The Fairer Sex
A body-positive superheroine rates a (mostly) positive review
Writer – Jody Houser
Artist – Pere Prez
Fantasy Sequence Artist – Marguerite Sauvage
Origin Sequence Art – Colleen Doran
Color Art – Andrew Dalhouse
Letterer – Dave Sharpe
Assistant Editor – Lauren Hitzhusen
Editor – Tom Brennan
Editor-in-Chief – Warren Simons
Faith did something impossible…
I’m not talking about accepting that someone with a different body shape can be a superhero. No, I’m talking about making me read through the Crapbox’s old (and one new) Harbinger comics.
I did so purely as backstory on this character and I will admit to getting swept up in them and reading the whole mess instead of just the Jim Shooter ones. Valiant was Jim Shooter’s baby and the way these early stories go, I can feel some of his Marvel-ous influences with just a touch more realistic action. And the Harbinger title was his baby to write for the first ten issues, so he actually developed the first itineration of Faith Herbert/Zephyr/Zepplin.
Yeah, at one point she called herself “Zepplin”.
And that version lived in a universe with an evil analogue of Professor Xavier called Toyo Harada. Harada decided to collect his mutant homo-superiors, this time called Psiots because no one wants to fight Marvel’s lawyers, and use them to mold the world to his wishes. He’s such a bad guy that he calls his team of “X-Men” the Eggbreakers (as in “to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs.” Harada recruited Faith, who worked with him until another Psiot figured out Harada wasn’t a good guy and went rogue. Faith and several other Psiots left with him.
The Harbinger series got a reboot in 2012. The story became even darker (which is hard to imagine as MANY Psiots died in the first series) and Faith took on a much bigger role in fighting Harada. Also even more weight was added to Faith (no pun intended in my prior sentence), moving her from looking thick to looking borderline obese. In truth, those original issues back in 1992 didn’t make Faith look that overweight. They made her look “big boned” but not truly “heavy.”
Now though, they’ve taken Faith as far as they can go with her appearance.
And I’m going to say it: while being accepting of all body sizes is politically correct in today’s society…there is a limit I am going bounce up against. And that limit is health. As long as the body size you are is healthy, then you shouldn’t have to change for anyone.
This is coming from a man who is technically 50 lbs overweight right now and struggles with type II diabetes. I know of which I speak. For many of us, being overweight is a combination of poor genetics and poor eating habits. Mix a little of both together and you are fighting off your body’s marvelous ability to absorb and store food for later…but in a bad way.
Where this goes all wrong is when you start looking at the unhealthy effects things like high blood sugar and high cholesterol can do to block up clean arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. And added weight leads to fat, enlarged body cells that are less effective at storing incoming sugar, meaning they leave more sugars in the blood supply. Sticky, artery blocking sugars.
I’ve had the lectures from my family physician.
What this shouldn’t lead to is body-shaming. It shouldn’t lead to anyone telling you that you have to be slim to be sexy or weigh less than a fixed amount to be attractive. Women are meant to be curvy and have some pounds on them. I find nothing more beautiful than a boldly Rubenesque stature on a female body. Anyone wanting stick-figures only, move along please.
But health is a separate thing and while we can be body positive, we also need to address the fact that there can be too much of a good thing. Like Baby Ruths. There definitely can be too many Baby Ruths. Delicious chocolatey Baby Ruths. Also that being large and carrying around stuff like my extra 50 pounds of flesh is likely causing stresses on my body that aren’t good for it and may eventually lessen my quality of life or the length of it. And this is from my doctor, y’all. Not just from me.
It needs to be said that I can both support a non-standard superhero body-type and also state that it should not endorse living a non-healthy lifestyle. My hope is that Faith can be BOTH. We’ll see about that.
How is Faith #1?
Well, lets dive in and see…
We begin our tale with what should be a brief synopsis of Faith’s life up to this point. Starting with her parent’s death at a young age, Faith finds herself growing up amid their stacks of comics, absorbing their simplistic moralistic mindset. Her own powers of flight and telekinesis are awoken by Peter Stanchek, on the run from the Harbinger corporation and Harada. And ta-da: instant superhero.
This is the bare bones of the second reboot origin. I was ready to turn the page and jump right in to the REAL story. But no. Not yet. Not even close yet.
Seems I missed quite a bit of what was going on in the second Harbinger series. Crapbox only spat out one of those, so I think that’s likely. Here we see Harada get defeated, some (most?) of the team dies off, Zephyr breaks off a romance with…someone?...and then hooks up with another group (is that Archer and Armstrong after the reboot?).
Now we can start the story? Right?
One more page of flashbacks shows us Faith’s recent adventures in Los Angeles, defeating cultists, finding work and possible romance. Good going. Can we get started now?
I have to say before we turn the page, as a new read that this long of a synopsis is off-putting. I get there’s a bunch to catch up on, but you are literally weighing down my enthusiasm by not adding these elements in as the story progresses. I’m in. I bought the book. Introduce me to Faith gradually, not all at once.
Do something like this…
Faith is creeping around a cave…wearing a…is that a sword?
It is and thank goodness, because behind all of this “what makes a hero” jibber-jabber, Faith has found herself face-to-face with a rocky trollish looking creature, she pulls her sword and rolls her 20-sided… wait!...rolls?
Perfect opening. We find Faith in a group of gamers playing a fantasy role playing adventure and immediately I find myself drawn to her. What type of person, possessing of great powers, would find themselves still playing role playing games as the lawful good hero? Someone who craves the company of like-minded people, clearly a bit naïve, yet good hearted and…
…a bit of a loner. Someone who hasn’t fit in and wants to find a spot where she does. I get this character. The same way I got Peter Parker. She’s one of US. One of the picked on little people who spend lots of time trying to fit their puzzle piece shape in to place with the groups around them and society as a whole.
This was the opening the book needed. Nothing but this.
It comes out in the next page that this is Jay’s girlfriend. Jay is a coworker of Faith’s at the webzine where she did an interview with her “secret identity” and Jay knows she is Faith/Zepher because… well, let’s just let the scene play out shall we.
Nicely done. All the awkwardness of an early Spider-Man moment done with a twist toward Faith’s more upbeat optimistic character, all of which serves to provide background and character motivation. THIS is what we came for.
This odd conversation starts rubbing at the raw edges of Jay and Faith’s friendship, however. We end with Faith taking off and both parties probably feeling worse for their words.
Faith as a Valiant character is approaching 25 years in print, but the nice thing about the reboot in 2012 and the fact that Valiant hasn’t been publishing at the rate of the bigger powerhouses is that she still feels new to all this. And writer Jody Houser gets an opportunity to show just how new, first by almost passing by this guy doing a “b” and “e”…
…and then allowing him to draw down on her before mustering any kind of shield at all.
He pops one off from that prop from the Space:1999 show and it nearly costs both of them their lives.
Lucky for him that Faith can recover in time. Not lucky for his gun however. It ends up like the aluminum cover to your Aunt Edna’s casserole after she’s done baking it.
However, here’s the rookie mistake that you don’t see Spider-Man making anymore. Faith goes to deposit the guy with the cops and realizes she has no physical evidence of any crime having been committed. She’s so bummed by the time she makes it back home that she passes out without changing clothes even.
And that leads to this great dream sequence where Faith is an angel fliting through the sky on wings…when suddenly a sinister figure (looking very similar to the burglar she failed to properly catch) swoops by wearing a child’s balloon and plucks off her wings. She’s sent into a tailspin and lands ungently at the feet of…
…a party of "internet" cave trolls who promptly tweet out her secret identity. Her waking thought? I need better dice. (Nicely done, Houser). And of course she’s fallen asleep, as we all have once or twice, WITHOUT setting the alarm…
…so, yeah. Everything about Faith is relatable. She’s got the “everyman” (or woman) vibe down, yet there are enough quirks to her to make her interesting. And they put her in an new and different kind of environment for a superhero: since her boss knows about her, that gives her some needed latitude, even if it is still a bit uncomfortable...
However, that edge cuts both ways. Since Mimi knows about Faith’s alter-ego…
…she finds that she can ask for some uncomfortable favors. In this instance, having Summer’s Faith persona pen a column as a way to generate buzz for the webzine. Nice to see this diverge from the J. Jonah school of harassing a super.
And having others to bounce ideas off of gives the book an added dimension that most superhero books take for granted. That if someone knows your identity, you can call upon their smarts to augment your own.
Toward the end of the book, the writer decided to tack on an actual villain for Zephyr to fight and I have to say that all of it felt very … unsurprising. It starts when Faith receives a test from movie star Chris Chriswell, who happens to be a “fan” of Zephyr.
Which leads to a stylized daydream sequence from Faith about the perfect date with Chriswell…
…and she ignores the foreshadowing brought on by her current boyfriend’s insinuations (perhaps jealousy even) about Chriswell…
…which means when she shows up for the photo shoot (admonishing herself repeatedly to not say anything stupid)…
…Chriswell appears to be just a few nuts shy of a Baby Ruth…if you get my meaning, but Faith is too caught up in herself to notice...
And if saying odd things wasn’t enough, he tranks Faith in the back of the neck…
…and then gloats over her unconscious body.
I saw this coming six pages ago, which is exactly the first page we saw Chriswell on. That’s a bad and a good thing. It follows the trope of some of the hero's friends and fans becoming their worst enemies, while also doing it in a most predictable fashion. I’m not taking points off, mainly because the ending leaves you with little choice but to buy the next issue.
So there you have Faith. In a nutshell: she’s a genuine, likeable nerd and newly minted superhero who looks to have a bright future ahead. As for my hopes of what the book will do when it finally breaches that unspoken question? I don’t honestly know.
Does it need to? I think dodging it for a while will work out fine. It is kind of low hanging fruit, in terms of story ideas. Not to mention that Faith as a book is about so much more than that and has LOTS of other things going for it. However, I don’t think it can realistically avoid talking about it forever. Nor should it. There’s plenty to be said in the context of Faith and in the wider universe of fandoms that will most certainly attach themselves to her.
(Not once in this entire article did I use the words "elephant in the room." For that I am awarding myself a slice of pie for dessert.)