Jim Shooter’s company Valiant Comics has had its moments in the sun. I fondly remember its 90’s era, with Kurt Busiek helming Ninjak and Christopher Priest exploring race and heroism with the super comedy duo Quantum and Woody. Especially in the latter case, Valiant gave its readers something they hadn’t seen before—superhero buddies divided by race and class, trapped together by super high-tech bracelets, each defying stereotypes and relentlessly mocking each other’s life choices. With Jody Houser’s series Faith, Valiant has given us another book unlike any other—the story of a geeky, plus-sized super trying to get by in Los Angeles.

In some ways Faith Herbert—also known as the high-flying Zephyr—is a typical superhero. She has incredible power that she genuinely revels in (a “companion field”—a force field that enables flight, invulnerability, and a kind of rough-but-effective telekinesis), she wears a costume, maintains a secret identity, teams up with other heroes, rescues people, and fights evil as her schedule allows. It’s the details that make Faith a bit different from her peers.

Most obviously, there’s Faith’s appearance. Female superheroes have typically followed the model established by Marston’s Wonder Woman—beautiful glamazons in swimsuits and knee-high boots. However, Faith is modeled more after comedienne Melissa McCarthy—before the weight loss—than Gal Gadot. Instead of a form-fitting catsuit, she wears a loose blue-and-white outfit that calls to mind Ms. Marvel’s burkini. There’s a lot to like about this aspect of the book. While Faith is a blue-eyed blonde with model good looks, she’s a plus-sized model with an active social and romantic life. It sends a good message.

The second attribute that sets Faith apart is her personality. She has a life beyond her super-heroic calling, and it feels genuine. Faith plays Dungeons & Dragons with friends from work, attends comic book conventions (dressed as a Steampunk version of herself), and has a credibly ridiculous amount of trouble maintaining a secret identity. She Skypes with her love interest, Archer (one of the Valiant Universe’s long-running heavy hitters), dreads seeing her ex-boyfriend, obsesses over TV shows, and fantasizes about meeting celebrity crushes. Like many other Millennials, her job isn’t quite what she hoped for, and, even with super powers, she’s only recently left the comfortable nest her superteam/family represented and she’s finding out that large portions of her starter life aren’t working.

She’s #relatable.

Finally, setting this book apart from the superhero mainstream, Faith is a funny book. The humor is deadpan rather than wacky, and notably is never about Faith’s weight or appearance. But its satirical bent is unmistakable. Most superhero satires are focused on the superhero genre itself; Gwenpool, Ambush Bug, Howard the Duck; but pop culture is the target in Faith’s sights. Her superhuman ex, for example, is now a reality TV star; the alien cult The Hollywood Vine has a strong Scientology vibe; and Faith’s most embittered foe turns out to be a superhero actor who can’t get villainous roles because of his all-American good looks—he has a never-ending army of stunt doubles, it’s fun.

Faith even has an active fantasy life, where she imagines meeting the actors she loves on TV and the big screen, and imagines that they’re also her biggest fans. Not surprisingly, when those meetings do occur (*cough cough evil nemesis*) they turn out a lot different than Faith imagined or hoped.

Like many superhero series, Faith is handled by more than one artist and much of the artwork does little to distinguish itself from other comics in this genre. The most outstanding visual work is done in the series’ many fantasy sequences, largely penciled by Marguerite Sauvage and Colleen Doran. These sequences are done in a dreamy soft-focused style, usually with a doe-eyed and sultry Faith meeting her favorite TV stars. This feels appropriate for geeky, good-natured Faith, but the sudden shift in tone and style can be a little distracting.

Faith isn’t a perfect series. Its ideas are sometimes better than its execution. Jokes sometimes fall flat (or at least sideways). More problematic, even with its empowered, unconventionally attractive heroine it suffers from some of the ‘male gaze’ difficulties associated with superhero comics. Especially in early issues, there’s a discomfiting number of scenes where Faith is changing clothes, showering, or wrapped in a towel—all PG, but also gratuitous, and the objectification of different female body types is less progressive than it is progress adjacent. The characters are well realized, but the plots can feel rushed, like a TV series that’s not sure if it’s going to be canceled—which may be part of the problem, since after 12 issues the Faith ongoing series was canceled, with its story somewhat continued in the mini-series Faith and the Future Force. Whatever the source of the problems, this is a book I want to cheer for, but it doesn’t always live up to its potential. Still, as the series learns to land on its feet more often, it increases the chances of finding and reaching both its readership and its somewhat ambitious creative goals.

The Faith series is technically a 12-issue ongoing series sandwiched between two four-issue mini-series, but it has story and author continuity throughout, making it no more disjointed than most mainstream superhero books and a good fit for public and high school libraries. If you are collecting it, it’s worth collecting in toto. While her future is uncertain, with fun female superheroes like Squirrel Girl and Carol Danvers still in the spotlight, it’s likely the character will surface again soon.

Faith
by Jody Houser, Joshua Dysart
Art by Francis Portela, Pere Dysart, Joe Eisma
Faith, vol 1: Hollywood & Vine
ISBN: 9781682152010
Faith, vol 2: California Scheming
ISBN: 978-1682151631
Faith, vol 3: Superstar
ISBN: 978-1682151990
Faith, vol 4: The Faithless
ISBN: 978-1682152195
Faith and the Future Force
ISBN: 978-1682152331
Valiant Entertainment, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

  • Matt

    Past Reviewer

    Matthew Z. Wood has over a decade’s experience in public and academic libraries, and has worked everything from IT to Reference Desks, from the Reserve Room to Acquisitions. He received his Master’s in Library Science from the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill in 2011. He has worked at the North Carolina State University’s D.H. Hill Library, and the Durham County Library in Durham, NC and is currently a Writing Trainer for Comic Book Resources and Valnet. Working with his partners, David Milloway and Stephanie Freese, Mr. Wood co-created the webcomics “The Dada Detective” and “Chocolypse Now!” Their collection “The Dada Alphabet” was shortlisted for the Lulu Blooker Prize; the team received a Nerdlinger Award in 2008. Though a child of the Carolinas, Mister Wood resides in Spokane, Washington with his wife and daughter; they have dinner with his in-laws every Sunday. A church-goer but not an evangelist, a practicing martial artist for more than 30 years (Southern Chinese kung fu and T'ai Chi Chuan) but not a fighter, he has loved comics his entire life. Most recently, he has contributed articles to Dr. Sheena Howard’s Encyclopedia of Black Comics and in August of 2018 his first book-- Comic Book Collections and Programming, A Practical Guide for Librarians-- was published by Rowman and Littlefield. He writes under the name The Stupid Philosopher at Medium.com.

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