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writer: Stuart Moore
artists: Pablo Villalobos and Mostafa Moussa

When Stuart Moore resigned from Marvel, he left behind a legacy of stewarding their heroes into bold (and some might say upsetting) directions with the Marvel Knights line and several MAX titles. It's not surprising that the former editor transitioned into writing comics with only the vaguest of superheroic flavors, last year's Zendra 2.0 from Penny-Farthing Press. But that was just to get his feet wet, dabbling with another's creation.

At last, Moore launches his own title through Penny-Farthing, the mysteriously named PARA. So far there's not a hint of spandex. Surprisingly, there really isn't anything very edgy. (Maybe that's saved for his work for Dark Horse on Lone.) Instead, the writer offers up a somewhat nostalgic blend of soft science fiction and horror.

The story concerns Sarah Erie, a young woman whose father had headed a supercollider project in San Antonio, Texas. Once dedicated to science, her thirst for knowledge soured when an accident took the lives of her father and most of his crew. Still, as must happen in these kinds of stories, she cajoles her way onto the exploratory team sent to find out years later just what happened.

Your enjoyment of the first issue may depend completely on whether or not you buy the coincidences involving this group. Straight out of a fifties science fiction troupe, you've got your older paternal scientist, here played by Sarah's father's best friend, Dr. Jonas Andersen. Of course, the military must be represented, a vague branch manifested in Special Agent Donna Sanchez.

The twist that may be too hard to swallow, however, is with Andersen's grad student, Roger Max. Despite Sarah having had no contact with Andersen in fifteen years, pursuing her own goal of becoming a social worker, the older man just happens to choose to work with the guy who is Sarah's ex-boyfriend. She may protest that she wants nothing to do with science ever again, but that rings hollow if she dates PhD candidates.

So that may be too convenient for some tastes. It pushed the edge for me, though except for the coincidence, the characters themselves are fairly well-done.

But Moore redeems himself with a creepy enough set up. Whatever happened down there seems to involve radioactive frogs, nuclear ghosts and the strange word (or dangling prefix) "PARA." Echoing the Jamestown Colony (see 1602) disaster, the spray-painted scrawl could serve as a warning or the key to the whole mystery.

Also working to great effect, the moody artwork by Villalobos and Moussa. The latter is a rather strong inker, making this book share the tone of The Victorian.

But underneath Moussa's inks, Villalobos has a style that mixes a softer, almost cartoony look with the hard edge of a Paul Gulacy. The blend works, and with the subtle coloring of Mike Garcia, helps establish a strong framing sequence involving Sarah's father appearing in an educational film. Set against the science team's later exploration of the abandoned supercollider, it hits the right shrill note of irony without pushing over into parody.

That may be the most striking thing about PARA. Moore aims for old-fashioned science fiction (and, as an extra text feature at the end proves, he's done his research), more often than not hitting the mark without resorting to any self-consciously hip touches. This is plain old good storytelling, and it's more than welcome on the stands.


Derek McCaw

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