What is Brian Wood, like a comics writing machine? He’s like some kind of ubiquitous comic rack-filling ninja, seemingly putting stuff out or announcing another project every week. And they’re usually pretty good. With revelatory work from Ming Doyle, “Mara” isn’t looking to be the exception either.
Written by Brian Wood
Illustrated by Ming Doyle
Acclaimed creator BRIAN WOOD (The Massive, DMZ, Demo, Northlanders) and brilliant newcomer MING DOYLE (The Loneliest Astronaut, Fantastic Four, Girl Comics) bring you MARA, the story of an especially gifted woman in a sports and war-obsessed future. Young Mara Prince is at the top of the world, a global celebrity in a culture that prizes physical achievement above all else. After she manifests supernatural abilities on live TV, she becomes famous all over again but for the worst reasons. Integrating themes of superpowers, celebrity worship, corporate power, feminism, and political brinksmanship, MARA takes a classic genre to new places.
The issue opens like a television broadcast of a sports event would open. Brian Wood has said that “Mara” would be exploring the way that athletes have become larger-than-life celebrities and how their ability to excel at a sport has been placed in such inexplicably high value. The heading tells us that we’re reading about a future time, a time that affords Wood the ability to satirically play up the worldwide obsession with sports culture. The players and the fans prepare for the upcoming volleyball match while an announcer slowly drums up the anticipation. The announcer rattles off a comically lengthy list of businesses that have a stake in the advertising, slipping their slogans into his introduction. He mentions a cash prize that is far more than any contemporary example in sports, making clear the monetary value that is placed on sports in this future world. We hear of athletes who have been given everything in the interest of keeping them happy, stable, and in good physical condition. Finally, we see Mara enter the court to greet the world that adores and praises her for simply being the best at a thing they like to watch.
Wood’s goal is to clearly present us with a future world that is a magnification of our own. The NFL is the most watched programming week in and week out, and while there is no inherent harm in enjoying a sport, there is clearly a lot of ulterior stuff going on in the marketing and the business side of things. Athletes get paid salaries that are more and more outrageous every year and advertising seems to pervade everything, as certain sports see players covered in logos. Even playing fields and specific games are sponsored by companies who have a financial stake in the popularity of sports. Wood has always allowed a bit of politics or social commentary into his work, but is careful in doing so. The enjoyment of the sport itself is not condemned, and the satire of the business side of things is handled with subtlety and class.
Alongside the world building of issue #1, we’re given the profile on Mara herself. Mara Prince (comparisons to Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, are intriguing but probably just coincidence) is a reflection of the world that Wood has so nicely built. Several pages examine the ins and outs of her life and how they are a direct result of her symbiotic relationship with sports as a business. We also get a couple looks into her personal life. We come to like Mara as a character, just as everyone else in the world does. The solicitation hints at some supernatural abilities, but there is only a little bit of that present in this first issue. Wood wants to get us invested in this world before turning things on their heads, and he is right to approach it that way. While not a lot happens to move any plot forward, there is so much done right with the setting and characters that it’s worth returning to this world next month.
Much of that is thanks to the talented Ming Doyle, who is going to be a much bigger name in the comics world before too long. Brian Wood recently said that “Mara” is all Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire (whose color palette is, as always, terrifically chosen) and he’s not just paying them lip service. While the book is about sport as a business and exploitation, Doyle’s art is the most striking and memorable thing about this issue. The opening few pages serve to set the scene in a near future full of dirigibles (a Watchmen nod?) maneuvering between skyscrapers with lightning fast cars streaking around below. We see characters preparing for the match in neon-lit rooms full of LED screens. Doyle’s subtle touch and Bellaire’s neon-glow color choices in these scenes stick us in a future setting without being too obvious about it. Doyle’s character work is equally able. She seems to be the perfect choice for highlighting the female form, making it something beautiful and athletic. Doyle renders this athletic beauty very naturally and realistically, letting Wood’s social commentary exploit that beauty rather than drawing it as cheesecake.Continued below
Wood and Doyle have a winner on their hands here. “Mara” is light social commentary that is incredibly relevant, wrapped up in an attractive and fun package. Best of all, it’s an incredible showcase for Ming Doyle, whose work we will all be happily enjoying more of in the near future. For someone with relatively little experience with published work, Doyle’s “Mara” shows just how refined her work already is and how much she’s ready for the big leagues.
Final Verdict: 8.6 – Buy.