Welcome to The Pull List, a weekly column where we check out a first issue of a new series and tell you whether or not to follow the comic based only on that. I read Arcadia this week, where most of the remaining human race exists only as sentient, trapped data.
Nothing provides nightmare fuel like screenshots of The Sims gone horribly, glitchily wrong. There’s something so eerie in watching these pixelated, oblivious, demi-humans get trapped in windowless houses, burn alive in swimming pools, get devoured by dinosaurs lurking in the kitchen tiles, etc etc. And while Arcadia, the new doomsday thriller from BOOM! comics, doesn’t quite take its plot to those obscene levels, that sensation of hollow humanity still rings throughout.
The premise of the new series is that a strain of papillomavirus wipes out the vast majority of mankind, and in the midst of the holocaust, the world’s leaders elect to digitally copy the consciousnesses of the dying billions and store them in a grand simulation called Arcadia.
In effect, you’ve got the world melting away on two sides. In the real world (a term I’m sure will come into question later in the series) humanity is still at the mercy of a rapidly mutating virus, waiting on an answer from the finest scientific minds they have, who are, of course, technically dead and stored away in Arcadia; and speaking of which, the digital purgatory homeworld of the rest of mankind is going insane, living in an imperfect copy of the world they once knew, a copy that can be broken and rearranged, if you’re in a position of correct influence.
Clearly, writer Alex Paknadel has managed to pack some intriguing concepts into his little doomsday scenario, not least of which is the fluidity of Arcadia’s reality. The more influential citizens of Arcadia are able to afford little tidbits to make their existences in virtual reality just a bit more real: we’re talking zits, or the ability to reset physical damage to property and self. It’s a brutal depiction of haves and have-nots, where the disadvantaged are quite literally less real than others. Artist Eric Scott Pfeiffer does a terrifically surreal job of rendering the oddities of Arcadia, not least of which is a brutal scene of a freeway protest, in which a malcontent wears a ragged simulated form melting at the seams, because, unlike the affluent, he simply can’t afford the cosmetic pixels.
The first issue sets the ground rules of the current situation effortlessly, without need for too much obviously-expositional dialogue, and brings some of the more bizarre implications of a virtual reality to the forefront immediately. It ends with tensions strung high between the virtual and real worlds, one left to rot in immortality in the uncanny valley while the latter rots from the ravages of a disease. And we also see a glimpse of our series’ villain, a demon-shaped entity in Arcadia called only the Oxbow code, the implications of which, if you google the term, are downright awesome. Really, Arcadia is nothing short of intriguing so far, and there’s little reason not to delve into the series if you’re at all into meaningful thought experiments of the near-or-so future.