Pariah is indicative of the current state of indie comics: It’s a high-concept story that’s slickly produced and has some kind of movie ambition and/or Hollywood connection or talent behind it.

First, the book itself. Pariah #1 starts with Brent Marks, who we’re told is a “Vitro,” which makes him superhumanly smart. Completely isolated from other Vitros, he lives a miserable teenage life in Ohio, where he can’t meet girls at high school and hates his brain-dead parents. But he’s also got this idea for a working interplanetary spaceship and has started building components for it in his room. Then, an explosion at a weapons research laboratory that employs a large number of Vitros releases a deadly toxin in the air, making Vitros persona non grata. Brent runs afoul first of some bullies, then of the law and is captured for what is certain to be a nefarious purpose.

The high concept here is the idea of Vitros, which is based on real world research that indicates genes can be modified before birth — i.e., in vitro — to achieve certain genetic outcomes. I wish this had been explained in the book itself, though. I learned this fact from the press kit that came with it.

(As a total aside, this was one of the best press kits I’ve ever seen for a comic book release. It included several professional-quality press releases, bios of the creators, a bookmark, printouts of reviews, a hand-written note from the publicist, a copy of the book and even synopses of upcoming issues.)

The book is well done on every level. The writing is good, with snappy and believable dialog and instantly recognizable characters. The story is by Aron Warner, who was a producer on DreamWorks Animation’s hugely successful Shrek series, and Philip Gelatt, an up-and-coming comics writer.

The art is excellent, which is no surprise since it’s by Brett Weldele of The Surrogates fame. The production values are top-notch. And it’s a nice book overall.

Which leaves me thinking about the big picture, and that’s where i wonder where this is all going and whether it’s going to be worth the ride. The synopses of issues 2-4 indicate they will be very similar, introducing other Vitros in other parts of the country while undoubtedly slowly advancing an overall plot. The series is meant to run 12 issues, so I imagine there’s a finale in mind along with plans for an eventual movie or TV version.

But the biggest problem is this effort still feels incredibly familiar. The troubled teens with powers has been done to death in comics from X-Men to Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s Demo, which is the comic Pariah reminds me of most.

The good news is that this is loads better than any other stealth movie as comic book idea I’ve seen in ages. The bad news is that for all its slickness, it doesn’t offer anything new or different enough for me to want to come back for issue two. And that’s exacerbated by knowing that the next three issues will mostly introduce three more Vitros and the meat of the plot won’t really get started until at least issue #5. That’s a lot of time and money at $3.99 a pop to ask of an audience.

For more info on this book, including a preview of the first issue, visit