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Review: Schismatic #1 — a Dark Revenge Thriller … About Pacifists


The democratizing power of online fundraising, whereby writers and artists can finance and find an audience for their work through merit alone, is pretty amazing. Case in point: Schismatic, an independent comic book still in the works written by Andrew Adams and illustrated by Rachael Briner.

Schismatic #1 is the first issue of a planned six-part series about Amalia and Idris Atalas, two pacifists who are separated from their son and daughter by the nefarious Deep Order. After spending ten years in prison, they resolve to escape, find their children, and get revenge. It’s a bit clunky at times, but I’m optimistic about the series as a whole and keen to know what happens next.

World-building is always tricky, but Schismatic establishes its universe and the rules and political climate therein quite well, and despite its large scope and high stakes, it keeps the story grounded and personal by focusing on a family’s simple need to be together again. Furthermore, gender, racial, and cultural representation in Schismatic is excellent. Amalia and Idris work as partners, all of the characters are dark skinned (albeit light-eyed), and the fantastical settings have non-western aesthetics.

Ooh, and speaking of aesthetics, the design for the baddies, who worship and strive to emulate the protector of monstrous deep sea fish, is amazing.

A cosplayer's dream

A cosplayer’s dream.

Yet, Schismatic isn’t without its faults. The story doesn’t exactly shrink away from brutality (Amalia is forced to cook and serve a man’s head), yet thematically, it’s all a bit … safe. Schismatic establishes a world of war and religious fanaticism, yet its protagonists purport morals far too simple for their harsh environment.

In a scene reminiscent of Ben Parker’s final chat with Peter—by which I mean a conversation in which the dominant theme of the series is established—Amalia reminds her son and daughter that “killing is never, ever justified.” Granted, this doesn’t come out of nowhere: the sanctity of life is fundamental to the Atalas’ religion. But after steeping myself in works like Saga and A Song of Ice and Fire in which it’s a foregone conclusion that violence is necessary to survive, Amalia’s pacifism comes across, not as admirable, but as naive. Adams and Briner describe Schismatic as a “dark revenge thriller” inspired by the thought, “What if Tarantino wrote fantasy comics?” This could be a part of Adams and Briner’s plan, of course, but Amalia and Idris are going to have to get a whole lot grittier for Schismatic to fit that description. 


No. No, you can’t.

But, hey, it’s early days yet. Adams and Briner could be using Amalia and Idris’ pacifism to set up for some extraordinary character arcs, and even if they’re not, the sanctity of life, if handled well, could prove to be a powerful moral anchor for the series and a welcome counter to the cynicism that dominates much of the current comic book industry.

Adams and Briner are currently raising funds for their remaining five issues at Kickstarter. If you’re interested in reading #1 and contributing to their cause (and I do recommend it), check them out.

Petra Halbur is a writer traversing the perilous terrain of post-graduate life whilst trapped in the world-building phase of developing her science-fantasy graphic novel. You can read more from her at Ponderings of a Cinephile or follow her on Twitter.

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