Comics · Opinion · Pleasure Studies

Echo

Writer/Artist: Terry Moore

Echo is what happens when someone really really wants to know what Terry Moore would do with an Iron Man story. Kind of.

If you’ve read Strangers in Paradise (and you really should), then you’ll have a fair idea about how this goes. The man in the metal suit is a woman; the innocent caught up in the conspiracy is a woman; the specialist brought in to track her down…she’s a woman too. Terry Moore is doing his level best to put women front and center in modern American action comics. And he does it wonderfully.

And the men revolve around the women like planets around suns. The evil mastermind is a man, and so’s a local lawman who gets carried along for the ride. And the biker gang. They’re all men too. I think.

The thing about Terry Moore is he really likes women. His writing – and his artwork – speak to his respect for the agency for women as well as, it has to be said, an appreciation for a certain kind of curvy heroine. In SiP, it always seemed like Katchoo was the feminist hero Moore wanted to give to comic-book fans…and Francine was the one he fell in love with.

I could be wrong.

Terry Moore writes like someone who has always been around women – strong, intelligent, sexy, and realistically imperfect. He writes, inevitably, as an outsider but one with a vested interest. It’s perhaps not for me (as one white male writer discussing another) to say whether Moore writes good female characters, but he writes women I believe in…and not the kind of women normally seen in comics. Maybe Moore’s women are like Aaron Sorkin’s heroes – idealized to an extent and always doing the right thing – but we need that balance in our comics, in our media in general. Terry Moore wants you to know that women can exist in comics in exactly the way men do – and even though we have Amanda Waller, a female Thor, and Wonder Woman – there is always a need for more female-centric stories in comics. And this one just happens to have been written by a man.

His willingness to dwell on relationships and melodrama between the pages heavy with international intrigue and, in this case, science-fiction derring-do, marks his work out from the comic book world where the realms of action and relationships are usually kept well apart. I have no idea who a typical Terry Moore reader is, but my guess is that the crossover with the typical (say) Iron Man reader is not a big one…which is a shame. Moore’s work holds so much humanity, so much heart, and so much imagination in its pages. More people should read his work.

The full edition of Echo that I have (bought sight-unseen, based on a love of SiP) comes in at a hefty 590 pages (plus the apparently obligatory sketches etc. at the back), and Moore covers a lot of ground and a lot of characters. He knows how to tell big stories, and how to weave comedy, tragedy, relationships, and action into an especially satisfying whole. It feels seamless to me. He would be the Joss Whedon of comics if that role wasn’t already taken by Joss Whedon.

Echo…well, it echoes many of the themes of Moore’s earlier work – there’s even a familiar cameo or two – but builds its own story and its own concerns over the book’s 590 pages. The position of women in the workplace in general gets equal billing with the awkwardness and heartbreak of new and old relationships…and then there’s the metal suit that makes a superhero of sorts out of the book’s unwilling hero, Julie the photographer. It covers her chest in a shining metal shield…which as the book goes on starts to cover her whole body. Like Spider-Man’s infamous black suit, but with more boob jokes.

As ever with great comic books, it seems like his work would make great movies…but maybe it wouldn’t. With comics, you can have a domestic episode followed by an issue centered around a flying suit…a biker gang followed by an intimate scene of loss and quiet personal tragedy. It’s one of the great strengths of comics. Like movies, they’re words and pictures, absolutely, but comic books have a vital third ingredient: time. That’s why the 590 pages are important. In those pages, Moore uses millions of dollars of special effects, a cast of hundreds who are all ideally cast, and paces it perfectly in an experience that took me a couple of days to work through. And that was my turning-pages-to-see-what-happens-next read-through. It’ll take twice as long next time.

Echo is better than a movie. There: I said it.

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