Twisted Romance #3
Alex de Campi, Jess Bradley, and Margaret Trauth (Writers), Carla Speed McNeil and Margaret Trauth (Artists)
February 21, 2018
As you would hope with any book featuring the word “twisted” in the title, Twisted Romance does not play it safe. Alex de Campi’s ambitious romance anthology stars diverse creators who explore the complicated nature of love — and the third issue does no less than reach for the moon. Yes, it’s the science fiction issue, and Twisted Romance skillfully mixes genres, whipping up three very different and intriguing stories. Whether you prefer romance full of rakish adventure, apocalyptical futility, or candy-colored cuteness, Twisted Romance wants to make your heart blast off like a rocket.
In the 28-page main course, de Campi reunites with her No Mercy co-creator Carla Speed McNeil for “Invincible Heart.” Captain Justin Rao of the Invincible patrols a distant corner of the universe in pursuit of space pirate Black Domhnall, but capturing his quarry leads to some very interesting complications. (Think Kate Beaton’s “Nemesis” comics, but sexier, and in space.) De Campi’s tight script is peppered with familiar sci-fi elements–heroes in Starship Troopers body armor, a distant and unfeeling capitol, the rogue with a close, personal connection to his spaceship–and feels like genuine, lived-in universe. A common pitfall for genre anthologies are short stories so dense with exposition and plot that they collapse like a dying star, but de Campi knows precisely how much information to convey to draw the reader in and pull the characters closer together.
Carla Speed McNeil’s penciled artwork brings a surprisingly delicate quality to a red-blooded science fiction story. “Invincible Heart” is an excellent showcase for her skills as a character designer. The leads are perfect foils for one another: Rao the straight-laced soldier, and Domhnall, who’s all smirks and sinew. Rao’s body is encased in armor whereas Domhnall is perpetually shirtless; Rao’s slicked-back hair seems shellacked to his head, while Domhnall’s wild locks look like they’d be blown by a dramatic breeze even in the vacuum of space. (After this, I’m dying to see McNeil draw Gambit.) There’s a physicality to the art that makes every cocked hip or stolen kiss heavy with sensuality.
Twisted Romance continues with “The Last Minute,” a prose short story by Jess Bradley that could be the last chapter of an epic sci-fi novel but, at eight pages, is exactly the right length. It follows a soldier and a scientist as they climb an alien tower, carrying a bomb that will–they hope–destroy the portal that’s allowed armies of monsters to devastate the Earth. As a science fiction story, it feels particularly tapped into the current zeitgeist (I thought immediately of Annihilation and The Cloverfield Paradox), and readers who have picked up the book for a subversive love story will appreciate Bradley’s sharp, incisive characterization. The last minute confession of love in the face of certain doom doesn’t play out the way it does in blockbusters, but it’s no less affecting.
As solid as Bradley’s story is, it’s undercut by its plain presentation. I’m not opposed to incorporating prose into comic books, but it is a visual medium, and the formatting of two unadorned columns of black text on white paper sucks some of the life out of a story that should be throbbing with it. Compared to the recent The Wicked + The Divine: 1923 special by Kieron Gillen and Aud Koch (also published by Image) that presents its prose pages with an Art Deco stylization appropriate for the “Lost Generation” writers that make up its cast, “The Last Minute” feels naked. Even a single small title page illustration would have been a welcome addition.
The final story, Margaret Trauth’s “Olivia Lies, Pierced,” goes down like a fizzy digestif after the grimness of “The Last Minute.” Olivia Featherstone is an anthropomorphized cyborg cat attending the Staisbridge Academy of Diplomacy; mischief-prone Olivia sneaks out at night with her friend Baron K (an adorable white mouse) to roleplay their favorite magical girl tv show. Inevitably, their swordplay becomes a kind of foreplay, and they kiss under a pink, gooey “SMOOCH” sound effect. Trauth’s comic is colorful and cute, marred only by semi-transparent word bubbles that let some of the text blur into the background art.
Three issues in, this remains a remarkably solid anthology series that’s yet to hit a jarring note, and the trio of stories here stretch the boundaries of science fiction while teasing out the question of what it means to love someone. Twisted Romance #3 is a space age love song.