Issue #1 of The Troop read like The X-Men meets Death Sentence – superheroes hunted by black-fatigued soldiers thinking of them as demons. It gave a small handful of origin stories in a busy but exceedingly well-balanced opening shot, established its gritty sex-and-gore realities, and made it perfectly clear (in a way few comics do) that the pursuers of our gifted troop are motivated by a form of religious fervour, rooting it in the harsh realities of our world.
Issue #2 delivers another two origin stories, while pushing forward the mystery about Edwards’ private room, which must be kept private at all costs. The tone in this issue, while still heavy with a thrum of threat and – in terms of its origin stories at least – soaked in blood and pain – feels a touch more relaxed, as though it needn’t fire so much at us so fast, and allows its stories to sink in, like water through the soil of our understanding. That’s a mark of how much thought has gone into the worldbuilding, by Noel Clarke and Josh Cassara. Two issues in, The Troop feels like it’s been part of our lives for a lot longer, and we’re in no hurry for it to go anywhere. This is one to luxuriate over.
Of the two origin stories in this issue, one’s given a lot more space than the other, but there’s a solid reason for that, inasmuch as one story’s more complicated in terms of getting us to the moment where all our players interact. We meet Torrence Jane-Willis, a nineteen year-old who enters our world in possibly the most eye-catching way in recent comic history, and with a line to match. Having already met Troop-member Hotshot, who equates to a fire elemental (or The Human Torch from the Fantastic Four), and Terrain, who could be seen as a rock elemental, getting all Thing-like and clobbery when the need arises, Torrence adds a significant missing element to the team, an Intangible Woman who actually comes to the rescue of our rescuers in this issue. Her story starts off as the oldest tale in the High School Yearbook, then gets nastier and nastier, building our empathy with her as a person wronged by mundane evil bastards.
Our second new Troop member has yet to tell us his name, because people often don’t when their lives suddenly turn to extra dimensions of crap. But in the five pages or so devoted to his origin story (roughly half the space given to Torrence’s story of how she comes to be here), we learn a lot about him – a black kid adopted by white parents in a white neighbourhood, he describes his life as a fight, to survive, for a sense of self and equality, for whatever, our new nameless Trooper had grown up handy. That’s of almost no use to him in the situation he finds himself in when the Troop-hunting goons arrive though, and just as Terrain’s origin story involved the murder of some of her relatives, so again we’re in the territory of ruthless killer bastards trying to round up the different for their own ends. Nameless-boy has possibly the coolest set of additional skills we’ve seen to date, being something of a word-wizard – handy if you find yourself facing a firing squad of people who take life seriously, and can wave a hand at them, say “glass” and turn all their silly little guns into little more than complicated pill-bottles, for instance. But the story advances when it turns out that the Serious People have a pet of their own, who’s pretty badass, and looks about to win the day when Torrence, The Human Sprinkler (no, of course not really) joins the Troop.
As we say, it’s hard to believe The Troop is only on its second issue, because already the richness of context, the vivid differences of personality (in particular Hotshot’s raw nerves at being kept in hiding) and the dark potential of the world in which it’s set are thickly interwoven – it’s one of those stories which could easily become too heavy, but doesn’t because of a combination of realism and humour from Clarke (again, one of Torrence’s first lines will stay with you in the form of a grin), and the occasional whimsical touch from Cassara (you can play a happy couple of games of ‘Spot The Tardis’ in this issue, for no very good reason at all, Torchwood fans might spot a thing they recognise, and take a look at the name of the news station which reports Edwards’ plans).
As in issue #1 with the slaughter of Terrain’s grandparents in a hail of gunfire, so here there are moments that make you squirm – the local superjock noticing Torrence’s body after she competes in a swim meet is drawn with such leering realism you get a shudder down the spine, and there are other moments in her story that come as a horrifying chock, but the fact that it makes you feel these things speaks to the dualistic nature of the comic-book – yes, it has its violent and sexual themes, but so does life, and it acts to make you react, rather than to desensitise the reader.
The visual world of The Troop is coming strongly into focus in this issue too – while there are vivid lines and colours where appropriate (that latter earning a by-now usual bow of praise for Luis Guerrero), much of its atmosphere comes from the grittiness, the imprecise impressionistic style and the use of shadow to show the insecure world in which we’re moving.
Certainly, after just two issues, The Troop is going on our must-read list. Stick it on yours too, because The Troop is going places. Get on board and love the ride.
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