COMIC REVIEW: Pandora’s Box Vol.1: Pride (Cinebook Reviews #22)

Pandoras Box - PrideSo… Cinebook.  They translate Franco-Belgian comics into English.  On the whole they do a damned fine job, putting a massive variety of comics into the marketplace to challenge the endless gush of garish superheroics.  You know the score, you’ve been here before.  If you haven’t, just type Cinebook into the search engine on the left to see what you’ve missed.

I’ve been a bit shambolic in getting reviews out previously, leaving months between them on occasion.  No longer.  This is the year I get organised.  Honest!  My Book Stack continues to mock me, but now I have a Schedule.  Oh yeah.  I’d be in smug mode right now, but we all know that pride comes before a fall.

Straight off, I’ll say that Pandora’s Box is a great concept for a series.  Figuratively speaking, the Box here is Science.  We’re all dying to know what’s inside, what we could achieve if we could just grasp the powers hidden within.  Of course, when Pandora opened hers all the Sins of the world flew out: Pride; Sloth; Gluttony; Greed; Envy; Wrath and Lust.  Each volume takes a type of modern technology and considers it with regards to the most appropriate sin.  Thankfully, this is no blind call to cease progress but a series of thought-provoking stories designed to stimulate ethical debate.  If this first volume is anything to go by, they do a decent job of it, too.

In a way it’s a shame that the cover of Pride ‘spoils’ the tech involved.  While the emotional beats don’t rely on that knowledge being hidden, you’ll get more drama out of it if you can resist reading the back cover.  Here’s a spoiler-free run-down of the plot:-  It’s incredibly close in the run up to the American elections.  The incumbent President Shimmer is just nosing ahead and, with mere days to go, the opposition want him stopped at any cost.  They hire a troubleshooter to dig up any dirt he can on Shimmer.  What he discovers could have profound implications on the world, but as the mystery unfolds, so too does a maze of moral questions.

The writer ‘Alcante’ does a great job of building tension and toying with the readers sympathies.  The script is tight, always pushing the plot forward and jumping effortlessly between perspectives.  One of the main keys to his success for me is his restraint in passing judgment on his characters.  They earn our respect or reprehension based on their actions, each according to the pressures in their lives.

Only Dr Turpin does anything that is actively evil (in the first three pages) but everything else is left up to the reader to chew over.  Shimmer could easily have been portrayed as an egotistical monster, but he would not be half as interesting a character if that were the case.  Likewise, the troubleshooter becomes a mighty force we can get behind, by dint of his professionalism, even though his methods and goal seem somewhat dubious.

On to the art.  I am not familiar with Didier Pagot’s work, so I don’t know how representative Pride is.  The face-work is not quite to my taste, with many of the men looking a little too much alike, but at least he has the presence of mind to give key characters unique identifiers to help differentiate them.  Christophe Araldi fits in nicely as colourist.  His biggest strength is in his lighting effects, but he also manages to effectively bring out the emotional tone by subtle variance of his colour pallette throughout.  The pages are packed with panels, keeping things moving along briskly.

I found my eyes flying across the images, which works great for the story but undercuts Pagot’s artistry on first reading.  One or two panels stand out, nevertheless (the high-angle crowd scene on p26 and the ambulance chase on p38), and a second read reveals the fluidity with which he moves around his characters, using multiple angles, box-outs, reaction shots and the wider world.  As a result, this is one of the few Cinebooks which feel to me like they would actually work really well in the cinematic or televisual medium.

Over all though, I think it tries to do too much in a short space of time.  There are character arcs which could have done with more space to breathe, concepts and questions which were barely raised before being put to bed and a frustrating sense that this could have been a truly great ongoing comic book if it weren’t restricted to a small part in a thematic series.

Using Greek mythology to name the main characters in that series feels a little too obvious for me, personally (Narcissus Shimmer, for goodness sake) but, as this is the only real sense of clumsiness I got from the book, I suppose I have to chalk it down to a creative choice rather than an imaginative failing.

All said and done, this is a story that is genuinely exciting, the characters all convince as shades-of-grey people (rather than black-and-white points of view) and there are plenty of questions raised to chew over with your friends when you’re in the mood to solve the problems of the world.  Pride: more a stumble than a  fall, but my eyes are still looking ahead to the next Sin.  For all that this could have been an exercise in nay-saying I’ve found it a curiously uplifting tale and that, after all, is the point of Pandora’s Box.  There’s always Hope.

Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak

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