Hello, Skkawliens! It has been a while. I went on a short hiatus after the new year, but I am back with a glorious new comic to share with you. Also heads up, there are mild SPOILERS in this article.
This month, I read Prism Stalker by Sloane Leong. From the vibrant, colorful, and psychedelic art to the plot that deals with important and heavy subject matter, this comic floored me.
Vep and her tribe are trapped on a small alien comet where they are put to work harvesting eggs to be exported to other planets. We discover that Vep and her tribe were forced to leave their homeworld because of an attack that poisoned the place, making it uninhabitable. Vep and her tribe were “rescued” by a group called the Chorus. However, they are forced into labor in exchange for their safety. Eventually, Vep is coerced into leaving her tribe to join the Chorus Academy, where she will become a soldier to help the Chorus establish new colonies on distant planets and fight off threats from other conquered natives. She is told that if she does this, the chorus will resettle her tribe, giving them their own place to live.
Now that I’ve told you the plot, let me tell you why you should read this comic. It is like nothing you have ever read before. Leong’s Prism Stalker, while a somewhat familiar tale of the effects of colonialism, is something that has rarely been done in the comic medium so successfully. Not only that, but Leong is able to make this science fiction tale with a myriad of alien races relateable.
Leong admits in the back bonus content that one of her influences is Octavia Butler, and that is clear in the way Leong presents aliens as terrifyingly other and as an advanced civilization with a desire to absorb difference for the betterment of their species. There’s a real similarity to the feelings Butler’s Xenogenesis series stirs; humans feel a real sense of conflict between keeping their culture and being absorbed by a strange alien race.
Often times in Butler’s stories the alien race does something that seems truly strange and horrifying to us as humans but perfectly normal to them. In Leong’s Prism Stalker, the depiction of Vep and some of her tribe harvesting eggs is meant to both horrify us and show how the Chorus has made Vep’s tribe complicit in colonization. Complicity in colonization as forced on the colonized by the colonizer is a theme that continues throughout the book.
My favorite theme in Prism Stalker is how the colonized is cut off from their language and their culture by the colonizer, and how this places the current generation in a liminal place where they are no longer part of their tribe and also not part of the dominant culture. The colonized is then left to navigate both worlds but is accepted by neither. At the beginning of Prism Stalker, Vep has flashbacks of her native homeworld and she visits the elders to commune with her heritage, but she is not taught the language of her ancestors. Language becomes a symbol of Vep’s cultural identity that has been destroyed by the colonizer. Vep struggles to figure out who she is because she has been cut off from her a part of herself.
The second half of the comic follows Vep as she trains at the academy, which resembles the usual magic school found in anime, manga, and other fantasy worlds like Harry Potter. However, something truly unique about this academy is the everpresent reminder that the various alien species present are not there by choice.
One of the most painful and powerful moments is when Vep meets two women from her homeworld at the academy. Vep greets them as sisters but is met with hostility as they see her tribe as weak and traitorous. They will not accept her because she has not been taught the language and culture of their homeworld. This feeling of being rejected by the culture of one’s ancestors for lack of purity is one that first and second generation immigrants and colonized peoples often experience. This rejection by the home culture also makes the training provided by the colonizer even more seductive.
During Vep’s academy training with crazy mind projections that are just as likely to challenge your mind as they are Vep’s, it is hinted that there is something special about Vep. Some of her people, the Inama, have an empath organ. While it hasn’t been revealed what that means in the first volume, Vep shows that she has some skill in bending reality to her will and fighting using mind projections.
The art of Prism Stalker is vibrant and thoughtful. Leong uses a neon color palette in her extraterrestrial comic. This color palette makes Prism Stalker a jolt of energy to read. The colors make the world of Prism Stalker feel even more strange and wondrous. However, in contrast with the alien world and creatures of the galaxy, Vep’s skin is a dark olive skin tone, which makes her more relatable to us as humans.
Leong does some truly fantastic things with panel shape, lines, and colors in prism stalker. When Vep is having a flashback of her culture, dreaming, or experiencing the mind visuals in her training at the academy the shapes of the panels change to fit the shape of that particular experience. When Vep’s mind is being stretched to the point of sanity, Leong’s art becomes more erratic and chaotic. I especially enjoyed these vision sequences because my mind felt stretched in order to experience what Vep was experiencing. For me, art that forces your mind to stretch in new ways to understand it is most interesting. I definitely enjoyed that challenge.
Another cool addition to Prism Stalker is the ethereal electronic beats that were created to accompany each issue by Neotenomie. While I did not listen to each song as I read the issue they pair with, I think this would be the ideal way to listen. It feels like there are ambient reflective moments in each track but also moments where the tracks become loud and buzzing with foreboding and intensity that become a tonal assault. A perfect soundtrack to accompany this deep sci-fi comic.
If you like colorful science fiction stories with strong character development and exploring complex, real-world issues like the effects of colonization, then this is the comic for you. This is the kind of comic that will challenge you to think about our own reality, something that only the best of science fiction stories can do. I, for one, cannot wait to see how Vep subdues her own reality.
Check out Prism Stalker here: http://prismstalker.com/