Thu, 20 January 2011 Shadoweyes

During my recent overview of last year’s graphic novel releases for the Salon Futura podcast, I read a great deal of positive buzz about a young adult title called Shadoweyes, written and drawn by Ross Campbell. I decided to order it and give it a read, and I’m certainly glad I did.

ShadoweyesIn many ways Shadoweyes is your prototypical superhero genesis story. Seventeen-year old Scout Montana is an angsty vegan who lives in a city called Dranac at some period in the future. Dranac is pleasingly reminiscent of massive city sprawls depicted in the likes of Metropolis, or 2000AD’s Mega-City One. Scout and her best friend Kyisha live in a run-down neighbourhood and are part of a local group called Crimewatch, which keeps the gangs and crime in check. Scout has more ambition than ability to fight crime: she’s short and has asthma. Still, Scout comes up with her identity as Shadoweyes and goes out to deal with the crime in the streets more directly.

In her first encounter she’s hit in the forehead with a brick. It’s Kyisha who saves the day. Later, without any warning, Scout transforms into a blue and black alien-looking creature, with a long serrated tail. This grants her the ability to leap high, heal quickly and see in the dark – although she can’t see in bright light. The change in identity is difficult for Scout to impart to others, especially her Mom. Initially Scout can change back to human, but eventually she’s stuck in the form of Shadoweyes. This doesn’t upset Scout, because there are so many advantages, but it does mean she can’t return home, go to school, get a job or talk to most of her old friends and family. She becomes homeless for a while, eating food out of the trash, but doing some good work in the crime-fighting department.

The story is ultimately about Scout’s acceptance of her new identity, and discovering who she can tell and dealing with their varied reactions.

This is just an overview of the story, but there is a great deal more complexity to it. All the characters in the story are black, Asian or multi-racial, except the monstrous Zombie Girl villain, and Kyisha is either Intersex or Trans (that’s not clear). There is a really refreshing diversity of characters, and Scout’s identity quest not only reflects the issues that kids go through at puberty, it also mirrors the questions that arise for those who have had other struggles with personal identity (either sexuality or gender). One of the characters that Shadoweyes saves is another teenager called Sparkle Park (who is obsessed with the collectable card game Pony Master), and it’s revealed later she has ectrodactyly. Overall the effect is a interesting examination of the issues of difference and similarity. Sparkle is a great character because she’s sweet, bubbly but a little too intense – we all know people like Sparkle but we rarely see them in comic books.

The artwork is an expressive, strong black and white, and Campbell draws a nice range of body types as well, with only one brawny character: Kyisha’s boyfriend Noah. The only issue with it being in black and white is that you don’t get the visual impact of Shadoweye’s blue skin (only seen on the cover).

While there are actions scenes in the graphic novel, there are also on-going discussions between characters about the morality of fighting crime and beating up other people. It’s not very clear-cut all the time, and Shadoweyes ends up in a number of messy situations because charging into a fight doesn’t mean you’ll know immediately who is at fault – if anyone is.

My only quibble with Shadoweyes is that it gets a little too talky on a couple of occasions – especially between Sparkle and Shadoweyes. It seemed to me that some of their conversations could have been condensed. There’s also a random issue where character’s eyes don’t have pupils, which I found rather odd. I can only assume it’s a printing problem, because I couldn’t see any reason for when it happens.

Shadoweyes is a thoughtful, intriguing début. I’ll definitely be getting the forthcoming title, Shadoweyes in Love, because I want to know what happens next to these characters.

It’s another great title to recommend to teenagers to get them interested in reading comics.

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