Today, Taylor. and Drew are discussing Faith 12, originally released June 7th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Taylor: Perhaps the most well-known example of game gheory is something called the “prisoner’s dilemma.” If you’re not familiar with it, it goes something like this: two thieves are caught and interrogated separately by police. The police have separated the two thieves in order to get one or both thieves to confess to the crime since they lack the evidence to do so on their own. In doing this, the police must offer the thieves a clemency in order to get them to rat out their accomplice. In game theory, it makes the most logical sense for a thief to rat out their friend as opposed to confessing to the crime or not admitting anything. This is an interesting thought problem because it questions whether people can be trusted to work in their own best interest or in the interest of the group. For Faith, this theory is no game, but it may just be the thing that saves her life.
Faith has been captured by the Faithless. They’re made up of Sidney (a secretly alien movie star), Chris Chriswell (an actual human movie star), Darkstar (a telepathic cat), and Murder Mouse (an expert in dark magic). Together, they are celebrating the capture of Faith and pondering how best to kill her. However, will they be able to overcome their villainous tendencies in order to work together to actually do the deed?
The answer is no, and it’s all due to Faith’s ability to play each of her would-be killers off of each other. She does this using classic game theory, which causes each of her kidnappers to turn against each other because they think they aren’t being treated with the villainous respect they deserve. Faith accomplishes this by playing to the the very thing that has been the downfall of so many villains in the past — their egos.
Being a comicbook nerd, Faith is familiar with the psyche of the average villain. Villains tend to be narcissistic and above all else think they’re better or more important than the average man. Realizing this, Faith knows she can use it to her advantage. By questioning each villain individually about their role in the Faithless, Faith uncovers the very thing that so frequently is the downfall of a mighty villain: they don’t work well with others. Because of this, it’s all to easy for her to find the cracks in this super team and exploit them.
The instability of the Faithless’ evil alliance isn’t the only thing that primes their mission for failure. Indeed, one of the things that dooms them from the start of the issue is the very fact that they are acting, well, like villains. Soon after celebrating the capture of the Faith, the Faithless begin to argue about what exactly to do to her.
Chris Chriswell is feeling pretty high on himself and wants to celebrate and gloat about his evil triumph. This is textbook villain behavior and already endangers the Faithless’ mission. Sidney checks Chriswell on the error of her ways but soon makes another common, villainous error of her own: instead of simply killing Faith, Sidney opens the whole conversation about how they will her. It’s a well known trope that villains can’t simply kill superheroes. Instead they often opt for elaborate ways to end the life of their nemesis with some sort of poetic flair. However, it’s this very argument between the Faithless which allows for Faith’s escape.
This blend of game theory and comicbook villain tropes makes for an issue that is deceptively smart. Writer Jody Houser simultaneously subverts and comments on the very medium she is writing in. It’s one thing to have villains engage in stereotypical behavior while knowingly doing so, but it’s another thing to have them know they are acting villains yet unable to overcome their shortcomings in spite of that knowledge. It reminds me a bit of Nick Spencer’s run on Ant-Man. In that series, villains act like villains, allowing the characters and Spencer to offer commentary on the very genre they are a part of. Houser does that, but instead of having this blowup the issue in the way Spencer would, she folds her characters’ self-awareness back into the narrative of the story. It’s subtle, clever, elegant storytelling.
Drew, what did you think of this issue? Speaking of subtlety, what do you think of Joe Eisma’s art? I didn’t mention it because nothing really stood out to me. However, you have a better eye for subtle artistry than me, so I’m curious if you have anything to say. Also, if the two of us were in the prisoner’s dilemma, would you rat me out?
Drew: Tell you what: I’ve always been a big picture guy, so the prisoner’s dilemma has always frustrated me — I understand how the narrow, selfish focus of each actor motivates them to act against their compatriot, but it’s so clear that everyone would benefit more if they just shut up, I can’t help but feel disappointed (yes, disappointed in the imaginary actors of this hypothetical scenario). Also: I’ve seen enough crime dramas to know my best strategy is to just keep my mouth shut — freedom isn’t worth a whole lot if our other criminal associates are just going to kill me for snitching. All of which is to say, you’re safe with me, Taylor!
Fortunately for Faith, the Faithless don’t have the perspective necessary to be motivated by anything other than their own self-interest, so the “perfect win” scenario is completely off the table for them. Faith can push them in that direction, but it really doesn’t take much. Heck, it seems that Murder Mouse’s — er, Jeff’s — place on the team is at odds with his sense of self-worth.
Taylor, you asked about Eisma’s subtle artistry, and this sequence is a fantastic example. Faith is still bound in her chair — still Jeff’s prisoner — but Eisma uses everything in his power to show that she’s actually the one with the power in this sequence. The choice to have Jeff sit on the ground not only suggests a casualness that makes them somewhat equal (he’s no longer the guard standing on duty), it also makes him physically lower than Faith, so that every shot has her lording over him. Eisma reinforces this with camera angles, giving us a straightforward shot/reverse-shot structure that forces us to look up at Faith (roughly from Jeff’s perspective) and down at Jeff (roughly from Faith’s perspective). We can see that she’s in control, even without the dialogue, but that wouldn’t be true at all if Eisma had made slightly different choices in the staging and camera placement for this scene.
But as Taylor suggested, we always knew how Faith was going to get out of this. Houser really drives that point home in having the Faithless come up with their plan by reading comics — that may give them some ideas, but they all ultimately fail in the end, too. And of course, Faith knows this. She’s read those comics, too, so she understands the exact strategy she needs to counter their plan, and is able to execute it almost instinctively. Pit the villains against one another, natch.
It helps that Faith’s nemeses are comically incompetent, making unforced errors like alienating their own teammates and not having a plan for when they capture faith. And feeding champagne to a cat! Actually, for all of my praise of Eisma’s directing the purest joy of his work on this issue might just be seeing his drunk Dark Star.
A kitty stifling his own vomit like he’s a Tex Avery character? That’s hilarious (though, to be clear, I do NOT condone feeding alcohol to cats IRL).
Man, between the self-aware riffing on superhero mythology and little moments of humor like that, I’m really going to miss this series. I have little doubt Faith will continue to charm wherever she crops up next — she’ll be under Houser’s pen again in Faith and the Future Force 1 out next month — but it’ll be hard to top the charms of this series. I’ll spare everyone the strained pun about having “faith” in Valiant’s plans for her, and just commit to following her over to Faith and the Future Force.
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?