It has been nearly five months since the penultimate issue of IDW Publishing’s Pandemica was released and in that time the real world has changed dramatically. Jonathan Maberry’s thriller about a manufactured, ethnic cleansing disease and the conspiracies behind it’s creation was a lot more fun when it started but the narrative has become much more uncomfortable.
Real world events have not escalated in the same manner as Maberry’s comic but the subjects and the themes behind his narrative have definitely become more relevant. A growing number of conspiracies have emerged regarding Covid-19 and various government’s handling of the pandemic. When world new is dominated by a deadly disease is there still a place for a comic like Pandemica?
In the final part of Maberry’s story, De struggles to protect Mya, a child infected with all of the world’s worst diseases and also the potential saviour of humanity. She fights to stay alive and stay one step ahead of the conspiracy member’s while searching for the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is a place of safety where a cure is being developed and is De’s ultimate goal.
From the start of this issue Maberry puts De on her path towards safety. He teases his central character, and the reader, with a morsel of hope. The insinuation that Mya is the saviour is constantly reiterated to increase the stakes. De isn’t just struggling to survive, she has a greater mission that Maberry wants the reader to understand. This is achieved by repeating over and over again the threat and the supposed solution.
This on the one hand does help to make De’s experience’s mean something significant. She has a purpose and a desired outcome which will benefit the world. A noble goal indeed. Unfortunately it hampers some of the storytelling. The constant requirement to have De in danger means that Maberry doesn’t have a chance to explore the characters very much. By this issue their intentions have been set out and they move through this issue like personality traits rather than characters with complex emotions. Maybe there is no need for that form of narrative this late in the day but the simplistic nature of the character’s motives make them two dimensional and sadly predictable.
The overall plot itself seems to take a step backwards in complexity from previous issues. Whether or not the recent events have affected the story-line, although it is doubtful, it seems that the focus shifting purely onto De takes away from the larger narrative. The morally corrupt people behind the spread of the disease become nothing more than hired guns to shoehorn in action sequences. The terrible effects of the disease and the social commentary created by it’s spread is barely mentioned, thus losing the impact that the story once had.
Rushed But Finished
There are problems with the pacing of the narrative that effect the art production. Some of the pages feel as though Alex Sanchez wasn’t given enough space to allow the action to breath. Transitions between panels are cumbersome with more work required on the readers part than is necessary. On page two, for example, De moves to threaten a fake UPS guy, she issues her warning and then, instantly, he’s dead on the following panel. The insinuation is that he has imparted some information or resisted, however the panels play as if she issued the warning then instantly sliced open his throat. The moment is too fast and nothing is done in the artwork to slow it down.
Shawn Lee’s letters are a good guide for following the action. He creates a simple reading pattern, placing captions and speech balloons in an easy to follow string of letters. There is also a clear definition of De’s emotional states as she moves through the scenes. Lee places emphasis on her speech to express anger or fear, allowing the reader to have some insight into her reactions in certain scenes. Unfortunately, Lee’s lettering isn’t enough to fill the gaps lacking from other parts of the storytelling.
Jay Fotos gives the world of Pandemica a realistic atmosphere. His colors are muted and toned down. Across the page the scenery and characters blend together with a lot of murky colors giving the impression of a worn out environment. The notion of sickness, that is at the heart of the story, definitely is represented through Fotos’ work. Page after page, scene after scene, the most oppressive element of the comic is the coloring that wears the reader down.
There is a rushed feel to the narrative and the storytelling as a whole in the issue. Maberry has a number of plot threads to tie up and that compulsion not to leave anything hanging produces a by-the-book effect. This is ultimately neither satisfying nor rewarding.
Despite the ease of the narrative flow created by the lettering and the atmospheric nature of the coloring, this issue of Pandemica doesn’t draw the reader in. The gap of four months since the last issue doesn’t help as any attachment to the characters has dissipated. Without revisiting previous issues you will find yourself wondering what, if anything, there was to like about the cast.
The comic book industry has suffered in a number of different ways because of the pandemic that has shut down so much of the world. Pandemica as an idea should have stronger resonances with readers because, in part, the narrative deals with a lot of current real world issues. Unfortunately, the final issue is the weakest of the five and suffers more by having turned into an action/chase story instead of an investigation into the effects of a deadly disease.
As a conclusion it is rushed. Binge reading the series may induce a greater empathy for De and her struggles but for most this ending will come as a disappointment. The very end itself is nothing more than a ploy to make you think that something dramatic or exciting has happened when in actuality it’s a paint-by-numbers near apocalypse thriller. Lacking in emotional drive and any real spark of imagination, Pandemica feels outdated even before it is finished. Current circumstances will affect the way that you approach this material, and you will find it wanting, but even without the shut down of the world, Pandemica still does little to push it’s own narrative into new and exciting places.