In retrospect, some of the stylistic and thematic seeds of Matthew Rosenberg’s critically acclaimed series “4 Kids Walk into a Bank” were sown in “We Can Never Go Home.” But don’t read it for that. “We Can Never Go Home” is a ballsy, thoughtful, well constructed look at the simultaneously liberating and destructive power of violence, with a killer soundtrack.
Written by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon
Illustrated by Josh Hood and Brian Level
Colored by Amanda Scurti and Tyler Boss
Lettered by Jim Campbell and David C. Hopkins
Teenage misfits Duncan and Madison discover they share two secrets in common: they both have super powers, and neither is very good at staying out of trouble.
It takes a lot of chutzpah to write a story that doesn’t end with all the major threads tied up in a neat little bow. It takes rare talent and skill to actually pull it off. Throughout the pages of “We Can Never Go Home,” writers Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon, and the rest of their team, continually play with the reader’s expectations in ways that surprise, delight, and satisfy, bringing it all to a nontraditional conclusion that just feels right.
On one hand, the plot is pretty simple. Misfit high schoolers Duncan and Madison find themselves on the run after unexpectedly perpetrating a series of surprisingly violent incidents, one of which was fatal. To further complicate matters, Madison wields superhuman powers when she’s angry, while Duncan claims to possess superpowers of his own. The more the story progresses, however, the more conspicuous it becomes when Duncan doesn’t, or can’t, use his powers to get them out of increasingly scary situations. It also becomes quickly apparent Duncan’s so-called “plan” is anything but. He just makes it up as he goes along, inspired by little more than some sort of ill-formed, adolescent fantasy of life on the road. “We have a full tank of gas. Food. And music,” he says, leaving the rhetorical question unasked, “What more do we need?”
Consistently, the dialogue is on point. There is a refreshingly honest, authentic quality to many of the exchanges that grounds the characters in a highly relatable, teenage reality. When Madison first reveals her superhuman strength, for example, Duncan peppers her with questions. “Can you run super fast? Can you fly? Are you psychic? Can you change your shape?” Barely letting her respond, he adds, “Were you experimented on? Did some animal bite you? Did you inherit some magic thingamajig?” Before Duncan can become Madison’s partner in crime, he needs a moment to fanboy and get it out of his system. Meanwhile, Madison soberly makes it clear that if she’s outed as something beyond human, her primary concern is a life that’s no longer her own, filled with years of experiments and government servitude. Certainly, dozens of comic books have explored the often unwelcome burden of being a superhero, but this is something different, edgier, and more genuine.
The artwork is another high point, with outstanding visual flow and an almost grungy color palette that subtly underscores the characters’ increasing despair. As the book begins, we are nearly overwhelmed by purple, magenta and violet. As things become more fraught, however, the tone definitely shifts into an array of earth tones that undermine any preconceived notions of a fun-filled, romantic crime spree. There’s also a great use of white space, helping to focus and refocus the action during frenetic action sequences.
To be sure, there’s a steady amount blood and gore, though none of it unwarranted or particularly gratuitous, but illustrators Josh Hood and Brian Level provide many lighter moments, too. In one tongue-in-cheek two page spread, Madison tries on numerous costumes, trying to find her superhero look. Moving through a series of female superhero outfits, her deadpan commentary packs punch. “I’m not going to go fight people while wearing a patriotic bathing suit,” she says, quickly dismissing her other options as, “Bathing suit with belt,” “Weird bathing suit,” “Magic bathing suit,” and “Bathing suit as evening wear.” It’s a sequence that’s comedic, incisive and even tender, all at the same time.Continued below
Indeed, the book’s ability to effectively balance so many things at once is much of what makes it so special. The action is steady and highly engaging, with unexpected twists and turns, but doesn’t overwhelm the book, allowing the creators to fully explore character dynamics and themes that are often glossed over. And part of that clearly stems the creators’ ability to trust the reader to fill in the blanks. They don’t dwell on or get bogged down by backstory and exposition, believing that less is more.
The concise but powerful scene where Madison tells her parents that she is never coming back, for example, is exactly the kind of scene that often ends up bloated and overplayed. Here, it’s short and sweet, but does what it needs to do. As Madison walks away, her mother says to her father, “Well. I hope you know I am not calling this in. You can tell them we lost her.” Who they are is never fully explained, but it doesn’t matter. We get the point. And the shadowy presence of whoever they are hangs over the rest of the book.
I didn’t read “We Can Never Go Home” in serialized form and it’s just as well. I definitely wouldn’t have liked the interminable wait between issues. Presented in trade paper form, however, with excellent cliffhangers that transition boldly from one chapter to the next, the experience is seamless and utterly engrossing. Once you pick it up, you will devour this book. Maybe more than once. Rosenberg, Kindlon and the rest of the creative team certainly give us a lot to contemplate, mull over and come back to (especially in light of the somewhat unconventional ending referenced at the top). In any case, with some damn fine songs curated specially for each issue, it’s got an excellent soundtrack, too.
Crank it up and enjoy.