Advance Review: Keeping Your Culture – The High Stakes Of Prism Stalker #1

by Hannah Means Shannon

Prism Stalker is a new ongoing sci-fi series at Image Comics which is both written and illustrated by Sloane Leong, whose artwork you might recognize from the fantasy series From Under Mountains. The first issue is set to arrive in shops on March 7th, 2018, but we’re lucky enough to have an early look at this iconoclastic new book and get to weigh in on what makes it a book you should keep an eye on.

There aren’t a lot of gimmicks about Prism Stalker, in fact the absence of gimmicks was a stand-out in my experience of reading this first issue. This was not a concept created to sell an alternate take on superheroes to readers who are die-hard fans of the Big Two, nor was it created to generate any particular kind of hype, in my opinion. That’s important to me because it means the story was important to creator Sloane Leong, and the story comes first.

This story is an unusual one, and the ways in which it is executed are unusual in many ways, too, and that interests me very much. When I see a creator confident enough in their own vision to try to convey things we don’t often see in comics, if at all, and who trusts the reader enough to try to communicate in new ways, that’s exciting and good for the comics medium.

Prism Stalker is a story that operates without a lot of exposition or explanation, so get settled in when you pick up the first copy. You’re going to have to “follow” main character Vep through a series of impressions from her life as she exists as a refugee from a planet that was facing extinction-level problems. “Saved” by an alien race who promptly separated the young people of the species from their elders in an attempt to mainstream them into their homeworld, Vep and her contemporaries work in jobs set out by the aliens which involve harvesting eggs through using semi-magical “singing” to pry them from their nests. They are encouraged to follow orders, be grateful for this new life offered them, and most of all, to dismiss their heritage. When Vep is singled out to be even more firmly removed from her background, does that offer a way out from her current tedium, or a kind of death to her true identity?

Yeah, that’s a fairly complicated plot, and that’s only the first issue, but the way in which you’ll encounter Prism Stalker #1 is through a series of experiences from Vep’s perspective. She encounters her mother’s stories, her mother’s experience of their people being “saved” and the events that led to the current state of affairs. You’ll also become appraised of Vep and her peer group’s dangerous, finely tuned job harvesting eggs, and become aware of darker elements at work in this alien world.

If there’s one word that describes Prism Stalker #1 well, it’s “immersive”. As a reader, I felt plunged right into the psychology of the characters, the way you might if you entered a virtual reality world and were expected to just pick up information on the fly. But that also immediately engages your emotions as you try to process the complexity of Vep’s life. Nothing is black and white in her world. The saviors of her race are literally eradicating her culture in a systematic way. It puts a new spin on what it means to survive, and asks: at what cost?

Lastly, I want to mention and applaud the way Leong handles the idea of an indigenous people who become dependent on a race that views themselves as a savior. The most obvious ways of relating this to known American history is through the experience of Native Americans, whom European settlers and even the American government attempted to indoctrinate into the belief that their native culture would somehow hold them back from surviving and succeeding in life, and strongly enforced the removal of children from families and tribes in order to create a break with their heritage. The language used in documents of the time, and the way these schools operated, are all now a cause for national embarrassment and shame. There are moments in Prism Stalker #1 that really recall this agenda in the USA, however, I don’t believe Leong is limiting the similarities to only this situation.

Indigenous peoples in Australia were treated similarly, and like Native Americans, are still struggling for autonomy and equal treatment in many ways, and some of the artwork in Prism Stalker #1 may remind you of Aboriginal art and culture. However, these ideas also speak to a wider issue that many can relate to, and that is the experience of immigrant families becoming swept up by a dominant culture. Vep will be relatable to many who have a strong cultural center in the home, one surrounding their parents and grandparents, but move in a world where they are constantly told that they need to abandon those elements in order to progress and to succeed, whether in language, religion, or world view. The fact that all of these resonances come out in only a few pages of the first issue of the comic is a real achievement for Prism Stalker.

The beauty of the artwork in Prism Stalker #1 will draw you in, as will the haunting strangeness of life and experiences surrounding Vep and her people. But it’ll also hit you emotively by suggesting the ways in which cultures prey upon each other and use propaganda to accomplish their ends. That will not only make you root for Vep, but for the survival of her race, not just in body, but in soul.

Prism Stalker #1 arrives from Image Comics on March 7th, 2018, and it reaches Final Order Cut-Off (FOC) on February 12th, 2018.