In their profession, EMTs are surrounded by the pain of those they seek to help. In Mohsen Ashraf’s miniseries Syphon, this reality manifests literally in the life of Sylas, who finds himself able to recognize and siphon away other people’s pain—a newfound power that will test him more than he expects.

The story drops us into the midst of an ongoing supernatural conflict. A woman is murdered while attempting to save a stranger. The powers she possessed pass to a man named Sylas, chosen out of many because of his desire to help others. And with his new abilities, Sylas realizes he can do exactly that: alleviate the hurt of anyone he encounters. But carrying the burdens of others takes its toll—on his health, his relationships, his life. Enter a charismatic stranger. Sylas’s new friend shares the same abilities and understands how to use them in unexpected ways. He offers Sylas another path. But what first promises relief carries a different sort of cost. As Sylas decides how he will wield the power he inherited, he will be forced to choose sides in a conflict stretching back across the ages.

In a time of real-world turmoil for many of us readers, a comic with this premise sounds both excellent and timely. Ashraf’s story is co-written with Patrick Meaney, and they clearly set out with high ambitions. Syphon delivers essentially a superhero origin story in a more grounded universe. It’s a paranormal noir that also has strong thematic ambitions. What does it mean to carry the weight of the world? How much of a difference can one life make? How do you find the balance between caring for others and caring for yourself? These are real questions and Syphon tackles them head-on.

At the same time, this three-issue series also seeks to entertain. Building toward dramatic confrontations and moments of crisis, the creators incorporate stylings of both superhero and noir genres. With action and quieter moments, the comic draws readers into an epic conflict of supernatural beings and the very nature of life itself.

Unfortunately, having the right ingredients does not guarantee success, and with Syphon, it feels as though the ambitions of the storytellers outshine the delivery. The pacing feels rushed, with stretches of time and key moments of character development happening in very short spans. Storytelling that should take its time is often implied, and the larger themes are never given room to breathe. In the end, Syphon does convey the message it sets out to, but the plot ultimately feels like a summary rather than a journey, offering nothing more than cursory resolution to questions that are worth dwelling on. With underdeveloped elements and an ending that feels like a break rather than a conclusion, it’s a series that could have achieved a great deal more if only it had been allowed the time and space to grow, rather than being forced into existence all at once.

Through it all, Sylas’s story is brought to life in the art of Jeff Edwards. Sometimes gritty and sometimes cartoonish, the visuals are consistent in style but mixed in effect. The high contrasts and bold colors make the characters’ powers pop off the page in dramatic effect. There are moments where the action nearly seems to glow of its own accord. With instances of layered paneling and unique imagery, Edwards delivers some strong visual moments that are shining examples of what comics can achieve. Unfortunately, there are other sequences—usually the more mystical ones—that become difficult to follow as elements tumble together across the page. Like the writing, the art has a lot to achieve, and it simply isn’t always able to rise to the occasion.

The publisher rates Syphon as Teen+, and this seems a fitting assessment of the intended audience. There are moments of more graphic violence and injury, though these are mitigated slightly by the art style, and there is little else in the way of mature content. Otherwise, in theme and content, Syphon’s greatest appeal will be with older teens and adults.

In summary, Syphon is not a title you need to rush to purchase. If readers of your collection lean toward paranormal noir with an artistic style reminiscent of Charles Soule’s Curse Words and you find yourself looking to fill a hole in your collection, then Syphon might be worth considering, especially since it requires no commitment to an ongoing series. This miniseries has some key things going for it, but to put it simply, there are stronger genre titles out there, and Syphon doesn’t make enough use of its various pieces to deliver a worthy whole.


Syphon
By Mohsen Ashraf, Patrick Meaney
Art by Jeff Edwards
Image Top Cow, 2021
ISBN: 9781534320734
Publisher Age Rating: T+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)

  • Josh

    | he/him Technical Services Librarian

    Reviewer

    Josh Gauthier worked a technical services librarian in Maine before taking a detour into the tech field. He has a BA from the University of Southern Maine and an MFA from the Stonecoast creative writing program. Beyond his day job, Josh is also a fiction writer and playwright. You can find him discussing topics such as writing, comics, fiction, and pop culture on various social media platforms as @JG_Writer.

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