Tales of Discord is the prequel to Paul J. Salamoff’s 2011 graphic novel Discord. The original book told the story of a team of superheroes (Team War Hammer) who were killed in action, but then reassembled, Frankenstein-style, into a single person. Tales of Discord is a series of separate stories, five one-shots, each focusing on a different character from Discord and their lives before they were killed. What sets it apart from the thousands of other superhero origin stories out there is that it’s not about their adventures. It’s about their lives. In each story, the crimes they stop and the villains they face are only a backdrop to the exploration of who these characters are (or were).
In the first one-shot, we see Moiré, the independent, charismatic leader of Team War Hammer, and Chromatic, her somewhat introverted boyfriend, struggling with superhero politics, and the decisions that ultimately lead to their founding the team. The second chapter is an interesting twist on the “outsider struggling to fit in” motif that’s a staple of superhero stories. Sasha Edmonds is an outcast struggling to fit in long before she gets superpowers. She’s abused by her father and tormented by her classmates for being gay. Rather than her superhero identity, Iridian, being a burden she must maintain for the good of humanity, her powers and crimefighting career help her come into her own as a person, and help her loved ones to accept her for who she is.
The story of Massive, who can expand his body to enormous proportions, explores the notion of superheroes as celebrities, and the delicate balance between using your powers for fame and glory and using them to fight actual evil. Hardly new ground for superhero lore, but it’s handled well and drawn in a strikingly different style than the other stories—a retro style somewhat reminiscent of comics of the '40s and '50s.
Solaris and Moonshadow are identical twins whose sibling rivalry leads them to two different superhero teams. The team’s enemy, Sinew, also gets a chapter: a somewhat ambiguous story about the team of astronaut scientists who discovered him in uncharted space. Sinew’s story also has a very different drawing style: more detailed and realistic, with a computer-generated feel. These different styles not only make their chapters more interesting to look at, they also add a layer of depth to the stories themselves.
When we met these characters in Discord, they were presented as stories already in progress. Very little time was spent exploring who these people were in the superhero world: their powers, their enemies, and other details that are traditionally considered important. That’s not what it was about; however, glossing over these things did make the story difficult to follow at times. Not knowing their origins or their powers made it difficult to understand their motivations, or their connections, to one another.
Tales starts out suffering from the same problem. Once again, we’re plopped into the middle of a story in progress, and the lack of character definition in Discord makes it hard to remember now who certain people are or what they do, either in or out of costume. But, as the stories develop, things become clearer, and we begin to get a much fuller picture of who Team War Hammer was than a simple list of superpowers and statistics would ever have told us.
Though the operative word here is “begin.” There’s still a good deal more of the story to tell, and Salamoff has a sequel planned, sometime in the eventual future. This is where the connection to Lost comes into play; there are a whole lot of mysteries and questions raised over the course of the comic, and each time a new answer is revealed, it just seems to raise more questions. And, given that the story shies away from traditional superhero narratives, it seems likely that, like Lost, it will forgo resolving some of these mysteries in favor of concentrating more on the characters.
Not that this is at all a bad thing. The focus on the characters and their lives is what makes the Discord saga such compelling fiction. It’s clear from the very beginning that everything else is secondary, if not completely unimportant. But, you can get stories of superheroes fighting bad guys just about anywhere. Tales of Discord is something unique. And, if the sequel is more of the same, even if things are left ambiguous, it’ll still be a blast to read.