As this post appears, you have less than one day to get into the Pariah Missouri Kickstarter, so open that in a new tab now, so’s you don’t forget.
You may recall that I’ve mentioned this comic before, but that was before I’d read it. Now I have and I’m ready to talk about its Mormon elements.
The first thing to know is that all I can discuss at present of the story’s first two volumes as the third and presumably final volume is the Kickstarter’s raison d’être. Therefore I will not be attempting any sort of Meaning of the Work as a Whole or analyzing its Mormon elements with that sort of goal in mind. Rather, my interest today is comparing the Mormon aspects of the two books available now. After all—that’s what the author challenged me to do!
(The author, Andres Salazar, sent me review copies gratis.)
First, some generic comments that I might bring up if this were a more typical comics review (I’ll alternate positive and negative):
The art is awesome!
So much of the characters’ motivations is buried beneath the surface that sometimes it’s hard to figure why they do what they do.
Not only the pencils and inks which are beautiful and breathe, but the coloring is fascinating—love that limited palette.
Some of the dialect is inconsistent and sometimes the lettering slips from its balloons.
The writing and art both are propulsive and filled with energy.
Okay. Enough of that. Let’s get Mormon.
Book One: Answering the Call
Book One has Mormon elements, but they really amount to no more than winks and asides—Easters eggs, if you will. Characters with names like Hiram and Kane and Buchanan and Pratt. A teenage boy who uses a seerstone to find treasure. A civic leader who looks a lot like Brigham Young. A fellow who casts spells with magic words like ADAM ONDI AHMAN and MAHONRI MORIANCUMER. And, more importantly, a map that places Pariah just north of Independence, and characters talking of nearby Clay County.
But that’s really all that Answering the Call has to offer. And it has similar winking references to The Simpsons and Beat poets, so I’m cautious to draw too much significance.
Book Two: The Promised Land
The primary element introduced in Book Two is conflict between two preachers. One who, we learn, has driven out previous evils including the Mormons, and one who’s just come to town.
This is some ambiguous stuff, if you’re trying to do a Mormon reading of the text. For instance, Elijah, the old fellow who’s been in town a while, he engages in a lot of activities that, for a Mormon audience, would usually be markers of not merely not Mormon, but also crazy and dangerous and evil and the dark side of religion—dancing with vipers and turning people into zombies, for instance.
At the same time, he’s collecting spiritual wives. Which would seem to be a Mormon marker, if an icky one. The same can be said of him namedropping blood atonement. Mormon? Yes. Pleasurably so? Ah, no.
But that’s just one element of Book Two that’s upping the Mormon game.
This time, instead of Easter eggs, there’s a vein of Mormonism to be mined running through the text.
(Incidentally, I think this next bit is an error, but I like to think that the change in location Pariah makes from Book One’s map to Book Two’s map is symbolic of this Mormony increase. Pariah leaps across the Missouri River, according to these two maps, East to West—almost as if it’s leaving our abandoned Zion and directing itself to our new home in the mountains. This is also fitting as the location of Pariah in Book Two is frequently equated both to Zion and to a mysterious land, both important and cursed according to the native, displaced people who once lived there. Just where is Pariah? And what importance does that hold beyond the geographic?)
Something difficult about recognizing Mormon veins is distinguishing them from merely Christian veins. For instance, when Elijah is quoting scripture—the Bible—is that Mormon-specific enough to count, so long as the author is LDS? I dunno.
The most interesting thing we find when following the Mormon markers, however, is the balance built between two of Elijah’s ideas: the United Order and Outer Darkness.
The latter is an opium den and both a place where his followers sort of lose their souls and sort of prove their worth in a confused manner appropriate to such a place. The story’s heroes (whom Elijah labels “THE HARLOT, THE BEAST, THE CURSE OF HAM AND THE SODOMITE”) are “UNWORTHY OF OUTER DARKNESS” and thus fated to be sacrificed upon the Stone of Golgotha, after which his congregation is named.
This does not come to pass (there is a Book Three on the way, after all), but a Blood Atonement had already been executed upon the new preacher in town, whose final words are Joseph Smith’s final words and whose fate is a more gory crucifixion and whose blood is drunk by the congregation.
Even though Elijah is the character dropping most of the Mormon markers, he does not engage in the most Mormon/Christian/Christlike of acts—he kills for power rather than dies for others.
Which is how the balance with the United Order comes in. Elijah talks about everything being everyone’s, but it’s a satanic vision. His vision and his agency are the only ones that matter among the Golgothans as he slowly saps them of choice, family, even identity. He’s in cahoots with the city-running protomobsters—perhaps with the hope that all that’s theirs will also be his, but instead they charge him double tithing to stay and work his craft.
The best example of Elijah’s evil Order may be comparing him to Jasper, the new preacher in town. Jasper comes to salve souls. Elijah praises him and tries to make him an underling. When someone else compliments the effect of his preaching, Jasper attributes its success to the Holy Spirit. Jasper is slow to judge and takes his time to pray and to receive revelation. Elijah is too busy rushing from power grab to power grab. It’s not clear if Elijah knows what supernatural forces he is in league with—or that he cares, so long as his power grows. Jasper is more careful to understand what is before him.
The comparison between these two preachers then can be read a complicated and ambiguous examination of the first of Terryl Givens’s paradoxes: “Authority and Radical Freedom.”
Elijah demands authority and claims radical freedom only for himself. Jasper assumes everyone has freedom and must choose the proper authority for themselves. Elijah is lynched when his authoritarianism clashes against more powerful men’s. Jasper is sacrificed to an evil god when he asserts his freedom against Elijah’s authority. Recursive circles of freedom and authoritarianism.
This notes are just a first-read response. I suspect I may not even be following the most fruitful veins.
The final question for me, however, is, in the end, are the Mormon elements of Pariah Missouri just window dressing for people in the club? or do they add layers of meaning that can matter to a careful reader?
What we see in the first two volumes is moving from one answer to the other. I’m curious to see if the trend continues.