It’s hard to describe the first issue of Pisces. Not because the issue is awful – it isn’t – but because it’s clearly the beginning of something huge, something that’s going to unfold, like all good storied should, and finally make sense by the end. Maybe. It’s hard to tell right out the gate whether the team of Kurtis J. Wiebe and Johnnie Christmas, who’ve been working on this story for two years, will tell a concrete narrative because Pisces exhibits all the traits of an existential character study where time is fluid and each vignette delves deeper and deeper into a man’s psyche.
What is Pisces about? Wiebe offers this synopsis:
Former fighter pilot Dillon Carpenter found everything he wanted when he returned from the Vietnam War. A loving partner, a dream career training with NASA to travel through space, and soon, he will learn, a prime candidacy for a secret mission, one that will forever change the world: First Contact. But as Dillon prepares, his war trauma returns and he’s haunted by dark visions of his future. There is but one constant; the voice whispering from the stars.
The first issue certainly hits the ground running as we meet a drunken, bloody Dillon stumbling into the emergency room on the night of his son’s birth. After being confronted by the reality of his situation by having it literally beaten into him, we’re transported through the unconscious (or maybe conscious?) mind to Dillon’s time in Vietnam to witness one in what could be a series of decisions made with horrifying consequences.
Wiebe cites multiple influences for Pisces including David Cronenberg’s early career of body horror films from the 70s and 80s, psychological thrillers like Jacob’s Ladder and Martyr, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Duncan Jones’ Moon. Certainly there are elements of each emerging in the first issue but it’s the sci-fi aspects of Kubrick and Jones that are more prominently featured as we take our first dip into the well of Dillon’s mind. And because we’re following Dillon’s mindscape, there’s plenty of opportunity for Johnnie Christmas to show off his amazing artwork. For all of the fantastical transitions, Christmas’ art has a beautifully raw quality that grounds the story. Even when the panels get fairly illustrative, a quick closeup shot delivers a devastating blow of emotion, particularly in the eyes. Reminds me a lot of Jock, actually. It’s gorgeous and made even more so by colorist Tamra Bonvillain palette. The entire Vietnam flashback is a beautiful display of color setting the mood and tone not just of the setting but also the main character. The dusky optimism of Dillon and his co-pilot Henry escaping their plane crash, the sickening yellow cast over Dillon as he makes his decision to escape alone, and the warm colors of dawn contrasted with the bright blood spilt as Dillon makes his assault on an enemy outpost all serve to make us more intimately aware of his state-of-mind.
What really drew my attention was the symbolism of the first issue. Oh yeah, I’m bringing symbolism into this! Throughout the entire issue water is used a transitional device, which makes sense when you consider the nature of the subconscious where water often acts as a tangible metaphor. Our thoughts jump around all the time and dreams are the mind’s way of trying to make sense of what we perceive on a daily basis as well as the psychological baggage we carry. The deeper the water, the deeper we sink and Dillon seems to sink pretty deep after fist meets face. The title similarly refers to water symbolism with the astrological sign Pisces, the two fishes, but also connects to the first contact mission Dillon embarks on where Pisces the constellation serves as a potential anchor point. One of the more interesting tidbits, for me at least, comes towards the end when Dillon radios into headquarters after killing the Viet Cong soldiers. His call sign is Hades and as he steps out of the hut to make his way to the evac point, he sees a monkey in the trees holding a pomegranate – one of the symbols for Persephone, Queen of the Underworld and Hades’ wife. Ya know, in case there weren’t other reasons Dillon is reliving his past.
All-in-all, Pisces is shaping up to be another solid piece of work. Wiebe and Christmas have started strong. They have my attention and they should definitely have yours.
Pisces #1 goes on sale Wed. April 29th!