Alex Paknadel and Eric Scott Pfeiffer continue to explore the political turmoil and mounting tension between humanity’s parallel existences in the dystopian world of Arcadia #5. Further building upon their genius premise of humanity uploading billions of doomed souls to a collective computer simulation, this issue sees them teasing out the complex web of story threads to give their characters some breathing space before the inevitable storm hits. It feels a little like treading water at times, but there’s enough going on to hold the attention of even the most jaded comics fan.
In post-apocalyptic California, true believers in digital rebirth are gathering in the desert, keen to join their brethren in Arcadia. President Binetti, having learned the root password to the Arcadian system, begins to perform Christ-like miracles among the poor and homeless, while in the simulation’s version of the Mojave desert, young Giacomo is readied by the Homesteaders for his deployment as a living weapon in a digitised civil war. And all the while, the mystery of Arcadia’s first murders remains, with the few people dedicated to solving them aware that the answers they seek might change the world forever.
Arcadia #5 shows that the series’ creators still have ideas by the bucket load, despite the numerous clever concepts they’ve already worked into the story. If bodies and minds in Arcadia are all just data, then can a whole new person be created simply by combining fragments of memories? How can you have a utopia when everyone’s idea of paradise is different? And what is the connection that’s being hinted at between Lee’s digital and real-world selves; does their sharing of visions suggest a collective consciousness of sorts? These questions, posed by Paknadel, not only engage the reader intellectually, but also add to the haunting atmosphere of the comic.
That same atmosphere continues to be further enhanced by Pfeiffer’s artwork. Arcadia #5 once again showcases his scrappy but thoughtful style in general, but the panels featuring Giacomo’s disturbing trip into the heart of Arcadia are rendered with a particularly stunning sparseness, one that quickly turns to twisted horror.
One worry of Arcadia readers might be that at some point this dense network of storylines will become too unwieldy, and preclude resolution by simply collapsing under its own weight. Arcadia #5 thankfully does not mark that point, but there’s much less drive to this issue; we can see there’s just enough room to hang all the threads together, but the lack of a follow-up to the ominous climax of last month’s issue suggests that Paknadel’s ratio of ideas to page space may be approaching critical mass. He needs to be careful that some of the more intriguing story ideas he’s set up don’t end up falling through the cracks.
Arcadia #5 has little in the way of resolution, with almost every character un-moored in some way by the end. That’s probably to be expected in the 5th issue of an ongoing series, but sometime soon the myriad questions that Paknadel and Pfeiffer have set before us will need to be answered, at least in part. That said, the issue leaves us with an inescapable sense that a storm is on its way, one that, for good or ill, may completely transform the world of Arcadia, and the lives of everyone connected to it. The series remains one of the best science fiction comics being published right now.