Well, hello Noel, says Tony Fyler.
Let’s get the inevitable out of the way for this readership. Noel Clark is much, much more than Mickey Smith. He’s a highly skilled, intelligent writer and director, so immediately put out of your mind the ‘novelty value’ of a comic-book written by Mickey.
Good – now let’s get down to cases.
The set-up of The Troop is both familiar and grittily new. In some respects, it’s your standard X-Men, Heroes, Death Sentence set-up: people with powers, hunted by weird guys for reasons of their own.
But on the evidence of issue #1, The Troop has at least the potential to be something pretty special in its own right. Because while, say, the X-Men are targeted simply because they’re different and different people make boring people crazy (speaking to tensions which perhaps saw their greatest uprising in previous decades), and in Death Sentence, there’s a line of morality judgment on G+ people because the disease which gives people their special skills is sexually transmitted, provoking a backlash of ‘decent’ people, The Troop comes right out and says it – those who are hunting the empowered in this comic-book universe are motivated by religious ideology, thinking of them as actually ‘demons’ and appearing, from the evidence here, to want to destroy them as an act of religious fervour. As storylines go, it could hardly be more apposite than in a world where those who (while in no sense representing the majority of believers in a particular faith) find themselves at least partly religiously motivated to slaughter Parisian civilians, and where loners addled by scripture walk into a Planned Parenthood clinic and start shooting. The message would seem to be clear – stupid people of any kind are dangerous. Stupid people with a dogmatic belief-system can be lethal.
On that basis, The Troop pulls no punches right from the beginning, with a black ops-style operation to target a young Australian woman being executed with extreme violence – if you’re squeamish, you may want to look away from Josh Cassara’s artwork in that scene, as grandparents are shot in the face. It’s a tone that’s carried throughout the first issue – this is aiming to be a very real, grown-up world, unflinching in its depiction of sex and violence as elements of the everyday world in which we live. But ultimately what we have in this issue are three super-origin stories. The Australian girl is known as Terrain for her unnerving ability to turn to moving stone, like a kickass Weeping Angel, at a moment’s notice. She’s rescued from the black ops mission by our first narrator, who never gives us his name, meaning of course we’re keen to learn his story – though he’s keen to keep his secrets. We do know he’s aware of a prophecy, that he saves her in part to prevent that prophecy coming true. What the prophecy is, we don’t yet know, but that’s part of the curiosity-hook of The Troop. We’ll find out, of that we’re confident, but in delivering its origin stories, it feeds us enough to make us want to read the next issue, and the issue after that; it’s not about to tell us everything in one rush.
Our nameless hero though, saves Terrain and she grows up to love him for it, meaning they’re actually a couple by the time we reach the here and now, and the other two origin-stories we get – one of a young girl with an abusive father who belongs to a religious ‘order of balance,’ which sounds significant. There’s another underscoring of the theme here, in that Daddy’s deeply religious, but that doesn’t stop him taking his belt to Mummy – or to the girl herself. She discovers a deeply disconcerting gift – she can think you ill on contact. She thinks Daddy Dearest very ill. Very ill with extreme, puss-exploding prejudice, only to see her mother shot dead by her equally psychotic and equally religious uncle. Running off into the night, with only Mr Fitzsimmons (her cuddly rabbit) for company. She’s saved from danger one night by a teenage guy who could be one of the Fantastic Four, having the gift of spontaneous fire-creation. (If you’re looking for the tonal difference between this comic-book and the more family-friendly film-floppers from Marvel, our human fireball here uses his hot hands as a sexual stimulant for women. You’ll never quite look at the Human Torch in the same light again after reading this, I promise you). Our four ‘demons’ end up together, living as a kind of family – Terrain and her rescuer as Mom and Dad, Hotshot and Disease-Girl as the younger generation, and by the end of this issue, we’ve had three convincing, layered origin stories, and a deeply involving central premise delivered to us by Clark’s writing, Cassara’s artwork and oh yes, did we mention? - colourwork by Luis Guerrero. If nothing else makes you try out The Troop, Guerrero’s name on the project should be enough to convince you to give it a go – his gift with light and darkness materially enhances any artwork he touches, and he delivers here for Cassara, giving extra dimensions of reality to the world of The Troop.
Is The Troop, issue #1 perfect? Nnnnot quite – some of the Australian dialogue in the opening scene seems to be trying too hard to be “100 per cent pure Aussie, mate, fair dinkum and Waltzing Matilda, cobber,” which slightly detracts from the naturalism of the scene disturbed by the arrival of the black ops dudes. But beyond that, it hits most of the points it aims at, delivering interesting characters with startling, if not entirely new abilities, framing the battle in which they find themselves in overtly religious language and showing them for the most part entirely innocent of any demonic intent. Like witches of old, like healthcare professionals, and like European music fans, for the most part, the ‘mutants’ here are innocents caught in the cross-hairs of someone else’s potentially insane beliefs.
The Troop, issue #1 is a great beginning. Read the first issue and you’ll read the second, and the third – the characters feel real, the world feels not a million light years away from our own, and the issues it raises are both fantastic comic-book material, and very possibly a lesson for our own times.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk