2 out of 5
Well, that happened.
First things first: I think Actionlab has done this series a disservice by separating its trade collections into four issues. I don’t know if that’s a logistical decision – that it’s more cost effective for a smaller imprint – but Tomboy has no clear story divides for a trade; it is absolutely a 12-issue maxi-series. So there’s some consideration there: whether or not the foreknowledge of the collections enforced upon creator Mia Goodwin story limitations she might not otherwise have had.
This went through my head as I waded into this third set of issues. I wait for storylines to complete before reading issues, and in lieu of clear divides (and not knowing this was intended as a limited aeries), I’ll use the trades as indications of where to divvy up my reading. The last “arc” I felt suffered from over-stuffing – including too many characters for what initially felt like something of an intimate (but twisted) emotional excursion for series lead Addison. And then with this arc, the first issue had me at a complete loss. I knew I hadn’t missed an issue, and it hadn’t been so long since I’d read the previous set, so I reconsidered my view on the series (see above) and decided to start from the beginning.
Guess what? The over-stuffed problem still exists, and it gets way worse in this last act. Part of this, I’ll admit, is on me: the ’emotional excursion’ tag I’d used above was completely off, although part of why I was misled is due to what I feel like is a poorly applied narration technique. Instead, Goodwin is actually going for a whole pseudo-superhero mythology here, skewed through Sandman-style magicks and horror-lite gore, and backed into, story-wise, via teen growing pains. While there’s the introduction of hero and fantasy elements early on, the technique to which I referred affects how these elements come across: characters exposit backstories in vague terms, while the imagery fills us in on the specifics. Normally when this is done (and how I initially assumed it was being used) is to show the reader that there’s more to the story then what we’re (and by extension in this case, Addison) being told. But as we rounded toward the conclusion and I found the story’s path to be unsatisfying, I understood that Goodwin was cheating a bit: I guess Addison could see everything being shown in those flashbacks, and completely understood the context, without it actually being explained.
This type of discrepancy carried over elsewhere: the timing of events and sense of place are completely unhinged. Things happened a year ago that are not given any narrative distance; characters flit between locations as though those locations hold importance, but, like the over-stuffed cast they do not. And just from a consistency perspective, frequently shots are colored as though they are day or night, only to have a scene immediately following that’s the opposite. Did time pass or is it a flub? It’s impossible to know. Mix this with the over-complicated (and yet shallow – lots of moving pieces that serve one-sentence purposes) mythology of a “special” bloodline and its different sects and a secret ruling society that actually seems like it involves everyone in the world and so isn’t so secret, and Tomboy’s potential as a deeper study of something / anything gets quite derailed. Again, I underline: that interpretation (as a psychological piece) is on me. But I double back on pointing at Goodwin’s somewhat poetic, dreamy narration style, and frequent nods to themes of friendship and family, as what I feel urged me down that road. Read the other way, as a straight hero / horror story, it’s still uneven and cluttered.
These last four issues are mostly the end game: explaining Addison and Irene’s roles, and wrapping back around to the rooftop conversation in issue one. Michelle Wong carries on dutifully with art, but lacks Goodwin’s sense of framing and space when the action heats up, which doesn’t help with the generally cluttered feel.
This was an admirably scoped project that, perhaps, needed an editor to suggest it be scaled back in order to make it more effective.