In the early 21st century a global pandemic nearly wiped out the human race. Seven billion died, and in a desperate attempt to save what was left of our race the governments of the world took extreme measures. The brains of the dying were scanned, their memories, personalities and characters uploaded to a virtual world. This virtual world is Arcadia.
Writer Alex Paknadel on his debut comic from Boom Studios has come out with a strong narrative that goes far beyond just a good concept. Approaching the story from widely varied perspectives Pakandel is able to take something that could, at its most basic description, be unfairly compared to The Matrix and create a rich and deep tale that would make the Wachowski siblings rightly jealous.
In Arcadia there are power battles between the living and the digitised. The virtual race of what was once humanity want more energy, more server room directed to keeping them alive and increasing their virtual world, more power to change and perfect their reality into a dreamscape. In a barely surviving world, that kind of power is a scarce resource.
They bargain this against the promise of a cure for the disease which is still a threat to the remaining population. Most of the great medical minds of the world are on the other side of the electronic border, continuing to work in a virtual representation which mirrors the world they have left behind perhaps too well. Economic forces have followed the dead into Arcadia, with the wealthy able to afford a better quality of existence, and the poor struggle for the pixilation just to keep their own image, similar to the Quiet citizens of the Martian Oubliette of Hannu Rajaniemi’s Quantum Thief.
“Try working three jobs just to keep your own face.”
The struggles range from nations to individuals. How do the living cope with their loved ones almost within reach? Not well it seems. Paknadel does not shy away from looking at the anguish and despair felt on both sides of the population, the living dealing with their loved ones almost alive and the virtual dead now shadows of their former selves, ghosts in the machine.
Finding ways to feel alive in a world where they are immortal the people of Arcadia are falling to decadence. Enamoured with their immortality they try new ways to kill themselves just to feel the experience. What happens though if they can finally die, if that immortality is stripped away by something darker within the machine? The end of issue one hints that something is coming, something which could spell the end of Acadia.
Paknadel has written an original story that immediately grabs the reader’s interest. The characters and their struggles are captivating, and while dark it keeps a sense of black humour running throughout. These are people who have lived and died, a process which requires a hefty dose of gallows humour which makes these characters immensely endearing.
The illustrations by Eric Scott Pfeiffer are a pleasure to see, strikingly memorable images of the two visually distinctive worlds with a cold bleakness about “The Meat” (the world of the living) contrasting with a colourful but tainted world of the machine. With the added bonus of great cover art by Matt Taylor (The Great Salt Lake), Arcadia is worth adding to the pull list for any fans of good science fiction and humanity.
Arcadia issue 1 from Boom Studios is available now