Tony’s looking for a mid-section.
The Troop, written by multi-media wunderkind Noel Clarke, and drawn by Josh Cassara, has shown some real promise in its first four issues, delivering a gritty modern take on the likes of the X-Men, with realistic (if just occasionally in issue #4, slightly convenient) characterisations, arguments, and problems to overcome.
Which makes it rather sad that issue #5 is all about rushing to a finishing-point, not of the story as a whole, but of this initial arc. What’s particularly sad about it is that it’s about two issues too short. The first four issues of this five-issue comic-book run were taken up dealing with a whole bunch of origin stories and establishing the idea of a couple of potential enemies for our ‘troop’ of mutants, some rational, some apparently consumed with overtly religious zeal and feeling like the mutants were in fact ‘demons’ who needed to be destroyed for the sake of some notional deity’s pleasure.
All of that is good and deep and believable – Clarke is to be congratulated on delivering that most tricky of things: an interesting enemy.
But apart from skirmishes for the most part while collecting new troopmembers, the troop hasn’t gone especially into battle with either of these enemies before – most of the origin stories and character development have taken place in relative isolation, with arguments between troopmembers themselves. That means to take us from the end of issue #4, at which point the troop finally agrees to work together, to help others like themselves, straight to the start of issue #5, where they’ve all found and amended their own superhero costumes and are en route to do battle with one of the Big Bads feels like a massive jump, and from that point on, it’s pretty much a screaming swan-dive to the finale, a big battle, a big betrayal, a degree of success and an escape. In essence, The Troop, story #1, is missing a midriff, a mid-section where the troop, now fully formed and in agreement, learns more about their enemies and perhaps encounters them a few times before deciding to take the fight to them. There’s no second act, and that means this third act feels rushed and disjointed to everything that’s come before it.
So it’s bad, then?
No, not really – what’s actually on the page in issue #5 is great stuff. There’s the deepening of the mystery of Edwards the mutant-finder, and the development of his opposite number. Clearly they go back far further than anyone else is yet aware of, and there’s an effective mutant-battle, although that’s slightly lessened in impact by not knowing who the hell half of them are. It’s as if, say, Captain America: Civil War had run its course without anyone having ever heard of Iron Man, Spiderman, Black Widow and the like. Not knowing who your opponents are immediately halves the impact of your battle, especially when you’ve taken four issues to root us in the lives and backstories of half of those fighting.
The in-troop betrayal sub-plot is effective too, but again, it loses several effectiveness points by coming entirely out of the blue to us as readers, just as it does to some of the troop themselves. Almost the point of a betrayal storyline is to see it coming and understand it will explode like a grenade at just the right moment, but here, we know nothing about it until it goes bang, and if we’re absolutely honest, it’s placed right at the point where no-one has the scope to deal with it in any way rationally, as we’re descending into pitched battle, so it becomes something of an ‘Oh, and this happened too!’ moment.
If anything, issue #5 of The Troop feels like the result of a newbie comic-book writer misjudging how long it would take to tell a measured story, leading to that feeling of acts one and three, with an act two missing in the void somewhere.
That leads to the feeling of disconnection, but it doesn’t in any way impinge on the coolness of what’s actually here, especially in terms of the visuals. Cassara goes well and truly to town in this issue, delivering a kind of epic war movie finale – pitched battles, people dropping out of the sky, superweapons being deployed, one-on-one kickass action. You name it, Cassara draws it, and delivers it with highly intelligent panel-placing that pushes the pace of the action like the last fifteen minutes of a Star Wars movie. Of course, with Luis Guerrero on colourwork, Cassara has more than a helping hand filling the comic-book with rich, interesting things to look at – there’s yet to be a comic-book that Luis Guerrero has worked on where he hasn’t added substantively to the quality of the finished article, and after The Troop #5, there still isn’t.
Overall, The Troop’s first story-arc has been involving, occasionally brutal, realistic within its fantasy concepts and about as cool as you’d expect coming from Noel Clarke. Josh Cassara, a new name to us, has more than impressed, and Guerrero has continued his unbroken streak of highly intelligent, transformational colourwork. It’s a shame than issue #5 seems to reveal pacing issues in Clarke’s storytelling, but if the question is put as to whether the first story has done enough to make us into fans who’d come back for The Troop’s second run, the answer would have to be a resounding yes. Clarke has tapped into something which is both familiar from comic-books of the past, and fresh in the level of punch and grit he manages to pack into the lives of his would-be heroes. Issue #5 might be on fast-forward and seem to have a chunk missing before the denouement, but spending four issues on character backstory means we’ve invested as readers, and we want to see what happens to these characters after the end of this issue.
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