REVIEW: Mara #1

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In a world torn apart by never-ending war, only one thing can bring together people of all races, religions and nationalities. That thing? Volleyball! Veteran writer Brian Wood teams up with the young and talented artist Ming Doyle to deliver the latest Image debut, Mara #1, and Major Spoilers dutifully reviews it for you!

Mara 1 Cover MARA #1
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Ming Doyle
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Publisher: Image Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously, in Mara: Mara is a completely new series from champion of creator-owned comics Brian Wood and up-and-coming artist Ming Doyle. Wood is best known for works such as DMZ and Northlanders, but I know him from some of his Marvel work Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha and Omega and his current run on Ultimate Comics: X-Men.

A COMIC ABOUT VOLLEYBALL?

I came into Mara knowing nothing other than the name of the protagonist and the creative talent behind it. I had no clue whether the female lead was going to be a super-assassin pirate gymnast or a sultry superheroine siren, or something completely different. As it turns out, she’s the ultimate athlete and it would appear the top volleyball player on the planet.

IN A WORLD RAVAGED BY WAR…

The world of Mara is one that has turned to a celebration of athleticism and competition as an outlet for the tension that ceaseless wars and economic strife caused. Sports have become so important (and perhaps money so inflated) that the prize for the volleyball match at the beginning of the issue is a billion dollars American. This means that someone with Mara’s skills is rather important, to the point where there is a possibly attempted assassination on her person after the match. This is left (I believe) intentionally vague, as Mara alerts her guard that she heard a gun in the crowd, at which point they shove her into a car back to her penthouse suite.

…EVERYTHING IS CONFUSING

I read the pages from this point on about four times trying to make sense of what all occurred (Mara had a talky-scene with her teammate and possible lesbian partner, who’s probably the most likable character in this issue, then in her next volleyball match Mara started glowing and freezing time, which I guess could be the reason she’s such a good volleyball player, except she didn’t really seem to have a good handle on whatever was happening as she collapsed on the court pretty soon after with no explanation whatsoever), and I came to the conclusion that Brian Wood didn’t want me to quite understand it—because it wasn’t poorly written, just really confusing. That being said, I hadn’t experienced enough of a connection to these characters to really CARE about what was happening to them, so I was left at the end of the issue just feeling generally apathetic.

BUT EVERYTHING IS GORGEOUS

I’ve been a fan of Ming Doyle’s art for a long time; I actually met her at a convention in Michigan that she attended along with her boyfriend Neil Cicierega, of Potter Puppet Pals and Lemon Demon fame. My wife and I (who were dating at the time) were actually at the convention to see Lemon Demon, and in the autograph line she complimented us on our Green Arrow and Black Canary costumes. Afterward I decided to look up who this mysterious Ming was, and through that discovered her art. Since then she did a webcomic that was quite enjoyable (The Loneliest Astronauts), a graphic novel about werewolves that I did not read (Tantalize) and a backup story in Fantastic Four #600 that gave her a lot more exposure.

Mara is definitely her best work to date; Ming delivers some of the crispest work I’ve seen from her, with beautifully rendered facial expressions and gorgeously futuristic backgrounds. The combination of her art with Jordie Bellaire’s coloring is a perfect blend; for my money Jordie is one of the top colorists in the business right now.

While Ming is certainly an incredibly talented artist who I believe will be a huge name within five years, there are some definitely areas in her art on Mara #1 that could use improving. While the facial expressions of the characters while talking or glaring are spot-on, when one girl was diving to the floor for a dig her face is basically the same as if she’d been standing up. Looking through the entire issue, there’s really only one time a character is drawn with an open mouth (not counting shots that just show teeth), and that’s when they were putting a mouth guard in, so while Ming’s eyes and mouths do convey a wide range of emotions, she needs to work on incorporating more open-mouthed faces.

There was also a panel of Mara’s team stretching that was probably funnier than it should have been, but I don’t think it’s really possible to draw people stretching without it looking goofy.

BOTTOM LINE: GREAT ART, A BIT CONFUSING, BUT I’M IN FOR ISSUE TWO

Brian Wood is a good writer, but he’s not the reason to pick up this first issue of Mara. Ming Doyle’s art, beautifully complemented by Jordie Bellaire’s colors, are the driving force in this series so far. I’m hoping in issue two Wood gives us a bit of explanation over some of the strange happenings in Mara #1, and hopefully we’ll have a bit more reason to like the characters aside from what the prolific narration boxes have told us, but until then Mara #1 gets an average three out of five stars, the sub-par Wood characterizations bolstered by Doyle and Bellaire’s beautiful art.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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