Today, Shelby and Taylor are discussing Faith 4, originally released April 27th, 2016.
Shelby: It can be difficult to relate to the superheroes we admire so much; their quips are too perfect, their bodies are too perfect, hell even their flaws manage to be too perfect. It’s why so many guys I know name Spider-Man their favorite superhero. Peter Parker wasn’t a mutant, or a magician, or super rich, or a totally jacked alien; he was just a nerdy kid like we all were. No wealth, no power, no influence, just a guy with accidental superpowers trying to do the right thing. In fact, he didn’t even do the right thing to start off with; he did what any person would do and tried to make some money off the situation. I feel like roughly a third of every Spider-Man story has to do with him struggling to balance his superhero life and his regular life, and that is why we love him. He brings our reality into the his superhero world. This is exactly why I’m excited about Faith; she’s absolutely a superhero, but she’s also a regular person just like me.
Faith Herbert a.k.a. telekinetic psiot Zephyr a.k.a. mild-mannered listicle author Summer Smith has assembled a small team to rescue some hostages (including her ex-boyfriend and teammate Torque) from aliens calling themselves Vine who’ve been masquerading as humans (and running most of Hollywood in the process). On her side is Archer, her friend and current crush, who’s non-powered, a combat expert, and actually an archer; @X, her hacker friend who “mans the watchtower” so to speak; and Hadley Scott, one of the aliens and the lead actress on Faith’s favorite sci-fi comedy, who is tired of seeing the hostages abused by her people. The team tries to sneak in, but are naturally detected, and are attacked by Vine and their mind-controlled hostages.
Torque is the beefy one on the left, in case you were wondering. Some fighting goes down, and Faith and friends manage to un-mind-control the hostages, but they still have Vine to face. But Faith gives an empowered (no pun intended) speech, reminding Vine that they’ve been on Earth as humans for thousands of years, and are telling human stories on TV and in movies. It’s not them vs. humanity, because they ARE humanity, just like the rest of us. She manages to convince enough of them that she and her friends can take out the rest, and it’s happily ever after….FOR NOW.
As I was writing up this summary, I realized this reads like every outline of every story arc conclusion; honestly, that’s a huge part of Faith‘s charm. Writer Jody Houser has very cleverly given us a superhero in our world, influenced by the same superheroes we are; I found myself wanting Faith’s experience to work out like a comic book, because that’s what Faith wants as well. While she’s giving her stirring speech to Vine about the importance of creating and sharing the stories of humanity, we are privy to a flashback to Faith’s sad childhood.
What a beautiful, sad moment; after losing both her parents as a child, sad and lonely Faith reaches out to comic books for solace. She didn’t become a superhero because she was told she needed to do the right thing and she already had a costume and moniker. She became a superhero because superheroes were there for her when she needed them the most; when she herself gained superpowers, it was almost like there was no question what she would do with them. More importantly for us, though, Houser is demonstrating the power and importance of comic books and story-telling. Considering the fact that I co-founded a blog based on the idea that comics are literature and art, and deserve to be treated as such, it’s incredibly rewarding to see this idea delivered in comic-book form.
As you can probably tell, there are two artists on this book. Francis Portela handles the majority of the art, and does so with a clean, straightforward style that really suits the “real-world” setting of the story. One thing that Faith frequently contends with is the difference between her idealized fantasy of being a superhero and the actual realities of doing so (an idea I find extremely meta and amusing, as this is a comic book). That’s where Marguerite Sauvage comes in; in Faith’s fantasies, Sauvage gives us a world that’s a little cuter, a little more candy-colored and rainbow-y.
Ahhhhhh, that’s adorable. Most importantly to me, however, is the fact that in all of Faith’s fantasies in all four issues, she always views herself as she is, a plus-sized woman. Now, I’m sure a lot has been said about the fact that Faith is our first plus-sized heroine, but none of it is said in the book. She’s just a person; no one comments on her weight or her appearance because it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t bring it up, she isn’t judged for it; it’s the best and sadly least realistic part of this series, and I’m talking about a story that features thousands-of-years-old aliens running Hollywood’s media machine.
Taylor, what do you think about this book, were you as charmed as I was by how just genuinely good Faith aims to be? Is it just me, or do you think her alter-ego Summer Smith is supposed to look like Gail Simone?
Taylor: I am charmed by Faith’s aims and I think that’s because she ultimately realizes that not everything can be like a comic book. Towards the end of this issue Faith says that “it turns out that saving the world isn’t always a life-altering experience” because she has created a superhero team and her life hasn’t changed noticeably in any way as she’s still working her day job. Faith undoubtedly could have taken this turn of events after her scuffle with the Vine in a negative way, but instead she takes it with equanimity. It shows me that Faith, for all of her fondness for comic books, realizes that real life rarely like what we read in our monthlies or see on TV. I appreciate this about Faith. She’s not over dramatic, she takes things for what they are and moves. Perhaps this something about her personality and her namesake. She has faith things will turn out alright in the end and doesn’t need her super powers or saving the day to come in and change all of that.
That being said, I still really like that Faith takes many of her ques from the comic books she grew up with. Shelby, you mentioned her fantasies and how Sauvage renders them adorably. I totally agree with you there, but I also see how Sauvage is emulating the character designs seen in manga, particularly Sailor Moon. To understand what I mean, let’s take a look again at Unit 517’s (aka Hadley) character design.
The overflowing hair, the big eyes/irises, and the costume that looks like an updated Victorian riding riding uniform all are hallmarks of Japanese animation and comicing. The allusion to manga and anime is wonderful because even though it’s obvious to observant eye, it’s a reference that is also subtle. This being Faith’s fantasy, I have to acknowledge that of course Faith not only loved American comic books, but manga and anime as well. How many people who grew up reading comics can also say they loved these things? A bunch (technical term). This nuanced allusion endears me to Faith because it labels her as a fan of these stories, the same kind of stories I also enjoyed growing up. This makes Faith an incredibly likable protagonist because her and I have a shared experience. I’m willing to bet the same is true of many other readers as well.
This visual allusion to “nerd culture” is well executed and it’s a shame that the same can’t be said for the written allusions in the issue. Throughout this issue Faith continually makes reference to sci-fi stories, comic books, and video games during her narration. It starts off fine, but the sheer volume of these references quickly begin to diminish their appeal. What starts off seeming like an endearing quality of Faith’s soon becomes an annoying wink and a nudge by writer Jody Houser. Take, for example, the reference Faith drops while she’s breaking into the mansion that’s housing the Vine’s prisoners.
The “level up” reference is an obvious nod to RPGs where characters level up as they gain experience and skills. This reference to video games strikes me as being an obvious attempt to cater to the audience by quickly throwing in reference to something “nerdy” without actually doing any of the legwork that makes an allusion successful. My beef isn’t with the mention of leveling up itself, but the skill “inspirational speechifying.” Perhaps Houser was trying to be cute here, but it feels like a missed opportunity for a better allusion. Why not substitute speechifying for “charisma” or “persuasion,” both of which commonly appear in RPG games and sure to be recognized by the intended audience? Maybe I’m being harsh, but so called nerd-culture has a well of references to draw from and settling for a half-baked allusion just seems a bit shiftless.
There are other small issues like these which plague the issue. The size of the cell which Vine has been keeping its captives in seems to gow larger and larger until it completely disappears and dissolves into grayness during much of the issue’s climatic fight scene.
What started off as a small room suddenly grow in size enough to hold upwards of thirty people. This isn’t the worst thing to have happen in a comic, but it’s distracting and the issue could have been made that much better with a little thought and touch up work concerning the backgrounds in the last third of the story. As it is, it’s a but confusing and definitely leaves me wanting more in terms of detail.
This however isn’t enough to make me dislike the issue. Overall Faith is a wonderful character and the ways the creators work to reference other superhero stories is both endearing and fun. That no mention of Faith’s weight is mentioned in the issue is perhaps realistic, but I also appreciate that the focus in these first issues is not on how she looks but on who she is. I’m certain with time both the creators of Faith will continue to build upon the promising start they have here and dig into some deeper issues.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?