Victor Santos’ new comic Paranoia Killer is a dark thriller with an unassuming cartoon look

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Sometimes the art and narrative of a comic go hand-in-hand. A horror story might be full of lots of black and reds, while a superhero comic is brighter and cleaner. Paranoia Killer goes in a different direction. The series is a dark thriller, full of violence and serious subject matter, but with a visual style reminiscent of a Nickelodeon cartoon. Somehow, it still works.

What is it? Paranoia Killer is a brand-new series — so far, only the first of four parts is available — that centers on Nathalie Laertes, an FBI agent forced to take on a very strange undercover job: impersonating her twin brother. It turns out that her twin, who she believed to be just a slightly troubled sibling, was actually one of the world’s most infamous hitmen. Surprise!

Nathalie learns all of this when her brother turns up dead, and her boss forces her to impersonate him in order to infiltrate a criminal organization. Part of it is that they’re identical twins, so she has the look down. But they also apparently share some kind of “aura” that makes the whole switch possible. The first issue ends just as things really start heating up, as she heads off to a criminal training facility in the middle of the desert.

The thriller setup has a lot of potential, and I’m hooked after just the first issue. But part of what makes Paranoia Killer so interesting is its contrast in styles. The story is R-rated material; you’ll see characters shot dead in cold blood, and it opens with what appears to be a torture sequence. But it’s coupled with a surprisingly lighthearted art style, with flat colors and lots of clear, simple shapes.

In the first issue’s afterword, creator Victor Santos says this contrast of styles was born partly out of stubbornness. “I went for a more exaggerated cartoon style in this book, I suppose because I’m very stubborn, and I keep reading from time-to-time some critics saying that you can’t do ‘serious things’ with that style,” he writes. Well, so far, he’s made his point; in issue one, the art doesn’t distract but instead gives Paranoia Killer a very distinct vibe.

Who is it by? Paranoia Killer is the brainchild of Victor Santos, a Spanish comics creator who handled every part of the project: story, art, and design. He’s probably best-known for the series Polar, which also happens to be about a hitman.

Where can I read it? Paranoia Killer is the latest release on Panel Syndicate, a creator-run digital platform for comics. So far, it’s featured excellent series like The Private Eye — a story about a future without the internet from Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente — and even a Walking Dead spinoff. It’s a great place to find some offbeat stories, like the incredible Umami from Ken Niimura, which might not have a place at more traditional publishers. It also operates under a pay-what-you-want system, letting you support creators however you feel comfortable.

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