Tony Troops the colourist.
When choosing the name for his comic-book, Noel Clarke called it The Troop. Possibly because The Junior Fucked-Up Realistic X-Men was a bit of a mouthful. Either way, The Troop might be its name, but what it actually delivers is closer to the mouthful. At the end of issue #3, there were big decisions to be made, as the Troop failed to save one mutant from a kickass attacker, but did inherit his two sisters, whose powers kicked in almost immediately. Even more traumatic, the Troop’s magic mutant-finding computer turned out to be the ghastly living remains of one of their predecessors, plugged into the mains and allowed to do his thing. That’s going to put you off your dinner and bonding. It’s also going to make you think twice about the man who plugged them in, and who also ‘rescued’ you.
Tensions were high, some Troopers wanted to leave, Edwards, the billionaire Professor X who got them all together was in what a PG version of this review would call ‘deep trouble’ and it looked as though the Troop might be doomed before it even really got off the ground.
We join them in issue #4, four months on in their timeline, and we get a handy, if conventional, way into the story, with Janette, the young girl who has the power to give people any disease she can think of simply by touching them (and, equally importantly, to cure them again), giving us a literal ‘Dear Diary’ voiceover, bringing us up to speed on what happened next. As it turns out, the Troop has stayed together, mostly because its members have nowhere else to go. Edwards and Steph, the first of his Troopers and ‘Mom’ to the newbies, have had a huge fight, and their relationship is now in trouble. After the remains of the ex-mutant were buried, they took a vote on the idea of continuing the program, helping to find others like themselves. But in striving for authenticity, Clarke has them turn the idea down, not keen to jump into Lycra bodysuits and embrace the whole ‘with great power come great Scooby Snacks’ deal. One rule though, they have no option but to abide by. If they’re not going to ‘use their powers for good,’ they’re not going to use them at all.
Issue #4 takes its time with this backstory, allowing each of what is a growing, complex cast of characters their moment to breathe and be. In a single sequence though, we learn of some loose groupings that have formed while we’ve been away between issues – the twin sisters and Torrent (the living-water girl who entered the story so memorably, being pissed out of her rapist’s father’s body), Ray (AKA Wish, the ‘wizard’ who can create or manipulate any kind of matter just by naming it) and Hotshot (the Human Torch in all but name), Dash, the extreme sport boy and Janette of the diseasey touch, who go to school together. As Janette records in her diary, they’ve become a kind of loose family. But that doesn’t stop some of them feeling like they have nothing especially good in their world – Janette herself self-harms, and Dash needs drugs to ‘feel anything,’ an interesting choice of words for him, as his power appears to be physical invulnerability. This issue has an engineered feel to it that’s hard to ignore, as each of the Troop goes through something that makes them stand up to idiots, bullies or associated evil dipsticks – Ray confronts a crooked, racist boxing manager in his fighting career, and he and Hotshot do…erm…damage. Torrent and the twins encounter the rapist and murderer who ruined Torrent’s life, and decide to Do The Right Thing, turning him over to the police. Dash faces off against the bullies who call Janette names, standing up for his new ‘sister,’ and the two of them make a slightly sickly-sweet pact: if she tries to stop cutting, he’ll try to stop using drugs. It’s all highly engineered towards an ending which sees the Troop find a new sense of togetherness and focus and carry on as they were doing before Edwards’ secrecy divided them.
Here's the thing. While the storytelling that gets them to that point is a little heavy-handed in its engineering and the kumbayah factor of the ‘We’re better if we work together and look out for one another’ ending, the actual vignettes of personal storyline are believable and fairly rich in characterisation and plot-advancement, so the whole thing only gains that engineered feeling with the happyish ending.
Josh Cassara, on artwork duties throughout the current run of The Troop, continues to evoke moods and nostalgia exceptionally well in this issue. Much of his character work and his environments look hand-rendered in ways that will remind readers of comic-books of previous generations – shading and hatching are used to great effect to show where and how shadows fall, for instance, and down-perspective shots of a giant library staircase, while having a level of precision that convince, still have a rustic feel that actually works to impart the mood of libraries to the image – quietly breathing with dust and potential. The same is true throughout this issue, the artist’s instincts breathing life into the pages beyond what exists in the mind of the writer. What’s more, if you simply read the issue, you appreciate the staggeringly effective use it makes of colour – blues for early morning narration to Janette’s diary, yellow-orange, like a living sepia, for events in the past, purple tinges for moments of extreme stress and so on. Then you realise that Luis Guerrero is on colourwork duty for The Troop, and everything makes perfect sense. Guerrero is now famous among Titan fans for being able to add substantively, creatively and emotionally to the quality of any project to which he’s attached, and The Troop is no different. If Cassara’s world has that visceral raggedness that reminds us of great comics like 2000AD, Guerrero anchors that world and makes it our own by the intelligent application of a lexicon of colour and light that unlocks moods in the reader, and helps The Troop gain a heartbeat beyond that with which it’s already written and rendered.
All in all, you’ll either ‘get’ The Troop or you won’t. Clarke aims to take a concept as old as comic-books itself – a collective of superhumans – and ground it in a new and very modern reality. In that he’s succeeding, with a good deal of help from the likes of Cassara and Guerrero. There are significant plot developments in this issue which I’m refusing to spoil for Troop-fans, but they deepen and expand the mysteries around Edwards and the forces ranged against the Troop. It would be inaccurate to describe this issue as easy reading – you’ll run into shocking racism, sexual predation, social exclusion and bullying and vivid self-harm, as well as the impacts of grief on young people. But despite the engineered ending that brings its own fanfare, issue #4 is definitely worth investing in, because if nothing else, the ending does draw a line under Phase 1 of the Troop’s evolution, and readies them for whatever is coming to meet them next. It’s a right-of-passage issue, and Clarke, Cassara and Guerrero all play their parts in making it one to remember.
Get issue #4 today, and see how the Troop gets the hell over itself and focuses on the future.
If you need to catch up, check out Issue #1, Issue #2 and Issue #3.
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