Creators: Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, & Babs Tarr
Letterer: Aditya Bidikar
Graphic Designer: Tom Muller
If you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you my favorite creator in comics is Grant Morrison. Arkham Asylum: a Serious House on Serious Earth was the first Batman story I ever read, and since then no one has been able to unseat him. No one. If you ask me about my favorite creative team, it’s the creative group behind The Wicked + The Divine, comprised of Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles. While no one member of the band hits a note quite as high as Grant does when he works with any number of artists, together they sing a song unlike any other. There’s a value to the concept of a creative band in its capacity to assemble a uniquely amalgamated symphony. Motor Crush #1, created by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr, better known as the team that brought you Batgirl of Burnside, proves just how high that value can be.
Batgirl of Burnside is perhaps best remembered for its vibrant youthfulness. Their take on Barbara Gordon was tuned in the cultural zeitgeist. Gone were the days of the more evergreen Barbara, more memorable for her life in the costume than out of it. The Batgirl of Burnside was a spunky college kid with a real life and a group of spandexless friends. That multi-dimensional characterization proved to be reinvigorating for the character, and the word “vigor” is also an apt one to describe Motor Crush‘s lead, Domino Swift. Her character design is bold, centered around a bright white racing jacket with pink highlights. She wears her hair short– almost shaved down to the scalp, and her boots look combat ready. She acts like a cocksure firebrand who knows exactly what her limits are in that she doesn’t have any. That could make her unlikable, but she consistently demonstrates enough self awareness in her inter-personal interactions that it’s hard not to love her.
As with any story set in the future, the first issue of Motor Crush #1 is primarily dedicated to establishing the rules of the world. Domino is an up-and-coming pro motorcycle racer who lives in a society that adores the sport. While that sounds familiar enough if you replace motorcycles with race cars, what makes the world feel more foreign is the constant intrusive presence of technology. WGP, the World Grand Prix Media Channel, is always on the air, and settings and characters are introduced to us through caption overlays that are stylized and written so their presence makes panels feel like we’re looking at an app on our phones. Floating catballs follow pro racers like Domino around, forcing her to engage in interviews on the fly and even ham up a rivalry with one of her friends for the cameras. The net effect is a society that feels like a less nefarious version of the the one presented in LRNZ’s Golem— everything is commodified and integrated with something artificial.
Speaking of artificial, as one might suspect, the concept of something known as “Crush” is central to the story in Motor Crush #1. Crush is presented to us in the form of glowing capsules full of a mysterious pink liquid. There’s a mystery surrounding their cultural importance and their practical usefulness, and while Motor Crush #1 certainly intrigues me with its use of the substance, it also presents the material in such an ambiguous way that I find it somewhat confusing. There’s a fine line to tread when doling out mysteries in a story– give too much away and the reveal isn’t really revelatory, but provide too little and the audience is left in the dark with no way to even feel their way towards an exit.
However, that knock is a small one in the grand scheme of things. In my mind, the greatest strength of Motor Crush #1 isn’t necessarily its story, but its atmosphere. Babs Tarr has done some incredible work throughout this book, enhancing her signature linework with halftones and watercolors that make scenes literally glow. The palette is dominated by pinks of varying hues that make the world feel like it’s lit by neon lights a la Blade Runner even though most of the action takes place in a tropical region that lies completely parallel to the grungy cityscapes presented in that film. The motorcycle action in this issue is tense and explosive, enhanced by the fact that movement is primarily defined through the zipping of rose colored headlights and the fact that the big action set piece of this issue takes place on an illegal racing circuit full of weapons and strangely-costumed contenders who look like war boy rejects from Mad Max: Fury Road.
Ultimately, Motor Crush #1 isn’t perfect, but it’s the most consistently interesting start to an Image Comics series in a while. In this first issue, Fletcher, Stewart, and Tarr demonstrate that they have a clearly defined vision of Domino Swift’s world and that they understand where her story will take them. There is a blend of themes layered into the story that range from the proliferation of social media in daily life to the dangers of extreme sports and substance abuse in those circles. A warning to the unwary– things can and will get gross and dark in this book, but those moments will undeniably be punctuated by breathtaking beauty as well.