First Impressions – FURIOUS #1

Furious-1-cover-image-from-Dark-Horse

One would think becoming a superhero would lead to immediate fame. But press and people are fickle, just as willing to demonize as to praise, as likely to twist even the purest intentions into something that validates their own individual or collective world views. For one simply looking for redemption, this is an irksome fact of life. Aggravating. Enough to leave a new superhero, even the first of her kind, absolutely FURIOUS.

One doesn’t simply make a superhero story these days. There’s no point really, when thousands have come before and done the genre well. Or poorly, as is the case with ninety percent of them, simply by virtue of Sturgeon’s Law. So just making a straight genre work is inadvisable in today’s comics market. If there’s a superhero story to be told, it will likely only be told with a preexisting character.

Unless the superhero story starts with a gimmick.

And I mean more of a gimmick than “hero is blind or deaf”. Those sorts of resources were mined long ago. No, a modern superhero work, one that’s wholly original, needs to have something going for it that really stretches the genre in a new direction. Like the recent series Sidekick, starring a second banana forced to his own solo career upon the death of the hero he worked alongside…where he promptly enters a spiral of depression and crossing moral event horizons.

So basically any modern superhero comic needs to be deconstructive (or rarely, reconstructive) if it has any chance of succeeding in the market. Or be a revival of an old character concept.

Today’s comic, FURIOUS #1, is the former. We’re introduced to two individuals: Cadence Lark, celebrity and huge bitch (bluh bluh); and the new superhero on the block, a woman trying to get the public to call her The Beacon. But in flagrant defiance of her desires – footage of her introducing herself as the Beacon was displayed on the news – the press preferred to call by a different sobriquet: Furious.

Granted, the footage in question was taken while she mercilessly beat people. Not that they didn’t deserve it.

Indeed, the nom de plume of Furious, while not welcome by the heroine herself, is certainly apt. Despite her genuine desire to use as-of-yet unexplained powers for good, she suffers from a severe temper. Not helping is the stress she’s under, both from a fickle, uncaring public, and from the weight of a mysterious past. One that ties her to…

Yes, she’s Cadence Lark. It’s really very obvious and is revealed at the end of the issue anyway. Whatever, it’s really not that important a spoiler.

FURIOUS was an ongoing series a few other comics bloggers and I have awaited for quite some time now. Dark Horse teased and advertised the series for months with promotions and alternate cover art. If a company put so much work in promoting a project – something I wish would be branched outside of the comics market itself – then obviously they view it as having great potential.

And yes, I can see signs of a good story here. It’s just I’m not entirely sure FURIOUS #1 lives up to the hype.

Oh sure, the comic itself has many good qualities in its favor. I found myself rooting for our erstwhile heroine, and sympathetic to her plight. The comic made me angry when I was supposed to be, the injustice of modern culture twisting celebrities of all kinds into grotesque monsters, both as an image and recursively into their own reality. Aside from the obvious twist established by the end, there are a number of questions worth pursuing; namely where Furious got her powers, how they work, what events caused Cadence to be responsible for her father’s death (directly or indirectly), and how a world devoid of such things in real life would react to the presence of a superpowered being.

Artistically the work receives a favorable impression from me. Ink work is colorful, a quality I prefer in comics and especially superhero works. Action is dynamic and page layouts shift depending on the level of action. More sedate scenes will have more rigid structures, whereas scenes with lots of activity – like a protracted chase scene – are more nonstandard. Black silhouettes are utilized at times, but usually limited to blacking out skin, while hair, clothes, and eyes remain colored; it has the effect of atmosphere while not rendering certain characters unrecognizable. In short, it’s a visually appealing book.

But then we have to loop around again and ask: is FURIOUS #1 deserving of its promotion? Was the hype justified?

Honestly it comes down to whether a story about a heroine with deep moral failings, dealing with the skewed cultural perceptions that lead to backlash and misunderstanding, is a story one really wants to read. And personally I’m not so sure I do. My earlier spiel about the impossibility of new superhero works entering the market without a dark gimmick was stated to illustrate a point: it’s the reality faced by anyone wanting to make old-style superheroes, and it’s a reality I lament.

I want to be able to crack open a comic book and see good people fighting evil and making their world brighter. That doesn’t mean they can’t have their problems, or they can’t tackle complex issues. But I’m tired of the cynicism of modern comics. I’m tired of seeing writers and readers assume works need to be edgy or dark or deconstructive to be interesting. Deconstruction is a positive force in any genre, but it’s hardly an end unto itself. And it’s been done before; it’s been done many, many times before. Sometimes good, often poorly.

To the credit of FURIOUS, I don’t think it’s ever been done quite like this. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

Does any of this mean FURIOUS has no right to exist? No, of course not. If the writers think they have something new or insightful to say on the subject of superheroes, they should write about it. One of my favorite works right now is Worm, a web serial that takes the genre and reverse constructs it. Not exactly deconstructs, as that is attempting to show what the world would actually be like given a premise, but rather what kind of world would need to exist for the genre conventions to not only exist, but be the only logical results. And surprise surprise, it’s still pretty deconstructive, and dark to boot.

As for FURIOUS #1, I recommend reading the issue before making one’s mind over whether to continue reading. If nothing else, the possibility of FURIOUS becoming another example of a modern, classical-style, capital ‘T’ Tragedy, excites me greatly. I would almost say it arouses my giddy interest, but time and immature writers have long ago erased any emotional context from the word “arouse” that is not sexual.

The fact that many perfectly functional words have long ago been rendered unusable in casual conversation has made me Furious. Or at least mildly vexed.

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