Monday, December 29, 2014

The Pull List: Butterfly Review

I am pretty sure that I have stated this before, but I have found over the last six months that I prefer limited-run series to many ongoing ones, partially because I know that I'm going to get a complete story and that it probably won't be canceled. Every now and then, a limited series becomes an ongoing, like in the case of Boom! Studios' Lumberjanes, but for the most part, like Babylon Five's five-season run, the creators know that they have a specific theme or themes they want to explore and then be done with it. Archaia's Butterfly is a perfect example of how effective a short story can be in comparison to a novel, especially when it's done as well as this was.

Just as an aside, this was going to be a review of the final issue, but I decided to look at the series as a whole instead. Actually, I think that was my original plan when I first picked up Butterfly, so I'm happy that I enjoyed it as much as I did.

No spoilers below the cut!

My love for spy comics that feature women as their main characters is pretty well known. Black Widow and Velvet are some of the best series out there right now, and Butterfly sought to join those ranks. What they all have in common is not necessarily that females are the leads, but the fact that their gender does not play a role in their abilities. With Velvet, obviously, that she's a woman gives Velvet a considerable advantage, as she is significantly underestimated by her male colleagues, but even those doubts are because it's been nearly twenty years since she was an active agent. In the case of Butterfly's Rebecca, however, it is only because she's the daughter of Nightingale, a man on the run from his life as a spy and thought to be dead, at least by Rebecca, that she gets involved; had she been a son, things would not have played out differently. This is the way that all female characters should be handled: they are not sexual fetishes and deserve the same respect that their male counterparts receive.
Butterfly #1 Regular Cover Art
Via Comics Alliance
What really stands out to me in Butterfly are two things: 1) the blend of narration from both Rebecca and her father, David/Nightingale, and 2) the constant shifts forward and backward in time. First, narration normally irritates the hell out of me, as I consider it lazy, but it is balanced so well by the rich artwork by Antonio Fuso. Marguerite Bennett's writing is enhanced by the images, like when David is describing the life he would like for his daughter against a backdrop of him teaching her, as a child, how to use a gun. It's all very movie-like, as if I'm watching a poignant voice over. Second, it took me a few reads to fully grasp the various time frames that are used, since it jumps around even within a flashback. However, it is obvious when we're being shown different periods - Fuso uses warm colors for those frames, and cooler colors when in the present, and both Rebecca and David appear clearly years younger - even if it is confusing at first. I realized after my second read-through that the flashbacks were more thematically linked than anything else, and once that clicked into place, I was able to more fully enjoy the read. It's oddly smoother when things are connected by subtle ties than by linear progression, but it does take some getting used to.
Butterfly #2 Regular Cover Art
Via Whatcha Reading
The miniseries format for Butterfly ensured that it was going to have to be a tight production. No panel was wasted, and each thought bubble, image, splash page, etc. was there for a definitive purpose: to tell the story of a young woman and her father. When I read this years Cloaks by Boom! Studios, I felt disappointed when I reached the final issue. Sure, the main plot was resolved, and there was kind of a twist at the end, but it wasn't nearly as satisfying as this series. The ending was deliberately left open-ended (and yes, I would totally read this if it became an ongoing series), but the core was resolved. Much like the writing and art worked together to create a cohesive whole, the ending perfectly wrapped things up without spelling too much out for you. Bennett seems to be a writer that trusts her readers are going to be able to fill in the blanks and come to their own conclusions about what she puts out there, and I really hope that her career really takes off exponentially after this.
Butterfly #3 Regular Cover
Via This Podcast Sucks
Another comic Butterfly resembles, particularly in theme, is Men of Wrath. Both discuss the ideas of "family curses" and patriarchal relationships, and both look at the effect of violence on children, especially if the father figure is removed prematurely. While Rebecca might not have known that David was a spy, his skills were passed onto her, and quite plainly, the Project chose her because of her relationship to him. His purported death at such an early age possibly is what put her on the path to become like him, as a way to remember him. I'm not sure I would have taken the same route, but then again, my dad's a colon and rectal surgeon. All silliness aside, this concept is one that I'm looking at for another story, and Butterfly has most definitely been an important influence on that decision.
Butterfly #4 Regular Cover
Via All-Comic
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Phil Noto's cover art, which was absolutely beautiful, as you can see by the pictures I've posted here. He was a perfect choice, considering his work with Black Widow, and even though it was that much different from Fuso's interiors, it was kind of like Lebowski's rug: it just tied it all together. I'm also hoping that a trade comes out because I really want to frame the covers; Archaia uses this really nice matte material for most of their releases and it would look gorgeous under glass. Plus, Noto is a genius, and it would be a shame to just put these in a short box, hidden away from adoring eyes.

While I don't think Butterfly will make it into my Best of 2014 (it's an exclusive list, you guys), it's definitely placed Marguerite Bennett on my radar more than anything else she's done (Earth 2: World's End and Angela: Asgard's Assassin are two of the many but more recent than Batgirl). It's a beautifully done comic with strong storytelling and visuals, where neither dominated the other and instead complemented each other, a surprisingly rare trait to find in comics. So, hey, Marguerite! If you want to look into Butterfly and Nightingale's life after this? I'm up for it!
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