There’s a moment at the end of the first issue of Sloane Leong‘s new science-fiction opus Prism Stalker where an alien named Sozerin, tells Vep, our protagonist that she is being forcibly recruited into a newly established chorus academy and that they “have custodial power over displaced exiles and their offspring. Especially those who are unable to … fully grasp their circumstances or the complex customs of our society“. He looks down on her as just one of many survivors and refugees from a dead planet, only slightly more capable than her peers, but barely worth of mentions beyond that. He asks if she has a name, something to differentiate her from others of her race. She only says her name, Vep. She wishes she could say so much more than this, but her culture and language is slowly becoming extinct, dying of old age with the elders of her planets, the keepers of language and traditions of her world. I’m reminded of the many real world parallels to this, how a similar situation is facing many indigenous communities in Canada, how many traditional indigenous languages are disappearing and with it, an entire history, heritage and customs. It’s frustrating and frightening. For Vep, this loss of language is painful, “I listen, but my mother’s prayers are not much more than soothing sounds to me. We know few words between us but it’s not enough. My mouth dries up with these foreign sounds. We hiss when we should sing”.
Prism Stalker builds a psychedelic world from the very first page as we see Vep and her fellow humans lives aboard a living asteroid, justifying their existence on this entity by harvesting it’s eggs. She’s recruited into an imperialist academy and her role shifts from refugee to colonizer on a strange planet. She hopes to take her entire family away from that asteroid and onto the planet. A dream she may never get to realize considering the rigidity of the selection process for settlers. The initiation process is disorienting and disturbing, but there may yet be something positive to be gained out of this, perhaps friendship, perhaps love, it’s too early to tell, but there’s something there. Foundations being laid for a solid science fiction tale.
It’s an epic tale, but it’s also a psychedelic one. Filled with weird alien creatures and bright colour. Space is portrayed with deep shades of purple crisscrossed with bright pink and neon blue. A room in a spaceship has bright orange walls with dark orange seats all around and a round table in the center with dark purple stones in the middle. The preview page above shows Vep aboard a living ship, with an incalculable amount of pink and turquoise hues. Those colours are a constant reminder of the otherworldliness of Vep’s environment. She’s a long way from home. The design of the asteroid, the locations, the bizarre corridors and intricate rooms, of the aliens is absolutely superb. There’s an interesting mention that the aliens recruiting Vep are quite fond of bipeds, a reference I found quite amusing considering the wild concepts of the animal-like aliens we’ve seen before. They’re supported and complimented perfectly by the colours. Sloane always puts great care at illustrating movement, she even includes a handful of movement sound. “Schlorp” as Vep extricate herself from the protective shell of the shuttle, or a well-placed “Thwack” as a tall alien bangs a door open. It’s a thing I always like to see. Sloane also brings her mastery of pacing and her superb control of light and darkness to Prism Stalker.
In addition to the comics itself, a musician named Neotenomie is providing an accompanying soundtrack. A sort of ambient, electronic space sound to go with each issue. The song, while unnecessary to enjoy the comics, is a nice addition to the work. This idea is actually pretty neat. I’ve read the comics with and without the soundtrack and found the music added a new dimension to the comics. The sounds of the living asteroid floating in space help to immerse readers in her world.
I’ve only read two issues and I’m already certain this will be one of the best comics series I’ll read this year. There’s a small scene at the end of the second issue, after Vep had attended an introductory meeting and is returning to her room. She realizes she can change the appearance of her shiftwear, a material that replicates clothes for her. She selects traditional clothing more akin to her liking and it provides a much needed moment of respite. One of the academy teacher Vashitra, enters her assigned room. She notices the necklaces of her outfit and asks whether it is. She ascertains that it is spiritual, and takes that emotional symbol away from her, “it’s a distraction you can’t afford here”. She leaves the room and leaves Vep, alone again, wrapping her arms around herself for comfort. A cold reminder that while she is now a settler, her place as a refugee, as a person whose culture needs to disappear has not changed. She’s still at the bottom of the food chain and may always will be.
Prism Stalker is full of these moments, short, but deep and moving. I’ve read those two issues countless times already and they’ll stay with me for a long time. Jump on board.
Previewsworld code: JAN180614 & FEB180668
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.