Matthew Kresal enlists.
They say you should never judge a book by its cover. Yet for me my attention was drawn to this volume by the cover art with its slightly retro look that called back to World War II. I hadn't been aware of the statues or variant covers that inspired this so I was in for a pleasant surprise. Bombshells Volume 1 (subtitled Enlisted) is an intriguing mix of DC's greatest female characters with a period setting and a definite sense of fun.
The basic premise of Bombshells is easy enough to understand. During the war, the female superheroes from the side of the allies (the U.S, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union) are brought together to take part in the war effort, both at home and in fighting the war itself. Though based on what was a series of retro inspired statues, you would never know that from the writing of Marguerite Bennett who crafts an interesting world and characters including the Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Stargirl, and Harley Quinn among others. It's an Elseworlds style re-imagining of the DC universe and a fun one to read.
Yet despite the retro setting, it is a thoroughly modern work. Bennett writes these characters well and there is a strong sense of reality to each of them, some of them feeling trapped by the time and place they find themselves in, while others seeing it as a chance at escaping those very bonds. None of these characters are damsels in distress and, in fact, they do the rescuing on more than one occasion. In dealing with the Soviets and the Stalinist era, Bennett also manages to avoid cliches to a large extent while also exploring what life must have been like if you had born with superpowers in such a place. The same is true of exploring a particular relationship between female characters which is done without the sensationalism that might have come from a different writer. All of this is told through a fun and sweeping story that nicely balances between character and action. It's a solid piece of work to be sure and a genuine good read.
It isn't perfect though. I know that this is a work of fiction set within a universe occupied by superheroes, yet I can't help but be aware of glaring historical errors and issues with continuity within it. It opens in 1940 but already sees both the United States and the Soviet Union fighting the Nazi's a year or more that became a reality. There are glaring mistakes of that caliber throughout which one would think would be noticeable to anyone with even a basic knowledge of the period. Things get even stranger trying to line everything up as there are sequences taking place during the summer while other sections are taking place at Christmas when it should be one or the other in both locations. Both issues can make for weird reading given the wonderful period aesthetics on display.
There's other problems as well. The plot never gels together solidly between all of the various characters, even once everyone is established beyond the opening couple of chapters. Indeed this volume also suffers from an overload of characters who often wander in and out without getting much to do and the inclusion of some many of them might be why a plot never solidifies despite 140 pages or so. The quality of artwork, something all important in a release like this, is all over the place due to the number of artists involved. Hence the publication never settles on a single visual style, meaning that along with the plot issues, it never really gels together solidly.
Yet despite all this, the opening volume of Bombshells is definitely worth a read. It's a bold new vision of the DC universe that showcases its female characters in a new light and in an interesting period. While it may be lacking in plot, Bennett's writing of the characters is solid, and when the art does work it brings her writing to life wonderfully. It may not be perfect but Bombshells makes for a fun and interesting read for any comics fan.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.