Creators Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr (co-writer, co-writer/layout artist, and artist, respectively) managed to spark a mini-revolution at DC with their run on “Batgirl.” Their “Batgirl of Burnside” brought a real sense of style and fun to the “New 52” and enough buzz to get DC to follow their lead. It didn’t last, but the Fletcher/Stewart/Tarr run clearly established these creators as ones to follow. That they all re-teamed for “Motor Crush” at Image meant that I was definitely going to check it out (even if it took a little longer than I had planned). The end result features a lot of the style the creators had on display for their “Batgirl” run, but precious little of its fun.
“Motor Crush” takes place in the futuristic city of Nova Honda, the racing capital of the world. Domino Swift is the daughter of legendary motorcycle racer Sullivan Swift and is currently trying to make a name for herself in the World Grand Prix. However, that’s just her day job. By night she’s running in illegal races throughout the city to get her hands on the machine accelerant known as Crush. Put that stuff into an engine and you’ll have a ride that can’t be touched. Domino doesn’t need Crush to win, she needs it to stay alive which becomes that much more difficult when her stash is stolen.
This is only the beginning of Domino’s troubles. As the volume goes on her ex-girlfriend is menaced by thugs, she makes deals with shady promoters, loses another race for Crush then gets into trouble with the person who runs it, is accused of cheating in a race, and is menaced by a mysterious racer who claims to know what she really is. So much stuff goes bad for Domino in this very first volume that you’d think it was actually written by Rick Remender!
Unfortunately Fletcher and Stewart appear to be laboring under the idea that misfortune equals drama equals involvement. It doesn’t work that way here and most of “Motor Crush” winds up feeling like a downer than a thrilling read about motorcycle racing. What it really feels like is that the creators have started off this series with the kind of volume you’d expect to read around its halfway point. You know, the one where everything starts going wrong for its protagonist and they’re going to have to step up in order to triumph. Putting that kind of volume at the beginning, before we’ve really had a chance to get to know these characters and get invested in their fates, just doesn’t make for a fun or entertaining reader experience.
I mean, the characters are likeable enough even though they don’t really break the mold. Domino’s initial impression as a brash rookie is tempered by the increasing desperation she displays as things get worse along with her frustration at her unknown history. Her dad Sullivan is all gregarious warmth until his daughter starts asking questions about her history. Lola, Domino’s ex as well as mechanic, adds some welcome femininity to a standard gearhead role and I like how their past relationship is acknowledged with no fuss. Of the bit supporting characters, Calax makes a nice impression as a sensitive tough guy and I’d love to know more about the Muppet-head-wearing, hammer wielding rider known as Hannibal Holocaust. (Really, who wouldn’t?) As for the black-leather-clad racer who claims to know all about Domino’s past, there is nothing on display here to set him apart from every other version of his character you’ve likely read about elsewhere.
This volume does boast some pretty great art from Tarr. Her “Batgirl” work clearly showed that she had style to burn and that’s true here as well. She makes Nova Honda look like a wonderfully inviting coastal paradise during the day and a perfectly sinister metropolis at night. The character work on display is also very nice with even the bit players demonstrating some kind of notable exuberance. As for the races, they’re the easiest parts of the volume to appreciate as Tarr makes their kinetic action both stylish and easy to follow.
Great art and some misguided storytelling. It’s not a mix that makes for a particularly compelling debut volume. Toss in the fact that this first volume ends with what feels like a soft reset and I can see why people wouldn’t be inclined to find out if things get better in vol. 2. Even I’m on the fence about whether or not I should see if that’s the case. I mean, I want to believe that the “Batgirl” team can recapture the magic in a creator-owned title. Yet all they have to offer me so far is just a general feeling that this material isn’t living up to its potential.