Probably the number one thing to be avoided when writing reviews, well, beyond actively insulting your audience, is making your mind up ahead of time. I did, however, approach this review with the hope of talking about a book I've enjoyed a lot and feel like deserves some attention, a book that reads like BOOM! a cousin to a number of lesser books by Image and has a genuinely smart hook that demands exploring. And then to my immense disappointment, I read Welcome Back #7 and realized it was kind of a cluttered, half-baked, overwrought mess that exemplified all of the series' worst qualities and none of its best. So basically, I'm about to spend a few paragraphs tearing apart a book I came here to recommend. It's a funny world, isn't it? So let's start with the basics. The basic pitch of Welcome Back is TMNT meets the Wire. Actually that's not even slightly true, but it would make for a killer comic book. Welcome Back is actually about a war that has lasted millennia between two factions of re-incarnated soldiers. As it turns out, every human being comes back after they die in a new body, but only the two sides in this war remember their past selves. Tess and Mali, who have been each other's targets in every life, have mutually decided that they are done fighting a war with no known purpose, and have instead become romantic partners, trying desperately to get off the grid and escape their seemingly fated place in the conflict.
All that setup, and there is of course quite a bit more to it, is a heavy burden to put on the book and while the exposition has generally been handled smoothly, it can feel like Christopher Sebela is straining to make room for story. Never has that strain been more apparent than issue seven, where three issues worth of material is stuffed into one standard sized issue. Welcome Back #7 sees the Mali get in a fire fight, get rescued by a cop, take a plan ride, have sex with Tessa, see the pilot get shot, meet Tessa's family, have a hammer fight with Tessa's mother, and learn a few things about her past along the way. All of this occurs with constant narration by Malli and more than a few asides dealing with Mali's father and his dog. In typing that out, I realized it's probably a credit to Sebela as a writer that this issue is even as readable as it is.
No one element is particularly bad, but the constant chaotic pace makes it feel like nothing has the significance it should. The gun fight is wrapped up so quickly and chaotically, I never got a feel for any sort of stakes, and Tessa's mother is introduced so quickly, one never gets the ominous feeling that Sebela seems to be going for with her. The book has always been fast paced bordering on frenetic, but in past it seemed like it was a fitting way to tell an action story. As the action moves to the back burner, the pacing becomes strained and choppy, moving from important point to important point without enough connective tissue.
And that choppiness shows up in the art as well. Claire Roe stepped in to replace the series' original artist Jonathan Brandon Sawyer early on, and was surprisingly effective, despite Sawyer's work being what originally made me try the book. Roe's stylized, chunky characters and exaggerated action poses fit nicely with the type of story being told, and I've come to really enjoy her work. Sadly, in this issue, it feels very mixed, with some panels being the high-caliber work one would expect, and others looking rushed and lazy. A few specific images from the gunfight are so cluttered and boring that they appear to be an almost entirely different illustrator. In an issue with a stronger script, I might not even have noticed, but as it is, the art muddies further what is already a messy issue.
I could easily go on about things that didn't work in Welcome Back #7, but it would be pointless. When an issue is overstuffed in this way, even elements that normally work feel odd and awkward. For example, Tessa and Mali's relationship had been a highlight to the series, a central emotional story that anchors the chaos around it. But here, the relationship feels shallow and boring, a hormonal parade of sappy flirting and constant sex. Welcome Back is assuredly still a title to watch, but after this issue, I have lost more than a little confidence in the book.
[su_box title="Score: 2/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
Welcome Back #7 Writer: Christopher Sebela Artist: Claire Roe Publisher: BOOM! Studios Price: $3.99 Release Date: 4/20/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital