Trouble with Comics
Review: We Can Never Go Home

We Can Never Go Home by Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, Josh Hood, Brian Level, Amanda Scurti, and Tyler Boss is undoubtedly one of the biggest indie comics success stories of 2015. Buoyed in part by coverage of a controversial costume-change sequence in #3, the book burned up the back issue market. The trade paperback debuted just before Christmas and lives up to the hype. The book focuses on two teens, Madison and Duncan. The most popular girl in school, Madison hides her superpowers from the world until her boyfriend hits her during a confrontation with Duncan. In turn, Duncan tells Madison that he can kill people with his mind. The two have brief courtship that’s cut short following a violent incident that causes them to go on the run together.

From there, We Can Never Go Home is, at turns, exciting, funny, and compelling. There’s just one problem. I feel like I’ve already read this comic before. Twice, in fact. It’s called Harbinger. Originally published by Valiant in 1992, Harbinger was created by Jim Shooter and David Lapham. Joshua Dysart revived the series in 2012. I don’t mean to suggest a one-to-one correspondence here, but tonally, We Can Never Go Home clearly owes a huge debt to the two versions of the book. Shooter’s big idea for the title was a grittier version of the X-Men, where the characters were on the run, not living in a luxurious Westchester mansion. Dysart’s version is slower-paced than Shooter’s original and really foregrounds the troubling and dysfunctional relationship between the telepathic Peter Stanchek and normal human Kris Hathaway. Rosenberg and Kindlon switch the genders of which member of the couple possess powers, but they keep the manipulation. Like both versions of Harbinger, it’s about protagonists on the run, living on the margins, and does not center the story on a big city like New  York. The last comparison is the Closed Casket organization Madison and Duncan briefly become involved with, which seems like a very low rent (and probably more realistic) version of Toyo Harada’s Harbinger Foundation.

Despite the familiarity of the story, Rosenberg and Kindlon, who are relative newcomers, do manage to make Madison and Duncan compelling. The real star is Josh Hood. Hood’s been in comics for nearly 20 years and worked on Superman, Spider-Man, and Aquaman, but only sporadically. The turning point for his career seems to have been a stint at Zenescope starting in 2012. We Can Never Go Home is, whatever its other flaws, an amazing showcase for someone who has apparently been overlooked all this time. His figures are clean and gorgeous like those of an but the world around them feels gritty, run down, but not Noir-ish. Really, the only comparison that makes sense to me is Dave Gibbons. Hood’s work isn’t as formally restrained though, and his action sequences are more fluid.

In summation, We Can Never Go Home manages the neat trick of both living up to its hype and disappointing. The story isn’t quite there, but it’s visually spectacular and likely marks the arrival of a major talent.

Joe Gualtieri

The Eternal Warrior - An Overview by Joseph Gualtieri

With Wrath of the Eternal Warrior by Robert Vendetti and Raul Allen due out this week from Valiant, it seems like a good time to look back at the extant Eternal Warrior trades from the current Valiant Universe.

Sword of the Wild by Greg Pak, Trevor Hairsine, and others - The chapters in this volume have sections alternating between ancient Mesopotamia and the present day. In the earlier timeline, Gilad and his children have a pivotal encounter with a death cult, while latter has Gilad returning to action after about a break. There’s one other flashback in the book, to 1877, where Gilad loses faith in the Geomancer and puts away his weapons. Okay, this is probably sounding a little complex for those not familiar with Valiant. It really isn’t. Gilad, the titular Eternal Warrior, is one of three immortal brothers; he works for the Geomancer, a rotating position of sort-of-magicians who can communicate with the spirit of the Earth. Think Arthur and Merlin, but Arthur never dies and Merlin’s the Doctor from The Authority, but less powerful.  So Gilad has his crisis of conscience in 1877, but is called into action by his daughter, who’s attracted the attention of the death cult from Ancient Mesopotamia, as she’s filled in for Gilad with the Geomancer. Pak’s script does an excellent job of conveying Giad’s weariness at 8,000 years of life and fighting, and his desire now to find something new. The one problem with the writing is that Gilad retires too early; it is a little hard to buy that he’s an expert in modern munitions if he’s been retired since 1877. Unfortunately, the art is not as strong. Hairsine’s never been the strongest artist, and while he’s advanced here from just being a Bryan Hitch clone, his slowness creates an inconsistent look for the comic. He draws all of the first issue only. The flashbacks in each issue should lighten the load, Hairsine can’t even draw all of the modern day sequences in the middle issues.

Eternal Emperor by Greg Pak and Robert Gill - Pak’s second arc leaps forward to 4001, where Gilad is living in a small, peaceful village with his young granddaughter. The peace is shattered by an attack by a robot which Gilad defeats, but the robot contains a nuclear bomb. Gilad takes his granddaughter with him on a quest, hopeful that they will find anti-radiation medicine, but if not, to avenge his people. What follows has plenty of action, but is largely a mediation on the violent nature of mankind and the cyclical nature of human civilization. Pak is not writing A Cancticle for Liebowitz, exactly, but it’s well done, and he even manages to make the device of the granddaughter pay off. Robert Gill is not the best artist at Valiant, but he’s good, and delivers more consistency than Hairsine did on the prior volume.

Days of Steel by Peter Milligan and Cary Nord - This volume is slight, reprinting three issues, but it feels a little padded even at that length. Millgan’s story is a simple one, but it’s effectively told and well illustrated by Nord. In the 13th century, the Geomancer sends Gilad to protect the savior of the Franks from the Magyars, who is born with a mark on his face. To Gilad’s surprise, the boy’s mother gave birth to twins, both with the mark. Gilad takes one of the brothers, who grows up sickly, but with an aptitude for music while the other stays with his parents and becomes more of a fighter. Most readers will figure out that the sickly brother’s songs will inspire the Franks long before Gilad, but Milligan effectively conveys his angst over whether or not he made the right decision about the twins, which dovetails nicely with the misgivings about the Geomancers from Pak’s first volume. The focus on the song acting the virus makes the story of piece with explorations of media in some of Milligan’s other works, like X-Statix.

Of these three, Eternal Emperor is unquestionably the strongest work, and among the best comics Valiant has put out since its resurrection (which is no small feat). That being said, Sword of the Wild is more strongly connected to the Valiant universe, if you’re looking for an entry point. Days of Steel is skippable, but it’s a fun trifle, especially for Milligan fans.