais.
It took me a second read to appreciate the art by Marquez – not because I didn’t like it the first time through but because I was really engrossed in the story, almost to the exclusion of the art. Which is kind of shoddy reading on my part since Marquez does some good to excellent work with his “actors.” If I have a couple of nitpicks it’s with one or two scenes where the characters’ anatomy is slightly unrefined (too-short arms, proportions are a little off), and for some reason Dr. Chitel’s beard/goatee combo looks pasted onto his face. Again, these are simply nitpicks, and there’s some fine work on display here.
*This last is a little bit of a stretch on my part. But the concept is of creating “test realities” to help characters get over their psychological crises is shared here as well as in Will Peter Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration.
If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of Charles Webb's work at his blog Monster In Your Veins.
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