Two Takes on M3 Volume One: Beginnings

M3 Volume 1M3 Volume 1: Beginnings

Erica Shultz (writer), Vincente Alcazar (artist)
Vices Press, Digital Release September 24, 2014
Disclaimer: This review contains some spoilers. WWAC reviewed M3: Volume 1 with a review copy from Vices Press.

Last summer was busy with WWACs Swords of Sorrow event coverage, but when Desiree and I were given an opportunity to review M3 Volume 1: Beginnings by creator Erica Shultz, we couldn’t help but add it to our to review list. Shultz has steadily entertained us with her contributions to Swords of Sorrow, so we had no doubt M3 would be an enjoyable read.

Synopsis from the Winner for Best Comic Book at the 2012 Burbank International Film Festival, M3 is a real world, cat and mouse crime thriller about an assassin and the FBI agent tracking her down.

Follow Machiavella Maria Marcona as she escapes custody while being relentlessly followed by FBI analyst Christopher Morris whose own past has crossed with Machiavella’s many years ago.

Side note: I’m a die hard fan of special features and extras, and I recommend checking out

Initial Reactions to the Artwork

Melinda: Let’s talk about the artwork modeling the main and supporting characters after actors. I caught Damien Lewis, John Cho, Jason Statham, and probably many more, but I’m terrible with names! The more I couldn’t immediately recognize the actor or actress, the more distracted I became, yet it’s still the first thing I think of when this comic comes up in conversation.

Desiree: I caught John Cho, but not the others. Was M3’s dad suppose to be modeled after Tom Selleck? He looked just like him. Did you notice the comic book Easter eggs? The Batman/Oracle one obviously, but I also noticed the “Grayson” namedrop and another one. Or maybe that’s just me looking too deeply into it!

An example of the celebrity look-a-likes
An example of the celebrity look-a-likes

Melinda: Yes, I went back and looked, and I think her father does look like Tom Selleck. I think the mom looks like Julia Ormond at one point too.

Is the plot too familiar or just familiar enough?

M3 Cover Issue 4 Cover by Erica Shultz
M3 Issue #4, Cover art by Erica Shultz

Melinda: I’m a huge fan of the television show Alias, and M3 has a familiar storyline with an assassin winning over a government guy and in turn they take down the organization she once worked for. It feels like a familiar story—what makes this stand out?

Desiree: M3’s backstory actually reminded me a lot of Helena Bertinelli’s from DC Comics, but grounded as firmly in reality as a spy/assassin story can be. I’ve never watched Alias, but this does feel like a familiar story in terms of narrative framing.

What set this apart was how complicated the relationships were. M3, or Vella as she prefers to be called, ended up being adopted by her parents’ murderer and sees him as a surrogate father figure. Then she and Morris develop a certain brand of trust—and even flirtation—while the fact she killed Morris’ father looms over them both. It was really interesting from a reader’s perspective as I kept wondering, what kind of relationship could Morris and M3 truly have? With that kind of past and history?

The one thing I would have loved to see more of is how M3 and David were able to build their relationship. The flashbacks showed her going from wary, to trusting, to finally seeing him as a father figure in her life. I felt this could have been given more focus. What made David take her? What made her forgive him for killing her parents? Those were questions I had, but the mystery of it all also added well to the tone of the book.

Characters make the story. How do the characters in M3 carry the story forward?

M3 Cover Issue 6
M3 Issue #6, Cover art by Rick Buckler

Melinda: I’m huge on introspection, and I feel like the narration carried me through the pages. I couldn’t wait to get to the next issue because Shultz’s storytelling is compelling. There wasn’t enough space to really build the secondary characters and their motivations, but I didn’t mind as long as their storylines were tidied up in the end.

Desiree: The antagonists, Herron and Bowen, were pretty by-the-numbers—corrupt government officials with no stand-out motivation other than their own corruption. Although I did like the twist about Bowen being involved with Herron’s corruption, overall, they weren’t that interesting as antagonists of the story.

M3’s reactions to them were more interesting, but her best scenes were either in flashbacks, solo, or with Morris. What I like most about Erica Schultz’s work is how she can build a character. Vicente Alcázar’s art is pretty stringent and doesn’t allow for much overt emotions to play through, so a lot has to come out in the dialogue and internal monologues of the characters. Schultz was able to showcase M3’s inner thoughts particularly well. She’s very closed in—understandably so given the nature of M3’s lifestyle and her backstory—but there are moments of humor and self-deprecation that come through in her monologues or her interactions with Morris.

Morris himself isn’t an especially interesting character, being the by-the-numbers good government guy. Even so, there are moments that endeared me to him that speak of potential within the character. The humorous twist about the motorcycle was especially cute, and his interactions with M3 were great. Drawing parallels between their thoughts and scenes together was particularly well done. Morris and M3 came off as great foils.

Vincente Alcazar’s bio is quite impressive. Is it any surprise the art compliments the story so well?

Melinda: I have a hard time talking about art, but I prefer clean lines and minimum clutter coming from the background so my eyes can focus on the main characters, so this art really appeals to me. The dark, muted colors add to the suspense and highlight the different dangerous situations.

Desiree: Alcazar’s artwork has some great lines. The scene where M3 is getting ready was very cold, which suited her character. She’s an assassin, she’s beautiful, but not especially so. She blends in when needed, but stands out when she must as well. Neither was M3 a perfect assassin, making mistakes when her head was lost in the past was a nice touch that helped humanize the character.

One of the techniques Alcazar used was showing another character’s face in an opposing character’s glasses. It was extremely striking and one of my favorite images within the entire book. There were some panels that I felt were awkward, but overall it felt very grounded and solid. The art enhanced the overall realistic tone of the book. M3 isn’t wearing heels or a cleavage-revealing dress, but instead a practical outfit of loose fitting cargo pants, boots, t-shirt, and leather jacket. The other characters all reflected a similar style, wearing practical clothing with no one being especially attractive.

Final thoughts?

Melinda: I know I’m looking forward to volume two. I want to know more about M3’s training and where she goes next. I’m not going to lie, I’m also hoping for some romance between Vella and Agent Morris. I think fans of crime thrillers and suspense will really enjoy this volume.

Desiree: The book was surprisingly action-less. Given that it was more of a thriller than an action oriented Bond story, perhaps that was for the best. Even so, I wanted to see a bit more action mixed into the cat-and-mouse game. Seamus, I’m assuming, will confront M3 in volume two, and I’m especially excited for that. Given their nasty history, Seamus reads more like a traditional—and interesting—antagonist to M3 than Bowen and Herron.

Melinda Pierce

Melinda Pierce

Contributor for WWAC, mother of 2 mini-geeks, writer, and girl geek. Dreams of having enough time to write Veronica Mars fanfiction. @melindabpierce