Callum Waterhouse ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Story by Jody Houser
Art by Francis Portella and Marguerite Savage
Comic fans have been eagerly awaiting the first issue of the four-part miniseries Faith since Valiant Comics announced it last fall. This is the first solo series to star Faith Herbert, a superhero first introduced in the Valiant Comic series Harbinger. Faith was one of several series with female leads that were announced at around the same time by Valiant, but it has gotten far and away the most attention by fans and the press.
The reason for all of the fanfare is fairly simple. The central protagonist of the series, Faith Herbert, is a fat woman. Not fat in the clean, sanitized manner that is usually presented in superhero comics, mind you. Faith is not attractively curvaceous. She is not big boned. She not even mildly chubby. She is an overweight, American woman on the cover of her own superhero title. The significance of that can not be overstated.
There has been an ongoing effort to make mainstream superhero comics more diverse. Both Marvel and DC have been attempting to increase the number of titles centering on female characters in recent years, with varying degrees of success. Bobby Drake, known in Marvel comics as Iceman, recently became one of the most high profile comics characters to come out as bisexual. In the past two years one of the most popular superhero titles has been Ms. Marvel, a series which focuses on female superhero who is also a Muslim-American.
But with Faith, the often unmentioned publisher Valiant Comics has tapped into a demographic even the two most prominent American comic publishers have been afraid to venture into. If writer Jody Houser and artist Francis Portella ensure the series lives up to the hype, Valiant Comics may be able to steal a sizable niche of the readership all to themselves.
But is Faith any good? All of this will mean little more than a footnote in some comprehensive history of the comics industry if Faith is not actually entertaining. Fortunately, fans need not worry in that respect. Issue one of Faith soars as high as its ambitions.
Faith Herbert is the perfect protagonist to be given her own solo series. Her character can be best summed up as a lifelong comic geek who grew up to be a superhero. Throughout issue one, despite whatever fantastical or mundane problem Faith, also known by her superhero alter ego Zephyr, retains the same infectious optimism and love of geek culture. Issue one gives her plenty to do as a superhero, while still keeping her grounded in enough mundane problems to remain relatable. Honestly, how often do you see a superhero who openly fantasizes about becoming a companion to Doctor Who?
The most courageous decision by the creative staff of this comic was to not craft a story about what makes Faith Herbert different — and we are not talking about her psiot powers. There is no after-school-special message about acceptance or self-confidence here. Faith’s weight does not inform her character, nor is it ever brought up in the story. Houser and Portela have presented readers with a comic about an overweight woman and let that fact speak for itself.
While Faith Herbert may be the protagonist in this comic, it is artist Francis Portela and colorist Dave Sharpe who are the real heroes of Faith. Marguerite Sauvage, of the brilliant DC series Bombshells, shows up to pen some rather well done dream sequences for a few pages, but this is really Portela’s show. His lifework is what sells the action and the characters. Meanwhile, Sharpe’s brilliant color gradients make the city of Los Angeles seem like a kingdom of magic. The scenes of Zephyr flying home above the L.A. traffic is something magnificent to behold.
It is such a shame that all of these great characters and artwork had to be built around such a pedestrian story. Most of issue one simply focuses on Faith meandering about, trying to establish her routine as a solo superhero. All of that sounds great on paper, but the presentation is slow and lacks focus. This is a problem compounded by the fact that series has to use up precious space to bring new readers up to speed on all of the established characters and story beats from previous comics. The final result is a first issue that does a great job of putting readers into the mindset of its heroine, but does not give that heroine anything interesting to do.
It is only in the final few pages that what might actually be considered plot shows up. Faith is put on the trail of an evil conspiracy that is kidnapping teenagers with psychic powers. The setup has the potential for a compelling through line, but it seems unclear if the creative staff have enough confidence in the plot they wrote.
Issue one of Faith shows just enough potential to leave the reader optimistic about the future of the series, but has just enough flaws to make them cautious. If nothing else, the potential is there for some truly unique superhero fun. Here’s to hoping that no matter how the next few issues turn out, Faith proves to be vanguard of big change to the kind of people who get to star in their own comic book.