I would probably never read this if not for an article on Comic Books Resources last month. Reading abut teenage drama is not really my cup of tea and classical super-hero “should I use my power for good or not?” dilemma is already a boring cliche. When a friend gave me a promo code for Marvel Unlimited I decided to check it out. I am happy to say that my worries were unfounded, but it is not to say that this book doesn’t have its own set of problems.
Fair disclaimer: this book tells a story of a diverse team of super powered teenagers of various ethnicities and sexual orientations. I can imagine plenty of people being triggered by that and moaning about SJWs and plenty equally many other praising it simply because it has a diverse cast. Beyond my own subjective views and opinions I am trying to take books at their face value. If you, dear reader belong to any of the groups mentioned be me above you can respectively subtract/add one of my arbitrary quality units from/to the verdict.
Everything goes wrong when Billy Kaplan aka Wiccan attempts to save his boyfriend, Teddy’s dead mother. Unfortunately instead of her, Billy summons and inter-dimensional parasite who infects every adult around. Now our star-crossed lovers and a rag-tag group of their friends, strangers and morally ambiguous beings team-up to save themselves and hopefully the world.
Ok so there is a lot to cover in here. Clearly the idea behind this book was to create a super-hero adventure about teenagers/young adults for current teenagers/young adults. Somehow Gillen managed to not make it pretentious. Our heroes behave like teens, they talk like teens, they use slang, make pop-culture references, use social media, have romances and relationship dramas. Even the first page of each issue is stylized to look like a tumblr page with the recaps of previous adventures ornamented with hashtags.
What is even more important is the writing of the characters. They are all very distinct and rounded and their dialogue is fantastic. Billy and Teddy are an adorable couple (at times sickeningly cute, as Billy remarks himself), Loki is mischievous and scheming despite being a good guy in here, America’s calm swaggery adds to her being a badass, my comic book crush Kate Bishop is quippy and chic as always and Noh-Varr is so dorky about with his love of sixties’ music and obliviousness to Earth’s customs. Say what you want but an author who creates a Spotify playlist dedicated to his book, deserves all the credit he is given.
As good as Kieron Gillen is at his work, Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton are even better at theirs. The art direction for this book is perfect, you can truly feel the synergy between the writing and the art. It is energetic and expressive, both characters and the backgrounds. The unconventional layouts of some pages make this books so much fun to read; I love it when comic books do something adventurous with their art. If it wasn’t enough the body horror showcased by the villain of this story is such a fantastic and horrifying contrast to the rest of the book. Willson’s vibrant colors elevate what was already great and give it an extra punch.
Unfortunately this book suffers from few problems. As an introductory book it is mostly a set-up and barely anything happens story-wise. Some of the pop culture references feel forced, which makes them really awkward compared to pretty awesome rest of the volume. Also as beautiful as the art is, there is some weird cold stillness to the characters, like they don’t really fit to their backgrounds. I don’t know if I imagined it or not, but it really bugged me at some moments.
What is most likely the biggest problem of this comic book is unfortunately an inherent vice of shared comic book universe. THE LORE. I hate when there is too much exposition in the comics, but here there is too little of it. Characters constantly refer to past events and adventures and everyone knows what is going on except for the reader. It gets even worse when it comes to more obscure characters. I still don’t know who is America Chavez or what is the deal with Noh-Varr. The “Why is Loki a kid?” mystery is eventually explained, so I can’t point it out as an example of that. I am well versed in Marvel, yet I was lost anyway, so I can only imagine the confusion of the newcomers.
I need to admit, that as I was writing this review, I realized I enjoyed this book much more than I initially thought. I can’t wait for more!
Four out of five tumblers.