Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Nomad: Girl Without a World

Nomad: Girl Without a World, issues 1-4
by Sean McKeever and David Baldeon
Marvel 2009

Hillary Brown:Oh my god, Sean McKeever, I have missed you so much. If I had to pick the one comic book I continually buy for people more than any other, it would probably be Spider-man Loves Mary Jane, which we've discussed in passing on numerous occasions, and his Teen Titans stuff was delightful as well, so it made me really happy to see him continuing not to fall on his face with the miniseries Nomad: Girl Without a World, which consisted of four issues and now is going to run in the back of something else (Captain American?). I may have only gotten through the issues in bursts, but that's due to my crazy schedule of late, not due to a hint of boringness or lack of skill on McKeever's part. Even the recaps that appear inside each issue are cute, snappy, and an admirable combination of information and entertainment. The story's pretty smart, the action not bad, and the art, by David Baldeon, is well-tailored to all of the above. Gush gush gush. I'm sure I could pick out some flaws--you're welcome to take this in that direction--but mostly this stuff just makes me happy. My daughter will read McKeever's writing if I have to force her to.

Garrett Martin: I’m shocked they actually used that Liefeld drawing of Cap in the first issue’s recap page. If you’re gonna bring back a character from one of the most reviled comics ever you might as well go all in. I have no idea how Rikki Barnes was written in the old Loeb/Liefeld comics, if she was some kind of bright spot in what’s otherwise considered a massive failure, but McKeever wastes no time making her likable and relatable. No other guy at Marvel or DC is better at writing teenagers that feel genuine and not like barely disguised rip-offs of Gossip Girl or 90210 characters. I like how, as in Gravity, the stakes in Nomad start relatively low and locally oriented, but with grave larger ramifications. Whereas Gravity has to rescue Washington Square Park and NYU’s campus, Nomad needs to free her high school from the Secret Empire’s mind control. Sure, it’s not at all rare for superheroics to serve as an extension of a character’s personal situation (see Runaways or the first 600 or so issues of Amazing Spider-Man), but McKeever is a burgeoning master of that balance. The two threads come together seamlessly.

HB: That's true! I didn't even notice the Liefeld drawing, but even I, still a relative comics newbie, know the horrors of Liefeld. Still, as you say, it makes the achievement all the more impressive, especially as I'm sure Rikki Barnes was mostly a brokeback pose excuse more than a well-rounded character back in those days. Also, I managed to miss Gravity entirely, which is clearly a big oversight on my part and one that will be remedied shortly, but your point is still relevant. You wouldn't think loneliness would make such a compelling theme, but, just as Joss Whedon makes the whole "high school is hell" thing a compelling metaphor, McKeever's choice of a girl who's literally in the wrong universe manages to be completely clear as an analogy for how every teenager feels isolated (it's a symptom of growing self-consciousness) without ever stepping over the line into heavy-handedness. The literal plot, too, has intelligent things to say about responsibility, conformity, and herd behavior versus individual action. It's close to being a straight up statement about the current state of political discourse, but it's slipperier than that, which makes it much better. I've been trying to pin down some of the things that make McKeever's writing so good, and it's hard to come up with much because he makes it all look incredibly easy. Anyway, here goes: 1. Commitment to the story. It's easy to have your superheroes spend all their time moping and chatting, but McKeever's often think and do at the same time, and the plot chugs along at a good pace. 2. A lack of overwhelming pop culture references. While his stories are always set in the present, he clearly knows enough teenagers to know that throwing in, say, a sexting reference isn't going to do anything but annoy his audience and date his writing. 3. He tends to work with artists who aren't distracting, whose drawings are clear and simple or whose coloring skills aren't overly digitized. Add to my list.

GM: 4. Archetypal Marvel themes. Okay, "superhero with personal problems" (this time of the teen variety) has basically been that side of the industry's default setting for decades now, but it'll always be connected with Marvel. Like we've said, Nomad has that early Spider-Man feel, and no matter how prevalent or cliched that set-up has become it'll always work when done well. It'll also always feel like an intentional tribute to Marvel's past, which as a pathetic nostalgist will always appeal to me.

This gets me wondering: have you read the most recent Blue Beetle series? It's not by McKeever, it's not about a teen lady, but it's another pretty good comic about a relatively believable teenager coming to grips with his new-found superlativeness.

HB: I haven't, and I've been meaning to forever, largely because of Eddie Argos's repeatedly professed love for the book. And hasn't Baldeon done some drawing for it, too? I need a good compilation to hook me, and I've been lazy about looking for one. So here's the big big question: If it's so easy to do this (and our list of components isn't long or complicated), why can't or don't more people do it? Are these books unpopular because they need more boobs and punching?

GM: Yeah, pretty much, except replace "punching" with "disemboweling". It seems like anything that has a young protagonist or a light-hearted tone will be written off as baby stuff by most superhero comic fans. Even by the low standards of the day stuff like Nomad, Blue Beetle, and even Runaways doesn't sell that well. Even Amazing Spider-Man's sales are down despite running some of the best and most archetypal Spider-Man stories in decades (granted there are a ton of other issues involved with that one, from the weird semi-reboot to the three-times-a-month schedule.) You can say books like this don't sell well because kids don't read superhero comics, but kids don't read superhero comics because they've been written primarily for teenagers or adults for at least two decades now. I don't know where the tail ends and the mouth begins.

At least Marvel might give Nomad an actual shot. They're releasing the collection as a full-sized trade paperback and not just a digest, and a piece of Coover art from the upcoming Girl Comics title includes the character alongside Spider-Woman and Storm. Speaking of which: is Girl Comics exciting, depressing, or both?

HB: Totally both. Actually, the only part that's depressing and discouraging is the name, and only that because it might turn a lot of young boys off from reading what are sure to be some pretty smart and well-rounded comics that just happen to be by some very talented ladies. Sigh...

GM: Right. I don't know what's worse, that female creators are still so uncommon in superhero comics that Marvel feels the need to bring special attention to them, or that it'll probably be a massive commercial bomb in the direct market because of the name and marketing. All I know is there'll probably be a Shazhmmm about it four to six weeks after release.