12.26.12 Reviews (Mara Edition)
Mara #1 (Image): In a gleaming cityscape of the future, Brian Wood and Ming Doyle bank on the audience’s intuitive perception of pop culture, using all manner of narrative shorthand. In Wood’s familiar DMZ-style newsfeed, we learn that entertainment, the games, the sport, have become an opiate for the masses distracting them away from the reality of economic collapse, monopolization of resources, and prolonged warfare “in the ‘stans.” Mara’s world is not unlike the Roman Empire of old, enjoying games at The Colosseum while the northern borders became a sieve. It’s also more like the current United States than most would care to admit, where more people watch the Super Bowl than actually get out and vote for the next POTUS. Everything has been taken to an extreme in this future world, one which we can easily project out 20 years or so from our own, class differential, ubiquitous technology, and divisive global unrest, all pushed to their breaking point, all captured in snippets that rapidly form a mosaic of Mara’s reality. The games themselves are basically an embedded form of military recruitment, and Mara is thought to be a perfect specimen, the ultimate celebrity athlete in this world. I love how the clatter of the world abruptly cuts to a quiet shot of Mara sitting in a locker room in silent contemplation as she prepares to play the hyper-idolized game. I enjoyed the modern parlance projected, stuff like Mara manipulating social media in real time into her wireless mic: “Upload, broadcast to my channel, cross-post to Ingrid’s, monetize.” Mara Prince is a compelling female creation, the near-perfect embodiment of strength and grace, humility and confidence, the charm of the girl next door, with the exotic leanings of something more. There are some subtle clues preceding it and then something big, something very big, happens in the particular game we see. I don’t want to spoil the reveal in total – though it’s not hard to find online or in solicitation copy, so imagine if David Beckham or Mia Hamm were... something more. But regardless of the particulars, Wood pushes his character right up to the precipice of change, there’s the identity stuff I know and love in his writing, there’s the dystopia masquerading as utopia, the cultural commentary, and the social relevance, yet it takes place in an ostensibly new genre so it also feels like he’s stretching himself as a writer. On the art side, there are rare occasions where I’m not positive the polish and Saturday morning vibe of the aesthetic from Ming Doyle and colorist Jordie Bellaire stands up to the tone of story. One of the reasons I like Brian Wood’s writing is that it’s usually a serious affair; it has gravitas, and can never be dismissed as light or inconsequential. The more confectionary instances I’m detecting in the art might just rob the story a little of that weight. Giving the benefit of the doubt, maybe that gloss fits the whole hyper-sporterized distraction, diverting the reader, in the same way the populace in Mara’s world is, from the problematic underpinnings of this society. At times, I think there are some awkward shots as well. The weapons and planes look wonky, as does the stiff panel where the security team draws their weapons and one of them is pointing a gun in the air, while the other is pointing weirdly at the crowd. It just looks odd. I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening. Similarly, when that key big event occurs, the art cues weren’t crystal clear and I had to rely more on the nudge from the text that accompanied it to help clarify what transpired. It’s obvious that Doyle has a flair for overall design sensibility. That said, these glitches were the minority and I think she absolutely nails some of the more static and quiet shots throughout the book. The full-pager of Mara in the locker room that I mentioned is absolutely terrific. The right emotional content in the art is always present, whether excitement, hesitation, or secretive glances, making it work in spite of the occasional tic. All told, it’ll be interesting to see Wood and Doyle push their exceptionally gifted ideal of Mara Prince toward the repercussions of what happens in this introductory issue right out in the global public spotlight. Grade A-.