Reviews

Cry Havoc #1
Words Simon Spurrier
Pictures Ryan Kelly
Colors Nick Filardi (London), Lee Loughridge (The Red Place), and Matt Wilson (Afghanistan)
Image Comics

There has been a poster in front of the register in the Chapel Hill Ultimate Comics store with a gorgeous werewolf picture and the tagline, “It’s not about a lesbian werewolf going to war. Except it kind of is.”

Sold.

If you need more information, I can rave about the story or the art or the gender politics (and trust me, that’s what the rest of this column is going to be), but really, the tagline alone tells you what you need to know about the wit and mind of this project.

The story takes place in three parallel lines, each with a different colorist. Chronologically, we begin in London, where Louise is a blue-haired street musician who was a disappointment to her zookeeper girlfriend even before her unfortunate run-in with a big lupine monster. The middle section follows her as she joins a team of four folks with mysterious supernatural abilities as they investigate a monster that busted up a US facility in Afghanistan and exposed their “enhanced interrogation techniques” to public eye. By the time the story catches up to The Red Place, Louise is going to be behind bars and in deep trouble.

The decision to color each segment of the story differently was inspired. Flashbacks in comics are often done with completely new pencilers, allowing the main artist to get work done more efficiently without disrupting the way the book looks. But here, the pencils are a consistent throughline, and the reader gets to learn a lot more about the subtle ways colors have been telling us stories this whole time. London is wrapped in blue, giving a calm to even the violent wolf encounter and a sense that this is deep in the past. That blue line carries through with the main character’s hair as she enters the smudgy yellows of the Afghanistan chapter but disappears some time between then and the oppressive dark reds that confine her in the final segment. After talking about colors with superstar Rico Renzi at last fall’s North Carolina Comicon, I’ve gotten better at picking out the role colors play in this medium, and this book is a lush exercise in that art.

But at heart, I read comics for the words more than the pictures, and as a queer liberal, I am always looking for quality representation of diversity. This book has at least three out characters so far – Louise and her girlfriend feel like a realistic couple, a pair that should probably break up if they always disappoint each other but who haven’t really pushed hard enough on that to make it happen yet, and Ottar is a big, handsome Viking who hopes to get a little action with one of the soldiers after his Afghanistan mission is over but still takes his job seriously. A book doesn’t have to be about lesbians yelling at straight people to be about diversity. It needs to demonstrate an understanding that the world has lots of types of people, and it needs to understand how to make a character that incorporates whatever sexuality fits. And this book does exactly that, showing queer characters who own their sexual identity but are not defined by it.

The gender roles advance even further with two key scenes. In one, a soldier is explaining the mission to Louise, and even though he never directly propositions her, his crude language and provocative word choice helps me as a cisgendered man briefly taste how gender-hostile environments are a form of harrassment. In the other, Louise is asking her girlfriend about the hyena at the zoo, and she explains that female hyenas have a clitoris that extends to appear as a penis and block sexual entry, giving the females of the pack control over mating choices and establishing matriarchy as a pack dynamic. This image of sexuality, identity, illusion, and agency make the hyena a compelling symbol in the book rather than just a comedian, and man, I hope one of the characters turns out to be a were-hyena.

I can’t recommend Cry Havoc highly enough. This is rich, an exploration of comics as a craft and as a political communication. Come on down to Ultimate Comics in Chapel Hill or Raleigh and say you want that lesbian werewolf warrior book from the poster – they’ll know what you’re talking about.

-MATT CONNER for Ultimate Comics

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