The latest issue of Pandemica from IDW Publishing hit the stands this week with a cover that pays homage to the Discovery One from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The curved floor with decomposing bodies in stasis beds highlights the story closing in on De as she tries to escape. And there ends the similarities.
With a bi-monthly release schedule it feels like there have been many more issues in this comic run than there has been. Trying to keep up with what has happened is also a problem: a quick flick through previous issues for a reminder is definitely needed. The question is, is the wait for the end of the world worth it?
A Relevant Plot
When Pandemica started in September last year, the breakneck pace of the plot almost left the artist behind. Jonathan Maberry introduced so much into his first issue with a host of characters in a plethora of situations. There were time jumps, narratives hopping back and forth, and an emerging White Supremacist story-line.
So much of it felt relevant, drawing on the disturbing political climate across the globe. Six months down the line and that real world fear is still there but for an entirely different reason. Reading Pandemica in the midst of a global health crisis adds weight to some of the themes that Maberry is attempting to bring out.
The only problem is, a lot of this issue is over written. Ignoring the opening splash page which sets the scene and attempts to remind the reader what happened at the end of the last issue, the opening sequence is five pages of exposition regarding a character called Lucky Bunny. Lucky Bunny is a danger to all life on Earth. The reader learns this early on but the concept is hammered home again and again, panel after panel.
The story returns to this scene of De and Chick several times, each time progressing slightly but hindered by the need to remind the reader about the danger. Again and again. The constant repetition ends up having the opposite effect than intended. The reader quickly becomes indifferent to Lucky Bunny and, if you are anything like me, you’ll find yourself rooting for Chick; which is the wrong side of the fence to be on.
Whereas issue one had multiple stories and characters fighting for space, this issue is lacking. A few of the characters remain but the plot has been reduced to a few simple beats. Most of what happens in this issue could have been condensed without losing anything.
The general plot is still intriguing and a large proportion of the scripting is engaging, however it could have been improved with some firm editing.
Layouts and Art
Due to the rambling story, Alex Sanchez has plenty of time and space to design his layouts. He shows off his figure work with the constant back and forth between the characters. A number of close ups and full body shots allow the artist to bring out the expressive nature of the characters. It also allows him to focus on the violence, drawing out scenes and building the tension in each moment.
The design of the layouts are especially impressive. Sanchez focuses the reader in the first panel and then has clear lines through the page. The stance of a figure in the first tier will lead to a well placed leg in the second tier and into the final dramatic pose in the bottom tier. This easily discernible line from the top of the page to the bottom splits the page in half and emphasises the first and last panels.
The structuring of the panels throughout is impressive and, with Sanchez’s expressive inking style, there is a satisfying visual aspect to the comic. Helping that visual along is the color work by Jay Fotos whose biggest contribution to this issue is distinguishing between locations and time periods. There are a number of scene jumps, each with their own tone and atmosphere. Fotos differentiates between location with subtle alterations to background coloring. This allows for a more drastic change to the color palette when representing the past or future.
Shawn Lee still has the hardest job in this comic because there is a lot of speech to letter. Virtual essays of exposition have to be squeezed into the pages without detracting from Sanchez’s art work. Unfortunately for Lee, this isn’t always possible and there are panels where the visual drama is covered by the verbal.
However, Lee works well with what he is given. He breaks up speeches into smaller chunks and spreads them across a panel, or stacks the balloons depending on the image. This at least gives most of the art some room to breath. Lee also uses color to differentiate between characters voices so that, even when they are off panel, it is easy to follow. For a script that’s almost a novel, Lee does surprisingly well not to bury all of the images in black lines of text.
The series got off to an impressive start, full of intrigue and mystery. As the story has unfolded some of that excitement has been lost. Unfortunately for the series, this issue has the feel of a filler chapter, stretched out to make a four part series into a five part series.
There are glimpses of the earlier greatness and the art team are still pushing the boat out. It is just a shame that the boat appears to have a hole in it. An over written script, desperately in need of an editor hampers some of the other creators work which is a shame.
As the resolution of the story is just around the corner (two months away) I would recommend sticking with this title. This may not be the best issue of the run but it contains enough to keep the regular reader interested.