Thursday, January 21, 2016

Special Advance Review: Faith #1

Faith #1
Story: Jody Houser
Art: Francis Portela, Marguerite Sauvage, & Andrew Dalhouse

Valiant's new launch, Faith, has been getting a lot of advance buzz, and all that buzz is earned. It's a delightful comic, with a warm, hilarious hero, a solid supporting cast, and a mystery at its core that will keep readers wanting more.

I've read a fair amount of Valiant comics, but most of them center around the brother Anni-Padda, better known as Ivar the Timewalker, Armstrong of Archer & Armstrong, and Gilad the Eternal Warrior, so Faith, who was a cast member of Harbinger, is a character I'm not too familiar with, mostly having seen her in event comics as part of her former team, the Renegades. But the opening page has a brief background, and that's all you really need going into the issue, and even that is just to fill in some terminology. Jody Houser is pretty much giving you a Faith 101 here, giving her a new home base, a new supporting cast, but the same superheroic mission.

Faith Herbert, also known as the superheroic psiot (that's Valiant term for mutant or metahuman) Zephyr, and currently with the new civilian identity of Summer Smith is an optimist. Just from one issue I can tell she's irrepressibly cheerful. And she's also a fangirl. And she wants to be a superhero because it's the right thing to do, and because she's watched a lot of sci-fi movies and read a lot of comics. So she's pretty much how I'd like to think I'd be if I suddenly could fly and had limited telekinesis, and I think a lot of other readers would have the same feeling,

The first issue spends most of its time establishing Faith's status quo. She wants to have the traditional superhero secret identity, that of the reporter so she can be informed of all crises the minute they happen. But, well, journalism isn't as easy to crack into as all that, but since shes be an on-line fangirl for years, she is able to get a job writing listicles for Ziplne, which is nothing like Buzzfeed at all. Out of the gate, her supporting cast seems to be her coworkers, who aren't fleshed out much this issue beyond their seemingly standard templates of passive aggressive boss, whiny Millenial, and snarky Gen-Xers, but what can you expect from one scene? There's plenty to work with from those tropes to build the characters over the course of the series.

There are definite ties to the rest of the Valiant Universe, but none of them hinder the enjoyment of the comic; I like that they're there so you know Faith is a character with history in the world around her. There are references to her former team, which included her ex-boyfriend, Torque, and big bad Toyo Harada, but in both cases what little you need to know is explained right there. The best connection to the rest of Valiant's heroes, though, is Faith's webchat with Obadiah Archer, the naive assassin half of my favorite Valiant duo, Archer & Armstrong. Archer was raised in a religious cult, so he has no frame of reference for pop culture, something Faith has in spades, and she's a better mentor for it than Armstrong, whose idea of pop culture is beat poetry and a good microbrew. Their dynamic is cute, and it's funny to watch Faith tease poor Archer, who, for being as powerful as he is, has little experience when talking to women.

While I said this first issue does a lot of set up, there are also a couple of very solid action scenes, one of Faith dealing with a ring of puppynappers, and a couple that deal with the mystery that seems to be the driving plot of the mini-series. We see people fleeing a mysterious group of identical men in suits, and Faith finds out that psiots are disappearing. And since my exposure to writer Houser is mostly from her wok on the tie-in comic to the best conspiracy show currently on TV, Orphan Black, I'm excited to see where she takes this conspiracy.

I also want to briefly address something. A lot of the advance press in the mainstream media about Faith has been focused on the character's body type, which is not what you usually get in comic books for a female superhero. And I'm all for that, and I think it's great she's getting a spotlight. But what I really like? It's not mentioned once in the comic. Not once. Faith goes about her business, she never thinks about losing weight or about her body, and no one brings it up. When she's facing down a group of thugs, I braced myself for one of the bad guys to make a body-shaming comment, and... nothing. Faith is written as if no one notices her body because it's nothing out of the ordinary, and I think that was a wise choice.

This first issue features two artists, one on the scenes in the real world, and one for Faith's daydreams. Francis Portela, who draws the main story, is an artist I'm familiar from his work on Ivar, Timewalker, one of my favorite Valiant series, and he has a solid style for superhero storytelling. He not only draws great action, but distinct characters and excellent faces. Marguerite Sauvage is a name I was most familiar with as a writer, as she is co-writing the DC Comics Bombshells series right now, but as it turns out she 's a great artist with a style that is a little less realistic than Portels'a without being too cartoony, and suits Faith's heroic, and romantic, dreams.

Faith #1 is a fun superhero comic with a hero who you can easily root for. I like that she is a hero through and through, without any of the anti-hero tendancies of so many comic book characters. If you've been enjoying any of Marvel's female led titles like Ms. Marvel, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, or Patsy Walker, a.k.a Hellcat, and have  been looking to try a super hero series from outside the Marvel Universe, I can't think of a better place to start than Faith.

Faith #1 comes out this coming Wednesday, January 27th, wherever comic books are sold.

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