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Analysis

Faith: Hollywood and Vine

Supergirl on the CW is well into its second season and going strong. The Wonder Woman movie is on the horizon. (Please be good, please be good, please be good…) It seems like the women of superhero comics are finally getting their due on the large and small screens. Finally, the tastemakers in mainstream pop culture are waking up to the reality that women-lead superhero properties can be successful. (Who would have thought, right?)  

The question then becomes who should be next? Captain Marvel is supposed to have a movie coming in the MCU lineup (someday maybe if it isn’t delayed again). And rumors are swirling about Black Widow and Harley Quinn solo movies. Those both sound like they could be a lot of fun, but if I’m being honest, there is a lesser-known superhero that I think would be a slam-dunk for a movie or even for a television series.

She comes from the Valiant Universe, and her name is Faith.

Harbinger of Fun

Faith has been around in Valiant comics since the 90’s as part of the ensemble group featured in Harbinger from 1992 – 1995. More recently, the entire Valiant Universe has been rebooted, and Harbinger was no exception. In 2012, the series began anew with the group of “Psiots” known as The Renegades. Psiots are sort of analogous to Mutants from the Marvel Universe. They are either born with abilities, or have potential abilities that need to be unlocked in some way. Faith (or Zephyr as she prefers to be called) is part of this latter group.

harbinger

One of the first things one might notice about Faith is her design. With few exceptions, women superheroes tend to conform to a standard of beauty that demands a slim and athletic, or supermodel type body. There are variations depending on the artist, but most women superheroes only vary by their skin, hair, and eye color. Now the slim and fit build makes sense for superheroes whose main traits are physical strength or agility, like Batgirl, Black Canary, or Black Widow. But there is really no reason why a superhero like Scarlet Witch or the newest Green Lantern Jessica Cruz need to have hourglass figures. Faith’s design subverts this tendency beautifully.

Faith as a character is the ultimate proxy for the reader in that she is pretty much a normal girl. Aside from being born with potential Psiot powers, there isn’t much special about her. She is just an average girl with an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture. Faith constantly makes meta references to superheroes as well as real world fandoms that apparently also exist inside the Valiant Universe. Oh, also, she can fly and create force fields using her mind. Faith loves being a superhero and is the heart of the “Renegades” team in Harbinger. She quickly became a fan favorite, which lead to her own miniseries in early 2016, and a subsequent ongoing series which as of this article is on its 5th issue.

Hollywood and Vine

Faith’s 4-issue miniseries From Jody Houser, Francis Portela, and Maguerite Sauvage, Faith: Hollywood and Vine is out now in trade paperback. This is a great jumping-on point for new readers, not only of Faith as a character, but for the Valiant Universe as well.

After a brief cold open sets the stage for the main mystery of the comic, we are off and running with Faith summing up where she came from as well as the conclusion of the previous Harbinger series (which is also really good, but that’s a discussion for another time). In her new life, she has taken on a secret identity as Summer Smith (an admitted reference to Scott Summers and Matt Smith) as well as a job writing listicles for the Buzzfeed analog “ZipLine” (her first article is hilariously “5 actors named Chris who should be in the next big superhero movie”).

Faith does her best to balance her superhero life and her day job, as all superheroes do, but ultimately has to sacrifice her secret to protect her co-workers from a mysterious organization. Backing her up are her hacker friend @X doing his best Oracle impression, and Archer, another valiant hero who is her potential love interest. Eventually, a former Renegade teammate (and ex-boyfriend), Torque, is wrapped up in a sinister plot to “Take over the world”, but Faith and friends manage to stop the threat and save the day because of course they do. They are superheroes after all.

Using Tropes the Right Way

The story of this four-issue arc is pretty standard superhero fare, but Faith manages to take each and every superhero trope it uses and either acknowledge them using Faith’s meta-quipping, or else completely subvert them. Her boss at ZipLine (basically a gender-bent J Jonah Jameson) is at first a hard-nosed bully. But when Faith reveals her identity and saves the day, instead of continuing to bully and push Faith, she is sympathetic and supportive (though she does demand Faith have her own column for the good of the site).

zopline

And she’s got crazy eyes.

Faith openly acknowledges the dangers of being on her own, and expresses doubts about “Solo-titling” (her words) the mission. Later, when a former Renegade teammate is used as a weapon against her, she admits not being ready for the “Brainwashed superhero battle”. The series is smart and funny all the way through, and displays a deep knowledge of superhero tropes and history.

References Aplenty

Faith is extremely relatable as a character especially for those of us who are deeply engaged with nerdy pop culture. She is like one of us. She’s not a super-spy, or a gajillionaire. She’s just a bookish young woman who is suddenly gifted with superpowers. She loves her job writing pop culture blogs, and she loves everything about being a superhero. She always does her best, while still dropping so many references, I’m not even sure I caught them all.

Through the course of the story I found references to:

  • Spiderman
  • Wonder Woman
  • Red Dwarf
  • Star Trek
  • Back to the Future
  • X-Men
  • Farscape
  • Dungeons & Dragons
  • Star Wars
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Doctor Who
  • Lord of the Rings
  • The Terminator, and
  • 2001: A Space Oddyssey

And that is just in one read-through. I’m certain I missed some. She is the ultimate nerd’s nerd and I want to be her friend.

Dual Artists

The series uses two different artists on the linework, Francis Portela, who has a fairly traditional comics style, and Marguerite Sauvage, who uses a more stylized cartoonish approach. These two artists are used brilliantly, with Portela on the main story panels, and Sauvage on Faith’s inner fantasy vision. Portela’s work has a realistic feel which contrasts well with Sauvage’s. Once we realize that the different art represents dreams or imagination, it’s obvious when we transition from reality to fantasy. Sauvage’s style is perfect for dream sequences and fantasy, and the transitions work beautifully within the story.

sauvage

The colors are bright and vibrant, especially within the fantasy sequences, and add to the generally light, fun, optimistic tone of the comic.

Positive Body Image

Obviously, Faith is different from other comic heroines, and I don’t mean in the usual “Not Like Other Girls” way. Faith is a big girl. The thing about that is it’s never really addressed in the text. It pretty much just is. If anything, there are a few subtle digs from other characters. At one point, when Faith visits her ex-boyfriend, his current girlfriend is there, and she makes some crack about “trading up”. Seeing as how this new girl is supermodel thin, it can be inferred she is referring to Faith’s appearance, but it’s never explicit.

Faith seems to be genuinely happy with her appearance. Even in the fantasy sequences, Faith’s fantasy image of herself may be a bit more shapely, but she is not any thinner. She is comfortable and confident in herself, and at no point does she ever lament her size, or self-deprecate.

It Can’t be Perfect, Can it?

Despite Faith’s representing a different body type than is typical of a female superhero, the book doesn’t feel terribly diverse. The hacker @X when he is briefly on the page is drawn as a black man, and Faith’s co-workers are a diverse group, but the heroes and villains are pretty much all white with blonde hair and blue eyes, which seemed a little odd as the book progressed. The bad guy’s minions in particular all look like clones of Chris Evans, which is probably intentional, but why? I mean besides the fact that he’s dreamy.

The other major problem is the villain. The Big Bad villain isn’t much of a villain. As the book begins, the mystery is interesting, and as more revelations hit the reader, the mystery is escalated well. Once the main villain is revealed, however, and the plot is explained, it is pretty tropey and uninteresting, and the villain himself is a standard-fare maniacal cult leader type guy. This might be a factor of having such a short run. Four issues isn’t much time to develop an interesting antagonist, particularly when he doesn’t appear until well into the story. However, history has shown that even with a boring villain, a hero with charisma can really carry a story pretty well. Just look at nearly every MCU movie. Faith has the charm to do just that.

A Great Character

Faith is wonderful and charming as a character, and the comic itself is a great, fun read despite a few minor missteps. This miniseries was a big win for Valiant comics, and resulted in a new ongoing series for Faith. If you read and enjoy Faith: Hollywood and Vine as much as I did, then I definitely recommend moving on to the ongoing series, which already has its first collected volume out on shelves. If you loved Squirrel Girl, Ms Marvel, or Harley Quinn, then give this a read. You won’t be disappointed.


 

Images courtesy of Valiant Comics.

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Ian is an amateur nerd and geek-of-all-trades. His main obsessions include Star Wars, superheroes, and movies nobody else seems to like. His children grow increasingly annoyed by his “Dad jokes”.

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