Rogues’ Gallery Vol. 1
Story: Hannah Rose May and Declan Shalvey
Writer: Hannah Rose May
Artist: Justin Mason
Colorist: Triona Farrell
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication Date: December 2022
In the last few years, we’ve been unfortunately witness to the ugly underbelly of fandom. From verbal abuse to coordinated hate campaigns, you can hardly step into any online conversations about comics or genre stories without finding yourself slogging through the mud. Sometimes, it seems, no one hates superheroes more than superhero fans. The toxic fan culture is the starting point for the Image series Rogues’ Gallery, by Hannah Rose May, Declan Shalvey, Justin Mason, Triona Farrell, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. The series explores how the internet and social pressure can radicalize disaffected young people, sweeping them up in hate and violence.
Rogues’ Gallery follows a group of so-called fans of the superhero the Red Rogue. The group is frustrated by the character’s television adaptation and believe it is butchering the source material. The group, who call themselves the Rogues’ Gallery, spend their free time sharing their grievances with one another and laying the blame on the lead actress, Maisie Wade. When Maisie purchases a classic issue of the original Red Rogue comic, it is the last straw for these fans. They plan a heist to steal back the comic, believing she is not worthy of owning a piece of history. Little do they know, Maisie is a fan herself, although she has become exhausted by constantly fighting the producers and the online hate. But the internet is just the start of her problems, as these parallel plot lines soon intertwine in tragedy.
This book is a dark satire of fandom, taking the rage-fueled Twitter discourse to its logical extreme. Satire though it might be, it never feels ridiculous, even as the fans wax poetic about how their lives are being ruined by a television adaptation. They are words anyone in online nerd spaces has heard before. The concept could be played for laughs, it is on its face a pathetic depiction of the worst kind of online toxicity. Instead, the creators play things straight, inviting readers to peer into the worst impulses of gatekeeping behavior. The most distressing character is the young man named Kyle, neglected by his father and desperate to fit in. He meekly defends the Red Rogue TV show but never calls his peers on their hateful rhetoric. As things escalate, he is swept up in the rush, clinging to his perception of himself as an innocent bystander and victim.
May and Shalvey give readers time to sit with both Wade and the fans, first giving the perspective of the Rogues’ Gallery and their perceptions of Maisie before revealing the reality of Maisie’s life and professional and personal struggles. It’s a smart commentary on how the internet can produce a skewed perception of others’ lives. Wade’s commitment to the role and franchise shines through in the dialogue and her willingness to endure the constant negativity. From her perspective, she is doing the best she can to keep the show faithful to the source material for other fans like her. We see her dedicated to athletic training, arguing with producers, and marveling over the treasured Red Rogue issue she purchased. The art makes clear just how much Maisie cherishes her role and how seriously she takes the legacy. In a striking silent image, we see Maisie admiring the newly enshrined comic, surrounded by her room full of memorabilia celebrating the Red Rogue.
The art team of Justin Mason and Triona Farrell are a powerhouse combo. Mason’s cartooning is light and animated. Mason’s lines are expressionist and loose, his figures and faces a rubbery mass of limbs and features. It feels more at home in a slice of life series than the action heavy book it turns into. But that contrast makes the violence that unfolds even more shocking. Mason starts off with a light touch, using wavy splotches of inks to visualize emotional outbursts. But as things turn for the worse, he leans into heavy, blacks that drive home just how out of hands things have gotten. By the fourth issue, the book is heavy on black, almost melting out of the uneven panels. Farrell withholds using the the Red Rogue’s signature color for most of the body of the story. Instead, she keeps the palette restrained to mostly grays and cools tones, using red to punctuate moments of incredible violence or significant emotional crescendos. At the end of the first chapter, the sun sets as the Rogues’ Gallery marches toward Maise’s home. The sky turns blood red.
Rounding out the visuals is letter Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, whose usual inventive and expressive work is on full display. The word balloons mimic Mason’s fluid linework, while his sound effects burst out from the page in three-dimensional illusion. Throughout the series, snippets of hateful headlines and social media postings intrude on the art, illustrating how consumed fans and artists alike can be consumed by online discourse. Whatever alchemy of lettering and artist, they interact naturally with the art, occasionally appearing framed in windows or mirrors. There is no escape. It’s the kind of visual flair that works especially well in comics uniquely. Words and art live together at all times. It feels completely natural for intrusive thoughts to be represented as existing visually within the world.
Rogues’ Gallery is a stirring and disturbing statement on contemporary fan culture. Using comics to tell a story about the dangers of comics fandom gone wrong, using all the visual signifiers and trappings of superhero stories, blurs the line between the real world and the delusions of the violent fans. It is a comic well worth reading and thinking about seriously for the phenomenon it speaks to. Hannah Rose May, Declan Shalvey, Justin Mason, Triona Farrell, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou have put together a thrilling and uniquely comic book tragedy.
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