Written by: Gail Simone
Art by: Cat Staggs
Lettering by: Simon Bowland
Published by: Image Comics
What would happen if you mixed the fantasy shenanigans of Freaky Friday with the violent, criminal world of Goodfellas? The result is Crosswind, Gail Simone and Cat Staggs’ first creator-owned work from Image Comics. Together they bring us the story of a somewhat conflicted hitman and a housewife in an abusive relationship as they magically find they have switched bodies. The concept alone sounds awesome, but it is one that could easily go either way. Take itself too seriously and it runs the risk of being painfully unaware of its own ludicrousness. If they played it too much for laughs, then they might miss out on some of the character development that distinguishes the good from the great. Thankfully, the creative team have found their Goldilocks spot in this inaugural issue.
Crosswind has is a book dripping in character, a testimony to the skill with which Simone and Staggs have constructed these protagonists. Character-depth should be the rule, rather than the exception, but sometimes its forgotten even in otherwise decent books. Cason and Juniper emerge from the pages as fully realised characters. We only get to glimpse their lives before they are magically swapped, but in those few moments we learn everything we need to know about them. For Cason, its his ruthlessness and growing indifference towards his job. He is in many ways the classic hitman, viewing himself as merely a professional, but even in this brief introduction we see the cracks are beginning to show. He is allowing himself to care and that leaves him vulnerable, but only just.
The standout parts of the issue focus on Juniper. Her situation is harrowing and a damning condemnation of how we, as a society, treat women. It begins with her step-son not treating her with any modicum of respect. A common reaction for kids in those scenarios, but it merely serves as a baseline for how little those close to her appreciate her efforts. When she’s sexually harassed by the neighbour’s sons, its brushed off as if it were nothing, told not to take everything so seriously. Her partner expects and demands that she prepare a wonderful dinner for his boss. Rather than being appreciative, his requests are couched in terms such as “don’t f**k this up”. Everyone around her treats her as nothing short of a tool. Even other women, who you might expect to offer a word of kindness, enjoy nothing more than to comment sarcastically about her partner’s extramarital dalliances. Throughout this issue, we see Juniper putting up with everything that life throws her with a mask of disinterest, as if this should be considered normal. It is only in the quiet moments that it all becomes too much. It’s heart-breaking and devastatingly ordinary. Simone and Staggs recognise that the problem with sexism isn’t that its surprising, it’s that it isn’t.
Staggs has outdone herself with photorealistic visuals that exemplify the stories noir qualities. Moreover, combined with her use of colours, the art manages to effectively distinguish the mundanity of suburbia with the fast-paced and seductive nature of a criminal empire. They may as well be different universes as far as the reader and characters are concerned. Equally as impressive is the creative panel composition that effortless guides the reader through the pages and creates some truly dynamic moments. Overlaying panels allow each scene to pop and facilitate some interesting representations of phone conversations. When required they convey the confusion and disorientation each of our protagonists feel as they emerge in their new bodies. It is cinematic in its flow, but uniquely suited to the comic medium.
Crosswind is a clever, black-comedy that uses its premise to set up an arc for two uniquely interesting characters. It skilfully balances to darker elements with moments of levity and stunning character work that leaves the reader thoroughly empathetic. In the end, we are left with a tantalizing question: which one of our protagonists was more relieved by their switcheroo. This book doesn’t need cliff-hangers to get you hooked, all it needs is your time and it certainly deserves it.