Welcome to Chicago, where anything is possible — including the Cubs winning the World Series and a woman flying across the sky.
Welcome to Chicago, Illinois, home to 15-year Luna. Welcome to a city where a flying woman is a regular spectacle, a north star for Luna to aspire to and a sorely needed distraction from the war raging on in her head that threatens to erupt at any moment. This is the backdrop to She Could Fly, a new series from Christopher Cantwell (AMC’s Halt And Catch Fire), Martin Morazzo (Ice Cream Man) and Miroslav Mrva (Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe Again) that is set in a location where anything is possible, including the Cubs winning the World Series, but also a location where violence can and does threaten to boil over at any moment.
The story cuts to the chase right away and shows us the focal point of the plot; the appearance of an unidentified woman who flies across the Chicago skyline and is gawked at by massive crowds. We see and hear that this is the subject of the discussion between Luna and her high school counselor. Even as a reader, it’s hard not to feel umbrage at the condescension the counselor shows Luna when discussing her fascination with the flying woman. When she attempts to change the subject to the real world, it eventually triggers Luna playing out the first of many murderous fantasies in her head that we see throughout the book. In this instance, she eventually ends up incarcerated before coming back to reality.
The same thing plays out as Luna gets home and meet her parents, who to their credit are well-meaning if not a little clueless about what their daughter is going through. Again, all it takes is a bit of condescension and assumptions about “knowing how she feels” for Luna’s dark fantasies to get triggered and reveal what appears to be another chillingly lifelike rampage. After she comes back to her senses and views a news update on her hero, the flying woman, it’s revealed how dedicated Luna is to the cause of the woman as we get a peek at her basement that has a board tracking the flying woman’s every move. As the voice in her head discourages her, it becomes apparent that Luna empathizes with the flying woman as an escape not only from the world, but also from herself so that she doesn’t have put others in her line of fire and can work out her issues on her own.
Meanwhile, in Saskatchewan Canada, we see a similar predicament of trying to protect loved ones from one’s self play out (that requires a few scenes to become clear). A brilliant physicist and his part prostitute, part girlfriend, engage in some touching banter that betrays just how lonely and cold the world around them is and how they have a mutual desire to not impose on each other despite the fact that they are both clearly using each other. Later, the physicist’s direct connection to the flying woman becomes clear and an impromptu trip to Chicago is agreed upon.
The issue builds to its end from Luna’s perspective where “the voice” in her head seems to steer her to a cynical reaction to a grief-filled moment from her counselor, only for her to then experience the same grief moments later as her dreams shatter before her eyes. This is an interesting technique, to not just show that Luna specifically has the potential be a murderous person, but that she can also become a bully at a minimum. It’s a twist on what many of us who deal with loved ones whose state of mind deteriorates can attest to; as the brain fails, the behavior of the individual changes into something that isn’t just sad but can also be mean-spirited.
In any case, from here Luna loses her grip on stability and puts a plan into motion to end it all, before being stopped cold in her tracks by a shocking symbol (and accompanying voice) of hope.
For anyone who has had to deal with crippling depression, mental illness or even loneliness at a minimum, Luna is an instantly relatable protagonist. The self-hate that threatens to overwhelm her and the battle between positivity and despair are all too familiar to those who suffer with these demons on a daily basis. Cantwell does an amazing job giving a voice to them, and Morazzo and Mrva’s art compliments the voice perfectly by the distinct and alternating expressions of detachment and panic that show on Luna’s face. The only time she’s ever happy is when she’s watching her idol, the flying woman, and even when she daydreams about acting out her murderous fantasies, the look on her face is one of desperation, pain and anguish, not one of pleasure or even anger. Ultimately, this mindset is what drives Luna to run away and spare her family from the horrors she might subject them to.
Another thing of note is where Cantwell throws in a few amusing digs in the direction of several institutions that are commonly cited as being “quick cures” to depression and mental illness. As discussed previously, he does a great job exposing the school guidance counselor role for how it’s likely to have failed real-life children in similar predicaments as Luna (i.e. those children that eventually ended up committing violence against their classmates). Rather than trying to find Luna some actual help, all the counselor does is pen a note warning herself to “look out for this one.” Similarly, he goes after spirituality in the form of Luna’s well-meaning grandmother, who touts her Buddhism as a solution to resolve all of her issues. While the grandmother appears happy, in order to get there she had to forego human verbal interaction for seven years, which doesn’t get Luna to any better of a place (as Luna’s current solution is to run away (or fly away if she can)). While mileage may vary for both of these, Cantwell makes it clear that he believes there is no end-all-be-all magic fix to the type of problems Luna is struggling with.
One thing that stands out is how well Cantwell was able to convey his knowledge and love of Chicago to Morazzo and Mrva, who set up the issue with a lot of little easter eggs for those of us locals. I was pleased to see little hints of Wells Street, the elevated CTA train bridge that travels above it, and what appears to be the faintest edge of the Sears Tower (sorry Willis) and its neighboring 311 Wacker Drive. In addition to these cool tributes and the amazing work done to convey what is going on in Luna’s mind (noted earlier), Mrva in particular uses what appears to be almost every color on the palette. The story moving along certainly helps, but we get to see action in clear blue skies, during dusk, at night and at dawn, and the colors adjust accordingly. The graphic nature of some of the shots, notably those that spring from Luna’s imagination, catch you by surprise. The mauled face of the counselor’s cat taking over the appearance of the counselor herself is an unpleasant but awe-inspiring highlight.
Another thing that caught my attention was the way attention is given to inanimate objects throughout the issue. Whether its a cactus plant, a push pin, or the mysterious memento featured at the end, Marazzo seems to have a gift for bringing life out of the daily and mundane. Could this approach be speaking to the fact that the flying woman herself was perhaps just a robot?
Just about the only knock I have towards the story is the plot of the physicist, which feels a bit jarring given that it isn’t occurring in Chicago, the connection to the flying woman seems like it should be obvious (when it really isn’t), and the purpose for why the nefarious corporate types at the end are after him isn’t entirely clear. Hopefully this is properly explained in the next issue so that the entire issue feels a bit more cohesive.
There’s something in this title for all comic book fans, whether its supernatural elements, dream sequences (or cats – who doesn’t love cats?). As a Chicagoan, there’s also quite a few tributes here to us natives. But the biggest draw by far, and what will keep you hooked, is the emotional pull and the universal appeal of a story that successfully explores the mindset and fallout for those that suffer from mental illness.