Friday, February 06, 2015

"There is no good side here." – Gail Simone's "The Movement"

In May 2014, the Tumblrs groaned: Gail Simone’s latest team-book was scheduled for cancellation with what seemed at the time like very little editorial fanfare. New characters at DC have not had very much luck this past decade; I was holding out hope The Movement might break the pattern. I was disappointed, if not altogether surprised.

(The title of this review is shamelessly lifted from the second volume of the series.)

As the protectors of their benighted urban setting of Coral City’s low-income neighborhood, the superpowered members of the Movement assume more complex roles than typical vigilantes. Between scenes of violence, our heroes work alongside muggle allies at improvised soup kitchens, shelters, and classrooms. While the scenes of urban domesticity give the book some grassroots credibility -- providing a moral counterpoint to the more straightforward styles of problem-solving traditionally promoted by the genre -- the Movement’s political endgame remains exceedingly vague. Altercations with a plethora of unrelated antagonists are made more complex than necessary by dissension within the ranks, creating a kafkaesque climate of all-against-all which tends to undermine the book’s message of pacifism and class solidarity. 

The Movement’s roster of misfit heroes boasts more diversity than the Planeteers: four of its six members are women, three of whom are women of colour. Virtue (née Holly Ann Fields) is a powerful empath capable of tapping into all of the energies of the emotional spectrum. As the practical, street-smart leader of the titular group, Virtue knows how to attract people to her cause: she is aided in her social justice mission by the geokinetic Tremor (Roshanna Chatterji, a transfer from Simone’s pre-Nu52 Secret Six); Katharsis (Kulap Villaysack), a former cop with a flight-suit and a very large collection of grudges; Vengeance Moth (Drew Fisher), a self-effacing wheelchair-user with energy-construct powers; Mouse (Jayden Revell), a kooky rat empath; and Burden (otherwise known as Christopher), a troubled teen with the ability to change into any one of the many demons that haunt his fervid religious imagination. 

Burden’s perspective as an inexperienced newcomer to seedy Coral City often serves as the reader’s way into The Movement’s fallen world. Though Burden’s naïveté is at times an excellent pretext for entertaining pathos, I suspect it also proves a very awkward fit for many readers; I was grateful for Batgirl’s cameos for providing a different, less obstructed point-of-view.

Ultimately, The Movement does not really break away from the conventions of the bourgeois power-fantasy: despite the book's emphasis on social issues, Coral City's beleaguered proletariat is not given any alternative to standing in a crossfire. Be that as it may, it would not be entirely fair to suggest Simone plays up class struggle as a shortcut to thematic substance. We must take into consideration the fact that The Movement’s storytelling style is consistent with its overt gospel of diversity: instead of a singular view of a narrative centered on objective violence, we are given multiple angles on a plot elaborated around complex interpersonal drama. While there is some evidence to suggest The Movement bit more than it could chew – tackling too many issues without giving any of them the nuance and attention it deserves – it is not unreasonable to suppose the need to wrap things up before cancellation affected the pace. When all is said and done, DC Comics should have given The Movement a much longer run in consideration of Simone’s concern for inclusiveness: cancelling the series on account of underwhelming sales flies in the face of the socially-progressive values the publisher professes to uphold.

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