Though they’re famous for hosting the highest echelons of A-list characters, DC Comics doesn’t get nearly enough credit for their characters who don’t get enough credit. DC’s stable is filled to the brim with fascinating heroes who have never quite broken through to the realm of mainstream awareness and ongoing titles, and Vixen has always been one of the most prominent in that category.
I’ve been hoping for a Vixen comic for some time and seeing her on the roster for the new JLA was one of the things that made me most excited about the series. But, for all that potential, there isn’t really a definitive Vixen comic out there. Could this change that around?
Steve Orlando and Jody Hauser are two of the biggest names to keep an eye on in comics today and a collaboration between them is a pretty exciting thing. Accordingly, this is a strong, well thought out introduction to Vixen that more than lives up to its Rebirth branding. Hauser and Orlando retell the classic origin while modernizing Mari McCabe, putting flesh on the bones of a great idea.
This version of Vixen steers clear of the overwrought ‘animal in man’ ideas in favor of some nice comments on openness and connection and a self-confidence that’s honest enough to escape the gravity of girl-power platitudes. One suspects Hauser’s hand at work in that.
Mari’s career as a model and her childhood in Africa are positioned expertly to form what may well be the most cohesive vision of the character to grace DC’s pages. You can feel the thought that Hauser and Orlando have put into who Mari is and what her relationship with her powers are as well as what she can bring to the table that no other hero at DC does and it’s promising.
This isn’t a half-assed reinvention. Though the specifics are fairly similar to previous iterations of the character, it’s clear that the writers envision Vixen going places and that basic faith is important to a book like this.
At times, however, the writing’s thoughtfulness can get in the way of its immediate impact. Though the effects of Mari’s childhood play an important role, the emotional through line of her relationship with her parents is much weaker than it should be. Dead parents, for lack of more delicate phrase, are such a cliche in comic books that, even as the light hand that Orlando and Hauser employ them with is decidedly welcome, including them without saying something specific lacks the punch that it should. It feels like the scenes in Zambesi easily could have been cut entirely, trimmed significantly, or expanded to play a more unique and integral part in the story. Additionally, there are a couple of ideas that are introduced too quickly, such as Mari, for some reason, being a young girl’s “last hope” or someone learning the language of spiders. Especially given their role in the story, things like that can’t really be sped over.
There’s also a sense of diminished returns for fans of the character, who are already familiar with her origins. This is a fantastic Rebirth issue, but the RE feels emphasized for this character who has gotten so few moments in her own spotlight.
Alas, they only had twenty pages, and telling an origin story and the origin story for the origin story seems to be too much if we’re also going to spend time getting to know our heroine like this.
As happy as I’d be to see a Hauser and/or Orlando Vixen series, and expect I will be to see Orlando handle her in Justice League of America, it’s Jamal Campbell who makes the biggest impression on the character. Seriously, if DC is wise, they’ll make sure that Campbell gets a call any time they want to work with Vixen.
Campbell brings a reality to each of his pages. From the outfits to the design, his world feels lived in and rich. There’s such wonderful life in each of his characters and panels. Even in the anatomically weakest of Campbell’s panels, few and far between, you’re always focused more on the emotion of the character. Body language and precise expression work combine with some really nice staging that convey the mood expertly. I also have to say that the effects that Campbell uses to represent Mari’s powers are superb. It’s a thoughtful and attractive way to depict the Tantu Totem.
Despite the obvious beauty that Campbell brings to bear, there are a couple of critical weaknesses in terms of clarity. It is entirely likely that the script played a heavy role in this, but, whatever the situation, there are places, particularly at the scene of the issue’s final showdown, where things feel rushed. It’s hard to determine where we are or how we get there at times and some plot-important insects are almost impossible to notice.
Campbell also deserves praise as a colorist, as he really brings out the best of this book through color. The lighting, especially the non-white light, is an incredible asset to this issue and it communicates excellently. Whether that’s the red and blue of the Tantu Totem or the highlighted orange of Zambesi, color plays an important and powerful role in setting tone, drawing attention, and creating beauty. Light and dark are used to fantastic effect and works with color, not alongside it. Perhaps my only real criticism, if it can be called that, is the awkward reality that Mari’s skin color changes significantly between America and Africa. I don’t know if that was an inevitable effect of the specific lighting choices, an unwitting bias, an unfortunate editorial decision, or an active comment on American and modeling culture, but it’s something that stands out one way or another.
Vixen is in good hands here. Even if her story is rushed in places and rather familiar to anyone who has spent time with the character, Hauser, Orlando, and Campbell make Vixen’s introduction to DC Rebirth a considered and potent one. The limitations of the intended goal strangle this story a little but thoughtful writing and beautiful artwork make this an enjoyable read. If DC allows Orlando and co. to expand on the foundation established here, Vixen could finally have her day.