Series: Motor Crush
Written by: Cameron Stewart, Brendan Flecher, Babs Tarr
Art by: Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart
Publisher: Image Comics
Summary from Comixology: “The team behind the critically acclaimed revamp of Batgirl returns with an exciting sci-fiaction-adventure series! By day, Domino Swift competes for fame and fortune in a worldwide motorcycle racing league. By night, she cracks heads of rival gangs in brutal bike wars to gain possession of a rare, valuable contraband: an engine-boosting “machine narcotic” known as Crush.”
Brendan Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr are probably most well known for their critically acclaimed reworking of Batgirl which brought a fresh narrative, youthfulness, and a sense of quirky modernity to the character. Originally received with tentative optimism, what was intended as a six issue jaunt became a full fifteen issue run. The trio’s collaborative effort seems to have acted as a bit of a watershed moment in the world of comics by shining a light on younger female readers who’d been looking for themselves in the pages, and finally saw a heroine they could relate to. That, combined with the integration of technology in it’s everyday glory and not just as the means to another gadget, the quippy lingo, and the overall brightness of the thing was, for this reader at least, to comics what Buffy the Vampire Slayer was to the TV “supers” of the late 90’s. I didn’t just want to be Batgirl of Burnside, I wanted to be her friend. So, needless to say, the dynamic trio (Tarr, Stewart, Fletcher) have their work cut out for them in attempting to win over the same audience with a new female heroine in a completely different genre. I have to admit, I was pretty nervous to dive in…
First things first, this cover is fantastic. The colors are far more muted than we’ve come to expect from Tarr, but all of the sass remains. The story takes place in a tech driven, reality TV heavy future, and centers around motorcycle racer Domino Swift, who is training for The World Grand Prix. Although the narrative focuses entirely on Dom’s personal experience, you get the feel of a Black Mirror: Fifteen Million Merits, or Hunger Games-like future where everyone’s lives revolve around televised events. The intrusiveness of the media is used to great effect. You really feel the omnipresence of the cameras, and the seeming lack of anything personal in this world. I love the way the panels become like screen grabs. It literally makes you a part of the audience, and serves to make the reader’s intrusion into the quiet moments feel almost jarring. The entire issue is a really great balance of contrasts.
I grew up surrounded by cars and motorcycles. My dad was an amateur race car driver for a time, and a self taught mechanic, as are both of my brothers. I’ve seen my fair share of races in my day, and the comic does an amazing job of capturing the tension, crazy characters, and bravado that surround these events. The page listing the contenders and stats at a shady underground race is probably my favorite. I’m a sucker for names, tidbits, and perfect characterization. These panels really capture the individuals. That one rectangle tells you everything you need to know about who you’re dealing with. It’s just so well done. And look at the diversity! You have women, men, black, white, and muppet all on one page. It really is a step in the right direction for muppet equality!
In an interesting twist, in this reality it’s not only people, but machines as well who can be addicts. We discover that Domino has been racing with the aid of Crush, an additive or “machine narcotic” that can give an engine extra power but that, like most drugs, can be lethal in large doses. She participates in the legit televised events to gain fame and notoriety, but she runs anonymously in the brawlers to win ampules of Crush. Exactly how and why she uses the Crush is what makes her so intriguing. As the issue unfolds, we get hints that we’re not just dealing with an average badass motorcycle riding, attitude having teenage rebel. But hints are all we get. She uses an inhaler. She’s really great at what she does. Like, really great. She needs Crush. She’s a fighter, but not a killer. And then there’s that brief glimpse of a pink light…
…so very brief. It’s a pretty audacious first issue that tells you little to nothing about the protagonist. But they did it, and it works.
Motor Crush #1 is at times bleak and harsh, but it still manages to maintain the sharp wit and overall sense of fun at which this trio of artists excels. I have a really hard time with bleak. It has been a long running problem for me with comics in general. I’m finding this new wave of artists that understand how to simultaneously take themselves 100% seriously, and yet maintain a sense of self deprecation in their characters, and whimsy in their worlds incredibly novel. In Motor Crush I also see the promise of a strong African American female heroine who is not exceptional because of her race or her gender, but is extraordinary in her own super-heroic right. There is, in this first issue at least, no indication that her presence in the racing world is anything other than accepted. It is that simple acceptance, that could make Domino and Motor Crush so exceptional. The complete lack of focus by other characters on her gender or her race is quietly revolutionary, and I like it. I like it a lot.
Overall, what really stands out in my mind is the adept handling of contrasts. It is brilliantly subtle. The character design is succinct and and yet perfectly descriptive. The world is so well defined, from the intrusion of the catball cameras, down to the artistic choice to make it somehow simultaneously washed out and riot of color. The action sequences make your heart race, but the still moments are beautifully captured as well. It even manages relevant social commentary through lack of commentary. Finally, there’s the fact that there is only the slightest hint that Domino may be anything other than a normal human, all the while showing us just how gifted she is in seemingly normal ways. There’s an overall trust in the intelligence of the reader to pick up on the nuance and come along for the ride (pun absolutely intended), and it is really refreshing. As far as first reads go, I call it a success. I’m invested. I’ll worry about Dom until I’m able to join her again. I believe in the world that Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr have created, and I believe in Domino Swift’s potential to be a genre bending heroine in this very bendy modern world. But you don’t have to take my word for it…
(Editor’s Note: This review was written by Melody Dobbins. Melody is a lifelong book nerd with a particular passion for Tolkien, Joseph Campbell, and comparative religion. When she’s not trapped in her own head, re-watching the Whedonverse, or crafting, she’s a freelance author, artist and illustrator, and proud mama to the two brightest geekletts in all the world. Her favorite graphic novel is Blankets by Craig Thompson, she speaks fluent R2D2, and she’s standing right behind you.)