Sunday, 20 November 2016

Ours is the Glory: An Obscure Comic of the Month Special Edition

This column normally takes a look at obscure comics. For every every sixth month, instead of taking a look at a comic that nobody talks about, this special edition will take a look at a comic I feel not enough people talk about.


Glory by Joe Keatinge and Sophie Campbell – Image 2012 – 2013

Contains Heavy Spoilers

I first heard about Glory at New York Comic Con in 2012. I was attending an Image Comics panel, mainly to see Rob Kirkman, but ultimately it was Rob Liefeld and Joe Keatinge who had more interesting things to say.

The panel coincided with the announcement that Image would be running a line of revivals from Liefeld's Extreme comics line. The first shown was a panel from the first issue of Glory. It featured a broad, beefcake of a woman punching a turret from a Nazi tank. I knew, from that panel alone, that this was a series I was going to check out.

A big deal was made out on how the Extreme characters would not reboot with #1 issues, instead continuing on the number their 90's incarnations left off on. Glory was a sort of soft-reboot, but in practical terms the new series was it's entirely it's own thing.

Now let's not beat around the bush, there wasn't anything particularly interesting about most of Liefeld's early Image characters. Most were just cribbed from Marvel or DC with the serial numbers filed off. No disrespect to Rob intended, but it's true, and Glory was no different, little more than a Wonder Woman knock off with even more fanservice.

Rob was always good at laying foundations though (see Deadpool) and that seems to be the mandate that Image approached the Extreme line with it's relaunch. Take the baseline of Liefeld's characters and turn them into something much, much more interesting.

That line of thinking is clear with what Keatinge and Campbell did with Glory. All the fanservice was thrown out, and the visualisation of an indestructible Amazon warrior was approached from a completely different direction. Glory was now a mass of hair and muscle, with a face that looked as though it had been hit by a shovel, and yet truly beautiful. She was desensitised to the point of psychopathy, and her sexuality entirely her own, and the violence she partakes in far from romanticised.

And Glory is a story about violence, no doubt. The main thrust of it's story arc is the relationship between Glory and the reporter who tracks her down, Riley. The story jumps backwards and forwards in time, as we see the toll a life of violence has taken on Glory through revenge and rebellion.

In the early chapters, the story appears to be a familiar tale of a call to action when a character from their past reappears, in this case Glory's presumed-dead father. But as the story continues we learn that the civil war in which Glory fought against him was far more complex than previously thought.

Ironically, the message that Keatinge and Campbell communicate through both the writing and the art is that there is no glory in violence. Whether the cause is just or unjust, blood still splatters across panels and limbs are broken in twain. Jaws are punched out of skulls and bodies are pulped beyond recognition. As the body-count increases, it becomes ever apparent that this is the path Glory set on centuries ago, and it's far too late to turn back now.

Or is it? That's where Riley's role in the plot really begins to play it's part. Above all else Riley believes that there is more to Glory than her role in violent conflict, that there is a person under all the muscle and veins that increasingly expand as the comic goes on.

It's a comic that uses extreme violence in order to tell a story that is extremely sceptical of the violence used in more conventional superhero stories, particularly those from and inspired by the 90's era. All along the way Glory is told that her true worth relies upon her capacity for killing, be it for noble causes as suggested by her mother and human allies, or for selfish ones, as suggested by her sister. Only Riley can show Glory that there is another path.

Unfortunately, all things come with a price, and the price of Glory's salvation is Riley's life. In a particularly touching climax, Riley stands in the way of Glory's berserker rage. Campbell pulls no punches in the depiction of Riley's particularly gory death, but the emotional core of this moment serves to communicate the shock that ultimately drives Glory away from her path, averting a dark future and leading toward a brighter one.

All things considered, it's a tight, well written plot, with a point to make.

I've already praised Sophie Campbell's art, but I think it's worth saying that she is what makes Glory a comic all of it's own. There's something just so unique and alive in the way she draws the characters, each diverse and instantly recognisable. I've been a lifelong fan of Sophie's work ever since, and if I'm ever blessed enough to break into the mainstream myself, it'd be a dream to work with her.

Glory was originally supposed to be much longer than it's two volume run, but Joe Keatinge realised that he wanted to tell a shorter, tighter story. This is good, there's no plodding or filler in Glory, it's a lean, sharp story and gets right to the point. However, I still can't help but feel its a shame, because what Joe and Sophie did with the character had such heart that I really wish I had more of it.

There are also a few little points that I feel a longer run would have given more breathing space to. The first is Glory's sexuality. Glory makes no bones about casually sleeping with several men over the course of the series, but it's made abundantly clear that it's all for pleasure and nothing else. While there's a little bit of subtext between Glory and Riley, it's never suggested that Glory has any particular interest in women, until the final chapter when she travels into the afterlife and meets her one true love, Emilie.

There are multiple ways to interpret this. Glory could be seen as bisexual, or maybe she's homo-romantic. There's a whole spectrum she could fall under, but we get very little time to examine it. Now that's okay, there's no absolute necessity for the series to grace us with the specifics of Glory's sexuality beyond what was already depicted. But I thought the subject of Glory's sexuality, and the way it was written, was particularity interesting, and it's something I would have enjoyed a greater exploration of.

Likewise, the story ends on a somewhat nihilistic point, as Glory's journey to the afterlife involves a pact that prevents her from entering it again when she eventually dies, ultimately denying a reunion with Riley and Emilie both. I kind of feel this was set up as a hook for a future plot-line, left for whoever felt like picking up the character in future. However, it's been three years since, and no such return is in sight.

So really, my two complaints both boil down to the fact that there isn't more Glory, so in a sense, that's a compliment. Still, I can't deny the book's brevity is an asset, and now that you can pick up the collected edition as a single volume it gets the highest possible recommendation from me.

Glory is the finest example of a character reinvention. It's smart, it's slick, it has important things to say, and it does it all in just twelve issues. Glorious.


Jack Harvey 2016. Glory (c) 2012 Rob Liefeld and was written by Joe Keatinge and Sophie Campbell. Images used under free use.

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