Writer: Jude Ellison S. Doyle
Artists: A.L. Kaplan and Fabiana Mascolo
Maw #1 is a comic that offers up a lot of intrigue without trying to do too much. While some #1s will try to pack a beginning, middle, and end between the covers, Maw presents a beginning and a before, and while I’m usually not one to be in love with flashbacks, this issue flows in a way many #1s don’t.
From the very first pages, the premise grabs readers. The here-and-now story takes place at a women’s empowerment retreat on the east coast of the United States. There’s a lot of hippie terminology, playing up the stereotype of mystical thinking left over from the 60s and 70s that still clings to some communities. While the rhetoric and play on the stereotype could be reductive, the two main characters, sisters, add contrasting views of the retreat. One awe, the other severe skepticism bordering on nihilism–which, given the character’s backstory makes sense. But this is where I can’t help but have some criticism of the piece.
Rape is used so often in fiction that it has become a poorly treated, trauma train, that doesn’t do the content justice. While I’ve seen rape as a trauma for fictional characters portrayed far worse in the past, Maw falls into a sad trap. Rape becomes the identity of one of the characters, rather than an aspect of her background that she struggles with. I think this is where Maw tries to do too much in this issue. If this character was defined by other aspects of her past first, and then the rape was revealed later, the trauma would feel more earned. The rape as a plot device wouldn’t feel flippant.
The art within Maw is fantastic. It’s whimsical in the retreat scenes, hard and sepia in the outside world. The way the art stands out is the use of black. It’s everywhere, even in the bright beach scenes. It gives the whole tone of the comic a creeping terror vibe. That makes sense, given its subject matter. But it also implies this womens’ retreat isn’t what it seems. The lettering is quality, speech balloons flow easily, letting the eye easily flow from one to the other.
While there is a lot to like about this first issue, from the art to the well-written dialogue, Maw #1 leaves readers on the edge at its conclusion. My hope for subsequent issues is for the intense subject matter in this comic to be explored in a more nuanced way. This is an intriguing start that can break some cliches if executed well in the future.
A solid first issue, but I'll hope for a more nuanced approach to the subject matter in the future.