For a series from a Hollywood producer, Dark Horse‘s “Pariah” leans hard into its serial comic format.
Created by Aron Warner — a producer behind DreamWorks “Shrek” series as well as incoming Guillermo del Toro produced “The Book of Life” — the comic tells the story of a group of genetically advanced teenagers set adrift in a satellite in the year 2025. To date, the series — scripted by Warner and screenwriter Philip Gelatt and drawn by “Surrogates” artist Brett Weldele — has used each issue to deliver a new point of view character amongst the hyper intelligent “vitros.” Though they’ve been exiled from earth, the ragtag bunch that includes a manipulative outcast and a would-be savior have formed an uneasy alliance to avoid the attacks of the humans who fear them on earth.
With June’s issue #5 kicking off the finale four-issue arc of the series, the vitros are staring down a wave of nuclear missiles from earth. CBR News caught up with Warner who described the origins of the series in today’s high science, how the bonds formed between the vitros in space are tenuous at best and how the series finale will lead to more from him and Dark Horse including more comics and a number of movie projects.
CBR News: Aron, let’s start big picture. “Pariah” is a book with a simple conceit — genetically advanced humans rejected by the 2025 society that fears their skills — but also an expansive cast and a multitude of mysteries. What was the initial inspiration for the book for you, and how did you build it out from there into the series we see now?
Aron Warner: The initial inspiration came from reading a lot of science news. We are on the cusp of so many incredible advancements that I started wondering why this stuff wasn’t being talked about more. I combined my love of science with total wish fulfillment. What happened if you were an outsider that happened to also have something that everyone needed? Then I started to think about how threatened we can be by new ideas and by anything shakes our world view. What would happen if those doing the shaking were kids? What if we were no longer the smartest life form on the planet?
Of course, even though you started your career in film, it’s clear reading the book that the story was built for the serial comics form with each installment largely focusing on one “vitros” view of the action. What specifically did that technique give you in terms of storytelling?
The idea for each book to be from one vitro’s POV came from [co-writer] Phil Gelatt. As you point out, we move away from that once we felt that enough voices had been established. This gave us the chance to break from traditional visual storytelling. We had the room to establish the characters and have them start to take over the storytelling for us.
Thematically, this series has a lot going on. The vitros at the heart of the story are both literally pariahs — they’ve been sent into space by authorities on earth — many of them are outcasts as people. What’s most interesting to you when you put those competing personalities together?
I wanted to make sure that the reader remembers that these are kids! Same needs, fears, etc. than any normal kid. Then they’re vilified, exiled and basically left to die. That kind of pressure would be difficult for the most well adjusted of us. Some of the characters, like Maudsley, make the most of it. Others just can’t deal.
Character specific, perhaps no one embodies this tension more than Lila — the would-be leader of the vitros who seems equally adept at pushing people away from her as she does uniting them to a common cause. Do you consider her your lead in the series?
We were trying to keep the idea of leader sort of fluid. Lila is the de facto leader on the station but just because she leads doesn’t mean she controls. You’ll see as the story goes along that her grip becomes more tenuous.
Issue #4 of the series is the first one that wasn’t directly narrated by one of the cast members, and I sense that’s made a shift of sorts for the series. Moving forward into the vitros seemingly nuclear standoff with earth, will that ensemble hold on until the end?
Yeah. What started as something that felt organic was becoming a “device.” Both Phil and I wanted to avoid that and let the POV’s start to expand.
There are a lot of big players in this story from good-hearted vitro turncoat Franklin Hyde to sensitive genius Brent Marks. Who do you think plays the most surprising role of our lead characters as the book enters its third act?
Maudsley is full of surprises. You never know where you’re at with him or what his master plan is. But all the major characters have turns as the story unfolds. They’re true to who they are as people, but none of them have ever had anything close to these experiences so it pushes them to do things they never would have imagined.
Speaking of Robert Maudsley, he’s the manipulative vitro who loves nothing more than to pit people against one another. What ultimate effect will he have on the vitros as they look back towards earth?
Although he seems to be fanning the flames of anarchy, he actually is a pragmatist deep down. He has a plan and you can track it all the way from the first time you meet him to the end of the series. Thanks to Phil Gelatt for doing such an amazing job writing.
One big mystery of the series is that of the Marinus Explosion — the event that triggered vitro hate on earth and led to their exile in space. What can we expect to learn about how that explosion took place and who’s been pulling the strings behind the scenes?
We sort of keep it a mystery. It was one of those things that we chose to leave semi vague. I love stories where the line between villain and hero is less distinct. Maybe some of the vitros did it? Maybe it was a set up?
On the real world front, you’ve had a pair of dedicated collaborators on this series throughout in the form of Philip Gelatt and artist Brett Weldele, who has some experience with high concept sci-fi sagas already. What have each of them brought to the table in terms of making this book a definitive take on your initial concept?
Phil and I share a love for smart science fiction. [The film he wrote] “Europa Report” was a really good example of taking a subject seriously but keeping it entertaining. I found Brett by walking through Comic-Con and searching book by book until I found something that really resonated. He literally thought I was nuts when I told him I wanted to hire him. His art is very emotional, and I didn’t want to lose that aspect of this story. Plus, his work is just plain beautiful and I wanted to be a part of that.
Speaking of definitive, unlike a lot of other comic series “Pariah” is headed towards a definite ending in the months ahead. How does the final fate of the vitros, the satellite and earth address the thematic concepts that initially drew you to this story?
This series ends with two possible paths. I’d love the opportunity to follow them both in future series.
And looking forward, what’s next for you and Dark Horse? As a film producer, have you been working on “Pariah’s” possibilities in other media? Working with other Dark Horse properties? Or maybe just working on your next comic series?
I want “Pariah” to stand alone as a comic book. When we’re done, we can start thinking about other media but I didn’t want to put the cart before the horse.
We’re working with Dark Horse on a bunch of projects — both in live action and animated films. They’ve been great, collaborative partners.
The next comic series I want to do is based on my great grandfather who apparently was a Rabbi who also happened to be a Werewolf. Completely true story, depending on who in the family you choose to believe.
“Pariah” #5 ships on June 25 from Dark Horse Comics.