Like its predecessors, “Mara” #3 by Brian Wood, Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire has a dreamlike vibe but is satisfying full of action and character development. How should “Mara” be classified within fictional sequential art? The content and themes revolve around sports and relationships, power and identity, but at the heart of the book is a particular question. In “Mara” #3, Wood and Doyle place it on a wall for all to see: “Who is Mara?”
As the protagonist and a celebrity athlete, she always holds the spotlight, yet Mara herself is still enigmatic and hidden, though she is neither secretive nor deceptive. Wood only reveals Mara’s emotions and thoughts through her actions and Doyle’s subtle facial expressions. Thus, the reader sees and knows little more than Mara’s public does. Like any public figure, what little information exists on Mara is either stage-managed or subject to endless interpretation.
This intense yet obstructed focus on one person leads to a story that feels beautifully strange, especially with Doyle and Bellaire providing the visuals. Doyle’s work on “Mara” continues to be lovely, with a sense of design that is nostalgic for romanticism and Art Nouveau but also influenced by the clean lines of modernist architecture design. The balance of warm and cool is reinforced by Bellaire’s palette of cool, pale tones with accents of brick red.
Wood and Doyle make every panel count, and they put significant care into composition and pacing. The third-to-last page of “Mara ” #3 is entirely silent, with the camera zooming in from outer space into an almost-abstract cityscape and then a crowded street, before resting what seems to be a poster or street art buried amid advertisements and graffiti. Each horizontal panel swells progressively larger as the absolute scale of the landscape shrinks.
This echoes Wood’s setup for “Mara,” about a woman no longer fitting within the old life created for her by others, where the reactions of the world are unequal to contain her. The burden of “having it all” is an old theme, but Wood and Doyle make it look new. Halfway through “Mara” #3, Mara climbs a building. Just like in a “Godzilla” movie, this leads to a scene with a helicopter, live reportage and a SWAT team. However, the ultimate denouement is bloodless and mystical rather than concrete.
Immediately afterwards, there is a full page spread with Mara sitting cross-legged, floating in an all-white background, looking like a Buddha in meditation. Doyle has the cord connected to Mara’s earbuds loop gracefully down the page. The cord is so unnaturally long that Mara looks almost like a doctor with a stethoscope, listening to heartbeats.
Wood and Doyle’s choices in style and characterization give “Mara” a distinct mood and feel, best described as silence within noise. There’s a feeling of realism despite the turns into the fantastic, although this realism is highly stylized. Within the frenzy of media attention and the buzz of violence and scandal, the tone of “Mara” #3 is contemplative and philosophical. It’s unlike anything else on the stands, and worth picking up for both the art and the narrative technique.