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Helena Crash #1 (Review)

Helena Crash #1
IDW Publishing, March 2017
Writer: Fabian Rangel Jr.

“Helena Crash” is a new comic book series from American comic book publisher IDW Publishing. The title character is a rough-and-tumble female courier that delivers any kind of contraband to clients, if the price is right. The story is set in a fictional future where coffee is scarce and illegal, on account of the environment worsening to the point that coffea trees have become difficult to grow.

The story of this first issue of “Helena Crash” follows the protagonist on one of her usual jobs, delivering contraband coffee to a luchador mask-wearing crime boss named Rojo. Helena dabbles in a bar scuffle and a high-speed car chase along the way. Towards the end of the first issue, Helena is propositioned by her client into assassinating a rival crime boss. Helena declines the job on the reasoning that she has managed to survive for so long by being neutral.

As a rule, we think when writing comics it is better to use a fine brush than a crayon. Unfortunately for any reader looking for depth, the previous paragraph is all there is to the comic’s first issue. The story, characters, and dialogue are all smeared through stereotyping. This title should fail to engage mature readers. There is a forlorn attempt to colour the characters and their surrounding dystopia with details. Painting a landscape in prose text can occur in one of three usual ways, listing here in descending order of finesse: first, by subjective observation of the reader (the pinnacle of this was Graham Greene’s espionage novel, “The Human Factor”); second, by description of a third party character; or, third, by the protagonist’s expressed observations. In “Helena Crash” #1, this is done in the last and least skillful of those methods: Helena’s internal monologue, which feels forced and unnatural. In one scene, Helena’s internal monologue made an effort to describe Rojo as “the second-most dangerous crime boss” in the city, a detail that had no bearing on the story at hand except to set up the introduction of a rivalry between Rojo and another crime boss, with Helena conveniently stuck in the middle. In this sense, the comic reads more like a story pitch than an actual, fleshed out comic book. There is crayon in abundance.

We are normally more forgiving of first issues, because stories can take time to unfold and writers sometimes need to find their feet. But there is nothing in the first issue of “Helena Crash” that makes us feel hopeful. Leaving details a mystery to be expounded upon is a solid technique, but, to switch metaphors from painting to fishing, there should be enough bait on the hook to engage readers and entice sufficient curiosity for the next installations of a periodical comic book. This does not happen with “Helena Crash”. The core concepts – a courier as the protagonist, environmental degradation, coffee as an elite and scarce drug – are intriguing. But in the execution there is nothing that readers have not read before, and probably with more creative craftsmanship.