Last week I covered the latest installment of Titan Comic’s Assassin’s Creed title. In it I marked upon the recent move in both the comic and video game to put female characters in a central role: AC Syndicate putting you in control of a woman for at least half of the game and AC Trial By Fire having a woman generate the story’s perspective, but the real action of the piece is going to be taken on by a man.
Now let’s look at a comic that jumps right into the heat of battle with the female protagonist front and center with no spots reserved for a man to share the spotlight, and to do that we need to take a look at some of the work coming out of Dark Circle Comics this year.
Earlier this year Archie Comics (you know, the company that makes that Happy Days style comic you see on all the news stands but never bothered to read) rebranded their Red Circle Comics line as Dark Circle Comics. Red Circle was Archie Comics’ superhero publishing line, launching with characters like The Fox that blend comedy and superhero action. But in early 2015 they changed the word Red to the word Dark, indicating that they were looking to launch more mature titles, and seeing gratuitous bloodshed and swearing coming out of the same company that produced Jughead probably wouldn’t gel with Archie’s usual readers. A lot of these darker titles are reimaginings of classic golden-age superheroes, include The Black Hood, The Hangman, The Web, and today’s comic book, The Shield.
The Shield, as a character, actually goes back a long way. The first character to carry the name appeared in Shield-Wizard Comics #1 back in 1940, a whole year before Captain America. Yeah, Captain America was not the first superhero to wear the stars and stripes. A year before Steve Rogers punched Hitler in the face (while carrying a shield) we had Joe Higgins, a chemist whose father was a war hero and discovers a serum, with the aid of some handy x-rays (because, what would a comic be without radiation?), that gives his super-strength, agility, and invulnerability. Sound similar to another well-known superhero?
Anyway, the character quickly got overshadowed by the good Captain and faded from the pubic consciousness. He’d still show up from time to time, get several runs throughout the years, even make some crossovers into the main DC Comics Universe, but he was mostly remembered as that other hero wrapped in an American flag. But now Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig have brought us a new incarnation of a golden-age icon with The Shield: Daughter of the Revolution. Let’s take a look.
The cover is odd. On the surface it’s pretty neat, a downward shot of our hero in a cool superhero outfit that’s not overly gaudy but still has that feel of a classic costumed hero. The problem is the face. She doesn’t have a look of confidence, determination, or even a proud smile; instead she looks standoffish. With the tilted head and the raised eyebrow it’s as if she’s saying, “Yeah I’m wearing a patriotic costume, what about it? No, I don’t think a domino mask is out of style. Deal with it!”
The story centers around Victoria Adams, a woman who throughout American history has turned up to fight for the red, white, and blue as far back as the American Revolution, and seemingly never ages or dies. And that’s where we see her at the beginning, sneaking into a Redcoat encampment to destroy their supplies, and already the similarities to Assassin’s Creed are immediately becoming apparent. The stealth maneuvers and agility based style of her attacks, as well as her use of bladed weapon and hooded appearance, scream out for Animus graphics to flash across the page and tell us that we’ve accomplished a mission and now it’s time to get back to base for exposition.
It’s also here that we meet our villain of the series, a yet-unnamed man with a streak of skunk-white in his black heir and a signature scar under his right eye. It seems that he and Victoria are somehow immortal, since they have faced each other before in the past. However, it seems that every time Victoria is reborn she loses her memories, and she spends most of the comic stumbling around as all of her memories throughout time come crashing down on her.
So, how does this first issue hold up? As far as action goes it’s an intriguing starting point, offering us a glimpse at Victoria’s abilities and skills, as well as establishing her priorities and thought process when the stuff hits the fan. As far as a story it’s lacking the most important thing a first issue can provide: a strong central character. Victoria’s presence is felt throughout, and like I said we see her thoughts and memories, but these do nothing to give us a glimpse of her character. We know she’s tough and determined, but outside of that there isn’t much to her. I think this panel explains it best. ==>
In her own words she is nothing. She’s barely there as a character, simply existing as an agent of violence for some meta purpose. We have no idea what motivates Victoria, what her likes or dislikes are, how she copes with the rest of the world (apart from attacking it and scowling at it). Almost everything we know about Victoria we have to have explained to us; we never see or experience what she is outside of her own narration or the accounts of others. The result is that she could be anyone. Victoria Adams doesn’t matter to the story; give us anyone else running around crashing through windows and we can still have the narrative.
This lack of character development isn’t helped much by the artwork. Drew Johnson has a great talent and gives us consistently dynamic images to carry us through the issue. Both the framing, perspectives, and poses of the characters are interesting and flow well into each other. But Victoria is incredibly limited in her expressions. She barely shows any emotion outside of “stern-faced”.
Even when the emotions are flooding back to her she barely emotes, despite tears flowing down her face. For me this was the moment when this comic officially dropped the ball. This is supposed to be the moment when all of Victoria’s experiences and pain are instantly made clear to her. She doesn’t understand them yet, but she remembers all her battles and she cries. Now, you’d think this would be a great moment full of pathos, right? Well yes, it would be, if we knew why she was crying. Is she reliving the pain? Her face doesn’t look that contorted, in fact she’s rather serene. Is she remembering the people she’s seen die? We don’t see or hear about them, so I’m going to assume it has nothing to do with anyone else. Is it that she’s remembering her mission, the thing that drives her and keeps her going? Maybe, but we have no idea what that is; this comic never gives us a reason for why she does what she does. This moment, which should have been the high point of the comic, falls flat on its face.
The Shield is going to have to start giving its hero a voice if it hopes to garner an audience in the coming months. It’s nice to see a female superhero in the driver’s seat, but by not providing the reader with a relatable character right out of the box they now have to make up for lost time. Christopher and Wendig have created a character with far more potential than its previous incarnations. The question remains if they are capable of capitalizing on that potential. At the moment it’s worth checking out to see if Dark Circle can turn this into a new rendition of the character worthy of its legacy.