Brian Wood doesn’t write “typical” superhero stories, and even as he’s delving deeper into traditional superheroes with his work at Marvel, he still manages to find wonderfully unique perspectives for superhero beats that have been explored before. “Mara” #4 by Wood, artist Ming Doyle and colorist Jordie Bellaire is no exception — it’s an unflinching look at a corrupt and cruel world interested in using you up and then discarding you — and yet Mara defies all this, just by existing.
Easily the best thing about Wood’s “Mara” is the way he has so fluidly reversed the common “Superman mythos.” Superman (and similar heroes) is flatly and immediately seen as a hero, and though there are stories that delve into how dangerous his power is (or could be) in general, despite his great power he is trusted and beloved. Mara is not so fortunate, and it’s likely a much more realistic take on what would happen if someone with superpowers appeared.
In this issue we see Mara co-opted by the Military/Government, her death faked, she’s threatened, her family is threatened, she’s lied to and she’s given a purpose that couldn’t possibly satisfy anyone. Because she is “Superman-like” in her abilities, these things don’t stop her and it’s fantastic to see her immediate (and successful) rejection of all that has been foisted upon her. Mara was relatively content to be the military’s weapon, as it gave her a purpose in life to fill the void left when her previous life and profession had been taken from her. However, she’s unwilling to accept the deal when it comes with so many compromises — like everyone in the world, including her brother, believing her dead. She’s certainly not willing to accept it when it’s made clear to her that she is simply a weapon that will be controlled and ordered around like a powerful pet on a leash.
It’s actually an incredibly realistic take on the idea of superpowers, and it’s immensely enjoyable to see Wood and Doyle execute it so matter-of-factly. They pepper Mara’s story with both her actual training and conversations with her military “handler” but also with news coverage, gossip-y talk shows, and general media speculation and it feels very accurate to where we are (and where we’re headed) as a society. Perhaps best of all is that they contrast all of this “noise” with Mara truly coming into her own. Learning — and more importantly, accepting — who she is and what she’s capable of. In a stunning scene by Doyle, Mara floats above Earth and for the first time in four issues appears genuinely happy. She has broken free of the chains of expectation and celebrity, of control and oversight. It’s the first time I’ve gotten a feel for who Mara really is, and what she really wants, largely because it’s the first time Mara herself seems to really feel it. It’s a fantastic moment, particularly in the context of the rest of the issue.
“Mara” is not a traditional superhero story, nor is it deliberately not a superhero story; rather it’s a fascinating character piece exploring what it’s like to have power, and what it’s like to live in a society that feeds on that power, with no concern for you. In corrupt world, Mara is a bright shining star, and I’m excited to see how Wood will close up this unique mini-series.