Image Comics is a publisher that made its name by allowing creators to explore (and own) whatever ideas they felt were ripe for a comic book. Originally considered the independent publisher, Image has since grown into such a massive company they practically rival the “big two”, DC and Marvel. However, even with substantial growth, Image is still a house of weird ideas that wouldn’t get nearly the attention they do anywhere else.
She Wolf from writer and artist Rich Tommaso is one of these weird ideas. In it, Gabby, a teenager with a penchant for pentacles, believes she’s transforming into a wolf after being attacked by a werewolf, and soon begins terrorizing her friends and neighborhood dogs. Whether she’s actually turning into a werewolf isn’t made entirely clear given the comic’s utterly surreal presentation, but real or not, the incident of the attack is affecting her everyday life.
She Wolf #1 is an ambitious comic, to be sure, but this first issue lacks the clarity of purpose one would expect of an introductory issue. That may be the point, leaving readers just as confused as Gabby, but it also does very little to bring readers on board with Gabby as a character or her plight. Though still only the first chapter of a larger story, there’s no development of Gabby as the protagonist and we’re given little reason to root for her. Considered a horror comic, there are only a few moments which could fall into that category, and they’re more disturbing than actually frightening.
It’s also hard to tell just what Tommaso is looking to communicate with Gabby’s attack and later transformation, but several scenes have dialogue that almost align her story with one of a sexual assault victim. In particular, there’s a scene between her and the school principle where she sees the principle say one thing but mean another, implying she’s at fault for her own attack. So truthfully, there may be something more substantive at work underneath what appears to be a straightforward if unoriginal narrative, but so far there’s little in text to suggest this.
Handling both the writing and art duties, Tommaso definitely excels at one more than the other. Visually, She Wolf #1 is far more interesting than the story it’s trying to tell. Billed as a surreal comic, the imagery within definitely fulfills that promise, leaving readers wondering if what’s shown is happening in reality or in Gabby’s mind. Dream sequences blend into normal, daytime activities, muddling where one begins or ends. The designs of characters, particularly the wolves, are striking, and examining the strange page layouts makes for a more interesting use of time than trying to decipher the plot.
Tommaso’s style is unlike anything we see in most mainstream comics, utilizing broken linework and soft watercolors to evoke a clear sense of mood. The narrative may be a mess, but the artwork easily communicates the panic, fear, and even dread Gabby is feeling at different points throughout. The colorful speech bubbles and text is also unique, adding further expression to what’s being said, even if the intent of the dialogue isn’t so straightforward.
She Wolf #1 is a tough comic to recommend. It isn’t clear what Tommaso’s hoping to say with this story, and besides some interesting visuals, there’s little to take away from it. Once the full story is published, She Wolf may prove a really fascinating exploration of trauma and transformation, but as its stands now, this issue is a visually compelling but confusing comic.