Writer Gail Simone and artist Cat Staggs team up for the first time with their impeccable Image Comics series! Described as a mix of FREAKY FRIDAY and GOODFELLAS, readers would be remiss to pass up a Gail Simone story like CROSSWIND. Simone is a name that most avid comic readers recognize for titles like DEADPOOL and BATGIRL. However, she’s arguably best known as the very woman who coined “Women in Refrigerators,” a list of beloved superheroines killed off before readers had a chance to appreciate them. Although much has changed in comics and culture since 1999, CROSSWIND #1 serves as another very important representation of female characters with their own narratives. This is why it has been so exciting to see Simone write original stories like CLEAN ROOM, RED SONJA, and now CROSSWIND.

WATCH: We caught up with Gail Simone at C2E2!

Gang Crime and Staying in the Kitchen

The GOODFELLAS element of the story is apparent from the start in CROSSWIND #1. We open to Cason Ray Bennett, gun in hand, having to kill a “rat” in the middle of a snowy field. He appears to be agitated by the presumed “rat,” Del, goading Cason to kill him. We learn later that Cason and Del were close friends — making the kill all the more ruthless. Cason’s narrative continues to support that he’s a hitman of sorts; he pays for a lavish apartment with dirty money, where a sexy “coworker/playmate” is there waiting for him. It has all the makings of a typical crime narrative: sordid dealings with the beautiful, gun-wielding Ms. Rialto and paranoid phone calls from his higher-ups in the dead of night.

In parallel, Juniper Elanore Blue is agitated for a different reason. She is anxious because her husband bullied her into preparing dinner to impress his boss and her step-son wants nothing to do with her. To top it all off, the neighborhood boys catcall her regularly. Regardless of her pleads, Juniper’s husband insists that the boys are not serious and tells her to suck it up. So there’s GOODFELLAS alongside a marginalized woman in a suburban setting. When and how will we see these two unlikely yet oddly linked strangers interact? Enter the FREAKY FRIDAY element of the story.

READ: Feminism in narrative sells! Read about how Miyazaki films have been doing that for years!

The True Meaning of “Empathy”

Meanwhile, Cason views his encounter with a bum as nonsense, but we as readers recognize this as prophetic. The bum says, “there are two of you when it happens. One of you says, ‘Oh, my God.’ The other says, ‘Oh, thank God.’ In the darkness, you touch” (12). I initially thought that Juniper would say “thank God,” since she is in a position of influence and privilege. However, an alternative reading would be that Cason would be the one to say “thank God” because he would be removed from the life-or-death stress of his criminal life. Soon after this moment, Juniper has a strange dream of a faceless woman telling her that while she searches for peace, there is none where she is. Creepy, but also the first hint of the FREAKY FRIDAY element we were promised.

It’s very clear that Cason is always in a position that threatens his life. He is a slave to the gang’s will, left to choose his own life over his best friend’s. In the same way Juniper is subjugated by her husband’s bullying and adultery, Cason is subjugated by his boss, Mr. Randolph. Both are victims of their respective circumstances. So how will they deal with the other’s form of subjugation? Simone frames this story in such a way that shows two seemingly separate and dichotomous narratives as two sides of the same coin. Appropriately, the word “crosswind” describes a wind that blows in a direction not parallel to a course. We see that reinforced in narrative content when, by mysterious causes, Cason and Juniper switch bodies.

Dissonance and Parallels in the Characterizations

Cason

In retrospect, I realize now how important it was for CROSSWIND #1 to open with Cason’s narrative. Not only does the shock value draw the reader in, but the scene also speaks to a male archetype. We don’t get the sense that Cason is necessarily a bad person. Instead, he is in a situation that disallows displays of vulnerability or empathy. We see this reinforced in the dialogue leading up to Cason killing Del. Afterwards, a man named Cruz is waiting to dispose of Cason in case he didn’t go through with the kill, once again driving this point home. Because it is the first issue, Cason isn’t fully fleshed-out yet, but he comes off as the standard embodiment of a macho male. It will be exciting to see how that character will manifest in Juniper’s body.

Courtesy of Image Comics

Juniper

Soon after, we are introduced to Juniper, a woman seemingly the opposite of Cason in every way. She talks about how she feels most comfortable in the “verbs in-between”: the act of “going” (6). Even in her narration, she exhibits insecurity, asking the reader to “not laugh” (6). We glean from her introductory page that Juniper is heavily concerned with home, child, and husband. She feels peace in her fantasy of being a traveling explorer. I feel a very strong kinship with this character. Juniper’s concerns are representative of pressures women feel in everyday life. Additionally, her desire for independence, as seen in her explorer fantasy, is relatable: a need to feel empowered and untethered, even if transient, is very compelling.

Courtesy of Image Comics

This is our story: a man and woman each hindered by the gender roles they perform. For Cason, he is at the mercy of a more powerful man in a gang. In Juniper’s case, she’s subjected to cultural expectations of womanhood. I can speak more directly about Juniper’s insecurities and feelings. Trying to be a good wife and stepmother with seemingly everyone working against her — her husband and stepson especially — has diminished her self-worth.

Juniper is established as independent of male protagonist Cason, but the readers still witness the daily lives of women in a very recognizable, sexist world. Simone’s choice shows the prevalence of such a thing without betraying Juniper’s character.

READ: Need more convincing? Check out CROSSWIND‘s creative team in this interview!

crosswind #1
Courtesy of Image Comics

Art

Since CROSSWIND is my introduction to Cat Staggs’ work, it’s exciting for me to see an art style that so heavily emulates realism yet still has a stylistic twist. Staggs’ characterizations are very expressive. The people’s gestures look real and authentic, almost as if the characters are acting rather than drawn. Her style reminds me of the film A SCANNER DARKLY, a sci-fi thriller by director Robert Linklater based on a book by Philip K. Dick. A SCANNER DARKLY was filmed digitally and then rotoscoped (hand-drawn over the existing film) over, giving it both a hyper-realistic yet animated aesthetic.

Similarly, Staggs successfully conveys the themes of intrigue, realism, and a touch of fantasy in CROSSWIND #1. Its very documentary-like representation of character and additional stylized layer really create an almost otherworldly atmosphere. In other words, Staggs successfully conveys the “alternate universe” kind of feel to the story. The realism is all there, but with a twist of something fantastical, which comes to a head at the end of this issue. That being said, it falls short of exciting, but that is yet to be seen until more sci-fi occurrences happen in the future.

Final Thoughts on CROSSWIND #1

We’ve seen the gender-, body-, and mind-swapping in all forms of media. Not all of them have been successful or entertaining. I’m pleased to say that Gail Simone and Cat Staggs’ CROSSWIND #1 did not disappoint. It touches upon how patriarchal standards of gender are damaging in a fun way. Without coming off as disingenuous or overly-political, Simone and Staggs present a story about a man and a woman with no prior relationship both feeling trapped in their respective situations. This compelling story shows the detrimental effects of sexism and perpetuated masculinity. CROSSWIND is a fantastic story with very real stakes and consequences concerning identity in both physical and psychological ways. I can’t wait to see what kind of mayhem and comeuppance we’ll see in this series!

CROSSWIND #1 will be out on June 21st, 2017. You can purchase it at your local comic shop and here.

CROSSWIND #1 by Gail Simone and Cat Staggs
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
An exciting crime story alongside a reflection of prevalent misogyny in the world today. The bodyswitching is just the cherry on top.
96 %
"In the darkness, you touch"

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