“The Pale” Delivers the Indie Goods: Review
In “The Pale,” Rocket Ridge is a small town in Arizona on the border of the Navajo Nation, and it’s about to experience a really big problem.
Fortunately, Sheriff Logan and F.B.I. Agent Ink are on the case. Too bad they don’t like each other, because they’ll need more than their wits to catch a potential serial killer.
Created by: Jay Fabares & Sanders Fabares
Scripts: Sanders Fabares
Art, Colors & Letters: Jay Fabares
Publisher: Fab-Ray Comics
Let’s get something sorted. “The Pale” will remind you of Twin Peaks. But it’s decidedly not a Twin Peaks clone, and that itself is an accomplishment. Instead of retreading the supernatural procedural mystery and relying on quirks or drama, “The Pale” digs into its characters and its location in interesting, subtle and compelling ways to create a highly enjoyable comic experience.
The Fabares’s cast is rich and well-considered, with common types like the small-town sheriff, idiosyncratic federal agent, eager deputy and a couple of conflicted teens, to boot. The Fabares spend quite a bit of time fleshing out these characters, however, and with five issues under our belt it’s clear they care a lot about who these people are, where they come from and how they move in the world of “The Pale.” Dawn’s fascination with Agent Ink doesn’t come off as naive, Logan is frustrated without being a jerk and Nate is emotionally turbulent without being obnoxious. Equal care and attention is paid to the intricate and, lately, mysterious relationship between Rocket Ridge law enforcement and the Navajo Nation Police.
“The Pale” is chock full of likeable, authentic characters and a lot of weird stuff, to boot. Nate’s storyline is paced well and a nice B-plot to offset the mysterious procedural, while Ink’s dreams are disturbing and archetypally significant. Agent Ink has a very rare condition called prosopagnosia, more commonly referred to as face blindness, which is an interesting character detail to add into a comic. Not only does it make his POV distinct and visually interesting for the reader, but it also adds good storytelling potential down the line and will no doubt come into play as Ink investigates the secret behind the Rocket Ridge murder … and the other murders before it. It’s also nice representation for people whose physical or mental health isn’t easily signified or explained to others, and thus not fully understood or accepted by general society.
Speaking of representation, “The Pale” takes a good look at the realities of settler colonialism through lived experience, and populates its story with a diverse cast that’s true to the American Southwest. The women who’re murdered are undocumented Native Americans. There’s some unsettling history that Sheriff Logan and Joseph Yazzie share. Nate’s yearning to get off the rez at any cost is poignant and real. Emma and Dawn’s tension is inverted from popular media, in which it’s still more likely for Emma to be white and Dawn to be a woman of color. All of these details and many more are seamless and buck both the outcry against diversity and tokenism as representation. “The Pale” is proof that a solid, entertaining and nuanced book can reflect the actual populations of America while telling a damn fine supernatural story.
Jay Fabares’ art is great, with some nice command of fluid layouts and how to pace a good comic. Fabares’s line is controlled without feeling stilted, and she demonstrates great skill with interior and exterior backgrounds. Character details are subtle, and the incorporation of a lot of Navajo design, garb and lore is visually interesting and will no doubt be very significant to the comic’s overall story. Fabares also knows how to use textures efficiently to add depth to the page that would normally come from colors. There are a few spots where the textures are a little too smooth or read as digitally done, but they’re minor and don’t detract from the otherwise enjoyable art. Finally, Fabares knows how to amp up moments of terror and even a little sci-fi that might pay off in the future. The comic uses gore sparingly, in pristine detail and to great effect.
The lettering in the book is solid, with just one point of contention: the choice to not use tails for off-screen speakers reads a little strangely at times. It’s not uncommon, but it pops a little more in a black-and-white comic. Unattributed balloons can feel like they float on the page at times, and while it can be irritating to clutter a smaller panel by butting a tail, it’s useful to keep visual continuity. Nevertheless, the font is clear and the size is perfect for a digital-first comic without crowding the art.
Overall, “The Pale” is a highly enjoyable book, and we’re not even quite in the thick of things yet. The mystery’s just started to unfold, so there’s plenty of time to hop on the story train and get caught up. You can find “The Pale” on Comixology and keep up with the book at ThePaleComic.com