Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Mara by Brian Wood review

I like Brian Wood's writing. I don't enjoy all of it, some of his indie comics aren’t really to my liking, but some of his other series like Northlanders, DMZ and Conan the Barbarian are just excellent. Wood has written many non-superhero series and that's one of the reasons I've followed him as a writer. When well written I really enjoy superhero comics but it's nice to have a few writers whose body of work isn’t entirely superhero from which I can select comics to read when I’m feeling for something other than tights. That’s exactly the reason why I picked up Mara. All I knew about the comic going in was that it was set in the not so distant future where sports are at the center of attention. It’s about a female volley ball player in the future, it’s written by Brian Wood and it has a pretty good cover drawn by the same artist who did the interior art, Ming Doyle.

I didn’t know that Mara was a superhero comic when I picked it up but unfortunately, that’s exactly what it is. Even more unfortunate, it’s not very good.

I’m not sure what story Wood was trying to tell with Mara. To be honest, I’m not sure he knew. The comic I read in the first half of the collection is radically different from the one I read in the second half. It’s different in the story being told, the message that story carries and the overall tone. It was so strange to see a comic evolve from a futuristic satire of the media, the entertainment and  sport industries and power and politics to a haphazardly thrown together story about the world’s first superhuman and the god complex she develops. I think that part of the problem is Wood never really takes the time to create a future world. He sets up enough of the future world to allow for us to follow Mara from one plot point to the next. It all feels so rigid and mechanical.

Are those paramedics or volleyball
players who have excellent first aid skills?
If sports have become so important in the future to the point of being the number one thing people focus on throughout the world, without exception, why are we only shown volleyball? Are other sports not important? Similarly, Mara seems to be the only sports celebrity. I can’t understand that she’s the most famous of all the other athletes, but for to be the only one? The poorly constructed vision of the future creates disbelief at an alarming rate. Why are volleyball stadiums giant flying stadiums? What possible benefit could there be for having a volleyball court on a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier? What’s most frustrating about these criticisms I’m pointing out is that they could easily have been address if Wood had concentrated on telling the story of the first half, without the second half. He would have been able to embellish the story, the world and the characters. Mara is a flat, flat character, they all are, really. Ingrid is the only character that interested me and only because she was the only one to show some emotion.

Brian Wood wasn’t the only creator to drop the ball on Mara. Ming Doyle’s art is equally disappointing. While Wood’s writing was inconsistent, Doyle’s art is overly consistent. All the woman and men look the same, as if they were created from a mould. Sure, some of the players on Mara’s volleyball team are shorter, but their body type is the same. Likewise the designs for they volleyball uniform and military uniforms all look the same. They even us similar colour patterns (this could be a decision of the colourist and I do not attribute blame to Doyle, but it adds to my overall dislike of the art). In a scene Mara is in an ambulance and the look and colours of her sports uniform and the uniforms the paramedics are wearing are near identical.

Doyle isn’t very good at drawing bodies in motion. Significant portions of the comic deal with athletes in motion and that doesn’t come across in the art. Everything looks stiff and static. Likewise the more superhero centric sections are also filled with stiff poses. Some of those static images work well. I really like the cover, it help to convince me to give Mara a try. I took a look at Doyle’s tumblr and it confirms the feelings I have towards her art, not only on Mara, but her overall. She does good static images but as soon as I see a sample of her comic pages something is missing. She’s not a storyteller. There is a difference between a single image and two or more images in sequential order. She’s good at one but struggling with the other.

These world class athletes move with the
gracefulness of socially awkward teens. 
Mara is a comic that has a few interesting ideas but Wood was unable to take those ideas and create a story with them. The final product is composed of two three issue stories (or thereabouts) that are sandwich together with a force plot holding them together. Neither of the stories gets to shine and both feel at the same time rushed and decompressed. The first story doesn’t have an ending and is constantly trying to transform itself into the second story which doesn’t have a beginning and rushes towards the end. Meanwhile the art by Ming Doyle presents a bland vision of the future and is serviceable at best. Stories set in the future can always provide interesting designs but Doyle limits herself to a repeating patterns and designs for clothing, body type and backgrounds. Her art isn’t bad but it’s bland, lacking energy and emotion. Mara was a comic that had potential but the execution left me cold, uninterested and emotionally distant. 

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