Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wildgirl #1

Wildgirl #1, January 2005, WildStorm Productions
writers: Leah Moore & John Reppion
artists: Shawn McManus with J.H. Williams III
colorists: Jeremy Cox & Carrie Strachan
letterer: Phil Balsman
assistant editor: Kristy Quinn
editor: Alex Sinclair

I judged this book by its cover. With a title like Wildgirl, I thought that this issue would be the perfect bridge between my look at comics starring prominent women and my upcoming second series of reviews about animal comics, specifically titles starring or featuring bunnies, since Easter is right around the corner. Oh, I wasn’t wrong about that. Wildgirl stars a young woman in her formative years with a peculiar connection to nature. That was essentially what I expected. How this story is told is a different matter entirely.

In short, Wildgirl is one of the strangest comic books I’ve read in awhile, and that’s saying a lot, I think. What I can’t put my finger on is why. The answer must lie in this issue’s imbalance. The story itself is a convergence settings, as our young protagonist Rosa flees her inner city apartment to sleep outside a department store for nearly three months, until a stranger guides her to a secluded house in the woods. The story also battles with its convergence of themes, as the seemingly natural struggles of an adolescent become a supernatural fight for survival when the stranger goes nuts and tries to capture her. In this issue’s eerie climax, the stranger’s dogs become his inanimate coat, then back to ravenous beasts that pursue Rosa back to the outskirts of the city, where another, friendlier dog “says” to her, “We need to talk.” Indeed!

I think the very production of this issue, namely the writers’ dialogue and pacing along with the artists’ styles, also threw me for a loop. On the first page, Rosa madly and inexplicably asks her mom, “Can I be wild girl?” While the reader quickly learns that Rosa suffers from delusions tied to the animal kingdom and Greek mythology, that opening sequence is as potentially important as it is forgettable. Did Rosa ask for this ethereal connection? Further, this issue’s dialogue is so sparse, I could actually do without it. McManus’ art is perfectly linear and abundantly expressive; I wonder how the story’s subtexts might have benefitted from a more open-ended possibility for interpretation. Finally, McManus’ art is so capable, this issue might have flourished with a colorless format. McManus’ line work seems restrained, and with a style that would benefit any indie comic, I’d like to see him implement a wider brushstroke. The J.H. Williams III vignette depicting Rosa’s dream was brilliantly executed, as well, and would’ve been much more poignant as the only splash of color in the whole piece.

Interestingly, criticism usually demands more of an issue. In this case, I’m demanding less. No words, no color? I never thought I’d see the day . . .

Also, this issue made me wish for one more less thing: ads. When the stranger appears “wearing” his dogs, the image is presented as a suspenseful left-handed splash page with an ad on the right, which is typical of a cliffhanger ending. I almost closed the book for good, until the next page just happened to open and reveal more story. I’ve never really thought about it before, but are these ad pages placed randomly, or is an editor assigned the task of strategically dispersing them throughout the issue? Surely, Wildgirl wasn’t meant to be that wild . . .

That’s it. If I could parallel this issue’s presentation with its content, I dare say that both are an unbridled expression of the creative teams’ intentions. Utilizing different art styles, volleying between long, silent sequences and more dialogue-intensive scenes -- Wildgirl #1 refuses to be tamed by anyone’s expectations or conventions. Such is the fine line between woman and animal, I suppose.

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