Chelsea Cain’s Mockingbird series for Marvel was a lightning rod of controversy, all manufactured by people terrified by the thought of a woman being in charge of both opinions AND a comic book. It’s a great series, cut unfairly short and it’s treatment is matched only by Marvel’s frankly concussed decision to cancel her mini-series starring the Vision before it was even released. And then not telling her.
Cain is angry, and has every right to be. She’s also keeping busy as witnessed by Man-Eaters, her new Image series with Mockingbird partner in crime Kate Niemczyk back on pencils and inks, Rachelle Rosenberg on colors and Joe Caramagna on lettering. The reveal here is at least half the fun and I’m cautious to spoil it so forgive me if I dance around a little. Cain has a structural playfulness to her scripts that is always fun to see. In Mockingbird this manifested in a lovely running series of flashbacks and a puzzle box narrative. Here it manifests in the slow reveal and the fact that Maude, our lead, talks to us and provides infographics galore.
There’s also a splash pages that has the most fun I’ve seen had with the style in years. Maude’s dad is a homicide cop and is called to a crime scene that we then see. Or rather, we see the block on which the crime has taken place. The natural tendency for our eyes to Z-form down the page leads us from the cop on the roof to the various residents and down to the street, with the first cop’s radio transmission tying it all together. It’s a lovely idea, executed perfectly by Niemczyk’s strong lines and Rosenberg’s deceptively bright palate. Plus Caramagna has a lot of fun here showing the difference between radio, inside and outside voices.
And then we get to the second half of the boom and the reveal and Cain begins playing with pacing and tempo to create a nuanced and all pervasive sense of horror. A page of characters in chains is the most resonant thing she’s written since the ASK ME ABOUT MY FEMINIST AGENDA cover. The page that follows it lays the book’s cards on the table in three brutal panels and then uses a pause to deliver what you genuinely never see coming. It’s brutal and weird and ridiculous and horrific precisely because of how straight it’s played. And you’re still reeling when she hits you with the final page which sets the entire book up.
It’s massively impressive, confident, concise storytelling. And it’s also problematic. Again, and I swear this is the last time I’ll do the spoiler two-step, it’s hard to talk about with specificity but this interview from the always excellent Women Write About Comics neatly expresses the serious problem at the heart of the book. Make no mistake it’s an excellent story and a brilliantly executed piece of comic storytelling. And one it’s almost impossible believe does not deliberately ignore an area of society it’s all but obligated to acknowledge and portray. The art team here are amazing, Cain is absolutely at the top of her game but…for this to work she needs to go further. Clever, difficult, problematic. Read around it before you read it but do read it.
Heroes in Crisis 1 is infinitely better than anyone who’s encountered any DC title with the word ‘Crisis’ in the title would dare expect. It’s not a 12 issue attempted retcon, it’s not a story which decides what the Silver Age really needed was more sexual assault and it’s not a sprawling catastrophe whose aftermath issues shipped late.
Yet. The day is young.
But right now, it’s looking like it’s going to do two or three immensely impressive things. Tom King’s story forefronts the idea of a superhero societal structure that everyone has flirted with but never quite done and forefronts it in the way that makes the most sense; as a halfway house. Run by a Kryptonian AI, Sanctuary is Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman’s attempt to provide a support system for their colleagues. A counseling service for the superhuman, it’s meant to be a literal and metaphorical safe space. And as the first issue opens, two residents have fled, the others have been slaughtered.
Done wrong this could be as subtle as Marvel’s ‘Captain America’s a Nazi now in this story which is no way political!’ trainwreck last year. Instead, so far, it’s painfully, realistically human. One plot involves Superman being first on the scene and reacting with escalating horror to the trail of bodies he’s found. A second shows us the intake interviews from residents. Some are familiar, most are upcoming heroes with their whole lives ahead of them. Only two of them make it out of the issue alive.
But it’s the third plot that’s arguably the most interesting. Booster Gold and Harley Quinn have a conversation. It starts in a diner and finishes, miles away, with Booster bleeding out into a rive rand Harley telling him something inconceivable. It’s brutal and untidy and sets up the other side of the mystery Superman arrives at. It also, for me at least, makes Booster interesting for the first time in his career.
Tom King’s script is character focused, subtle and clever. Clay Mann’s art emphasizes humanity over superhumanity and is full of clever little touches. Tomeu Morey’s colours are naturalistic and foreboding as they need to be and Clayton Cowles’ lettering gives everyone the right voice. This is a classy act, a great opening issue and for the first time in decades, a story with the word ‘Crisis’ in the title which doesn’t make you dread the next issue. Recommended.
Man-Eaters and Heroes in Crisis are both out now. Prices vary, but I picked them up for 3.39 each.