A review a day: <i>Shadoweyes</i> volume 1

Disclaimer: Kelly Thompson did not threaten me in any way before I wrote this review. Trust me!

Shadoweyes is the first thing by Ross Campbell I've read, but it certainly won't be the last. This nifty superhero story, which is published by SLG and costs $14.95, is unfortunately truncated because it's "volume 1," so several plot threads don't pay off in this volume (and I'm always wary about single creators working for tiny publishers getting more than one volume out, but I have hope!), but for what it is, it's a fine, visually fascinating comic. Let's check it out!

The basic story is a typical superhero story: Girl gets superpowers, tries to figure out what to do with them.

As always, it's how the creator tells the story that makes it work, and Campbell does a lot of keen things with Scout Montana's transformation into Shadoweyes. She and her pal, Kyisha, live in a city called Dranac, where they serve on a local neighborhood watch. One day when they're out trying to stop a mugging, Scout gets beaned on the head with a brick, and when she wakes up, she can somehow transform into a creature with odd abilities. She calls herself "Shadoweyes," which is one of the clever things Campbell does in the book: She comes up with the name while she's still human, because she and Kyisha are trying to think of bad-ass names when they're out vigilante-ing. So when she turns into something for which the name Shadoweyes is appropriate, it adds an interesting level of confusion to the book - did she turn into something like it because that name was on her mind? Campbell gives us no answers, but it's something to consider.

In the early parts of the book, Scout can change back and forth easily, but by the end of the book, she's pretty much stuck as Shadoweyes. This is important, because Scout is already something of an outcast, and when she can no longer change back, even Kyisha starts to see her a bit differently. Campbell uses this superhero theme to examine all kinds of discrimination, which isn't a bad way to go. Scout and Kyisha are cute teenagers, but they're a bit geeky as well, so they're not totally comfortable in school. Meanwhile, a girl named Sparkle is bedazzled (sorry) by Kyisha, who doesn't treat her exactly nicely (she's not mean to her, just dismissive, even though Sparkle doesn't notice).

As Sparkle is even more of a geek that the two leads, she is of course fascinated by Shadoweyes, so when they become friends, she transfers her affections to Scout (even though she doesn't know she's Scout, because she meets Shadoweyes after Scout can no longer change back). The main "superhero" plot of the book involves a strange girl kidnapping Sparkle and hiding her in a cemetery (really, more of an ossuary) deep in the bowels of the city, and this ties back into Campbell's ideas of alienation. Shadoweyes rescued the girl earlier in the book and left her by a hospital, but obviously, the girl found no help there. She's as much of an outcast as the other characters, although to a much larger degree. It's interesting how Campbell shows these various ways people can be isolated - it's not just a girl who is suddenly monstrous, it's anyone who's slightly different. He's not too, too overt about it, but it's still there.

I don't mean to imply the book is all gloomy, however. Campbell doesn't just show us people who are isolated, he also shows how people can overcome that. Sparkle is relentlessly cheerful (well, except when she's buried in bones), and when she realizes that Shadoweyes wants to be friends with her, it's like her life has meaning again. On the one hand, Campbell is showing us people finding some comfort in a horrific world, but he does a nice job undercutting that a bit by showing that Sparkle might be just a bit unhinged. Scout and her mother have a much better relationship. When she discovers that she can't change back, Shadoweyes abandons her mother because she thinks she won't be welcome in "human" society. Her mother never stops searching for her (and Shadoweyes shows up to help "search" for Scout) and eventually figures out that Shadoweyes is her daughter. She simply accepts her and tells her that they'll make it work.

Campbell shows us people who are damaged but still find comfort in others where they can. In the oppressive environment of Dranac (which is a riot of pipes and trash and tilted, dilapidated buildings), the characters find love where they can. Scout has an odd crush on Kyisha (whose gender is, shall we say, questionable), Sparkle has an odd crush on first Kyisha and then Shadoweyes, Kyisha has a crush on Noah, who seems a bit aloof and is dealing with his own parental issues. Campbell doesn't give us clear-cut relationships - these characters are too damaged for that.

As I wrote, this is a first volume, so some things are left unresolved. We don't get a lot with Noah, although we do get a glimpse of his less-than-optimal home life. We don't even get a resolution of the strange girl who kidnaps Sparkle - she manages to escape, and who knows what her deal is? Kyisha is the biggest mystery, because Campbell implies she's transsexual, but never comes out and says it. This ties back into the idea of outcasts and what alienates us from society - Shadoweyes tells Kyisha that she's not even sure what gender she is anymore, something Kyisha should understand. The next volume is called Shadoweyes in Love, so I assume Campbell is going to get more into the relationship between Scout, Kyisha, Sparkle, and Noah, but we'll see about that. It's always frustrating reading something that takes a while to finish, because we want more right away, dang it!

Campbell does a very nice job with the art, bringing this dystopian city to life well and populating it with interesting characters. All of the characters look like real people - they have unusual body types and interesting hair styles and different clothes - which helps ground the weirdness of the surroundings and Shadoweyes' alien appearance and highlight how much of an outcast she really is, even in an odd environment like this. Campbell toys with our expectations, as well - Shadoweyes is referred to as a male, mainly because Campbell makes the creature ambiguous gender-wise, and so people default to the male, while Noah, despite his six-pack abs, has a strangely androgynous face and long hair (that he cuts during the course of the book).

Kyisha is a beautiful young lady, which makes the secrets about her own transformation all the more fascinating. Campbell's art is wonderfully detailed, placing us deep inside Dranac and giving us a sense of the claustrophobia and despair of living there. He does a nice trick with that, as the vastness of Dranac feels far more claustrophobic than the warmth of the small apartments where the characters live and interact. They're oases in the vast, complicated, garbage-strewn wasteland, and even though Campbell doesn't color the book, we can imagine warmer tones when the characters are inside and the bleaker colors when they're out in the city. It's a clever trick.

This really is a fascinating "origin" story of a superhero, because Campbell not only taps into the separation from society that a new superhero must feel (and which most mainstream superhero books ignore) but also how this isn't the only way for people to feel isolated. Scout's transformation is just another way for people to exclude her (even her superheroics aren't greeted with universal approval) and Campbell does a very good job showing the many other ways this happens. Even if you don't like the story, which feels like it's leading us somewhere bigger that will pay off in later volumes, this is worthwhile to check out because of Campbell's amazing art. He has a wonderful eye for realism among fantastical elements and does a nice job blending them. It's fun to just flip through this book and look at the art. That Campbell gives us a fascinating take on superheroes on top of that is even better!

Tomorrow: Who doesn't love on-line diaries? They're not self-indulgent at all!

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