Pullbox Reviews: They Call Her… The Dancer, #1 coming to Kickstarter in full color

Mia is a dancer and an ASSASSIN, who is forced to deal with her childhood trauma of witnessing her parents’ murder.

Left alone as a child, Mia found ways to cope with the brutal loss of her parents. Following in her mother’s footsteps she found that she had a gift for dance, & like her mother told her she could “dance the pain away.”. Also like her mother, she was able to apply her natural grace to martial arts training. Very unlike her mother, Mia did more than just train in the two disparate disciplines, one augmenting the other. Mia took her dancer’s grace and martial arts training to the streets, using her skills to help the helpless & bring retribution to the wicked.

At least, that’s what she’s been telling herself all these years. And it really does sound pretty cool, huh? Seriously, I’d buy that comic (matter of fact I did buy that comic, issues 1 & 2 available here right now)… but would it really be all that different from any number of the other quest for revenge books out there? Sure, there’s the dancing spin that, at least on the surface, sets The Dancer apart from the rest. The Punisher probably can’t get through so much as a box step, much less get onstage and dance Swan Lake. Okay, maybe Batman could… but we’re not talking about him right now.

What makes They Call Her… the Dancer different is that Kathryn Calamia (hey, catch her weekly comic review videos on YouTube) doesn’t just make this a violent story of reckoning. Mia isn’t a dark knight, swooping down from the rooftops to defend the weak and ensuring that no one else suffers the loss that she did (now that I’m thinking about it, though, The Dark Dancer does sound kinda cool). The real story here is how Mia might convince herself that her crusade has the noblest of motivations, but in the end she has to admit to herself that her goals might not have been wholly altruistic.

Where Calamia’s story sticks the landing is in the four issue process through which Mia comes to that realization. Early on we’re told that Mia is always pushing for her next case, the next bad guy who needs to be put down. She takes no time off, no breaks even when her body tells her that she needs to heal, but she can’t escape the need to keep going. When she finally does realize that she can’t continue the way she has been, her world view takes a shift. All of the things, terrible violent things, that she’s done have added up and that bill comes due.

This is a beautifully handled look at how PTSD creeps in, lurking around the corner until the individual suffering it’s effects is overcome. In the military, training demands that the mission comes first. Accomplish the mission… then the next mission, and the next, always pushing through and always maintaining focus on that goal. It works for a while but eventually there aren’t any more missions and all of those terrible violent things that a person has seen and done, long shut away in some hidden closet of the mind, come pouring out demanding to be dealt with. That’s Mia’s arc in They Call Her… the Dancer. All of the action of every other vigilante comic is there, but it’s the icing on top that’s covering the much more complicated & interesting cake underneath.

Putting form to that action is E.V. Cantada, the steady hand behind this very sharply done comic. Where Cantada really excels is in the panels where Mia’s two disciplines, dancing and martial arts, are shown side by side. The comparison works, highlighting the strength, grace, & drive needed to master both (“Dance the pain away, Mia”). On a more subtle note, Mia’s devotion to mastering both sets of very difficult specialties mirrors the two sides of her outlook. Yes, she does want to protect and defend the helpless. On the other hand her desire to punish the perpetrators, to punch and kick and ruthlessly kill the bad people because she wasn’t able to stop the man who killed her parents. In that regard Cantada’s art perfectly contrasts both the crunchy shell and the juicy center of Calamia’s story. In another, there are times where there might have been some miscommunication, where facial expressions don’t quite match the tone… smiles on faces that seem very much out of place given the circumstances on the page. In the end it might have been a little distracting, but it’s nothing that significantly diminished what I got from this comic.

Heading over to Kat’s Etsy page, you can grab the first two issues right now, in a black & white format. Call me a purist, but I really like how Cantada handles the original work. But if you like the idea of full color, the first issue is coming up on Kickstarter, in the new format.

If it’s all action, all the time that you’re looking for- a comic that might carry a Michael Bay seal of approval- there’s no shortage of those on the market. However, if you’re interested in something with a little more meat on its bones, deeper layers into which you can dive and think about after, They Call Her… the Dancer could be a very worthwhile way to spend your time. I’ve read all four issues, and I have to say that everyone involved delivered a great story with a very satisfying, well-earned ending.

Final Score: 12/13

After seeing the full color pages above, take a gander at the following samples of the original black & white comics below…

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