Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ming Doyle
Mara is…odd. Not weird, not bizarre. I’m forced to think of how I want to even categorize it. It takes place in a dystopia, but it’s not really dystopian fiction. There’s some elements of superhero deconstruction, but no more than some standard Superman stories have. And Mara has its moments of ups, but it simultaneously has its downs which make it hard to say how much I even enjoyed it.
In a world of constant war, sports have become the distraction of choice, and Mara is one of the best volleyball players out there. She can carry her team by herself. And that takes on another meaning when she begins to develop superpowers out of nowhere.
And I do mean out of nowhere. I kinda have to spoil something here, but no more than saying that a work has an ambiguous ending: there’s no real explanation for the superpowers. Or the world. Or really anything. You expect dystopian fiction to explain how the world got to the point that it’s at, but it goes no further than “There’s been wars”. You might expect at least a guess at how Mara got superpowers, but it’s just a mystery that the book doesn’t even make into a mystery. It’s just…there. Everything is just there. Rather than creating a rich world, it creates a world that you want to know more about, but the answer to any question is just a shrug.
It’s a shame because the book does hit some good points, particularly in its latter half, as it starts to ask the question of whether humanity is good or evil, and Mara’s own personality changes. Maybe in some world she would be a superhero, but here, she’s just apathetic about doing anything, and the world never gives her a reason to change. She wants to play sports, but her superpowers suddenly prevent her from doing that. She ends up distanced from everything. If there’s one thing that changes this from being a standard superhero deconstruction, it’s that Mara isn’t a violent person lashing out with her superpowers at a violent world. She’s just a person who wishes she could still just be a normal person.
Mara uses its themes to make up for what it lacks in world-building. But lacking world-building still ends up hurting the work, and its pluses can’t quite erase its minuses. I can’t recommend it, but I also can’t not recommend it.