Written by Steve Orlando and Jodi Houser
Art by Jamal Campbell
Colours by Jamal Campbell
Vixen (Mari McCabe) is, like the Atom, another character I’ve never really cared for. I enjoyed her enough on Justice League Unlimited, but only in small doses and as a way to counteract the boring dry wall that was John Stewart (that version of him, at least). But as a comic book character, I’ve just never gotten her appeal. She’s a fashion designer and model, but career has never interested me outside of one scene with the Wasp in Uncanny Avengers, where she talks about fashion as a way bringing other cultures to people… and Snotgirl, I guess. And her power-set always struck me as “discount Animal Man”. But there’s a Vixen on Legends of Tomorrow and she’s got an animated series set in the Arrowverse, so of course she’s got to be in Steve Orlando’s upcoming Justice League of America. And this introduction to her is.. underwhelming
Vixen: Rebirth is an okay intro to the eponymous heroine, but it just lacks something and has story problems. It just doesn’t have the same emotional weight to it as The Atom: Rebirth, and I think that’s because almost all of the emotional weight to the story (well, Mari’s) is told in flashback, so there’s just a disconnect. In The Atom: Rebirth, Ryan Choi started out as a shy, awkward nerd and he managed to start his hero’s journey largely due to finding a kindred spirit who believed in him in his teacher, Ray Palmer. Here, Mari just… does things. There’s a catalyst, but it’s not very powerful and in fact comes across as forced more than anything. There’s some development for her as a character, but none of it feels satisfying.
At the very least, the art is nice, if not to my tastes. His Vixen is what a supermodel would actually look like: strong facial features with more understated sexual characteristics, especially compared to what is in mainstream superhero comics. It looks suitably exotic, with Campbell’s colouring really selling it. The comic has a nice fantasy aesthetic when outside of the fashion and business world, and Campbell obviously has fun when depicting Vixen’s powers. It suits the character very well, and Campbell’s ability to alternate between said fantasy aesthetic and the glamorous style he employs in the fashion and corporate scenes really helps sell this comic. Even though I’m not a big fan of art like this, I can say with confidence that many others would enjoy it.
2/5 – Below average
The issue starts with a clip from the Exposition News Network, as we’re told that Mari was an orphan who became a runway model, reality TV star and activist and dates famous people. Basically telling us that she’s basically the non-evil version of the typical female philanthropist character you see in everything.
She’s on this talk show to discuss her after-school enrichment program, and the host brings out a girl from one of those programs. The child proceeds to rip into Mari about how much she sucks. She says Mari never visited her programs, and that her mum went missing and she-mailed and called Mari for help to find her but she never picked up.
This scene is probably supposed to show that Mari is out of touch with her roots, that she isn’t really helping people like her. But it just doesn’t work.
First of all, this girl is amazingly naive if she thinks Mari has time to visit all of her programs, given what we were just told she has on her plate. Second of all, what the crap does the girl expect Mari to do, exactly? The news report makes no mention of her superhero stuff, so I’m not sure if the New 52 Justice League International is canon, or if Mari had a public identity. Hell, the actual issue itself shows that Mari is learning to use the totem later on, so it’s likely she wasn’t ever a superhero. So what makes Charlotte think a supermodel was going to be able to help her? And lastly… why is this girl here? Did the host set out to pick the worse possible guest? Did she not know this about the girl’s mother, the same girl who can barely control herself? Or was the host actively trying to mess with Mari? This scene just feels very forced, and also very cliche.
Anyway, Mari takes this very personally and shrugs off all the other things going on in her life — and note that she does not have the sort of reputation Bruce Wayne has, as a playboy barely involved in his business until some mummy or daddy issues come up, so this is probably bad for all of her businesses — in order to find the girl’s mother, adn she notes that she’s taking it personally.
We get a quick flashback to Mari when she was a girl, living in Zambesi, Africa. We find out Mari’s mother was killed right in front of her, by a guy called Kwesi and his poachers, and that she wishes she could have been strong enough to kill Kwesi. But instead, Mari’s dad talks about how doing so would’ve led to the poachers killing the rest of the village, and that “we cannot protect ourselves, Mari, without protecting one another.” What? Wait… but Mari wasn’t talking about protecting anything. She very clearly just wanted revenge. And that lesson doesn’t really relate to that incident. That was more a lesson about retaliation, so… yeah. It was just a random thing about being part of a group and protecting said group, because you’re identity is tied to being in that group. I think.
Oh yeah, and note how Mari says she doesn’t believe in magic, even though it’s implied that her mother used the totem. So why doesn’t Mari believe in magic, exactly?
Anyway, Mari gets a tip on where Charlotte’s mother is and uses the Tantu Totem to channel a bird to get where she’s going… which turns out to be Charlotte’s home, where the police have already been. She compares the girl’s experience with that of herself when her mother was killed, even though there’s no indication that the girl was there like Mari seems to think she was.
Anyway, Mari uses the totem to channel a bear — and makes it pretty clear by this point that this is indeed her first time using the totem, so the inciting incident comes across even worse — and I do like how it’s visualised, and it invokes Jeff Lemire’s New 52 Animal Man run.
Mari tracks down the mother and gets a call from her social media coordinator, and says that she realises that she’s someone who can help people but was too caught up in her own stuff to realise. That was actually an okay moment, even if the catalyst for all this was stupid. But it kinda loses something because Mari was still helping people, even if not as a superhero. And it’s never revealed that her charities and orgaonisations and the like are corrupt or anything, they were helping people.
Random aside: Mari’s coordinator says people posted pictures of her leaping across rooftops on “Picstagram”. Can writers please stop doing this? Either use the real thing, or don’t mention a specific site. It’s awkward and immersion breaking, definitely more so than if Orlando and Houser just wrote Instagram.
Anyway, Mari finds the guy, and immediately flashes back to her scene with her dad, and her uncle has come demanding the totem. Her father, who’s apparently a reverend, refuses and Uncle McCabe threatens Papa McCabe and Mari, but Papa McCabe refuses again and is killed. Mari sees this from under a door… somehow. She then runs away, and how exactly she got away from the group of armed men that was a metre away from her is up in the air, but she takes the totem with her.
I mean, regarding her speed, I guess she might be channelling a cheetah or something and not realise it, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, as when she does use the totem, it’s very obvious visually and deliberate on her part, to the point where she says the animal’s name.
Anyway, she talks with the kidnapper, a guy named Stan Ray (that is one fake-ass sounding name, right there) who is calling himself Spiderbite, which is one of the most nonthreatening names I’ve ever heard, and I say that as someone who’s both afraid of spiders and lives in Australia. Anyway, his shtick is that he was found guilty of murder, and while in prison, cut off from all human contact, he somehow gained the ability to talk to insects. Just… what? There are so many questions… oh, what’s that? We’re just gonna jump into an argument and fight? Okay, whatever.
Spiderbite says he lost his daughter because of his prison time, and Mari says he’s just trying to make up with his mistakes by committing bigger ones, and I think she’s projecting her hatred for Uncle McCabe onto Spiderbite just a bit. Or maybe she’s talking about herself? I don’t know, but neither interpretation comes off as powerfully as I think the writers wanted it to.
Anyway, Mari channels an elephant to stomp, which sends the spiders away because they hear through their feet. She then channels a dolphin to knee the guy in the face. Wait… what? Are dolphins renowned for their pro kicking abilities? Or was it to jump? Whatever.
We get a lame one-liner from Mari as she frees the prisoners, and we end this entire thing with Mari back on the talk show. She says she’s stepping back from the day-to-day management of her businesses, which I find lame but I guess Jesse Quick’s gonna be back soon and that’s her shtick anyway. And yeah, Mari says her new project is a more of a mission, one to reach people who “truly need her”, even though she was doing that, just not personally. She puts on a better outfit and takes up the name that’s implied to be the same one her mother used: Vixen.
This just wasn’t that good a comic. Mari comes across as projecting her own issues onto others, and Orlando and Houser really force the “out of touch” aspects of the story. And the flashbacks weren’t particularly good either. And unlike with The Atom: Rebirth, nothing’s really set up for the future either, though that was more something Geoff Johns did than Orlando. Regardless, Vixen doesn’t really seed any future plots or tell a good story in its own right, so I can’t say I’m not disappointed.