One of the best things I can say about The Mantle is that it picks up action right where it has to; in deference to that, let’s not waste any time, shall we? The issue begins the moment the first one ended: Jen is the new Mantle, Robbie’s fucking head is gone, and the rest of the gang is trying to convince Jen that she has to go train and be ready to fight the Plague. Jen says “fuck that noise” and flies off with Robbie’s body to a hospital (whose staff is surprisingly accommodating for a woman who wants medical attention for a body with no head), where the Plague finds her and kills some people to get to her. Shadow uses his abilities to transport Jen and the team to their secret underground lair, where she meets CCTV, their information guy, and things get a little expository before Necra takes her to Purgatory to meet the rest of the Mantles from throughout history.
Brian Level and Jordan Boyd’s art on this series is incredible, from beginning to end. Level has created characters that have individuality to them you don’t see very often in superhero books--the silhouettes of everyone on the team are all unique, and their costumes are strange without being too much. Level’s linework is great at conveying action and weight throughout, and Boyd brings a lot of life to the Mantle’s electricity and the blood coming out of peoples’ exploded heads. Their work on the Purgatory sequence at the end is phenomenal on every level, and I hope we get to spend a lot of time there next month.
Where the first issue was a tight subversion with a great twist ending, this issue felt a little bit more stagnant from a storytelling perspective. Jen and the crew are constantly on the run from the Plague, but there’s no strong sense of a want from Jen; her biggest thing, repeatedly, is why nobody helped Robbie when he was the Mantle. She’s accusatory of her new team, and rightly so, but she talks about things that should have happened, instead of finding things that she is going to make an effort to actually do. Spinning out of the final page reveal, I can’t say I know what this book is going to be about. It could be about a woman accepting an unwanted burden and saving people for the greater good, as is fairly typical for a superhero story (plus, she would fight the Plague more often, and he’s such a good Thanos-y kind of villain); or it could be about a woman who refuses to let her partner be dead and tries to continue to bring him back.
The thing about The Mantle is that it’s a book that could support either storyline, or possibly even both. This is a rich world, with well-thought-out characters and an archetypal good v. evil conflict hovering in the background like a stormcloud. I’m not begrudging the story for taking it’s time to go over more Robbie stuff, I just want to make sure it picks a lane.
Overall, I’m still digging The Mantle. Level and Boyd alone would be worth the price of admission, but Brisson’s plot has a lot of promise and I look forward to seeing where it’s going.