It’s a rare occasion that you can use words like sweet, thoughtful, and gentle to describe a science fiction superhero story taking place in a brutal, dystopian urban battleground, but thanks to Sophie Campbell’s Shadoweyes from Iron Circus Comics, that day has arrived.
Set in a cluttered and decaying city of the future, Dranac, Campbell introduces Scout Montana, a teenager taking part in a vigilante group determined to keep things safe, along with her friend Kyisha.
However, things are about to change for Scout after she finds herself mysteriously transformed into an odd, blue, large-headed creature that seems partly like a bug, partly like Casper the Ghost. Scout’s inclination is to use this change to fight for the greater good, but what follows is the age old superhero lesson that with great power comes great responsibility. But Scout is a teenager — has she got what it takes to live up to that responsibility? And is it to much to expect that she does?
Scout finds that the power not only creates challenges and self-doubt in the crimefighting realm, but also in her personal one, as she bonds with Sparkle, a bubbly student who has reasons to stare into the abyss and see only light, which alienates her from Kyisha and creates emotions that compel her to take her power too far, and act out her rage in terrible ways.
While it’s an examination of power and maturity, of the darkness in anyone and the struggle to manage that, Shadoweyes also works as a parable of transition and acceptance, of finding out not only who you yourself are, but those around you finding out the same, and the process you go through for them to see you as you.
Shadoweyes addresses the gray areas in crime fighting and mystery solving, and features actual conversations talking about the different angles involved with street thieves, abductions, runaways, etc., adding an interesting philosophical component to the drama, but in a form that invites younger readers to mull over. Equally, Shadoweyes is a superhero who reflects her actual age. She doesn’t gain powers and then suddenly understand the way the world works and what justice is. She’s open for the conversation, willing to learn, and compelled to seek, without ever settling on absolutes as the answers.
This is a subtle and daring change from many superhero comics and also genre comics that are appropriate for younger people, as well as comics labelled “mature” that have half the subtlety and progressive understanding. There is a real moral depth to the discourse that Campbell offers in these pages that makes it more than the story presented, but at the same time, the character drama grabs you alongside the larger concerns.
And its at the heart of what Shadoweyes offers readers — compassion for difference. Physical difference, psychological difference, gender difference, lifestyle difference, any difference you can imagine, it prescribes tolerance across the board, and looks for each of its character’s strengths and dignity as it does so. It’s one of the most enlightened comics I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
John Seven is a journalist and children’s book writer living in North Adams, Massachusetts. His books include ‘A Rule Is To Break: A Child’s Guide To Anarchy,’ ‘Happy Punks 1-2-3,’ ‘Frankie Liked To Sing,’ and others. Find out about all his things at johnseven.me.