Not since Charles Barkley’s legendary face-off against Godzilla has a sports-based story so rocked the comic book world, with the one possible exception being Marvel’s amazingly ill-conceived mid-90s NFL vehicle, Superpro, which has since been clinically proven to cause cancer in young adults.
If you haven’t been keeping up with Mara, I kinda don’t blame you. Penned by Brian Wood with art from Ming Doyle, it is the story of a young woman (Mara Prince) who inspires the not-too distant future, not through scientific discovery, diplomacy or acts of valor, like you might expect, but instead by playing ... volleyball. That’s right, our future peace hinges on a game largely reserved for, (a.) hot chicks in bikinis, and (b.) kids who suck at everything else in P.E. If that doesn’t inspire hope in the next generation, I don’t know what does!
Of course, Mara is generally a pretty exceptional young woman, having achieved perfection in both her chosen field of volleyball, and the larger human condition as a whole, by the age of ten. “She was interested in martial arts,” we are told in the first issue, “but she tested through the roof in volleyball.” Story of my life, man.
However, as the star player for “The Home Country,” her main role is to compete against the best-of-the-best from other nations in a bid to win hearts and minds all over the planet, and distract the mewling rabble from complaining too much about the wars that mar its socioeconomic landscape. At the end of the first issue, however, we discover that this ball-spiking spintstress has apparently been cheating by using an ability (innate or tech-based, we’re still not sure) to slow down time, thus giving her a leg up in competitions. I personally think mastery of the space-time continuum would, like performance-enhancing drugs to bicycling, add a bit of spice to an otherwise mind-numbingly mundane sport, but apparently her billions of fans disagree, and are left aghast by its discovery.
In issue two, we begin to see fallout. Just like in real life, public image and corporate sponsorship dominate the athletic scene of Mara’s world, and as her credibility is drawn deeper into question, we see the ripples begin to affect both those who would call her hero, as well as those, like her soldier twin brother, who look to her as a national symbol of strength and perseverance. As Mara honors her now-awkward commitments as the tarnished yet still-beloved public face of volleyball, we begin to see her crack beneath the pressure ... a stress point that manifests itself in an explosive and surprising new ability at the end of the issue, thus changing everything.
Okay, maybe I’m just underestimating the intrinsic draw of volleyball to the comic book community ... but then again, no, I’m not. That necessarily begs the question why Brian Wood wouldn’t just Quidditch or Blitzball-up a new sport. I mean, volleyball hasn’t been cool since that Kenny Loggins-fueled homoerotic scene from Top Gun, so why choose it to be the fulcrum upon which your story swings? It’s so random and ... bad.
Even ignoring that aspect of this story for a moment, you can tell Wood is just phoning this one in, with really wooden writing and a generally uninteresting cadence. It’s like I’m not expected, or even invited to care about the underpinnings of this world or its problems, let alone the people that populate it, just that volleyball can save them all.
With semi-decent artwork that sort of reminds me of a much lazier version of Mike Allred’s stuff, this whole thing honestly reads like one of the titles I jokingly referenced earlier, or one of those free comic books you used to get from Pizza Hut that ironically encouraged you to “Join the fight against obesity!” by being “super” at badminton or whatever. I appreciate the fact that he throws in a new and slightly interesting element with Mara’s new power at the very end of this issue to shake things up, but it comes off as way too little, way too late to a story far too set upon by its own weak premise.
I guess I could see this book being great for a young girl who is interested in pursuing volleyball as a means of changing the world, but otherwise, this one is off the mark and way too out of bounds for me.
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Ming Doyle
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: 1/30/13