If you've come here to read yet another obsequious review of Brian Wood’s Mara, then you should stop reading this right now. I’ve said previously that, as this series chugs along, I've “warmed” to it, and things definitely seem to have picked up (finally), particularly at the end of this issue. Unfortunately, though, I can’t stop thinking that this title has been, overall, a pretty lackluster reading experience. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy his writing in general - quite the opposite, in fact ... for the most part - but I feel like many people enjoy this book out of some obligation to his name, rather than to an objective review. Despite that admirable loyalty (something the character Mara herself would benefit from within this story), this book will never exceed, for me, the most tepid end of the “just alright” spectrum, and it’s not just because the driving vehicle of its beginning was something as silly as volleyball.
Let’s first talk about this premise, because honestly, it’s pretty good. Mara takes the fawning yet tenuous admiration society has for its celebrities and flips that conditional hero worship on its head by twisting it through a slanted retelling of the classic superhero origin story; one which sees the object of everyone’s affections tainted beneath their sudden fear of her new-found abilities, which of course leads to their unified betrayal of her and her subsequent disdain for them.
Thereafter, she joins the military because nobody else will take her, and I guess because she still tolerates humanity enough to try and help them in a more disassociated kind of way; that is, until the military tries to break the unrestrained nature of this wild filly. Not taking too kindly to that, she abandons her post and in this issue, officially turns in her card-carrying status as a member of the human race, instead embracing her new-found apathetic godhood by taking control of some missiles and, from what it looks like at least, turning them upon humanity, reprimanding them with a simple yet definitive, “Shame on you all.”
Not bad, right? Well, no ... but not very good either. I honestly don’t know why this is being touted as new or necessarily unique. Sure, it’s a character-driven book following Mara as she explores her increasingly powerful abilities and disenfranchisement with the human race, but hasn’t this been done before many times? I mean, I’m pretty sure even Superman, the Hulk and Spider-Man books (amongst many, many others) have covered the victimized and misunderstood hero angle to one extent or another, and when that goes really sour, as we’re seeing here, it just becomes a villain origin. If this story offers something new to the formula other than it being led by a homosexual minority female celebrity volleyball player, I’m just not seeing it.
Meanwhile, the story itself is drawn-out and meandering, and none of its characters are particularly relatable or possessive of any redeeming or even realistic qualities, including the one who shares her name with the title. One particular example, though, is Mara’s former commanding officer. In issue five, trying to determine whether Mara’s brother has her same powers, he [SPOILER] orders the soldiers within his command to beat the brother to death. That’s the kind of canned, over the top evil that comes across as laughably counterproductive. Admittedly, this could be a “clever” ruse to turn Mara against the people and vice versa, but there remains a disconnect of motivation and action here, while the remainder of Mara’s developing cold indifference is at best plodding.
I also don’t share everyone’s love of Ming Doyle’s art in this series. To me, it just lacks a lively aesthetic, with figures that look like ungainly marionettes or oddly-positioned mannequins, and backgrounds that feel half-hearted and rushed. Like the writing and characterization, there’s not enough substance for me, just lifeless wood ... no pun intended.
To me, Mara, whether it means to or not, feels gimmicky, like it’s an excuse for people to say, “some of my favorite comics are about superpowered homosexual minority female celebrity volleyball players,” because now that’s a thing. This issue leaves off cunningly, at least enough for me to check out where it’s going, but only because I’ve already come this far.
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Ming Doyle
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: 6/19/13