Sunday, 5 September 2010

A to Z: N is for Nomad: Girl Without A World

Everyone has characters that immediately click with them that, no matter the stories they've been in, just fit so firmly within their hearts that they'll never budge. They're YOUR characters, that you're so invested in that you'll follow them anywhere. They're, frankly, your favourite comic book characters.

Mine are pretty clearly known to anyone fool enough to read this blog for a significant amount of time; Jubilee, Chamber, Connor Hawke (okay NONE of you know that one), Moon Knight and most importantly, Rikki Barnes. Rikki Barnes, former Heroes Reborn Bucky and current Nomad, who currently has the good graces to star in one of the best team books coming out from Marvel as well as the rare pleasure of sharing a book with Captain America.

She's. Just. That. Cool.

Her origin lies in Jeph Loeb and Rob Liefeld's alternate universe relaunch of Captain America, where through a very slow burn she got wrapped up in a crazy skinhead plot (in an attempt to dissuade her brother from being in said skinhead group), strapped to a missile (as you do) and rescued by the formerly amnesiac Steve Rogers. From there she got about one issue's worth of decent use before Heroes Reborn went kinda tits up and it all ended in a clumsy, painful way.

Now, I'm not exactly a hater of Rob Liefeld (at least not anymore). I mean I LOVE Youngblood and his New Mutants/X-Force stuff is the tits. But Captain America easily had his worst art, and nothing from it should really be seen by anyone. But within that mess was Rikki, a shining element of a young girl trying to be worthy of her rescuer, the gargantuan figure of good that is Captain America. It was a spark too good to be left alone and years and years later, it came back with a vengeance.

See, Loeb & Liefeld hadn't really gotten to finish their story, due to the abrupt end of their run on Captain America, and the havoc that followed for the rest of the title's existence. So ten years after the fact both creators got one more chance to finish the story with Onslaught Reborn, a 5-issue miniseries. The time had been good to both creators, outside of the funk of mainstream 90s comics and having had time to refine their skills. Well, for Liefeld to refine his skills. The art had taken a massive step up, becoming something worthy of the content and proving that Rob wasn't the hack everyone claims him to be to this day (which is basically just a popular internet opinion as a sort of rite of passage dealio, if we're all being honest). Not just that, but the time away seemed to have clicked in the creator's minds. They knew what to do with their story, and who to have as the core character of the miniseries. That's right, Rikki Barnes.

[I know, I know, this is getting VERY long for an introduction to the article, but just bear with me, I'm getting to the actual article. I just wanna boot lick for a minute. If you're tired already just scroll down to that part where I say the title of the comic just above a picture of the comic's cover.]

Rikki led us through a quick journey into the Heroes Reborn universe (restored to existence by Franklin Richards temporarily) and we got to see through her eyes the final conflict of that little-remembered alternate universe, with all the heroes of that land joining together for the final time to protect Franklin Richards (inside his own univerAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH MY BRAIN) from a revived Onslaught, potentially the ultimate enemy the Marvel Multiverse has ever faced. Suffice to say they won, but at a cost. The Heroes Reborn universe was once again gone, taking everyone with it, save our brilliant narrator, Rikki. The reasoning about it was something along the lines of her not existing in the 616, but I'll get to that in the actual review.

Anyway, Rikki survived the event, at just the right time to see that Captain America had been assassinated in the wake of the superhero civil war.

Which is where... THIS all begins. And where I encountered the character for the second time (the first is another tale I'll get to in a future A to Z, but rest assured that it's Thunderbolts). Rikki Barnes got a short story in Captain America 600, in which she interacted briefly with Patriot of the Young Avengers. It wasn't a massive story, but it got me into the character sharpish, by no small means due to the teaser image for her story in the issue, drawn so beautifully by Rafael Albuquerque that I freaked out about it on this very blog. A teaser that got redrawn for the debut issue of Rikki's very own miniseries by Sean Mckeever and David Baldeon. A miniseries that was easily the best thing to come out of 2009 for me.

A miniseries called Nomad: Girl Without A World.
Wait, this image looks remarkably familiar... Wonder where we'd have seen an image almost IDENTICAL to it?

See? Told you I'd do that! Anyway, the plot. It's fairly simple, but be warned, there are spoilers (or at least painfully obvious hints towards spoilerific moments), so... I don't know, look the other way and scroll down for... A while...

So Nomad: GWAW picks up with Rikki a fair bit of time into her new 616 existence, with her having a job, a place to live AND beginning to get an active role going as a superheroine again. Her school life is pretty okay, as she's been clever enough to pick the same school that the 616 version of her brother learns at, allowing her to get some bonding in with a much less insane person than the brother from her world (more on this later). In fact her main task that she's failing to accomplish is managing to meet the new Captain America, James Buchanan Barnes, just so he can know that she exists. She almost succeeds at the start of this story, if only it weren't for Black Widow shooing her away, knowing that the last thing BuckyCap (as he's so delightfully named) needs is to see another Bucky.

So dejected she returns to her school life, where some strange goings on are afoot with the school election. Strange going ons related to Mad Dog, the monstrous member of the secret empire! Needless to say Rikki ends up in an awkward position, getting torn the hell up by Mad Dog and having to make a hasty retreat back to her home. Where a strange gift has been left for her: The Nomad costume.
It's only a double page, but Mad Dog beating on Rikki is impacting. You can really feel that she's getting wrecked with every vicious blow. Not bad for a more traditionally comic art style. All that photo-realism can bugger off.
And that's the first issue. I won't recap any more of it in my usual manner, because it really deserves to be experienced first hand. But there ARE a few moments I wanna talk about. Or one in particular to be sure, and that's the nature of Rikki's 616 family, and the explanation as to why there isn't another Rikki Barnes staring her in the face. See, this world's Rikki died at birth, a tidy excuse if not incredibly depressing. Just through that simple move (And calling herself Rebecca Baines) any chance of her connection to her brother is kept secret. Which in no way completely backfires, drawing brother Barnes a dangerous step towards being just like the Heroes Reborn skinhead. It's actually a little chilling, and a relief in that he never becomes that horrific parallel.

But enough of that. Let's talk about the art a bit, yes? David Baldeon's art style is a healthy mesh of European sensibilities and classic comic book art. It's a refreshing change of pace from the hundreds of artists trying for the most realistic things possible, or the sketchier styles of people like Leinil Yu or Khoi Pham (not that they're bad, they're great). What's more Baldeon doesn't go for cheesecake. Which is a good thing when you think about how this is a mini about a teenager, but even when Black Widow pays her small appearance there's no sense that she's there to titillate some pathetic 45-year old comic reader. Which, when it comes down to it, is what we want ALL comic artists to be like.
This is a particular favourite moment of mine. Here's a healthy teenage girl doing exercises. No ridiculous back stretches, chest thrusts or the like. Just some sweat and effort. Which impresses the hell out of me.

Not just that but Rebecca's new costume is brilliantly designed. It's, dare I say it... SENSIBLE! It's covering, padded, bright yet not ostentatious and most importantly it's functional. The boots and gloves are large, protective items, and her two discs on her chest (easy, now) detach from her outfit to act as throwing weapons a la mini versions of Cap's shield. It's just perfect. Not to mention it's adorable! SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEE or something.

Finally I should give big ups to Sean McKeever. When it comes to writing teens he's the only one worth calling, and with good reason. Outside of a few poorly received DC storylines, McKeever has been consistently cracking out comics starring teen characters of a ridiculously high calibre for what surely has to be the most successful streak of comic books in recent history. He proves it more than ever here, having a grip on Rikki Barnes' voice from the offset, with nary a misstep on the way to the finish line. Sure she's not the most deep character ever, but this is defining stuff and he. has. DEFINED.

I can't recommend this story enough and wish I wasn't trying to keep to a schedule so I could make this a more coherent and loving piece about the work, with more in-depth looks at the minutiae and the flaws of the piece (occasional duck-mouth, awful t-shirt slogans/logos), but you don't need to know about all of that. All you need to know is that this is one of the best comics of 2009 and does great things without reaching for the stars. Both McKeever and Baldeon are great talents and with any luck will one day helm some sort of super-book that they can use to rocket their characters into the heights of all those long-running 60s characters. Or beyond, as the case SHOULD be.

You can get Nomad: GWAW in the snazzy TPB-GN format over at Amazon (UK) and I heartily encourage you to. Nomad is one of several characters that NEED the support of readers to not drift into obscurity, alongside other members of the new team comic Young Allies (by the same creative team, of course, so buy THAT too) like Arana or Gravity. You really can't go wrong with this mini unless you're a heartless monster.

And you're not. Are you?

And that's N. Next is O, obviously, and a return to manga to write about the slightly controversial matter of racial insensitivity inherent to Japan's isolated society. That and multiple personality disorder creates rock stars, don't you know.

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