In Jody Houser and Luke Ross’ “The Cavalry: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary” #1, Melinda May takes a batch of new recruits onto the Sickle training grounds, where a fake hostage situation turns into a real crisis. May lives up to her legendary reputation, though the issue doesn’t add any real depth to the character.
May’s thoughts flow well in the captions, but they tend to dwell on the past more than the present. The flashback scenes are all indicated clearly by colorist Rachelle Rosenberg’s shift into blue-grays and serve to show the reader about May’s bad experiences in the field. Unfortunately, though, both May’s memories and her reactions feel stale. Her old trauma and her sense of responsibility are too predictable and not specific enough to feel poignant.
The dialogue and talking heads scenes are the strongest parts of the issue. The interaction between the recruits immediately reads as warm and friendly. Cadet Avery in particular is better-defined than the others through her dorky obsession with the plane. Houser writes convincing verbal rhythms and Ross draws strong body language and facial expressions for the scene where Avery anxiously requests permission to dig into the T-Hawk’s technology. The banter throughout is pleasant, even if the recruits’ personalities and turns of phrase aren’t strong enough to be memorable.
Ross’ action scenes and facial expressions are occasionally weak. When May fights a robot wolf, the foreshortening of the wolf looks good, but May’s anatomy and position in the air look bizarrely wrong. She’s trying to jump out of the way, but it looks like she’s caught on a hook and suspended from the sky. When she’s dragged two panels later, her right leg appears too long.
Vang’s question to Ibarra about May taking down “30 operatives without a scratch” doesn’t justify a grid of three reaction shots. The pacing is off and so the reactions feel over-dramatic. Rosenberg’s colors make the scene even more confusing. Vang’s blonde hair is colored lavender-gray in shadow, but it reads as white or gray hair. Rosenberg also colors the backgrounds in unimaginative flat washes of acid yellow, orange, red and blue. Ross draws a lot of fauna, but his delicate details are ill-served by monotones. Rosenberg’s work is best when, inside the T-Hawk, she preserves Ross’ attractive linework for the flight deck with white outlines.
May’s character works in the TV show because she’s one element in a larger team, acting as a foil for Coulson’s dorky warmth. Here, her aloofness just keeps her two-dimensional. “The Cavalry: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary” #1 seems to show that May can’t carry her own comic. The recruits almost upstage the main character because all their chatter is more interesting than May’s unwavering stoic mother-bear persona.
“The Cavalry: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary” #1 succeeds at getting the essence of Melinda May across to new readers, but it doesn’t make her interesting enough to pull comics readers towards the TV show if they’re not watching it already. It also doesn’t add anything new to the character for readers who have watched the show.