REVIEW: “Noctua” #2

(Alterna Comics, 2013)

Review by John Monaghan

Writer: Andrew M. Henderson
Artist: J. C. Grande
Colour: Eagle Gosselin
Letters: David Paul

In a society experiencing widespread viral vampirism, a brooding vigilante who has suffered a personal loss clashes with members of an organized crime family and a couple of police officers are left picking up the pieces. When Jose Sagastume reviewed Noctua #1 for Bag & Bored in April, he pointed out that there were pacing issues. I think that’s still a problem in issue #2. It feels like very little has been done to advance the plot and really put the hooks into a new readership. It’s understandable that when you have a big premise you want to come hard and heavy with expositional dialogue and captioning to familiarize the reader with this new world but the key is striking a balance. There was a real feeling of two steps forward one step back when Noctua #2 slipped into a flashback, and the closing scene – the vigilante leaving his flat and being followed by a Russian girl he saved – didn’t leave me desperate to pick up the next issue. As Sagastume said, this is something that can be fixed easily by the writer and I expect the comic could be very different in a couple issues time when Henderson feels like the setting and premise is established and he can focus on plot.

Henderson is not only ambitious in attempting to absorb superhero-vigilante, vampire, and crime-drama fiction into one comic, but he also wants to have an overarching theme which holds transhuman-bias as an analogue to racism. Feeding into that, it feels like he wants to play with shades of grey, having biased good guys and more accepting bad guys, which is potentially another interesting angle to the comic and if it was executed fluidly there would be a lot going on. Unfortunately, I felt that there was something quite wrongheaded and even ugly in the conflation of vampirism-as-a-virus and race – or to be more accurate, in the conflation of two different types of discrimination. In a problematic exchange between Drake, a black policeman, and his partner in Issue #1, it felt like Henderson was going for what I’d consider quite tasteless satire rather than serious thematic commentary:

Harker: You know Drake, you’d think you’d sympathise with them.
Drake: And why’s that Harker? Because I’m black?
Harker: Because you’re a minority–
Drake: Don’t compare me to a fucking vampire.
Harker: That’s racist you shouldn’t call them vampires.

At other times it feels like Henderson was being quite earnest with this theme: witness a number of conversations about discrimination, and particularly a scene towards the end of issue #1 where a ‘transhuman’ couple are asked to leave a restaurant because no one wants to eat around them. There’s something a bit out of sync here and this theme hasn’t worked so far. The other thing that stands out RE: exploring discrimination is that in these first two issues we have only encountered two female characters. The first is a Russian woman who offers sexual favours to Noctua in exchange for being allowed to stay in flat. The second female character we meet is phallating a gangster who then slits her throat.

Noctua is an ambitious but confused comic at the moment. Perhaps in a few issues time it will have found direction and groove. There’s nothing broken that cannot be mended. Except… you know… DC Villains month and the Giants’ chances of making it to the Superbowl in 2014. And the TV I put my foot through when the Texans lay down to the Ravens last weekend. And the keyboard I snapped over my knee arguing about what went wrong afterwards. And my chances of winning my fantasy league. And… okay there are some things that can’t be fixed. Here’s hoping Noctua isn’t one of them.

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“Noctua” #2 is available on October 2nd on ComiXology.

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Follow John Monaghan on Twitter:  @deadlifts

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