Writers & Artists: Arnold and Jacob Pander
Dissident X is a full-length graphic novel written and illustrated by the Pander Brothers, published by Dark Horse Comics. It’s all at once a rip-roaring adventure, a cautionary tale, and social commentary. The style and spirit are that of years long past but the subject matter brings contemporary world problems to the comic medium. While it does feel like a timely piece of work, it sometimes strains verisimilitude and left me feeling ambivalent.
Welcome to a world where multinational corporations track your every move. They force you to opt-in to digital social monitoring platforms and privatize information. Governments are powerless against privatized police forces. The system crushes all that oppose it. All of this, in the name of progress.
When a privatized police force slaughters hundreds of people in Time Square, Hans, the only survivor flees the United States. He catches a boat to Amsterdam where many of the problems in the US persist. As a journalist, Hans can’t help but take an active interest in the problems of the city. He finds himself the lead suspect in a multi-assassination plot. He knows that to free his name he needs to get the truth about Thexoll out, the problem is, the very enemy he faces owns the media outlets he’ll need to clear his name.
The characters in this story are pretty varied. Though they are, by and large, a collection of neo-punk revolutionaries, they each have decidedly unique motives and hopes for the future. The only exception is Thexoll, the towering overlord, multi-nat owner who seeks to encompass the whole world in his corporation’s grip. The result is a caricature of a corporate businessman who sees the world as his oyster. He believes the ends always justify the means and will do anything to achieve his goal. It sounds scary, and it is, especially in our current political climate. However, it also falls a little flat. There doesn’t seem to be much of a justification for Thexoll’s motives. He’s already got all the money he could ever want. Unfortunately, his philosophy isn’t explored in any depth.
Hans, the protagonist, plays the part of the narrator and reluctant hero. His development as a scared outlaw to a full-throttle activist is well done and gradual. However, much of the narration, which is in the form of internal monologue comes off a bit self-important. While he’s certainly an able main character, at times he felt preachy and unrelatable.
The Panders are stalwarts of the industry. They’ve been at this for a long time. They know how to spin a yarn in sequentials, there’s no doubt. However, some of the art feels a bit antiquated, which is awesome if you like old school comic style paneling. Four, six, seven-panel pages tell the story concisely, but the art struck me as utilitarian rather than a precise artistic medium this story required. Maybe this is my failing as a reader, but, in my opinion, the best comics and graphic novels are the ones that couldn’t be told in any other storytelling medium. While Dissident X is a decidedly good yarn, it ultimately leaves me with a question or two about thematic elements, artistic directions, and character motives.
An interesting take on a near-future world run by corporations. It sadly didn't connect with me as much as I had hoped due to a lack of character motive and a dearth of action scenes. I think those who enjoy works like V for Vendetta would probably find much to enjoy here.