Werewolves appear to be having a moment in comics. The past couple years have seen that most primal of monster resurrected as everything from a supernatural detective in Ales Kot and Matt Taylor’s Wolf to a riff on the skinwalker myth in Cullen Bunn and Jeremy Haun’s Wolf Moon. Rich Tommaso’s new Image series She Wolf also aims for reinvention, something closer to Ginger Snaps’ feminist twist on lycanthropy with a heavy dose of Fright Night’s New Wave aesthetic. Both of those are works I can appreciate getting revisited, but in its first issue, She Wolf is clumsy and awkward, lacking the ambitious confidence of Kot’s LA Noir scripting in Wolf and the cheeky self-awareness of Ginger Snaps, coming across as a torrent of ideas that are occasionally intriguing but never explored in enough depth to feel viable.
She Wolf begins with a flashback, detailing the aftereffects of the spell protagonist Gabby cast that turned her boyfriend Brian into a werewolf, leading into her awakening in a pool of moonlight, noticing that Brian is on the loose outside her window. Other than Gabby’s Madonna-gone-witchy attire, nothing about the start of She Wolf is novel, but that’s not necessarily a drawback. Tommaso’s minimalist aesthetic functions best when he can hone in on icons and symbolic colors, and the intro is as much about setting the aesthetic scene as the narrative one. She Wolf’s palette alternates mostly between deep reds and black and muted blues and yellows, which the intro immediately juxtaposes.
When the intro concludes and we’re brought into the present, the colors have merged and opened up, shifting from monochromatic iconography to lusher spring colors that are allowed to bleed out from the lines, yet Gabby always stands out as starker and bolder than the other characters and scenery around her. Tommaso effortlessly communicates Gabby’s otherness through this technique, connecting us to her alienation from her peers and the distancing that comes from her guilt over what happened with Brian. Ginger Snaps pulled off a similar trick through its dual protagonist’s goth styles and surly demeanors, though that work offered up far fuller characters, with more interesting motives and personalities.
By contrast, Gabby is a visually interesting protagonist who has all the personality of the flat backgrounds she stands in front of. Gabby’s motives and history aren’t clear, Tommaso only appears to care about projecting her otherness and making a number of visual riffs on everything from Red Riding Hood to Madonna. The result is an uninspiring character and a sloppy narrative, poorly constructed and seemingly only designed as an excuse for Tommaso to showcase striking symbols and visual juxtapositions. The aforementioned Red Riding Hood sequence is especially notable for its muddiness, blurring the line between reality and dream and establishing a psychosexual element that never comes back into play in the first issue.
Even the striking style Tommaso operates in wears thin quickly, as the artist never reaches beyond shallow, expected iconography. Where Wolf had an instantly iconic opening sequence featuring its protagonist walking through LA bathed in flame, Gabby is decked out in a lot of obvious folk symbolism, from a Red Riding Hood to paradoxical displays of crosses and pentagrams, her defining characteristic a scratch across her eye marking her as victim and danger. And even that visual identifier appears to come and go at random, disappearing for a scene where Gabby scares off a dog on the beach and then reappearing immediately after.
She Wolf obviously aims to be dreamy and murky in its first issue, as Gabby is trying to come to grips with her lycanthropic state and her guilt over how she got that way. But there is nothing to indicate that Tommaso has anything interesting to communicate once the narrative fog clears. Considering how worn down and flat She Wolf feels by the time it wraps up its first issue, what reason is there to continue? In Tommaso’s previous Image series Dark Corridor, the flatness of the writing at least matched the pulp aesthetic, where repetition and minimalism are expected and poetic in their rhythms. She Wolf is a hollow work, shallow and ultimately lifeless in its visuals, with nothing new to say about an ancient folklore that is being explored far better in an increasing number of places.
She Wolf #1 comes out this Wednesday, June 22nd through Image Comics.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover