9.30.2013

Mara #6 [Advance Review]

Mara #6 (Image): If you were left wondering about the brinksmanship of that cliffhanger in the last issue, the delayed finale of Mara clears it up with glorious introspection that’ll leave you pondering our collective future. Not only do we learn the truth about Mara Prince’s ultimate tactical decision, what she did, when she did it, and why she did it, but Brian Wood sidesteps the obvious to discuss something more observational and aspirational about man’s place in the universe. By the end, Mara, as a series, has grown to be a rich examination of the superhero genre. Mara uses her power in the best ways possible for a story like this, not to wield it mercilessly against a cardboard cutout villain, or to splash it around like a spoiled kid with a new toy, but to learn, to teach, and to lead by example. She can both inspire, and be inspired by, her fellow man. Dare I say there’s something Watchmen-esque about the genre deconstruction in Mara, a similar comparison I threw at Wood back when he wrote the criminally under-appreciated series DV8: Gods & Monsters. In some ways, Mara is not unlike Jon Osterman’s Doctor Manhattan retreating to the lunar surface to gather his thoughts about humanity’s frail existence, or Adrian Veidt’s Ozymandias crafting his ultimate gambit for a higher strategic purpose.

The entire issue is basically an open-ended “To Whom It May Concern” letter via matter-of-fact voiceover narration from Mara as she travels in space, while actions take place back on Earth precipitated by some of her decisions. Mara is a beautifully rendered examination of fame, power, and identity. It’s a lesson that, in the hands of a skilled writer, the capability exists to unpack realistic issues in this mostly unrealistic genre in a way far beyond the cyclical mindless brawling, or the editorially-mandated events, that too often mar superhero comics. Mara is cape comics for mature adults, with a level of introspection seen too seldom by the likes of Marvel and DC. It’s what a book like Supergirl or Wonder Woman could be, what it should be, if there was any sense of experimentation or risk-taking left in the DiDioVerse instead of creative bankruptcy with their intellectual property catalogues. It’s about grasping to find your place in the universe. It’s a means to a crisp identity quest, the type of thematic journey that’s fueled this writer for over a decade. Mara might just be the pinnacle of that idea, of the trademark Brian Wood Identity Quest I’m always rambling on about, one that’s reflected in the mostly blank title page by Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire so beautifully. Mara appears mostly in black silhouette, deliberately like a blank canvas. When you have the power to do literally anything, including building your own identity – What do you do? Who do you become? How do you act?

Speaking of the art, I think this book should be catapulting artist Ming Doyle and colorist Jordie Bellaire to well-deserved fame. I think this series was really the first time I paid any attention to Jordie Bellaire, or was even made aware of her work in a way that registered. Suddenly, it seems like her career just took flight. She’s basically coloring, like, every book right now. Bellaire does the color dance well, shimmying her hips back and forth between the sheer pop glee of some scenes, to the somber muted moodiness required of others. I don’t know if she’s a terribly “fast” artist capable of handling a monthly book or two, but I find myself a little disturbed that Ming Doyle isn’t more sought after, because I’d really like to regularly see more projects from her. Her style and confidence grew tremendously in the space of just these six issues. While you can certainly admire the rainbow bursts of color indicating Mara’s limitless speed, the shots on the moon here are probably most exemplary of their combined artistic magic. These open airy panels are full of cold blues and velvety grays, deep purples and soft ambers, as Mara Prince essentially signs off (I kept trying to work in a Truman Show “good afternoon, good evening, and good night” joke in here, but alas, why denigrate serious work with something only I would find funny?). The contours and the colors seem to mirror the sense of isolation she feels, the feeling of constantly being disappointed by people and how wearing that can be spiritually.

There’s a moment when Mara is resigned to just walk away, guided solely by her own internal moral compass: “ I couldn’t imagine anything mattering less than what you all think of me right now.” Now, if you’ve been able to piece together any of the stray clues that Wood has let slip in interviews and on Twitter about his departure from DC Comics, which hasn’t been nearly as publicized as some of the other more recent flurry of departures, I get the sense that all of these ideas, looking back to see how your past – parentage, nature, nurture – all inform your future, the notions of being on the precipice of change, the kind of world we might be leaving our young kids to inherit (mine are 7 and 4, very close to Wood’s if I recall correctly, and trust me, in can induce a state of constant fretting), consciously crafting an identity – professional or personal, and willful genre experimentation, are all swirling around in his subconscious and sometimes leak out into the dialogue, infusing it with this edge that rings true to life. I try not to delve too deeply into personal matters out of respect, or to stray too far away from the material we’re presented with by reading too far into things, in what is ultimately just a throwaway little comic book review, but that’s my cumulative take on where a book like Mara comes from in the genesis of creation.

Toward the end of the issue, there’s a nice washed out flashback that sort of fills in the origin of young Mara Prince, prior to obtaining her powers. It’s a coming-of-age story, the typical bildungsroman that Wood can sometimes include for his strong female protagonists (Pella Suzuki, Megan McKeenan), the kind that’s about taking a plunge into the unknown, and how that may echo current events. The denouement of Mara is about taking in the worst the world has to offer and molding it into a story of redemption. As an ambassador to the heavens sets forth, it’s about having your faith renewed, slivers of humanist emotional hope, when logical statistical examination might suggest otherwise. It’s about the hope that there will be a holistic return to favoring humanitarian exploration vs. mutually assured annihilation. Brian sometimes takes heat from readers about his inconclusive endings that result from characters being poised on the precipice of change. But, when you look closely, all the parts are usually there, enough hidden clues and overt cues to draw conclusions without needing to have it all spelled out for you. There’s a timeless quality about that approach. The work is richer for it, and so are we. Grade A+.

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