QUICK NOTE: Jody Houser, the writer of Faith, will be a guest on tonight’s episode of DRAMA CLUB HEROES on Geek & Sundry’s Twitch channel.
“Like costume heroes? …. as you know, they’re a dime a dozen! But, we think you may find our [hero’s name] just a bit… different!”
That’s the opening to 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The hero’s name, of course, was Spider-Man, and these days that opening reads like the only recorded instance of Stan Lee utilizing understatement.
The same dilemma, however, has been motivating creators of superhero comics ever since, and in Valiant Comics’ Faith, I’m delighted to say, we have a new hero whose name deserves to be plugged in to that quote.
Faith Herbert, aka Zephyr, is a psiot, a Valiant Universe term for someone with extraordinary abilities. She can fly. She has a “companion field” that lets her use her telekinesis on nearby objects. She loves her powers and wants to use them to help people. In her personal life, she’s a lifelong comics and sci-fi nerd, whose thoughts are effortlessly peppered with references to everything from Spider-Man to Red Dwarf. Also, she’s plus-sized.
Faith doesn’t see a contradiction in any of those things. And that’s what makes this book quietly revolutionary.
Faith #1 came out January 27th, written by Jody Houser (who is a friend of mine and past Geek & Sundry guest) and with art by Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage. It’s the first of a four-issue miniseries, and the first solo title for Faith, who’s previously appeared in team comics like “Harbinger” and “Unity.”
The Valiant universe, for those who haven’t encountered it, is a shared fictional world, like the Marvel or DC universes, which operated for several years in the early 1990s, eventually ceased publication and was relaunched from the ground up in 2012. Faith Herbert, as reintroduced by Joshua Dysart in the pages of “Harbinger,” has been a breakout star of the new line, frequently referred to as one of its most likeable characters.
This is partly because Faith belongs to an interesting publishing moment for comics: characters like her are making waves in the comic book world, defying the dominant trends of the last thirty years (comics’ “dark and gritty” period) by dint of optimism, a good sense of humor, and a basic joy in having and using their superpowers.
Faith also stands out because it’s unfortunately rare to see larger bodies depicted in media, and even rarer to see them depicted heroically. Plus-sized characters have been often confined to villainy and comedy. And while Faith is very funny, she is never a joke. In fact, the first issue of her comic makes no reference to her size at all, except that, because it is a comic and therefore a visual medium, her physical presence is explicit on every page. This makes for an incredible subtext. Faith does not discuss her body, but she uses it, joyfully, in gorgeous, glorious panels that occupy the largest spaces in the comic to show off her gift of flight.
The most subversive moment of the comic, in my opinion, is buried in the funniest sequence. Faith is daydreaming about life as a hero in a two-page spread stunningly illustrated by Sauvage. In her fantasy, she greets an adoring public and saves a handsome movie star from a burning building (she also asks him for the inside scoop on the superhero movie he’s filming. When he answers, “Whatever you want, Zephyr. You saved my life!” She replies, “Heroism is its own reward, tiger.” I dare you not to love this character).
It’s a funny, cute, perfect vision of her heroic ideal, and in it, she looks… exactly like herself (with cooler sunglasses, granted, and hair blowing dramatically in the wind). This is the moment that brings the book’s subtle accomplishment up on a level with more explicitly ideological books like DeConnick & Leandro’s brilliant “Bitch Planet.” The right to aspire to heroism, to believe in your own potential, even to enjoy a glamorous daydream, is not restricted to folks who look a certain way. This book doesn’t tell us that, though; it just shows us.
I also have to praise Houser, Portela and Sauvage for one more subtle and effective device used throughout the comic, which contributes beautifully to Faith’s physicality and character: seven times in issue one, a shape breaks the borders of the comic book panels. Six of those times, it’s Faith herself. It adds to her presence when she first senses potential danger and illuminates her grace when entering a page mid-flight. It also quite literally shows you that Faith won’t stay inside a box.
Fifty years ago, when Peter Parker went from “midtown high’s only professional wallflower” to “the Amazing Spider-Man,” he opened the door for heroes who both remind us of ourselves and inspire us to be better than we are. I have a new one to add to my list. And as Faith herself thinks, “Maybe it’s still a work in progress… but it’s definitely my kind of story…(Although a cute mysterious time traveler would also be my kind of story. Just putting that out in the universe.)”
Image Credit: Marvel Comics, Valiant Comics