Welcome Back #1
Written by Christopher Sebela (@xtop)
Illustrated by Jonathan Brandon Sawyer (@gadgetwk)
Colors by Carlos Zamudio
Letters by Shawn Aldridge
Review by Joey Braccino
“THERE’S ALWAYS A WAR.”
Mali is just another one of those typical 21st Century college students—she “graduated college, went into debt and couldn’t even get a job temping,” she has a semi-sorta-charming boyfriend, her stepfather was a serial killer, she has a stellar cape-wearing dog, and she is the latest in a long line of reincarnated ultimate warriors destined to wage one-on-one war with another reincarnated ultimate warrior. Of course, Mali doesn’t know she’s a reincarnated ultimate warrior, but she is haunted by terrifying dreams of her previous brawls/duels/swordfights/shoot-outs with her perpetual nemesis. Add that psychological trauma to the standard baggage of Millennial woe and the not-so-standard serial-killer-step-dad stuff and you’ve got the makings of one killer protagonist.
Yeah, it gets heavy, man. Christopher Sebela (Captain Marvel, Escape from New York) crafts Mali expertly over the course of Welcome Back #1. We meet her supporting cast and get the backstory, yes, but it’s the universality and the general malaise of Mali’s “real life” that garners the most pathos. Her yearning to break out from the specter of her step-dad and the disillusionment of her generation is what makes the revelation of her larger “mission” in life all the more powerful.
While the Mali sections (and the action-packed revelation of her “skills”) are the most effective moments of this first issue, the pages featuring her rival-in-perpetuity just miss the mark. Sebela plays with espionage/assassin-thriller tropes in these scenes, but dueling narration bubbles and a lack of identification of the speaker makes these few pages a bit confusing. The character seems pretty bad@$$ and uber-experienced in killing (something Mali is certainly not), which should make for some excellent conflict down the line, but the introduction is a bit botched in terms of structure. Fortunately, one helluva cliffhanger brings everything back home in anticipation of the next issue.
Jonathan Brandon Sawyer and Carlo Zamudio deliver an engaging, kinetic visual experience from start to finish. We open with strange, almost surreal landscapes of one-on-one fights across time, splashed in vibrant, nigh-neon colors. The aesthetic here is very Faith Erin Hicks or Becky Cloonan with a touch more pulp sentimentality. The balance between insane, violent action and moody brooding is pitch perfect, making Welcome Back an awesome visual experience.
There are big questions in here about youth and about violence, about how people are supposed to find purpose in an otherwise purposeless existence, and, of course, about reincarnation and legacy. Sebela and Company do a fine job of juggling the profound with the pop, eliciting comparisons (at least in this lowly reviewer’s perspective) of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Really cool stuff.
BUY. Christopher Sebela and Jonathan Brandon Sawyer’s Welcome Back #1 is a strong first issue grounded by a stellar protagonist and fascinating concept. There are some hiccups in the pacing and structure of the narration, but overall this is the latest in a string of awesome first issues from BOOM! Check it!