After a homerun debut, Motherlands is back with another issue of high-stakes mother-daughter bonding! Begrudging bounty hunter Tab and her former superstar mother are hot on the trail of Tab’s brother, Bubba, the biggest bounty of all time, and they’re not alone.
While the first issue packed a dizzying amount of worldbuilding into a single issue, writer Si Spurrier slows things down a bit and lets the focus fall on the real highlight of the book: the explosive dynamic between the two leads. Tabitha and her mother Selena are an absolute blast to read, as they both have fully realized and unique voices that create dramatic and comedic gold on every page. They’re both incredibly effective and experienced at their jobs, and yet have completely different methods, which creates nearly as much friction as their family problems.
We look back and get a better look at Tab’s–and her brother’s–childhood and learn that we haven’t even scratched the surface of how messed up this family is, and that Tab has every reason to loathe her mother. But despite how clearly Selena failed her daughter, Motherlands is careful not to vilify her. Selena is just as human a character as Tab, and as awful as she is, you can’t help but feel for her as someone who was doing the best she could in a system that was designed to take advantage of her. She comes close to true sincerity a couple times in this issue, but she seems to lack the vocabulary for genuine compassion. It makes for some hilarious yet heartbreaking dialogue.
Guest artist Stephen Byrne contributes to the strong characterization by drawing emotive, dynamic characters. His character acting is top notch, nuanced enough so the reader knows what the character is feeling without being smacked in the face with it. He also excels with the weird alternate-Earth environments, giving a sense of atmosphere and space without overdoing it on background detail. There are some lush, gorgeous panels in the issue, but also many where Byrne lets the characters be the focus, and both are equally as effective.
It should be noted that Byrne is a guest artist, filling in for series artist and co-creator Rachael Stott, who illustrated issue one. The two artists’ styles aren’t jarringly different–and colorist Felipe Sobreiro definitely smoothed the transition–but it is a noticeable change, and it’s not something I expect to see on creator-owned (if Vertigo is still considered that) comics, since having the same creative team is such a big draw for these kinds of series. Byrne does a great job on the issue, but it is a baffling decision to have one issue of six by a different artist, especially when this type of Vertigo series will almost certainly sell more in a trade paperback.
Odd scheduling choices aside, this is still a very entertaining issue from a promising new Vertigo series that’s well worth picking up. It’s got an electric pair of leads, relatable family drama, technicolor sci-fi action, intricately weird worlds, and gut-bustingly funny banter that should be a must-read for science-fiction fans anyone who likes watching awesome bounty hunter women kick ass and take names.