With Vertigo’s line the smallest it has been in a long time, the prestigious imprint is in dire need of some fresh ideas. But if their newest series, Motherlands, is any indication of where they’re headed in 2018, you can rest easy, because Vertigo will be just fine.
Motherlands #1 is the rambunctious and subversive debut of an all-new science fiction comedy from the killer creative lineup of writer Simon Spurrier, artist Rachael Stott, colorist Felipe Sobreiro, and letterer Simon Bowland. It’s a book about a reality-jumping bounty hunter being forced to team-up with her incredibly difficult–and once famously deadly–mother to take down the biggest and most personal score of either of their lives.
Spurrier has proven his ability to craft poignant and completely bonkers sci-fi tales on books like Angelic, The Spire, and Six-Gun Gorilla, and Motherlands is no different. In the future, Earth has figured out travel between dimensions, but the only ones they can get to are painfully similar to their own. In the golden age of dimensional exploration and technology, a popular new form of entertainment cropped up, and viewers tuned in to the adventures of “Retrievers” who would hunt down fugitives across realities, and the biggest star of them all was Selena Tubach. But that was a long time ago, and her daughter Tabitha carries on the now far less glamorous work.
The world of Motherlands is packed with metaphor about the unfulfilled promises of the space race, the evolution of science fiction, and the changing roles of women in both society and fiction. The fugitive that Tabitha chases in the issue turns out to be a fanboy of her mother’s and goes off about how entertainment–and Retrievers–aren’t what they used to be, echoing the sentiment of an unfortunate segment of sci-fi fandom that doesn’t like more empowering portrayals of women. This meta-narrative feels both incredibly timely and also right at home at Vertigo, which has always been known for its stories about stories.
Rachael Stott draws a hilariously expressive and varied cast, with the contrast between the two leads being a particular treat. Selena’s Retriever uniform was skin tight, with a sort of pulpy “space ranger” feel to it, and so in response, Tabitha has a suit that is bulky and armored almost to the point of being ridiculous, showcasing not just their difference in personalities, but also in the genres of sci-fi and ways of thinking that they represent. In addition to her very deliberate and efficient design sense, Stott displays an extensive range, shifting from dramatic character beats to slapstick to action to deadpan humor without missing a beat.
The art team shines brightest when they pull off the impressive visual challenge of a chase scene through ever-so-slightly different versions of Earth. This is driven by the wonderful colors of Felipe Sobreiro, who gives clarity to a potentially confusing chase across worlds by guiding the eye with the bright purple and yellow light of the portals. Even the lettering and panel layouts use some clever visual storytelling cutting off word balloons as if they’re slipping through the page, and panel borders break and crunch in around portals.
If there are any negatives to the issue, it’s that some of the exposition comes at you so fast you don’t have time to process it all. The classroom exposition dump on the first page is effective, but it also doesn’t quite give the reader enough time to process what they’ve been told before there’s a time jump and we’re fired through the multiverse like a cannonball and expected to keep up. It’s a minor criticism–and if anything encourages a re-read–but it does make the pacing of this first issue feel slightly awkward. But now that the setup is out of the way further issues will probably feel smoother, and it will be thrilling to see what this creative team does when they’re really cutting loose.
With a unique premise, thought-provoking themes, fantastic characters, and a razor-sharp art team, Motherlands #1 is well worth the time of any mature science-fiction reader, and anyone who wants to be excited by a Vertigo book again.
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