Monday, July 15, 2024

Livewire #9 Questions Whether Freedom Fighters Should Put On A Happy Face

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I’ve been a fan of Marvel’s X-Men for most of my life. As a kid, I loved the colored heroes and wild powers that the titular team wielded. As an adult, I loved the anti-authoritarian angle of the comic, particularly its message regarding oppressed people in the United States. But that comic has lost a lot of its edge in recent years, creaking under decades of continuity and keeping its focus on a cast of majority white and straight cast. But in an age of Trump and rising white supremacy, a comic that questions the status quo and challenges the forces of oppression is sorely needed. And that’s where Livewire finds its niche, thanks to a talented creative team led by the Afro-Puerto Rican writer Vita Ayala (black women writing black women, what a concept!). The newest issue kicks off a new arc for the titular character, alias Amanda McKee, who’s spent the last several issues as the world’s most wanted woman following her shutdown of all tech on Earth. In her attempt to save Psiots, the super-powered minority to which she belongs, she has instead increased the hate and fear they encounter every day.

Issue #9 opens mid-action, with Livewire performing a one-woman assault on a government base. Her target: information on PSEP (Psiot Safety & Eduction Program) and its leader Serena Byrne, a government agency officially tasked with aiding Psiots but in reality was systematically working to exterminate them. Her assault is successful (Livewire is kinda busted), but she comes up empty when she finally hacks in. What she does find, however, is LA City Councilman John Wright and the manager of his Senatorial Campaign, Gwen Goodman, waiting on her doorstep. Immediately suspicious of the expensively dressed duo (there’s a fun panel where we see the designer brand behind each piece of Councilman Wright’s outfit), Amanda is about ready to take the duo out when they whip out a proposal for her. To defeat Wright’s opponent for Senate, a virulently anti-Psiot conservative, Wright proposes that Amanda work with Gwen and his campaign to rehabilitate her “image problem.” It would necessitate Amanda to out herself and be placed in the line of fire for the forces mounted to take her down, but even she can see that it could pay off big for Psiots. The politician leaves her to consider, but while Amanda thinks, he and Gwen reveal they aren’t all they seem to be (a dishonest politician?!): the offer was bait, and everything they said about Psiots was a lie. But are they with a greater organization, or is Wright operating purely out of his own self-interest? “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” he says, but Livewire has made a lot of enemies. Meanwhile, a paparazzo captures their discussion and meeting with Livewire on film and sells it to Wright’s opponent. There’s a lot set up this issue, and we’ll no doubt learn more next month in Issue #10: “Political Animal”

Kris Anka’s faux-magazine variant cover gives us a glimpse at what Livewire’s “image rehabilitation” might look like

Issue #9 is a really good point of entry if you want to get into Livewire. The first part of the comic gives a good summary of the world that Amanda inhabits and how she’s changed it, establishing the stakes for the series going forward. It’s also a fantastically action-packed little sequence, showing all the different ways Livewire can deal with her enemies and the slightly creepy ability she has to use our technology against us. Amanda herself is a fantastic character, self-confident without being overly cocky but possessing a well-earned suspicious streak. It’s clear that she isn’t a vengeful monster, but there’s still a lot of anger boiling underneath. Her later unease and indecisiveness when presented with Wright’s offer stands in contrast to the assured freedom fighter at the beginning, and it becomes apparent that there is daylight between “Livewire” and “Amanda” when it comes to handling problems. I’m excited to see this develop more in later issues.

New characters John Wright and Gwen Goodman are intriguing in their possibilities. Both he and his campaign manager come across very well-intentioned at first, but from the start, the comic begins to sow distrust. In addition to the aforementioned expensive clothing, the information we’re given on the characters is spotty and strange. Wright has a squeaky clean past and an impeccable service record (albeit one that’s conspicuously missing time), while Goodman seemingly went from an Alabama intern to the Office Manager for LA City Council and Wright’s campaign intern. The menace and distrust behind them and the promise of their eventual villainy are pretty refreshing in comics like Livewire. While many villains are caricatures of obvious oppressors, like the fat and hairy Senator McCoy and his sleazy photographer, these two are clean-cut, educated, and seemingly well-intentioned. But they’re just as privileged as Senator McCoy and are using Psiots for their own goals as much as the conservatives who demonize them.

If you haven’t tried out Livewire, you should definitely give it a shot now. You can pick up this issue on Valiant’s website, where you can also get caught up on the previous eight issues and get a peek at the next few. Issue #10 will release online and to your local comics shop on September 11(I’m sure that won’t come up in the comic). You can also learn a bit more about Livewire and her fellow Valiant characters in my interview with Editor Heather Antos.

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Images via Valiant Entertainment

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