Once you know your enemy, you’ll not fear them. Yeah, sounds good.
Schismatic is based on a solid and horrifying premise, where parents fighting against a Lovecraftian cult are separated from their children and spend 10 years imprisoned in mines before managing an escape. Having sneaked into the heart of their enemies’ stronghold (after making some intriguing allies), they come face to face with their worst nightmare: their children. Having spent the whole of the narrative with the adults, this issue flips the script and fills us in on what the kids have been going through (now that we have confirmed that they are alive) for the last decade. It’s not a story of hope, but my goodness is it one that’s thoroughly engaging.
Andrew Adams and Rachel Briner have created a fantastic world, and they really explore it in this issue. The threats against our protagonists has been rightfully terrifying and “evil,” but the motivations behind it have been a little light up to this point. Now, they let us dive deep into the major power of the antagonists while giving us a glimpse of what Eko and Darma have gone through in the clutches of Deep Jarra. The Deep Ones are truly scary; the depth of their conviction is overwhelming and honestly reminded me of the Covenant in Halo 2. To say that the tale is melancholy is doing it a grave injustice; the depth of the torment that the children endure will affect you and make you wish it to end. Much like Jack and Maggie in Hook, the kids are put to the test with being indoctrinated to a whole new worldview, but instead of Dustin Hoffman’s scary-but-not-quite-terrifying-except-in-those-couple-of-moments-that-make-you-wet-yourself-a-little and almost gentle approach to Pan’s offspring, Deep Jarra is a psychotic and devoted acolyte whose entire being is bent towards her faith and its pursuits. The final page drives this home beautifully while also conveying a scene so incredibly human on a number of levels that you could pull apart the implications of it for hours. It’s heavy and fantastic.
Rachel Briner remains a slugger when it comes to the artwork. The story truly jumps off the page under her incredible talent. That final page I just mentioned is gallery quality, and coupled with the huge emotional baggage, it’s almost heartbreaking in its scope. This is a dark world that has been painted in vivid hues, making it feel like you can’t possible escape any more than the characters on the page. It’s as though everything has become too real and your mind wants to shunt it away for a while. Watching the children grow up is hard, but it’s easy to see the time that Briner has put in to really differentiate Eko and Darma’s journeys through it, and the expressive nature of her characters sells it beautifully.
This series is exciting, entertaining, and very, very smart. This team knows how to put a phenomenal story on the page that pulls no punches. I doubt many readers would come away from this work without being moved just a bit. The humor that has floated through the series thus far is justifiably muted this time ‘round, though what remains is certainly darker than we’ve seen yet and sets up what can only be an explosively interesting finale in the next two issues.
This is the kind of independent work that should be rising to the top of reading lists: smart, engaging, and beautiful. Get to it.
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