Shadoweyes. Ross Campbell (creator/writer/artist). Slave Labor Graphics. 204 pages. $14.95
As I mentioned during “Ross Campbell Week” here on She Has No Head a few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Campbell’s upcoming book Shadoweyes and permission to do an advance review. Additionally, we've been given permission to publish an exclusive preview from the book as well as a never before seen illustration from Campbell.
Shadoweyes, which releases in July from Slave Labor Graphics, (pre-order yours now!), is the story of Scout Montana, a 17 year-old high school student living in the city of Dranac, with a proclivity for activism. Scout and her best friend Kyisha, are involved with a neighborhood organization called CrimeWatch, but when Scout becomes interested in a more proactive approach to crime fighting (she's got a superhero name and logo all picked out) she’s hit with a brick and knocked out on her first try. Not long after her botched attempt at vigilantism Scout experiences a sudden and massive transformation into something wholly new (read: definitely not human), and she adopts her superhero name, Shadoweyes, for her new form and uses it to fulfill her crime fighting dreams. Scout is excited to be able to help the people of Dranac with her new gifts, but when one day she cannot revert back to her human form, her life must drastically change again.
For a look at the first ten pages of Shadoweyes check out Robot 6's preview from February.
The writing in Shadoweyes, like most of Campbell’s work, really nails the teen voice and well captures the angst and struggle of being a teen. And Campbell's voice translates well to the fairly natural but often not quite successfully explored combination of teens and superheroes. I think a lot of books try to do what Campbell manages beautifully here – tackling dark complicated questions about growing up combined with being a hero and the dense morality that often comes with that. However, few books, as far as I'm concerned, are successful in asking these questions while also being wholly enjoyable the way Shadoweyes is.
Campbell’s book feels different than your average X-Men, Spider-Man, or Batgirl because Scout, unlike most teen superheroes, soon entirely loses her ability to blend in with her fellow teens and as such loses any semblance or hope of a “normal” life. That inability to be “normal” really ups the stakes and forces Scout to tackle interesting questions of identity and self. Even though Scout/Shadoweyes is no longer able to live as a human and is alternately ostracized or glorified by the citizens of Dranac, it never stops Scout from being in touch with her own humanity. She wrestles with complicated problems, but at heart always wants to do good, which is a superhero archetype that feels almost rare these days - heroes with heart instead of hardened and damaged "heroes" that barely qualify for the moniker. And I think it is that heart and optimism in Campbell's writing that really appeals to me here, because while the city of Dranac is a grim place, the book doesn't feel overly gritty and dark for shock value, instead it feels hopeful despite all odds. That optimism is in large part thanks to some of Campbell's more upbeat characters, like the positive and pure-hearted Sparkle, who nicely offsets the often brooding and dark Scout/Shadowyes. It's a rather lovely tapestry overall and one in which I can feel Campbell's devotion on the page.
As for the art – like all of Campbell's work - it’s phenomenal. Have a look at the exclusive preview pages before I continue raving:
Campbell is clearly pushing his art – from the incredibly vivid world building he does here with fictitious Dranac - the architecture and structure of the very city - to the design of Shadoweyes herself – and the resulting visuals are quite stunning. As mentioned in the interview I had with Campbell, Shadoweyes is his first entirely digital large project (with the exceptions of thumbnails) and the work doesn't suffer at all, in fact, the slightly rougher more angular style is a nice fit for the tone of the book. Campbell’s attention to detail, as always, is exceptional, and his character design, body language, and expressions are like a breath of fresh air in comics. His work feels both modern and forward thinking.
Seeing Campbell take on a superhero character quite frankly makes me yearn to see him on a big two superhero book. I find myself wondering what kind of new perspective his visuals alone could breathe into books and characters that often feel dated and stuck in the past (I'm looking at you new Spider-Girl miniseries).
Another thing that immediately strikes me about Shadoweyes, is that the work seems both different and also the same as Campbell’s other work. You can see the same influences of fashion and culture, the same interest in characters with a variety of body types, genders, races, and orientations – and yet the work feels more dense and complicated to me than most of his previous work. There’s something a little more complex here that I find more interesting, as if Campbell is deliberately pushing on his story and characters to ask tough questions that are not easily answered – questions about identity and purpose, about morality and judgment, about the grey areas between “good” and “evil" - questions that I wish more mainstream books were interested in tackling - or were at least more successful in tackling.
From a female positivity standpoint, like all of Campbell’s books, I feel the female characters are extremely well handled, both from a ratio standpoint (three of the four main characters are female) and from a representation standpoint. All three of the main female protagonists are teen girls of color, an unfortunately rare thing in comics. They also all three have a variety of heights, weights, and body types that is equally refreshing. There is never any sense of girls as second class citizens, in fact, they are quite simply our heroes and stars. And through these characters Campbell delves into gender and self-identity in a way that I don't think I've ever seen before in comics - certainly not in superhero comics.
That delving into gender and self-identity is one of the things that I think intrigues me most about Shadoweyes. Deliberate or not, Campbell has created a female character that eventually absolutely transcends gender in a physical way. As Shadoweyes herself has no established gender, male or female, and the character design eliminates any physical sexuality for the character, as a result there is absolutely zero sexualization of the character. Shadoweyes' body and movements are gender neutral, her clothing is gender neutral, her facial features and even hands and feet are not identifiable as a specific gender. Though Scout the girl was certainly categorized by society based on her looks and gender, once she becomes Shadoweyes, she moves beyond all of that, whether she wants to or not. Unlike She-Hulk (no offense She-Hulk) who in her "monster form" still looks like a stone cold fox, easily identifiable as a woman and too often a sexual object, that aspect is wholly removed in Campbell's story, and I find it incredibly interesting - and pretty unique, especially to the issue of women in comics. I'm hard pressed to think of another female superhero character that transcends her sexuality in this way. One way or another it seems like we always end up with female characters spending some portion of time being "hot". Even a character like Marrow from late 90's X-Men, that was initially pretty desexualized went through a "hot girl phase". But there's none of that here, and I find it intriguing, especially since the issue is made more complicated by the fact that Scout/Shadoweyes, despite her exterior, is still a 17 year-old girl inside.
Seeing what Campbell tackles here in Shadoweyes reminds me both how much I love a good superhero story and also how dissatisfied I have become with the bulk of my mainstream superhero books. It makes me glad to see independent creators like Campbell doing something interesting with the genre outside of the restrictions of the mainstream and I'd love to see more of it, both from Campbell and others.
For Campbell's first swing at a superhero story, I find myself impressed, and perhaps more importantly, excited to see what he'll do next...where his characters will go, how they'll change, and what new questions he'll pose...
Shadoweyes also has a fantastic looking website full of information, character bios, a blog, and according to Campbell, original pages will be going up weekly on the site.