Gail Simone and Cat Staggs have already created a gripping and interesting play of personalities in their weird tale Crosswind that has a hardened hitman and a beleaguered housewife change bodies in the midst of personal crises.
What is doubly impressive is how the creators go above and beyond to avoid easy categories and assumptions about how this switch would play out when it gets down to brass tacks. They craft a very entertaining, well-paced story in the first two issues as we see both Cason Bennett and Juniper Blue facing increasing pressure in their lives–Cason since he’s turned FBI informant and is trying to cover his tracks by doing the heinous things he’s ordered to do by his superiors, and Juniper as she’s further oppressed by her neighbors, her husband, and her step-kid. These situations feel entertaining because there’s a consistent build-up of pressure and, as a reader, you can sense something big is going to happen.
And when the body-swap happens, it actually doesn’t relieve that pressure, but simply re-directs it and the pressure continues to build in varied ways. New minds encounter the obstacles we’ve been watching build up and address them in innovative ways. Cason in Juniper’s body takes a head-on approach to dealing with her husband’s conservative boss. Juniper in Cason’s body deals with disposing of a body and kind of “mothering” the mob boss’s nephew into doing what will help them keep a low profile.
But it’s issue #3 where that pressure we’ve been feeling all along finally explodes, with astonishing effect. And not necessarily in ways that you might expect. Both explosions are very satisfying, for different reasons. Juniper in Cason’s body finally realizes this is not a game and that she can’t control the world she’s found herself in. And seeing Juniper-as-Cason bowing to that truth is strangely cathartic. Cason in Juniper’s body finally beats the living heck out of the overgrown teen neighbors who have been sexually harassing Juniper.
But let’s talk about those scenes. First off, both scenes are completely unveiled as process pieces in the back of the issue of the comic–bonus! We actually get to see the script from Simone, and the stages that Staggs goes through in the composition of the art. And what you can see is really enlightening.
Not only does Simone get really detailed in her descriptions of those panels–aware it seems of just how dramatically important they are to the comic so far–but Staggs makes some very interesting choices all her own, particularly in taking a “crane shot” approach to viewing the dramatic action in one and an upward view of the action in the other.
In the first, Juniper-as-Cason has managed to get the mob boss’s nephew Siggy out of a building being stormed by the FBI, but in a twist of fate, gets cornered by the very agents he’s struck a deal with in the past (unbenownst to Juniper). Cason’s world, in a way, comes crashing down in the process of this scene, which involves a simple conversation irrupting into a double homicide.
Staggs faced big challenges as an artist on this scene, since there are at least two large panels where she had to convey two motions in each panel. This is often avoided in comics because it is so difficult to do, but Staggs not only manages, but makes the combination feel even more effective than an expanded narrative would have. All the tense action is compressed into those single panels.
The reason this scene is so satisfying is hard to pin down, but it lies somewhere in the blood-spatter that winds up all over Juniper-as-Cason and in the motion of Cason’s hands and body language. He’s totally vulnerable here and has no idea how to react. Things just went from a disturbing adventure for Juniper-as-Cason to crazy town and real life at the same time.
In the second, Cason-as-Juniper performs, with alarming and badass economy, a pan-to-the-jaw knock-out on a teenager saying awful sexual things to Juniper. The way the scene plays out, there’s no messing around. Cason makes a decision, asks for a pan from step-son Kelly, and as it’s placed in Juniper’s hand, that single motion feels continuous. Staggs does incredible work in compressing these motions without losing that sense of flow. A world comes crashing down in that scene–and it’s a world of abuse that Juniper has been enduring.
As mentioned above, that’s a world where the pressure has been building. We’ve seen the stomach-churning behavior of these teens toward the middle-aged and attractive Juniper in the past and the quiet way she avoids addressing the oppression she’s facing. We’ve seen the way in which the world allows this behavior as “boys will be boys”. But Simone and Staggs have made sure we understand that this is far more than even cat-calling, but specific, targeted abuse. And that pan strikes with all the force of a new order crashing into Juniper’s reality–and the lives of the teens who have so far felt invincible in oppressing others.
Not only is the writing on this book very tightly constructed so each page has a very specific sense of rising action and pay-off, but the artwork on Crosswind is so carefully laid out that it draws you into the reality of these characters’ lives immediately and involves you in their fateful actions.
Next issue will be hard to top this one! But I have no doubt Simone and Staggs have got plenty planned for Crosswind and their readers.