I don’t know about all of you, but I’m a sucker for ambitious storytelling. Sure, I love my paint-by-numbers comics, but when you can clearly see a team of artists aspiring for something more it makes the downtime between monthly installments all the sweeter. With each issue we get another building block, another piece of the puzzle and half of the fun is the challenge presented in the work to the reader. Yes, you can read a comic in under fifteen minutes, but it’s the well-crafted and impassioned books that draw you in and invite you to take a closer look. Pisces, with only two issues, is proving itself to be such a book.
Home from the war in Vietnam, former fighter pilot Dillon Carpenter finds adjusting to civilian life to be as much of a battle as the one he left behind. Carrying the burden of what he did during the war to survive, Dillon is continually haunted by his demons both real and imagined. A chance meeting with a fellow veteran, however, gives him the opportunity to find a modicum of peace, but a momentary reprieve isn’t enough to keep the past and the present from colliding.
The description may be fairly straightforward but within the issue proper writer Kurtis Wiebe, artist Johnnie Christmas, and colorist Tamra Bonvillain tweak it just enough to keep us questioning reality right along with Dillon. It’s all lined up for us: veteran of a horrific war experiencing post-traumatic stress that manifests as equally horrific hallucinations. Pretty much every Vietnam movie covers this. Except there’s a sinister quality to Dillon’s visions. His demons arrive in the form of a viscous liquid with melting phantasms attempting to pull him under, to drown him in a watery starscape. The continued use of water holds up less as a method of narrative transition and more as a manifestation of his psyche.
Pisces #2 really highlights how the script and the art hold equal weight in telling the story. So far, Wiebe has been light on exposition. He’s letting the characters drive the plot and since we’re dealing with a questionable reality, nothing appears to make sense. Memories, visions, nightmares all blend together but without context we as the reader are hung out to dry about the actual meaning. Dillon is even less forthcoming with an explanation because he isn’t sure himself and he really isn’t the type to wax poetic about his feelings. Without our own solid foundation from the words, we turn to the art for help. It’s worth noting that Christmas’ art continues to be stunning throughout the issue. He manages to make distortion and elongation of panels and appendages look amazing but he can just as easily nail an expression that tells you everything about a character with one glance. And Bonvillain’s colors bring as much vibrancy to a quiet conversation in the moonlight as they do to a whirling black hole of starry nightmares. The art, however, is just as unreliable as it quickly turns, taking any solid foundation of reality and morphing into hellish dreams. Like the mind, Dillon’s world is fluid and subject to change without warning. Add in the nonlinear narrative and our ability to gauge the situation is nonexistent. It’s exciting but it also holds just enough tension and anxiety with each turn of the page, which is exactly where you want to be in the horror/thriller genre.
The best pieces of horror are less about gore and more about anxiety and fear – fear of the unknown, of the people around us, of our own bodies, etc. Our senses are heightened, the heart beats faster, and we’re just waiting to let out a scream to relieve our minds of the stress induced by sustained suspense. Pisces is only in the first stages, setting the tone where the quiet moments linger with uncertainty. Every corner has the potential to sink into oblivion, every person a possible figment of an addled mind. As Dillon falls, we fall with him and there’s nothing to hold on to.
Isn’t that just a little bit frightening? But isn’t it also just a little bit fun?