Mara is a comic with a special appeal for massholes (for the international set, a “masshole” is a person from the state (commonwealth)(republic) known as “Massachusetts”, it refers to our tendency to be enormous assholes because we do everything right and the rest of the country is jealous). Not only is Ming Doyle from Boston but Volleyball, the sport of tomorrow from yesterday was created in my Massachusetts hometown of Holyoke. We also invented basketball but Springfield stole the credit. We let them keep it though because everyone knows volleyball is the far more popular sport. I mean just compare the sizes of our respective halls of fame for proof! (Please don’t actually check that)
So Mara is about volleyball kind of. The bare bones concept on the surface doesn’t actually sound that new (world torn apart by war and poverty, sports used to distract, enthrall and bank off the populace). Hey that actually sounds really familiar. When you start hearing about the Natural Gas sponsors of the games it should sound even more recognizable.
“When Mara Prince was a toddler, the world was consumed with endless wars, crumbling economies and destructive racial divides.”
Oh I see what he did there. This is one of those things that’s actually two things. One of those “allegories” I hear the kids like so much these days.
So like in The Running Man, Hunger Games, Rollerball, Battle Royale, Series 7 and a thousand other dystopian creative properties the world is united by a sport but noticeably different this time around is lack of the merry mask of murder surrounding everything. Mara isn’t another “In a world where freedom was outlawed and love was a crime” stories. Mara’s world is a lot like our own (which is maybe the point?)
Wood is a master at capturing the culture’s zeitgeist and using our hopes, fears, wishes and nightmares to craft moving, honest, beautiful comic epics, both large and small. And it looks as though Mara is no exception.
I’ve always had a problem with perfect characters, it’s been one of the reasons why I’ve never liked James Bond (“But you don’t understand! He does have flaws! You just have to see the new one.” you waste your time blathering at me) and it’s one of the reasons why I don’t like the new Who companion Clara (“But you don’t understand! She died! She’s like the blah blah blah of a bunch of stuff.” you keep on to no avail). At points in the book Mara seems almost too good to be true. And there’s a reason for that, so keep reading.
It’s a future world that Wood, Doyle and Bellaire so beautifully craft together, but not a future world that’s been done to death, a bright vision of a technicolor future, gorgeous bodies and youthful smiles behind neon speed trails and men with guns. It’s a Star Trek set but without the groovy peacenik feel of The Federation, Utopia by way of Nike & The Army would be more accurate.
17 year old Mara is a volleyball God and before you go “Oh now really, how would volleyball ever be the most popular sport in the world?” need I remind you that the most popular movie of all time is a Dances with Wolves remake featuring cartoon blue people and the guy who wanted metal legs in Grandma’s Boy?
It’s great layered story telling, where we’re slowly exposed to more aspects of Mara’s family and friends, all the while being given the introduction to her world and age. Doyle’s art is outstanding, she perfectly captures the kinetic intensity of the athletes but also the myriad of expressions on Wood’s interesting, dynamic characters. Whether it’s a quiet moment before the insanity of a huge game or a video message from a loved one, Doyle is accomplished and electric, knowing how to make the reader’s teeth grit or eye’s moisten from action to emotion and back again.
Wood is on fire right now, turning out quality work with an inspired and inspiring speed. He’s creating his own path between the worlds, doing important, interesting (and fun) creator owned work while still finding time to keep the lights on and the bellies fed with entertaining, punctual work for hire. I’m a huge fan of Wood (go ahead, giggle) and when I choose to review work where I’m already a fan of the creative team, I’m always nervous, “What if it sucks?”. Thankfully Mara doesn’t suck. In fact, I might go so far as to say that it rules. I’d also use some kind of volleyball “word”, you know, like Mara spikes on point! but I have no idea what volleyball words means since I never watch it because it’s really boring. Unlike Mara!
Mara, from Brian Wood and Ming Doyle, is published by Image Comics