Tomboy, Action Lab Comics’ latest series from the Eisner-nominated Mia Goodwin (Priceless), presents a story with no shortage of pulpy violence, corporate and political corruption, and a very unorthodox devil-on-your-shoulder… all of which is experienced firsthand by sixteen year-old Addison Brody whose, “tomboy,” description is only the tip of the iceberg.
Much remains to be seen about the direction and depth of Goodwin’s story arc, though I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that the ethereal yet gritty Tomboy will leave some readers hungry for more, and others with a bad taste in their mouths.
Addison (a spunky and lively birthday girl), her father Mark (a CSI), and grandfather Anthony (a retired police chief), seem to live as normally as an Irish-cop family is expected to… until Mark discovers a brutal crime scene that hits very close to home.
The culprit is Irene Trent, a sadistic woman who heads a poison-pill factory disguised as a pharmaceutical company. Returning from field hockey practice numb with grief, Addison overhears a conversation related to the crime and becomes possessed by her favorite anime-like character Princess Cherry Cherry. She then proceeds to flip on her Wintermelon Wolf mask and goes full, no holds-barred, Casey Jones. Shocked with herself, Addison unexpectedly learns that a family secret may explain her behavior. Over the course of several months, Addison leaves a trail of bodies, sans eyeballs, in her wake as she closes in on Trent.
There are lot of threads that have yet to fully develop in the story, like Mercy, a hospital nurse and reluctant ally of Addison’s grandfather who may actually be a well-situated Angel of Death. Similarly, how Trent will respond to Addison’s reign of terror is something that hasn’t been fully examined.
What I want most is for Addison to come to terms with just what exactly it is that she’s doing.
Addison and her cohorts would more than likely be Batman villains were they in the DC Universe. I’ll admit that this kind of characterization isn’t necessarily a bad thing— it’s not a direct comparison, but look at Kick Ass as an example. One exception to this is Addison’s interactions with her other best friend, Jess, who is tellingly the daughter of Trent’s arch enemy, the DA. Their interactions together range from adorable to somber, and her loyalty to Addison never wavers. They are welcome down-to-earth moments in a very elevated story.
Despite these pivotal moments, Tomboy leaves behind its strength in emotional grief and criminal intrigue and just rushes too quickly. Addison in particular has little conflict about her actions and immediately jumps into her place in her family history as Lady Justice with a hockey stick. The last act of the collection oddly jumps far ahead in time, which is disappointing because I would have liked to have seen how Addison refined her craft, so to speak, with more than just the explanation of the Princess on her shoulder instructing her. As morbid as seeing her “practice” would be, at least her character arc would slow down and have time to become a bit more developed.
The other problem is that it is unclear what Goodwin is trying to say with her characters. The story seems too serious and emotional to be a satire, yet too giddy in its own way and obtuse towards the consequences of the characters’ actions to be a thorough study of mental illness or vigilantism. However, with this point, I’m willing to give Goodwin the benefit of the doubt. Considering her revealing flash-forward scene at the very beginning of the story, I have hope that she’ll explore the larger themes and consequences of Addison’s work in later issues.
Ironically, the most compelling character to follow in the story is Addison’s father Mark who, while also haunted, is never driven to insane vigilante acts. For months he works tirelessly to solve the central crimes and has to juggle his inexperienced but earnest assistant, Henri, and the crooked and brash (yet surprisingly poised) Detective Tico, who is slowly closing in on the identity of Addison. It’s the kind of emotional slow-burn and well-paced storytelling that’s lacking in the main plot of the story.
With regards to the artwork, Goodwin’s anime-influenced blocky pencils gives her a wide range of expression, from Addison crying in grief to Tico’s smugness upon cracking an inappropriate joke. Best of all, however, are the scenes of interaction between the ghosts and those still alive, especially between Addison and one ghost in particular. Goodwin gets the other-worldly nature of the encounter just right without making it too heavenly or dreamy. With scope, overall, I could have gone for some more wide-shots in the panels to give a greater sense of atmosphere and scale for the characters. This doesn’t detract much from the narrative though, and the colors, while mostly on the paler side, suit the emotional moods.
While Tomboy has potential, it didn’t do itself any favors by side-stepping its own themes and characterizations for a rushed plot line. While deeper explorations can still happen very soon, I imagine even fans of Punisher and Kick Ass would have to work harder to stick with the story than they should.