Covers have always been an instrumental part of comics yet I can’t think of the last time industry conversation has been so focused on the subject. Before you get to your eye rolling and ask yourself if this is going to be yet another diatribe about that piece of art involving the Joker pointing a phallic symbol below the waist of a feminist comic icon, humor me. That variant debacle that opened the already bent comics gate to hordes of GamerGate Huns is commanding the spotlight right now but before we even reached “let’s summon the ghost of Frederic Wertham” levels of discourse, Zainab Akhtar was drowning in a sea of canon defenders frothing at the mouth over her dismissal of a (frankly unremarkable) Scott McCloud work because of its (utterly stupid) cover. So in five years when you ask me what the fuck I remember about comics in the second decade of the 21st century, I’m probably going to say “everything was actually pretty awesome except people were super fucking worked up about covers for some reason.”
Unfortunately I am now going to add to the furor, my only promise being that what follows shouldn’t inspire any angry mobs or pitchfork wielders or anything other than a healthy discussion about the power of striking covers and the inevitable letdown they bring. This is because in my digital hands I am holding We Can Never Go Home, a just released Black Mask Studios title gifted with a Michael Walsh cover that I can’t take my eyes off of. As yellow as Never Mind the Bollocks, only punctuated with splatters of red instead of pink– red that traces back to two white Xeroxed figures linked with red hands and murderous intentions—Walsh’s cover is like a perfect punk poster, aggressively simple and eye-catching and bold. And nothing inside even comes close to matching its intensity or style.
It’s not Walsh’s fault. We Can Never Go Home has a killer title that hints at all kinds of sorrow and menace but it has some big flaws working against it. The first is Matthew Rosenberg’s script, laying out an angsty adolescent ode to revenge and otherness. A hooded kid named Duncan is shooting bottles and cans and just clap your hands until high school VIP Madison and a brute tailback named Ben show up to make good on the Makeout Point name of their current location. Duncan is a moron and Madison notices him suddenly doing a voyeur thing and that alerts Ben. Cue some teen boy mating and dominance rituals and the expectedly unexpected intrusion of Madison, who ends any hope of a fight by lighting up and hulking out, hurtling Ben through his own truck, causing him to run away, metaphorical tail between the legs.
Yes, this is a powers story. No, the powers angle doesn’t do much other than add “flavor” at this point. There’s some Heathers subtext to dig into here, like the way Duncan seems meek but also off, a little too eager to encourage Madison’s violent tendencies, a little creepy in his instant insistence that she adopt the nickname “Maddie.” But the appearance of a Chekhovian mixtape makes me doubt any prediction that this will reveal itself to be anything other than a willingly romantic kill yr idols fantasy, as impatient to reach its end game as a couple of horny teens in an empty house.
That wouldn’t matter much if it wasn’t for the other, more critical flaw: Josh Hood’s art. Hood’s style reeks of a low rent tv interpretation of comic art, realistic in the sense that backgrounds and vehicles look traced, flat in character and dimension. There are a number of perspective issues, too; one scene has Duncan stalking around Ben’s truck in a manner that makes him seem like a child with a growth disorder while another has whatever the fuck is happening to Ben’s face here:
Hood is a bit better with expressions, he gives the characters readable emotions that elevate the overly wordy scenes, turning a lot of the soap opera-esque sequences into properly acted moments. That is hampered by his struggles with consistency, especially as far as Duncan is concerned. I swear in this first issue Duncan shifts ages from panel to panel, sometimes looking like a pre-teen, other times looking like a grown ass man. He’s also maybe the most ripped nerd I’ve seen this side of Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker.
I’m also baffled by the fashions in this comic. Normally I wouldn’t think much of it, but since it’s set up as a punk, powered CW drama in comic form, the horribly out of touch take on teen fashions verges on campy. Everyone has letterman jackets and Madison’s friends have what I can only describe as Grease cosplay haircuts:
On the fashion note, We Can Never Go Home violates one of the top rules of being cool: it tries way too fucking hard. Rosenberg crams in a 25 panel page at one point, for fuck’s sake, and not a moment of it is truly necessary. There are some smart comics making tiny panel pages cool—Pop immediately comes to mind—and are also confronting clichés head on, but We Can Never Go Home perpetrates a greater sin by never being any fun. The most excitement it drew out of me once I got past the cover was a close up of the tracklist of the punk mixtape Duncan made for Madison. The rest of the debut is a lot of shit you’ve seen before, executed not as well, hurtling towards a finish that I’m thinking won’t be much of a surprise.
Let me make it clear that I want to love this comic. I see that Michael Walsh cover and I think “this comic is made for me.” I look at Dylan Todd’s characteristically hip design and Amanda Scurti’s true punk coloring and Jim Campbell’s sharp lettering and all I see are elements that should push this comic further into the love category. But I read it again and again and it does nothing for me, other than make me angry at Michael Walsh’s cover for totally different reasons than I am angered by the Batgirl variant.
This cover, too, is emotional art, it packs a punch and forces me to think back on punk zines and seven inches that illicit far nicer memories than the first time I read The Killing Joke. Yet maybe it is also wrong in its context, too bold and original for the drab work it decorates, too striking to properly prepare you for the shallow story wrapped within it, as ill fitting as a perfectly aged black leather jacket on a mophaired, gawky teen.
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