Michael Avon Oeming is a creator who really knows how to write about depression.
That much is evident from some of his recent work, but particularly so with his Victories series of comics. Having already published a limited series featuring his superhero team full of dysfunctional depressives, Oeming and Dark Horse figure they have more story to tell with these characters, so they're moving forward with The Victories as an ongoing. Frankly, there is a lot much more material to be mined plotwise with these characters. The limited series focuses on one character, Faustus, and how his dark past affects him today. With issue #1 of the new ongoing series, Oeming and colorist Nick Filardi can emotionally vivisect these characters and present their findings to the reader. What seems to be the case early on is that all of these characters are in some way damaged, and barely making it through the day. Faustus was nearly destroyed by his demons in the limited series, and it doesn't seem like the rest of the Victories are doing much better.
With The Victories #1, the focus shifts primarily to Victories member DD Mau, a young, loud-mouthed ass-kicker with super-metabolism enabling her to run, jump, and fight far beyond normal human ability. It also plays havoc on her body, and her body image. The big superhero vs. supervillain battle that serves as the centerpiece of the issue really ends up acting as a way into DD Mau's psyche. She narrates the events of the issue, and we end up spending some time in her mind, as well as gain an understanding of her physicality and emotional baggage. Oeming succeeds in developing his world by populating it with three-dimensional characters. DD Mau is meticulously constructed, but not so much that she doesn't feel like a living, breathing person. She may be kind of a type, but one that's idiosyncratic and alive enough to truly stand on her own. Her psyche is easy to understand and relate to, and it leads to a successful comic.
Oeming teams up with regular colorist Nick Filardi to render the book in their familiar but effective style. Oeming's expressive, abstracted style is in full force here, but there's something fascinating going on with his art right now. As he's becoming more and more prolific, his page designs and composition are growing in wondrous new ways. Each panel is so artfully detailed, and his cityscapes continue to be such a pleasure to behold. His designs are fantastic, and Oeming has been incorporating a lot more dynamic kineticism and daringly composed angles than he ever has before. While he has always been a solid comic book artist, but the fact is, as a visual storytelling Oeming has never been better than he is right now. His vision of storytelling has gotten so much more expansive that his page designs open up a clearly-envisioned world to the reader. Filardi, for his part, fits Oeming's art like a glove. The tonality he brings to each moment of each scene underscores the comic's writer/artist appropriately. A particular strength is his ability to balance Oeming's heavy shadows with the blazing light given off by the various fires and energies given off by the clashing superpowered characters. The color art is vibrant without ever undermining the dark tone set out by the story.
Narratively, The Victories #1 continues the emotional path Oeming has been on for the past year or so. His one-off story Wild Rover was deeply personal, and in The Victories, he continues to live in a darkly intimate emotional space. What's remarkable about the way he writes about depression is how palpable and certain it is. There is a humanity to the characters and situations in the comic, in that it captures the crushing bleakness that can debilitate a sufferer. Depression can latch on with a stranglehold that feels like it would be nearly impossible to escape, and all of that is implicit in the way Oeming structures his story. What's great is that while this ostensibly a "grim 'n' gritty" comics, to use and overutilized term, the darkness in The Victories is completely earned, as well as relatable and truly insightful.
In addition to depression, The Victories #1 also fixates on another theme; that of transformation. The arc is entitles "Transhuman," and it's appropriate for this particular superhero story. There's a lot in the world of The Victories that spins out from the idea of becoming. The transformation from one state of being to another gets a lot of pagespace in this issue. The character Strike, a former superhero who becomes a drug-addicted mess, self-actualizes to what he believes is a new, higher, state of consciousness, and gives a lengthy, transcendent speech about how "had become less than human, and yet more than human at the same time." It's a speech that's on point, and obviously sets much of the plot going forward of the story, but it's also a neat twist on the concept of transformation as it relates to superhero stories. In The Victories, a person transforms, whether it be due to trauma, or due to an outside force or another person acting upon them. This is a staple of superhero comics, of course, but here, there's the promise of greater exploration of the theme, in a more daring and original fashion. It's really quite exciting.
Indeed, The Victories #1 brings a lot to the fore in both plot, story, theme, and structure. Though it could be filed in the "dark superheroes in the real world" subgenre of comics, its greatest assets are its depth and maturity, since there's a lot here for a reader to process and live with on an emotional level, as well as its individualism. Oeming's thoughts are gathered in an indelibly fully-formed way that this may turn out to be his magnum opus. Certainly, The Victories is the portrait of an artist at his most daring, and his most ambitious.