She Has No Head! - Review: Heralds #1

Heralds #1 (of 5).  Kathryn Immonen (writer).  Tonci Zonjic (art).  Nathan Fairbairn (colors).  Jelena

Djurdjevic (cover).  Marvel. 32 pages.  $2.99.

I have been excited for this book for months.

Tonci Zonjic’s art plus Kathryn Immonen writing, plus Emma Frost, plus She-Hulk, plus Monica Rambeau, plus Hellcat, plus Valkyrie, plus Abigail Brand in a weekly five-issue mini-series?

What could go wrong?

For once, absolutely nothing.

This book was unabashedly fun, never taking itself too seriously while still managing to present characters with accurate and compelling voices and a storyline that definitely seems to be going somewhere.

The book starts out with Emma Frost having a birthday – we don’t know which one – which seems very Emma to me – but she’s super grouchy about it – which also feels very Emma to me.  Emma is feeling old and confesses it to Scott Summers (and all of us readers), and while on the surface there’s nothing revolutionary about that, the reality is that it’s a kind of real life honesty and reveal that I don’t often see in comics.  And it makes a character like Emma instantly more relatable…because finally badass superpowered Emma Frost, she of the perfect plastic surgery’d bod and expensive tastes and bank account to match, seems more human to me than ever.  I feel old too Emma…and my birthday is also this month…let’s drink champagne and sulk together.

It’s a really small moment, this intimate scene between Emma and Scott…but it’s the kind of conversation that not only peels away yet another interesting layer of Emma Frost but it’s also a nice peek into Emma and Scott’s relationship behind closed doors.

These few pages with Emma and Scott set the tone and style of this book to me perfectly.  And when Scott opens up a door to reveal superheroines that Emma barely knows (thus fulfilling his promise to keep her birthday private from anyone she “really knows”) wearing mustaches and yelling surprise…well, you just know you were right and that you’re going to have a great time reading this book.

In addition to the solution to Emma’s "non-friend party" making Scott look clever with a rather dark sense of humor, it’s a smart way for Immonen to pull together a dream team of sorts without having to wrench in unbelievable back story as to how these ladies are all best pals.  They’re not, they’re colleagues at best and it immediately gives the story a sense of fun…not to mention a sharp but likely accurate comment on Emma’s state of girlfriends (I’m guessing they're not lining up to hang out).

Awaiting Emma in Las Vegas to party things up are (from left): Photon/Captain Marvel/Monica Rambeau (what ARE we calling her these days?), Hellcat, She-Hulk, Abigail Brand and Valkyrie.  While Emma “parties” with her non-friends against her will, a side story about a potentially powered and definitely mysterious Nevada waitress named Frances is also playing out.  If you’re very good with your Marvel history (I’m not, and likely never will be) you might have figured out who this is…if you haven’t figured it out but want to know you can read the newly released preview pages for issue #2 on CBR…I’ll wait.

When a huge “storage” of “space stuff" is broken open, the ladies pause their awkward celebration and jump into the fray to save the day, some with a little more enthusiasm than others.

The two stories – Frances and the superheroines/space stuff breakout are clearly going to tie into one another, but in this first issue we haven’t quite gotten there yet – which is fine – we have plenty of smart, funny stuff happening and lots of time for it to all come together.  And I for one am really excited to see Immonen and Zonjic tie it all together.

I talked previously about Immonen’s writing sometimes going over my head and leaving me feeling lost, but so far this is right on point, and with the exception of a line or two, I “got” everything with ease.  Most impressive, beyond the plain old sense of fun, is Immonen’s handling of the character voices, despite the variety of characters on the field.  Immonen nails Emma’s voice (and Scott’s) with ease, and Hellcat (a seeming personal favorite of Immonen’s as this is the third piece of hers Hellcat has showed up in) is equally as vibrant and alive.  Abigail Brand’s voice is strong and allows Immonen to remind us that if there is one bigger hardass (said with love!) in all of Marveldom than Emma, it’s Abigail.  Valkyrie, Monica, and She-Hulk are all lesser knowns to me in terms of voice, and they also haven’t gotten a lot of time to shine in this issue as yet, but for what’s there, it feels right.  Overall this is A+ character work, and yet Immonen hasn't sacrificed the plotting for those character beats as I have sometimes felt in her other work...right now it's all working together beautifully, and if she can keep it up, she’s got a slam dunk on her hands.

Tonci Zonjic’s art is nothing short of stunning.  A breath of fresh air in the comics scene that reminds me of a crazy hybrid mix that is one part Sean Phillips, one part Jamie Hernandez, and one part some other crazy x factor all mixed together into a style I just love.  The storytelling is clear and easy to read and the pacing works well for Immonen’s fast paced witty dialogue.  Perhaps most importantly, considering this is a story with six (actually seven) female leads, is the fact that there is literally ZERO objectification or male gaze in this entire book.  It’s impressive to say the least.  I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to be able to read a comic starring female characters and not once have to worry about what horrible sexist image I’m maybe going to see when I turn the page.  It’s particularly great because when that happens in other books, I realize with a heavy sigh that if I write about that book for this column, that I’m going to have to mention it…which is, as anyone who read the comments from last week’s column can guess, often exhausting.  So it’s really freeing to read something great like this and just not have to worry about such things.  In a perfect world I’d prefer a little more variation in body type, but that’s a tall order in comics these days, even from the best artists.

Nathan Fairbarin’s colors are a great complement for Zonjic’s art and tonally keeps the book right on track.  Jelena Djurdevic’s painted cover is great, tonally a very different feeling from the inside, as it feels very dark comparatively, but it’s still some excellent work featuring six superheroines…something I don’t remember seeing on a cover... maybe ever?

I talked months ago about Rucka’s Batwoman run on Detective Comics (Detective Comics #854 – 859) being the superheroine book I’ve been waiting for my whole life.  Strangely enough, I feel similarly about Heralds, albeit in a less significant way.  This is great fun, with strong interesting characters and a light, quick moving, modern story.  If Rucka’s Batwoman was the serious, important, hearty superheroine meal I was waiting for, then Heralds #1 is the delicious cotton candy dessert follow up I’ve been waiting for.

And the prize at the bottom of this delicious cracker jack box?  Issue #2 comes out next week!  If you need more motivation than the above…just check out these two panels of She-Hulk from issue #2...trying to explain fear of puppets:

And the dangers of using animatronic devices:

I can see how not everyone would be into this.  If you don't like Zonjic's pared down stylized cartoony art, or if you're one of those people that isn't much interested in seeing stories that are in part about superheroes on their off time, or funny superhero books, or maybe you don't like reading about a group of all female supes...but for me, it's hitting right in that sweet spot...one that almost never gets hit by comics today, so yeah, I’m in.

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