Writer: Stonie Williams
Artist: Jef Sadzinski
Publisher: Mad Cave Studios
WHAT IS IT?
A superhero comic that simultaneously revels in the shameless cool aesthetic of the genre and offers a stern criticism of a system that operates in rigid binaries.
Think The Boys meets The Incredibles 2 with the sort of elevated sensibilities of Scott Pilgrim.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Matilda "Rep-Tilly" Anderson finally gets to meet her heroes after enrolling in the Coalition's sidekick program. Better yet, she's been recognized for her potential and is being mentored by Showdown, one of the faces of the Coalition of Heroes! Sure, his "training regimen" seems more like a list of personal chores and that comment about being a "freak" was...off-color, but this is Rep-Tilly's dream. She's worked so hard to get here and the work they're doing is all in the name of good, right?
Rep-Tilly's excitement becomes hard to justify when she overhears Showdown bragging about his newest assignment: assassinating a high ranking British ambassador. Panicked and in disbelief, she decides to take what she's heard to the leader of the Coalition, Pillar. But how much does Pillar know already, and what consequences might Rep-Tilly face for turning on her mentor?
Williams sets up an enthralling world in an organic way. What pages are dedicated strictly to exposition also serve an internal function: we learn about the hierarchy of the Coalition through a training video, just like our protagonist.
Sadzinski's art is expressive and alive. There's tons of energy and personality in every face, movement, and pose; likewise, the backgrounds are detailed and rich. It's a feast for the eyes.
Joana Lafuente's wonderful pastel colors in the environments and protagonist are gorgeous in their own right, but also function as a contrast to the bright, primary colors of the "heroes" in the story (and the traditional color schemes used in superhero comics).
Justin Birch's lettering flows with the story and introduces subtle touches in the balloons and captions that ensure the reader is never at a loss for tone.
There's some real intentionality behind the panel structure that veteran comic readers will appreciate. The panels start off basic and grid-like, but get more chaotic in their placement and size as the story increases in scope and complexity.
Villainous clearly has a lot to say about tokenism, casual racism, and the power structures/dynamics of large corporations. The sidekick program is set up like a typical internship and the comic doesn't pull any punches when showing what that entails.
The design of the world is distinct and unique from typical Marvel or DC lineups while still feeling at home in the genre; it would be all too easy for the heroes to look and play out like bad fan-fiction versions of "real" heroes, but it's clear a lot of work and dedication went into giving this world its own identity.
Mad Cave prides itself on fast-moving, action-heavy titles and in that regard, Villainous succeeds; it is a high tempo, kinetic read that goes down smoothly and, regardless of any problems, makes me excited to see more.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
There's far too little focus on making us care about the characters, particularly the protagonist, Rep-Tilly. The art does the heavy lifting to make her relatable and communicate her character, so it's not a deal-breaker; however, the dialogue is overly functional and unrevealing.
The themes that this comic is ambitious enough to tackle require a certain layer of subtlety and nuance. This first issue doesn't demonstrate that level of nuance. Hopefully, future issues will tone down how blatantly these power structures are portrayed; as of right now, there's a lack of subtext that makes the themes difficult to swallow.
The plot needs to breathe. While the high octane action is fun, it winds up hurting the story by moving it along too quickly. This could be charitable, but I suspect the pressure to make the story feel high tempo is partially to blame for the lack of nuance.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
From a pure enjoyment perspective, this comic is excellent popcorn fun and it should be praised for achieving that in and of itself. The art is vibrant, the world-building is engrossing, and the characters are fun and relatable. As a more serious, thought-provoking series with rich themes and a unique perspective on the superhero genre, it has a lot of potential.
It's not perfect in its current form, but it's definitely worth your time. If you're a fan of the superhero genre, love highly animated and energetic art styles, or want to see more fiction about lizard people, I can definitely recommend Villainous for some light quarantine reading.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Battlecats: Tales of Valderia by Mark London & Rob Stoltz
The Boys by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson
World's Strongest by Juan Ponce & Matthew Gallman
If you like the art:
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Stonie Williams - Writer
New Face: Stonie grew up in a comic shop and has been reading all his life, but Villainous is his first outing as a comic creator.
Multitalented: Taking his newfound career in stride, Williams is already breaking into coloring with the short "The Watch" which will debut in Mad Cave's The Cthulhu Invades Oz anthology. He also homeschools his five kids, which takes more talent than anything having to do with comics.
Stonie left a career in occupational medicine to pursue writing full time. He didn't go to school for it, instead relying on his upbringing around comics and his storytelling heroes like Gail Simone, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Vance.
Jef Sadzinski – Artist
New Face: Jef has one other credit with Mad Cave on Show's End, but is still a relatively new presence in comics.
Outlander: Sadzinski hails from Curitiba, Brazil.
Joana Lafuente – Colorist
Award Winner: Joana received several best colorist awards between 2015 and 2017 from Transmissions Survey and ComiXology.
Name Recognition: Over her twelve-year career, Lafuente has worked on several pop cultural hits including Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Magic the Gathering.
Justin Birch – Letterer
Prolific: After only five years of lettering comics, Justin has worked with nine major indie publishers and countless smaller ones.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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