Faith 1

faith 1Today, Spencer and Ryan D. are discussing Faith 1, originally released July 20th, 2016.

Spencer: Life is difficult, and rarely goes as we plan. In fact, life is so often defined by stubborn difficulties that it can almost be jarring when something actually goes our way. I know there’s been plenty of times in my life where I couldn’t help but be worried that an opportunity was “too good to be true,” and sadly, in a few of those cases that was absolutely correct. Life is even harder for a superhero, as Faith Herbert, the titular star of Faith 1, is finding out first hand. The creative team of Jody Houser, Pere Perez, and Marguerite Sauvage are running Faith through a wringer of superhero-related difficulties, and sadly, it looks like things are only going to get harder for her. 

Faith 1 picks up fairly soon after the mini-series from a few months ago, but in that time, some of her victories have started to turn sour. After foiling an attack on her life at Zipline (where she’d been working under the false identity “Summer Smith”), several of Faith’s co-workers (as well as her boss, Mimi) learned her true identity, and it’s beginning to cause complications. Her co-worker Jay wants to tell his girlfriend Faith’s identity (if he hasn’t already), while Mimi is hoping to leverage her employee’s fame for her own benefit.

Mimi

Mimi’s been previously established as a competitive boss, so it’s no surprise that she’d want to use any possible asset to gain a leg up on the competition. But it’s clear that Faith feels taken advantage of (and not just because she says as much on the next page); not only is Mimi asking her to make public a very private part of her life, but she’s doing so at the worst possible time. Faith is already struggling to maintain a secret identity, and spends the early pages of this issue worried about the safety of her friends and co-workers, and with just cause — criminals looking to hurt Zephyr attacked Zipline not that long ago, something even Mimi should remember clearly!

Yet, Faith feels pressured to acquiesce to Mimi’s request — not just because she’s worried about her own job, but because she’s concerned about her co-workers’ as well (Faith may also be worried that Mimi may reveal her identity if she says no — that “We’ll talk later…Summer” is slightly threatening). As much as Faith may technically have the option to say no here, she really doesn’t.

It’s no wonder Faith is frustrated, but those aren’t even all her problems! As Zephyr she stops a robbery, but not only does she fail to bring any lasting charges against the burglar, he nearly kills her with a strange weapon! That’s followed by a tiff with her boyfriend, Archer, over a possible meeting with Faith’s celebrity crush, Chris Chriswell.

Chris Chriswell 2

Chriswell, of course, seems to be an amalgam of the Marvel movies’ various hunky Chrises, and he’s been a recurring element in Faith’s fantasies since her previous mini-series. Considering that, along with the pressure she’s currently under, it’s no wonder Faith is so eager to meet up with him, even though it riles up Archer, and (more importantly,) even though it seems likely to be a trap.

Houser and Sauvage make Faith’s desires pretty plainly evident through the imagery in her fantasy sequence (posted above) as well. Just a page earlier, Faith was complaining about people wanting her to change her costume, and how she never wanted to go the “bustier” route, yet as soon as she gets an e-mail from Chris, the costume she pictures for herself in her fantasy changes, most notably incorporating a plunging neckline. I’m making no moral judgments about the change itself, but it does indicate how badly Faith wants to meet Chris; so badly that she’d change something about herself she was resolute about not changing only moments prior.

Of course, meeting Chris indeed turns out to be a trap — remember what I was saying about “too good to be true?” While meeting your idol isn’t automatically a red flag (I did it and it was the best day of my life), there were enough red flags flying around this particular invitation that Faith probably should have figured it out, and likely would have if she was in a better headspace. But after everything she’d been through, she just wanted to indulge in a bit of fantasy.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about Houser’s work on Faith is the way she’s never condemned Faith’s rich fantasy life. While much of Faith’s character arc has involved her discovering that actually being a superhero is far harder than reading or dreaming about it, that doesn’t stop Faith from dreaming big, and the narrative never makes her out as being wrong for doing so. I feel the same about this month’s development with Chris Chriswell — his betrayal isn’t some sort of “punishment” for Faith’s fantasizing about her celebrity crush, it’s just a reminder that fantasies aren’t reality, and we can’t expect all our wildest dreams to just come true without any sort of effort or price. Fantasy can be an invaluable respite from the pressures of life, but we can’t expect it alone to suddenly change or improve our lives. If she survives Chris, I have a feeling that’s something Faith won’t soon forget.

All-in-all, I’m quite pleased with this return to the world of Faith. Houser does her best to bring new readers up to speed, but doesn’t miss a beat in continuing the story she began in the previous volume, and Faith as a character is just as charming and quietly progressive as she’s always been. Ryan, I’m not sure; is this your first time checking out Faith? If so (or even if not), I’m really curious to hear your take on this one. Also: Chris Chriswell has got to be some kind of stage name, right?

Ryan D: As generic and on the nose of a stage name as “Chriswell” may sound, it’s actually a derivative of a fairly common Scottish surname, Criswell, of which there were many in early American as immigrants flooded the nation! And honestly, though I’m in London doing theatre, the last names here which are registered are going the opposite way of American stage names: here, people change their actual names away from generic WASPy surnames to the more exotic, whereas in Hollywood, the running joke is that a last name which is difficult to pronounce could be the thing that stops an actor from getting a part.

Anyways, this in indeed is my first time reading a Faith title, and it gave me a lot of things to think about. Going back to read our review of Faith 4, apparently her stand out characteristic- her body type- has been covered by the title, whereas in this fresh #1, there is nary a mention of it. I appreciate this a lot, as we are all familiar with the hyper-sexualization and unrealistic standards of female bodies in society which is often reflected through the art in comics- especially for those who, like me, grew up with Psylocke drawn with inhuman, Barbie-doll proportions. However, the question here for me was whether or not there was more in this title than the gimmick of a plus-sized titular hero.

As far as issues go, female body shaming is a worthy one to tackle. I found that an entire issue not mentioning Faith’s size to be a wonderful thing. My concern, however, is that there are other issues at play in this title which are not being discussed. This is always a tricky thing for me to discuss from my cis-male, white, middle-class, thin platform, but I’ll use my privilege here for the sake of discussion. When considering other titles featuring strong female leads in the mainstream comic universe, I feel that the best example out there of progressiveness is Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel. Now, not to take the piss and insist that every comic should deal with every issue concurrently, there are some startling examples of intersectionality between feminist issues with those of race, culture, and class in which I feel this title is lacking. For example, and while acknowledging that the obese as a target group are often the control when scientists study discrimination in racism, Khan is a female superhero who also grapples with her public schooling and lower-middle class family dilemmas, religious identity, and cultural identity as a first-generational Pakistani in America. Khan’s primary concern, on top of all of this, is her neighborhood, community, and New Jersey in general. What I find off-putting about Faith from this one issue I’ve read is how self-centered many of her issues are portrayed. Yes, she is a “plus-sized” woman in a patriarchal society, hounded by media which body-shames at every corner, and those people need a voice, but all of her problems seemed extremely white, middle/upper-middle classed and focused on self. Her worry about her secret identity wasn’t founded upon fear for her loved ones; she was just anxious about the idea of trust in a friendship, which ended up with a crisis about her costume.

faith1-1

Even when catching a cat burglar, her take-away from the unsuccessful foray seemed more to do with her identity as a superhero than her actual role in being a public defender stopping crime. Not to take away from the personal, human side of a character’s voice, I felt that Faith’s entire framework for viewing the world which she is now trying to save was through the sole lens of herself, with no real ties or greater message to spread.

The other big thing about this comic which sets it apart from other titles is it’s love of nerd culture in the form of Faith’s narrative voice. I found my gut reaction to this to be quite fascinating. While I always appreciate references to video games such as Portal and a writer distinguishing between films in the Star Wars cannon, a voice in me kicked defensively. Though Faith found her love of comics and sci-fi and fantasy in the same way that I and many of us have – during a dark time in our lives when escapism and wonderment felt more natural than the more popular trends of our peers – something about this comic’s use of geekdom triggered my inherent mistrust of those pandering to or co-opting from a fertile and ingrained, yet very vulnerable side of my identity. I am extremely wary of this, as these are the same core feelings which I believe conflated with misogyny to form the controversy that was GamerGate. So while I understand why I, and other nerds, might be vitriolically wary of outsiders as a self-defense mechanism (I’m actually in a play right now written about this phenomenon), I also want to be aware of which latent prejudices might be inside me that lets me be skeptical of Faith and not Deadpool when he uses pop culture and nerdy references to the same effect.

Ultimately, I found Faith 1 to be a title exploring a lot of big questions – consciously or unconsciously – while telling a very personal story. To make a correlation to a different medium, I feel like the best poetry is written with large themes in mind, but it’s the specificity and deeply personal nature of imagery to be what makes it relatable to the reader. Faith 1 seemed heavy on the personal specificity, but loose on the general themes, and I hope that’s what made me resist it during my reading and digestion of it. The plot itself is fine; I really enjoyed the last few pages especially, in regards to that. The art is very nice and raises no red flags. I suppose the questions which I want answered and will keep me tuned in for number two is: What is the message? What are the greater ideas being explored here? And, most importantly, just because this title features a female protagonist with a non-traditional body type for a superhero title, does it need to do anything more than be a good read, or is that my prejudice speaking?

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?

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