Review by Amy Maynard
Hail is a superhero comic about a woman who crumbles into shards of glass whenever she has an episode of anxiety. Written by Miranda Richardson and illustrated by Rosanna Lam, Hail is a webcomic now being adapted to print with a story that explores conceptions of strength, gender and mental illness…
A confession – there are few serial comics which grab me.
I like small press comics, graphic novels, short and sharp webcomics. I like comics which deal with drama. Slice of life stories. Comics where the artists lays out their neuroses and quirks through the genre of autobiography.
So, I will admit that I didn’t have high hopes when I was handed Hail, which looks and feels like a superhero story.
But from the first few pages, there’s something different about this comic. It doesn’t start with a bang, but with a situation that anyone who catches public transport will know well. A weasel-faced degenerate starts to harass a young woman, her only crime being glancing at him at the wrong place, wrong time. The dialogue and framing gives the scenario the right feeling of claustrophobia.
And this is where our heroine comes in. A young woman, Lena, who turns to shattered glass when stressed. She’s not Storm, she’s not Mystique, she’s not Catwoman. She’s just any one of us – wanting to help, but not quite knowing how to use her powers yet.
Of my three issues to review, the first issue starts strong out the gate. The second issue slightly lags at the start before picking up speed, and the third issue is the standout. If Richardson and Lam can keep up this pace, Hail is definitely going to be a comic to watch out for. I think that it’s already thrown down the gauntlet for any other Australian superhero comic.
The dialogue is smart and crisp, and Richardson displays a deft touch with humour. The story is complimented by Lam’s artwork, which is clean and bright. I’m not usually sold on the quasi-manga style of comics artwork, but what elevates it is Lam’s superior talent for framing, and mis-en-scene. Buses, trains, bars, offices, and side streets are given extra depth and atmosphere by overheads, long shots, close ups, and centering. If you’re a framing junkie like me, definitely pick this comic off the shelf. (And really, just pick this comic off the shelf anyway, because it’s good).
Praise should also be heaped on the colourists – Rhianna Carr, Christopher Genovese, Maddy Deane, Sarah Lloyd, Sanderson Gonzaga, Terri Arnold, and Luke Bartholomew. Hail is coloured in a soft airbrush style, and it perfectly suits the light fantasy tone of the comic. The shattered glass effect is absolutely gorgeous. This comic was made by a colouring team in sync, and it shows.
I do have some light criticisms. Firstly, the voiceover text can be awkwardly placed in the panels at times, ditto for the word balloons. But this is a kink that can be worked out in time. Secondly, the supporting characters accept Lena’s superhero abilities very quickly. There’s little to no alarm that there’s suddenly a woman who can turn to glass in their midst. This requires a large suspension of belief to jog the story along. Lena herself also remains very mysterious – most of her backstory is actually devoted to her best friend Ebony being a cheat in university, rather than how she got her powers. I like Lena more as a character, and I’m hoping that in upcoming issues she’s more fleshed out, and more world building goes on.
Overall, Hail is a comic which is doing something different, and doing something great, with the superhero genre. It’s recognisably Australian without being overtly jingo-istic (and a shout out to my home city – sorry, ‘Adeline’ – is always welcome). Women also make up half of the cast, and are given the lion’s share of the dialogue. The women of Hail come in all shapes and sizes, and are focused on their own professional lives rather than unnecessary rom-com entanglements. It reflects real life in that men and women co-exist as platonic friends and colleagues, rather than reductive romantic prizes for either gender.
And, Hail tells a good story. I expected to read a slog of cliché bravado, with characters of unrealistic proportions firing off quips that were rejected from 1980s action movies. Instead what I found was a quietly confident character study, and a refreshing take on what it means to be a superheroine. Our heroine begins to experiment with her powers, and there’s a serial killer on the loose. What can I say? Hail nailed it.
Hail is launching on the 25 January 2pm – 5pm at Greenlight Comics, 18 Stephens Place, Adelaide. For more information, check out the Hail book launch Facebook page.
Hail can be read for free online at hailcomic.com.