Reviews: She Could Fly

Published On July 12, 2018 | By | Comics, Reviews

She Could Fly #1,
Christopher Cantwell, Martin Morazzo, Miroslav Mrva, Clem Robins,
Berger Books / Dark Horse Comics

You know, in the air I bet the thoughts are gone and you can be free.”

Luna is a young school student, dealing with serious mental health problems. At first when we see her with the school counsellor it looks like it could easily be a fairly normal situation, a young student feeling nerves as she deals with the pressures of teen life and school. It soon becomes apparent Luna has far more than just nerves about high school, she has some awful fears that manifest in frightening, nightmare images – an innocent question to cheer her up, such as asking if she is looking forward to passing her driving test triggers a mental flash in her brain of her accidentally running someone over with “YOU WILL KILL SOMEONE. THEY WILL TAKE YOU AWAY” in the dialogue boxes.

Other actions that should likewise be friendly and innocent also somehow trigger horrible images in her mind – her mother, talking about climate change and how you can now grow succulents even in the Chicago environment, turns to her and offers her a small cactus she bought as a present, but again this action, born of love and warmth, causes horrible images to afflict Luna, nightmare images where she bloodily attacks her own family. All of this is accompanied by more large, harshly written words in the dialogue boxes, and much of what those say will be recognisable to any of us who have struggled with a mental illness: it’s all your fault, you don’t deserve good things happening to you, nobody can really love you, even if they do you don’t deserve it and will hurt them because you are worthless. It’s horrifying and upsetting.

I know from the Electric Sublime Morazzo’s art is very adaptable, going in a heartbeat from depicting the everyday mundane scenes of daily life to sudden bursts of fantasy or horror, and he uses that ability to great effect here. In the scene where the counsellor asks about her passing her driving test we go from a regular school office to a horrible, violent vision of someone not just being stuck by Luna driving a car but pulped in a hideously visceral manner.

Morazzo follows this with a pretty much perfect image of poor Luna in the counsellor’s office, trying, trying, trying oh so hard not to show what awful mental images were triggered in her mind, depicting her face attempting to be calm but the eyes wide, staring, terrified. It’s one of those elements the comics medium handles oh so well, that single image of her expression giving so much insight into her state of mind, and generating empathy for her suffering, all in a single panel (a friend of mine once said comics cannot match prose for “getting inside a character’s head”. I love prose and understand what he meant, but I argued that a skilful comics creator can do that just as well and often more economically than prose, it depends on the creator, and this is a good example).

Around this narrative is the eponymous flying woman, sighted numerous times over the city; she’s becoming something of an obsession with Luna, and by obsession I mean almost clinically – she places pins on the map to mark where the flying lady has been spotted, but she has to do so in a small ritual “take a pin, hold it with your left fingers, push it into your right thumb. Turn the pin 365 degrees with your right fingers. Then push it into the map. This keeps everyone safe.” This is followed by a fantasy sequence where she imagines, her wee ritual having kept “everyone safe” that she is flying through the clouds, reaching out to the mysterious flying lady; the clouds part the sun breaks through as they float their in the sky where the bad thoughts are gone and “you can be free.” The contrast between her expression in the sky, relaxed, open, happy, and her previous state during her visions is powerful.

Another subplot involves a middle aged scientist in a romantic liason with a lady of the night. Shadowy figures are demanding he do as promised and give them the secret of the flying lady, others too are after him. How does she fly? Is it a superpower, a technological secret? Why does she soar over the city so often in view of so many? What connection does the scientist have to her and her ability?

This does a great job as a first issue, it hooks the reader in with a brief glimpse into the lives of the characters but leaves us with more questions, so we know we’re going to have to pick up the next issue (and that’s what a good first issue should do). I had strong flashbacks to Terry Gilliam’s sublime film Brazil while reading this issue. Luna’s fantasy sequence of taking to the clouds with the flying lady reminded me so much of Sam in Brazil, escaping his miserable world in literal flights of fancy, soaring into the sky heroically, and like Brazil (and many of Gilliam’s works) this is a world that can flip from fantastical beauty to brutal horror in a split second. Hugely emotional and compelling, I’m totally drawn into this already and have to read the rest…

If you are experiencing mental health problems, don’t suffer through it alone, there are good people willing to help. The Mental Health Foundation has a list of places and suggestions for someone to talk to, and the website for Mind is also a useful place to start.

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