Female-centric and female-led comic titles are becoming more common place. Indie creators have noticed the growing female audience and are responding by producing more content focused on women in strong, action-packed roles. With titles like Rocket Girl, Shutter, and Bandetta on the rise, gender issues are being addressed more readily and creator owned publishers are embracing the female audience with more respect than some of the bigger publishers.
That said, many of these comics are still written and drawn by men, and often tread the fine line of empowered female character and “strong female character” (a woman who’s only defining traits are that she is strong, tough, and often sexy). Kevin Maguire acknowledged this trope back in 1997 with his underloved tongue-in-cheek sci fi/superhero romp Trinity Angels, and artists like J. Scott Campbell, with his Danger Girls series, still play with the concept today, but more often than not, attempts at playing with gender roles and presentation of strong and sexy female characters struggle to find success with female audiences.
Sevara definitely struggles with that line. While it lacks the cartoony, self-referential fun of Maguire or Campbell, it presents a number of powerful female leads; unfortunately, it fails to really explore the characters deeper than a brief back-story and a number of confusing flashbacks.
I received a preview copy of the first “issue” of Sevara (#0) from publisher Broken Icon Comics. Releasing a full Volume 1 in April, the creator owned comic is trumpeted as being a “female-centric fanboy romp” with a “rich and engaging look at gender stereotypes, theological conflict, and ecological degradation.”
The title character is transformed into an immortal, god-like warrior who battles evil, greed, hate, and destruction. Once the world is returned to its innately good pastoral state, Sevara and other entities like her enter a stasis and allow humans to maintain the world. Of course, this goes poorly, and Sevara suddenly awakens some thousands of years later to a world filled with greed and fear, where one machine-man (Mitan) is trying to rule over everything. Sevara must fight Mitan and find other women who have the power to become divine.
Creator Damian Wampler was originally inspired by the concept of “what Jesus and other prophets would think of how humanity had interpreted their words,” and the story was originally written to be a play. The concept is a solid one, and while the concepts of superheroes as gods and mortals being turned into gods only to die have been written within the industry, the idea of a god whose words are used against them is less common. However, that concept barely comes through in the preview pages.
And that’s where we find biggest weakness of Sevara: the writing. The story-line is too concerned with and enfolded in itself, and I was getting mental whiplash from how quickly the comic traveled back and forth in the timeline of the characters (sometimes up to three on a single page)—maybe. It’s honestly hard to tell who is being focused on in implied flashbacks, as a disproportionate number of the women in the first issue have shortish red hair. While I appreciate that much of the primary female cast has short hair—it’s a personal pet peeve when post-apocalyptic women have luxurious Whedon-wavey locks—the similar hair color, style, and the vaguely same-faced characters makes differentiation a challenge.
The art and line-work, both by Andre Siregar, is solid, but inconsistent. Part of this is absolutely because of the shifting nature of the story, but the art also struggles to show what is actually happening in a clear, concise way. Siregar’s figures are OK, with Sevara being his best drawn character, but it’s really his panel layout that is great; outstanding on some pages. You can see vague inspiration from classic the Wildstorm/Image era, with playfully shaped boxes (inspired by the movements within them) and characters breaking out of their panels on almost every other page.
Sevara’s powers are a bit baffling. She seems to have a magic suit (complete with a pin-head helmet) that, a la Empowered, occasionally turns to strips of gauze, but then immediately repairs itself when convenient to the plot. She also occasionally has a pair of beautifully rendered wings that come and go without much explanation. These, along with immortality, seem to be powers associated with all the immortal women in the book—unless some of them are actually the same women with different wings and scaly bikinis.
The place where Sevara shines most is the colors. Colorist Anang Setyawan masterful creates texture and dynamic images with his shading and color palette. The moments when Sevara is glowing, or when shining balls of immortality are being exchanged make me wonder what Setyawan did to achieve the ethereal, jump-off-the-page glows.
Though the cover of the preview is different from the interior art, I really like the look and feel of it. Joshua Chinsky’s piece is a great example of how artwork of the female body can be “sexy,” but not “sexualized.” The titular character’s eye contact and body language belay a sense of confidence, strength, and almost acknowledgement of the male gaze; though Sevara is not clothed much, her body is not presented lasciviously.
I would compare this series to Witchblade, in style, tone, and use of border-line titillating images (although the first issue of Sevara is not as bad an offender as Witchblade). Though I’ve never been particularly fond of the dark, sci-fi fan-service genre, Witchblade has been wildly successful, spawning live action and anime adaptations. Sevara, too, has the potential for success, provided it can overcome itself.
Sevara is not going to be cheeky fun; it’s clearly trying to make a serious presentation of religion in comics, but I worry that the dark, self-important tone will be the downfall of the book. While grim and gritty is always in style according to some publishers and filmmakers, I feel the book could potentially be a more successful title if it took itself a little less seriously. If you like dense, post-apocalyptic stories featuring heroines with tortured internal monologues, this is the title for you. Sevara has the potential to go somewhere great, but it’s hard to say where the story will go next.
Sevara Volume One will be available in April 2015.