Review: Crosswind #1 (Pride Variant)

Image Comics is celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2017, and among their many forms of celebration are the Image and Skybound variant covers for LGBTQ Pride Month. Available only in stores, the variants celebrate the LGBTQ community and the progress made by the Gay Liberation movement. 100% of the proceeds from the Pride variant covers will be donated to Human Rights Campaign! And Geeks OUT is reviewing them all!

It might be easy to dismiss Gail Simone and Cat Stagg's new collaboration Crosswind as just what its PR tagline suggests: Freaky Friday meets Goodfellas. But then you'd be missing the point. Sure, it's exactly that in some ways. After all, it's the story of a mob hitman and a suburban housewife magically swapping bodies. But, thanks to Simone’s way with words and Stagg's expressive lines, Crosswind blows readers away with a depth of emotion that is rare in plot-building introductory issues.

That's not saying readers don’t have to be patient as this creative team lays the foundation for the future, but what we learn about the characters in the process more than makes up for any lack of action. And that tired soul-swapping trope? Simone, a longtime creator of queer characters in mainstream comics, reimagines it here by shifting the spotlight to the daily aggressions (micro and otherwise) that those living in sexist societies (that would be all of us, folks) must gird themselves against every single day.

Plot-wise, there are few surprises to be found. Cason Ray Bennett, a Windy City mafia assassin, is forced by the mob boss to off his childhood friend for being a snitch. Except that his buddy isn't a snitch, which, Cason knows, has little to do with his assigned task. Someone has to pay and Cason is supposed to collect. For a fleeting second, he allows his feelings and free will to take over, and walks away without firing his gun. But, realizing Cason's refusal will only mean they'll both end up being targeted, the friend taunts him into pulling the trigger. In the end, Cason is nothing more than a puppet, whose strings are being pulled by everyone around him.

Living out in the 'burbs, far from gangsters like Cason, is Juniper "June" Blue, whose days consist of dodging verbal abuse from a domineering husband, an obnoxious stepson, and a horde of aggressive neighborhood teens. When we first meet her, she segues from being berated by the stepson to being bullied by her husband (who demands she cook the perfect meal for his boss that evening, while insisting she simply get over the upsetting catcalls from the neighbor boys). It's heartbreaking and uncomfortable to watch, and intrinsic to making the story work. Her life is as out of out-of-control as Cason's, with her daydreams of being a global explorer her only escape.

Or so it seems. In a bit of not-so-subtle foreshadowing, both are soon warned of an impending change that will alter their lives forever. For two characters who must remain stoic to simply make it through the day, this news is unnerving. The resulting body switch, the details of which I won’t reveal here, allows readers to see how vulnerable the characters are and anticipate what a new life and new body will mean—good and bad—for both of them.

Thanks to the multi-layered script, Crosswind never seems like a trite fish-out-of-water story. Simone couples staccato language with slow-burn pacing to paint an accurately grim picture of these two lives, while sustaining reader interest. There are an abundance of stereotypes and plenty of melodrama, to be sure, but when we're talking about the ubiquity of gender roles and expectations, and how they can destroy the self-worth of anyone, nuance isn't necessarily called for.

In contrast to this is Stagg's bold artwork, which manages to suggest both the contrasts and the similarities between Cason and June, without being overly obvious about it. Deep lines are paired with pops of color that make snowscapes seem scary and sunbeams seem sinister. Spot-on facial expressions and stiff body postures add to the darkness, precisely mirroring the turmoil of the people drawn. Yet there is also a sense of surrealism to the scenes, complimenting the magical elements of the story. With so much going on, things could have easily devolved into visual chaos. Instead, Staggs creates a noir-ish atmosphere that helps join the side-by-side storytelling of these two characters in a way that mirrors the plot.

Though undeniably a set-up for upcoming issues, Crosswind succeeds mostly due to its slice-of-real-life look and feel. It packs an emotional punch, with a tale that is simultaneously out-of-this-world and instantly relatable. Like Cason and June, we're all limited, to some degree, by what others expect of us. Here's hoping that the continuing story of their intertwined existence can teach us how to gain control of our own lives by finding common ground with others.

The Pride variant of Crosswind #1 is available in comic books shops today!