An unsettling, exciting, adventure about our identity and the world around us, “Paklis” is the brand-new, creator-owned sci-fi anthology from Dustin Weaver. Read on for our review, which contains minor spoilers.
Written, Illustrated, Colored, and Lettered by Dustin Weaver
Do you accept the life you’ve been handed, or do you step into the unknown, even as it leads you into the shadows? In this new anthology series from writer/artist DUSTIN WEAVER, the characters in three mind-bending stories find themselves faced with this question. In ‘MUSHROOM BODIES,’ Greg struggles with knowing what’s real and fears to become complacent in a world of human insects. In the first installment of ‘SAGITTARIUS A*,’ war hero Linus Rad is on a mission to the center of the galaxy to learn the dark secrets of his dead father’s scientific experiments. In the first chapter of ‘AMNIA CYCLE,’ Tara, a young Jet-Wing pilot, goes AWOL in the war against the Nuriel in order to help Amnia, a mysterious alien with no memory of where she came from and a desperate need to stop a terrible disaster! When Amnia disappears, it sends Tara on an adventure into the Shadow Zone. Step into the unknown. Journey into the shadows. There you’ll find PAKLIS.
There’s an exciting energy that courses through the veins of “Paklis” #1. For his first ever creator-owned series, Dustin Weaver hasn’t taken the easy route, deciding to craft three adventurous and, at times, disturbing stories that feel like they’re spilling out of the creator’s brain. Weaver states in the back matter of the issue that a couple of these tales have been in his head for a while, and it’s that creative build-up that fuels the pace of this anthology, leading to a debut issue that feels important and exhilarating.
If there are any overarching themes to these disparate tales, they’re of identity and that sense of place. Each of the stories center around a protagonist that has suffered from an event that has turned their world upside down, leading them down a path that questions their very existence; sometimes that question is more metaphorical, sometimes – like in the case of the first story – that question is much more literal. Weaver starts “Paklis” #1 off with a bang – a terrifying, existential bang. Greg is suffering from a mental breakdown that is causing the fabric of his reality to unravel. Either he is seeing scary hallucinations of himself and his loved ones as giant insects or – even more horrific – the veil is lifted, and he is seeing his humanity as the illusion that it is, and his life as a cockroach is one disgusting vision away from coming into focus. Even before discovering that this story came to Weaver as a dream, it’s framed in such a way as to unsettle the reader and loosen the grip on what’s meant to be real. The story, ‘Mushroom Bodies,’ begins as so many nightmares do, with a disorientating race down an unfamiliar corridor, the walls warped and unreal, the panels on the page closing in as the speed increases until finally: an open door, darkness beyond, and a page turn that genuinely frightens as it betrays the trust you placed in the narrative by allowing yourself to be drawn in.
Weaver doesn’t shy away from the sheer existential dread that seeps into every page. Greg is shown in sweaty close-ups, eyes forever widened in horror at his nightmarish existence, and Weaver portrays frightening body horror on almost every page. There’s a suffocating madness that invades the narrative, despite the use of chapters in a futile attempt at organising the chaos within. There’s a scene at a party that captures the very essence of social phobia. Weaver uses unnatural, suffocating reds, purples and blacks as Greg navigates a dizzying, distorted mass of bodies – again a very specific nightmare – in his attempts to find his girlfriend. The story maintains ambiguity in its conclusion, denying you the satisfying closure you’re craving by the end, and making you question what it is you’ve read.
The second story in “Paklis” #1 is ‘Sagittarius A,’ a short, two-page opening chapter of a story told in greyscale. It’s also oriented in landscape on the page (at least in the digital review copy,) all of which lends this a feel of the classic Dan Dare serialisations, or the modern progeny 2000AD. The world in which ‘Sagittarius A’ is set feels like a stereotypical sci-fi pulp adventure, talking of a war with the Psytrons and calling on all manner of genre staples by using terms such as ‘warp port,’ ‘galactic core,’ and vacationing in the ‘Omicron Cluster’. This first chapter sees Major Rad literally following in his father’s footsteps as his tries to uncover the secrets behind his death, while flashing back to four years previous as he discusses with his still-alive father his decision to join the Space Force and fight in the war. It’s a short chapter, but there’s plenty to dissect. The theme of identity returns, this time wrapped in the complex relationships between parents and children. It namedrops Frankenstein, a book that also tackles these themes, and mentions that the Psytrons were created by humanity in the first place. It’s too early to tell, but ‘Sagittarius A’ is positioning itself to ask questions about the cyclical nature of generational choices, about fighting against the mistakes make by parents, and perhaps also of becoming a parent and making those same mistakes. It’s also not accidental that his father, suffering from a previous accident, has transplanted his body onto a cybernetic replacement while his original body heals, which plays on the science versus nature themes also explored in Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece.Continued below
The final story ‘Amnia Cycle’ is perhaps the most fun, and certainly the one with the biggest sense of adventure. It’s also the longest story in this oversized issue, the focus of which is Tara, an Air-Man or space pilot who’s on a standard reconnaissance mission when she comes across a being that crashes to the planet’s surface like a comet. Before she knows it, Tara begins a journey that sees her abandon everything she knows in a mad pursuit into a navigational black spot called the Shadow Zone. While more light-hearted in tone there are still deeper themes at play. Again, there’s that feeling of finding oneself that runs through “Paklis” #1, in the case of Tara she’s obviously a character with a need for adventure, but maybe her constant pushing of boundaries is a symptom of a simpler need for freedom; a freedom from what, exactly, we’ll no doubt find out. This is a story that looks to be a thrilling pulp adventure and works as a perfect backbone, certainly for the first issue but maybe the entire anthology. The rough, hand-drawn panels help give a sense of rushed urgency to the pace, and the sparse coloring, the almost greyscale use of cold blue tones lend themselves to old newspaper strips, torn out and frantically collected together. Weaver is also adding a surprising amount of character depth in just this first chapter. Secondary cast members get meaningful, loaded exchanges that are already engaging and intriguing, and it gives the impression that this world is fully established and just waiting for you to explore.
“Paklis” #1 may be an oversized issue, and that may be reflected in the price, however there’s still so much more in this anthology than you expect going in. The issue goes from a shockingly disturbing, nightmare-laden parable, to exhilarating high stakes adventure; it gives you three stories with completely different tone and even vastly varied artistic choices; one tale is done-in-one whereas the others are merely the beginning; and like all good science fiction anthologies, “Paklis” #1 asks deep, perhaps unanswerable questions about identity, humanity and what it means to truly be alive. This is a seriously impressive creator-owned debut from Dustin Weaver.
Final Verdict: 9.4 – With three distinct stories, each as engaging and exciting as the last, “Paklis” #1 blows everything else off the shelves.