Paradiso, Vol. 2: Dark Dwellers
Writer: Ram V
Artist: Devmalya Pramanik
Colorists: Alba Cardona & Alex Sollazzo
Letterer: Aditya Bidikar
Editor: Lizzie Kaye
Designers: Dearbhla Kelly & Mathanki Kodavasal
Publisher: Image Comics
In Paradiso Vol. 2: Dark Dwellers, which collects issues #5-8 of this Image Comics sci-fi series, we see protagonist Jack Kryznan and his companions attempting to venture deeper into the heart of Paradiso, only to be thwarted at every turn by the city herself. Forced to make their way through the darkness of a collapsed building, Jack, Karin, Noira and Vance encounter an entire civilization of “dark dwellers,” people who were in cryofreeze for so long that their blood has made them super strong and super fast — but also can’t sustain them for more than a few days at a time.
Much like the first arc of Paradiso, Dark Dwellers keeps up an intense pace as it narrates the story through dialogue and flashback scenes. In this arc, readers learn significantly more information about Paradiso, Jack’s connection to her, the function of the pneumas he wears in a vial around his neck, and what could happen if he reaches the center of the city. While many of the questions that have haunted Jack his entire life are answered in these collected issues, still others remain, with even more mysteries piled on top to keep things interesting.
Meanwhile, the growing threat of the Guardians acts in direct opposition to what Jack is seeking to accomplish. Plus, Vance’s loyalties are called into question and Karin is forced to confront her past in a way that’s both heartbreaking and infuriating. We also meet a new character whose role is as yet undefined — though they have already created obstacles for Jack and his friends, and the cliffhanger at the end of issue #8 suggests there’s still more tension to come.
Paradiso has always dealt with the ways in which men can be made into monsters. This arc, in particular, hyper-focuses on that idea by showing readers just how many ways humanity can be corrupted in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s gruesome and heartbreaking and hard to swallow, all the things that are true of any good story about survival. Paradiso is hungry, but so are her people; reconciling those needs is harder than it seems.
It’s been clear from issue #1 that Ram V and Pramanik have a clear trajectory for this story, which makes each character transgression feel organic. Furthermore, Pramanik’s art in these collected issues is so beautifully emphasized by Alba Cardona’s and Alex Sollazzo’s color work that sinking into the darkness beneath Paradiso feels palpable. Likewise, the design (by Dearbhla Kelly, who did coloring work on the first arc, as well as Mathanki Kodavasal) pushes the story to new heights: it ebbs and flows without breaking stride, in an incredible display of just how deeply this entire creative team understands exactly what Paradiso aims to do.
Although in some ways, Paradiso fits neatly into the post-apocalyptic, steampunk-infused sci-fi genre, it also subverts expectations and draws readers in, only to chew them up and spit them back out. Sometimes, that process happens over the course of just a few panels; other times, it takes several issues to reach the pay-off of even the smallest character moments. In each case, the world expands, breathing and living on the page as much as any of its characters — including the city of Paradiso, who is arguably one of the most fascinating explorations of architecture, magic and myth I’ve ever encountered in fiction (comics or otherwise).
If you ache to sink your teeth into a sci-fi epic that will keep you on your toes and tug at all of your heartstrings, pick up Paradiso and dig in.
Samantha Puc is an essayist and culture critic whose work has been featured on Bitch Media, The Mary Sue, Bustle, and elsewhere. She mostly writes intersectional pop culture analysis with a particular focus on representation of LGBTQ and fat characters in fiction. Samantha is the managing editor at The Beat, as well as the co-creator and editor-in-chief of Fatventure Mag, an outdoors zine for fat creators who are into being active, but not into toxic weight-loss culture. She lives in Montana with her partner and cats.