“Mara” #1 by Brian Wood and Ming Doyle is a strange beast. Ostensibly about a near-future world where competitive sports of all shapes and sizes have become the biggest thing ever, eclipsing all other forms of celebrity, we’re introduced to Mara Prince as the biggest volleyball star of all time. But just when you think you understand where “Mara” is headed, there’s an 11th hour swerve into completely different territory.
Up until that sudden swerve, “Mara” #1 is a fun comic. Exploring the world of celebrity and how it’s expanded and grown is a topic full of possibility, and I appreciated Wood’s take on the subject. Ideas like Mara and the other athletes having earpieces and microphones to constantly update their social media presence with new footage clips, for example, are the sort of thing that click into place perfectly. Even the little side details, like Mara having been interested in mixed martial arts but being placed in volleyball because of aptitude tests both give us a glimpse into Mara as well as this world that she lives in. The ideas feel like things we could expect in our world before too long, and they’re part of the fun of “Mara.”
This is the first full-length comic I’ve seen Doyle illustrate, and hopefully it won’t be the last. Her art continues to impress me; it’s energetic and has a flow from one panel to the next that feels effortless. The best pages in the book are, by far, the volleyball matches. From the set and serve, to leaping up for a spike, every illustration feels like these are people who are actually moving, not merely frozen into a posed position. That said, Doyle hardly disappoints on other pages. From the interactions between Mara and Ingrid in Mara’s apartment, to Mara’s brother Mark leaving a video message, I love how characters act and interact; Doyle understands body language in a way that I wish more comic artists could do. She brings each idea to life in a way that feels remarkably realistic.
As mentioned earlier, there’s a surprise twist at the end of the first issue, one that upends “Mara” into a completely different direction. Is it a bad one? I don’t think so. It does, however, transform the book into something that feels a little more standard. Sports comics aren’t unique in their own right, of course, but most of the first issue of “Mara” felt very different than what we’re getting on the market these days, and having it become something more familiar is just a touch disappointing. Still, I have no doubt that the rest of “Mara” will still be a lot of fun, and when read in a collected edition this sudden surprise will probably flow a lot more smoothly. Regardless of the slight disappointment at this surprise (and to be fair, it is handled quite well), I’m still more than interested enough in “Mara” to want to come back for #2. Still a very good comic.