Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon (W); Josh Hood (A); Michael Walsh (CA)
Black Mask Comics
April 6, 2015
As punk rock history might tell you, there’s something about a boy, a girl, self-destruction, and rock n’ roll that makes for a pretty compelling, if not ultimately tragic story. As per the prominently displayed mix tape, the Germs reference, and the pair defiantly holding hands on the bright yellow cover, Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, and Josh Hood’s We Can Never Go Home is no exception. Following in the tradition of Grant Morrison’s excellent Kill Your Boyfriend, with a little bit of the pulp-y recklessness of David Lapham’s Young Liars thrown in for good measure, We Can Never Go Home Again is a teenage romp that blasts out of the gate with an enigmatic dude whose frenetic energy sustains the narrative like a pulsing backbeat.
The comic sets up Duncan (said mystery-dude and the first half of the duo on the cover) as the ultimate outsider; he’s busy creeping on two socially elite classmates at “Makeout Point” while literally holding a smoking gun. Obviously, something has happened, but as the look on Duncan’s face (and the inimitable Andrew Falkous) would tell us: “the gun’s in my hand, and I know it looks bad, but believe me I’m innocent.”
After Duncan is caught spying on a makeout session gone awry, we meet Madison, the other protagonist (co-tagonist?) of this comic, literally almost killing her meathead boyfriend with what appears to be some kind of super-strength. A hilarious takedown of superhero origin stories leads into the fact that Duncan also has powers. He has a secret as well; he basically killed his parent (with his mind) and hit the road, which of course begs the question of why he would ever need a gun.
That Madison and Duncan are both trying to learn how to use and control their powers also makes me think that there might be more like them out there, X-Men (or Heroes or Misfits)-style. As it stands, Duncan and Madison’s shared secret powers are what bring them together in a small-town setting that would never otherwise place them within the same social sphere. It’s clear that Madison’s girl-crew runs the school, her lunch-table conversations straight out of Mean Girls, complete with passive-aggressive remarks. Josh Hood’s art is especially great here, capturing the malicious smirks that often accompany a backhanded compliment.
Though this is a pretty accurate portrayal of many cliques, I’m starting to feel as though female readers might need some new teen tropes, especially since this comic sadly fails the Bechdel test. More genuine female friendships, please!
Of course with all the girls busy fighting amongst themselves, loner Duncan becomes the perfect ally for Madison. Since he has his own superpowers, he is unfazed by Madison’s, and has nothing to lose and everything to gain from her friendship. Trying to find some common ground to bridge the social gap between them, Duncan asks Madison if she’d ever heard Hüsker Dü. Though such a conversation is right at home in a comic that gets its own soundtrack (more on that later), I may have let out an involuntary “urghhhhhhhhhh whyyyyyy?” when Madison answered “nope” without a second thought.
What I’d love to see way more often (instead of barely ever at all) is a girl who answers this kind of question with a “yeah, totally! Have you heard [insert song/album/similar band here],” especially when asked by a guy, and especially in a comic. Because here’s the thing: music fandom is, by and large, a boys club, just like comics can be, and some dudes continue to view women as unworthy participants in both of these camps. That the authors (who are obviously music fans themselves) didn’t make this connection while writing a book with an otherwise interesting female lead bummed me out just a little bit, especially since I’m a pretty big fan of both comics and music and was excited for a new series that engaged with both of these things.
This oversight isn’t just a personal annoyance, though. It also seems a bit out-of-character for Madison, who had previously made quite a few self-aware, sarcastic remarks about her disdain for “grand romantic gestures” and balked at the idea of her quarterback (now ex) boyfriend as being “a pretty big deal.” Madison obviously has a personality and a mind of her own, so the fact that we know nothing about her interests and are basically told that she doesn’t know a cool band makes no sense at all. When Duncan follows up by giving Madison a mix tape in front of her friends, of course they mock her, but that at least seems fitting for a comic-book version of the Plastics, the tape signifying a transition away from their world and into Duncan’s.
A closer look at Duncan’s mix further confirms his status as an outsider; the track list featuring mostly punk, new wave, and 80s alternative music instead of hair-metal or top-40 hits. The tape functions (as previously mentioned) as a soundtrack for the rest of the series, but also as a type of Easter egg, the song titles referencing psychic warfare, secrets, psycho killers, and lots of guns. Side note one: this is actually a pretty great mix, so give these tracks a listen if you’re curious. Side note two: if you like the idea of indie comics that incorporate music in this way, definitely check out Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Phonogram, and their current series The Wicked and the Divine.
It’s also pretty funny how a book that has a gun in its very first panel instead ends up deploying Chekhov’s Mix Tape as a plot device. Madison (who seems to have a pretty stable home life) listens to the tape in her bedroom, then goes out to find Duncan. What follows is the inciting incident that explains why Madison and Duncan can never go home.
I’ll be sticking around to see what they do instead, the True Romance angle to this comic becoming pretty clear by the end of this issue. Overall, Rosenberg and Kindlon’s spirited mash-up of teen drama, outlaw narrative and superhero story seems really promising, especially with something a little extra thrown in for the music nerds (see: genius variant cover art, likely a nod to these). Speaking of music, I’d definitely like to see a mix tape that Madison makes for Duncan. Hopefully it features more ladies. As for the fate of We Can Never Go Home’s teen aged Bonnie-and-Clyde, we can only wait to find out: death or glory, which is it going to be?