Photon #1 is Eve L. Ewing’s Gift to Marvel (and You)

If you’ve got money to spend, Photon #1 (2022) is money well-spent.

Now, is Photon #1 a good comic book? Will you get your money’s worth if you pick it up? Yes. You will get your money’s worth and then some.

How can I say that so confidently? Well, in addition to simply being a satisfying piece of media, beautifully told with fun and efficient dialogue and perfectly executed visual storytelling – the target audience of Photon #1 is EVERYONE.

Photon #1 | Marvel Comics

No, seriously. Everyone. If you’ve seen Monica in Wandavision, or happened to read the 1982 Spider-Man issue that introduced her to the world, or just like the panel in NextWave where she…well, why pick one?

And if you don’t have any foreknowledge of the character – if you just saw a cool cover and went for it – you’re gonna love Photon #1 anyway.

Monica Rambeau has been one of my absolute favorite Characters in the Marvel Universe ever since her days leading the NextWave Squad. For anyone familiar with that book, her triumphant return under Eve L. Ewing’s pen doesn’t disappoint.

If you’ve only seen a few panels of Stuart Immonen’s art from the absurdist masterpiece, you might think her personality has been watered down in this book, but that would be misreading NextWave entirely. She was always the only one really trying to stay a superhero in that book, the only one wearing Spandex under her trench coat still, and the only one with any brains cells or management skills up against a zany mashup of ACME corporation and Haliburton run by an evil dinosaur in an evening jacket. Her personality in that book was highly filtered by being TIRED AS HELL.

I mean, wouldn’t you be? She was on a first-name basis with Nick Fury, led the avengers, and then had to reckon with the fact that she had been hired by somebody who thinks his name is “DIRK ANGER” and constantly eats lizard sticks; for extra pep. She walked out before the first issue of the comic even started, but it was still the beginning of an extremely aggravating series of gonzo Weapons of Unusual Destruction being tested on the United States, and that’s no good.

Monica has been a lot of things in the last 40 years since her first appearance, and she has been fantastic at all of them. Whether she’s known as Captain Marvel, Photon, Pulsar, or Spectrum, She kicks ass. She is always the most valuable player on every team, the coolest person in every book you’re reading, and you kind of wish she was your best friend.

I wonder who’s like that for her?

So does Eve Ewing, it turns out. The answer this issue gives is that despite overcoming so much so frequently, despite basically self-actualizing in many other ways – her character arc isn’t simply magically complete. 

The thing about life is that it keeps going after you finish a character Arc. That’s one of the things that a shared universe is better at conveying than a singular narrative. She may have defeated many of her demons, But she still kind of thinks of herself as a battery for other people’s problems, and even though she can literally turn herself into energy that doesn’t make her immune to burnout.

What a fascinating way to turn a character on her head, right? Instead of making her easier to write by resetting her character development, putting her back in a difficult situation, or forcing her to confront old trauma again, Ewing doesn’t settle for the old hits. This is a new song, and it is gonna be a modern classic.

Okay, but let’s start at the beginning: the jaw-droppingly gorgeous cover is actually one of the weakest parts of the issue.

The cover is beautiful and is going to sell the comic very well to adherents of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Its nearly photorealistic rendering of every detail in Photon’s slick new superhero costume against a gorgeous ultraviolet starfield is beautiful. Don’t get me wrong: Lucas Werneck did a damn fine job. Even the subtle expression on her face is perfect for this issue, conveying the complex (but far from hopeless!) headspace that Monica finds herself mired in.

But also, screw that cover. Luca Maresca and Ivan Fiorelli’s art is the star of the show.

When we see characters act in a comic, the penciler is doing all the acting. When the crackle of Monica’s energy perfectly contrasts the immaculately arcane set design of Dr. Strange’s sanctum sanctorum, that’s because the art team chose to frame the room in so many intricate little textures — the roof, the upholstery on the chairs, and of course the iconic window — and then Monica cuts in and cuts through the stalemate.

Photon #1 | Marvel Comics

A perfect pairing of visuals and dialogue to make a moment hit, but it’s not a big moment! And that makes it all the more important. The little, quiet, subtle things are essential to making those big moments have an impact.

And nothing would have even half the impact it does without Carlos Lopez’s colors providing such vivid feeling. If the pencils are the star and Ewing is the mastermind, Lopez is the composer making the whole product really sing.

I could go on. Hell, maybe I will — I could do a panel-by-panel dive into why, genuinely, I think this is one of the best first issues of all time and that YouTube video would take an hour or something simply because of the level of craft and detail each of these masters packed into these 20-ish pages.

Because frankly, you wouldn’t notice all the powers on display here if you weren’t looking. I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t reviewing it, simply because they make it all look so easy.

In “writing for the trade,” writers often fail to deliver a satisfying first issue or even make any individual chapter satisfying on its own. There are more reasons than I can list, but one issue is a lot less space to work with than you’d think.

But even though this is simply the “establish the status quo” stage of the story, with the preview for the next issue teasing the actual inciting incident? I’m hooked! God damn it, they’ve got me! They had me, heart and soul, with a scene where her cousin complains about his shitty boyfriend on the phone! How many superhero comics can say that?

And I was always going to read a Monica Rambeau book, but now I have to read all of Eve L. Ewing’s Marvel work! I didn’t expect to enthusiastically buy Champions: OUTLAWED, but here we are, apparently!

Generally speaking, I don’t give things numerical ratings because I feel like that boils down all the nuance in a review to a simple judgment of “how good is it?”

But here, screw nuance. It really is a very simple judgment

How good is it, on a scale of one to ten?

This one goes to eleven because I haven’t mentioned any of the actually clever stuff in this review, even! Go read it for yourself and find out.

Photon #1 is perfect for fans of Monica’s 1982 first issue, her stints leading the Avengers, her 2006 gonzo fight humor comic, and people who like reading or looking at things in general. If you’ve got money to spend, Photon #1 (2022) is money well spent.

Leave a Reply