Owlgirls comes to us from Red Anvil Comics, the New Jersey-based small press publisher owned by Dave Ryan (War of the Independents) and Joe Martino (Shadowflame, The Mighty Titan). Written by Robert Sodaro, art by Rachele Aragno and Dave Ryan, and lettering by Wilson Ramos, Jr. and Laurence John Hansen of Section 8 Studios, Owlgirls gives us a somewhat noir look at New York with a bit of mysticism thrown in for good measure.
Down in shadowy SOHO of the late 1940s live three sisters (Magda, Maggie, and Martha) who live above the Gebedhia (Friend of God) Mortuary. When traveling outside, they always wear a veil to cover themselves and for good reason; they have owl faces. Whether by design or misfortune, these women bear a stigma which they carry with them wherever they go, often frightening adults more than children. Magda is the lover of the owner of the mortuary, where the three women have found sanctuary. Their relationship is clear, but who the three sisters are to an enigmatic and very creepy old woman is a mystery. She considers herself their mother, though she is not; however, I do suspect she had a mystical hand in creating them and the gift (gifts?) they seem to possess. For these owl girls seem to have the power to heal. They may have other powers, supernatural or otherwise, but that remains to be seen.
The comic is much more serious and darker in tone than I expected which was a nice surprise. (I was expecting a comedy with a name like Owlgirls.) The story begins slowly, establishing the setting and the inner lives of the main characters. I like the fact that the conflict is organic to their world, and their relationships aren’t forced. I also enjoyed the real-world conflicts the three sisters face while they have enough humanity in themselves to look past others’ inhumanity. The characters are established very quickly, so you know who they are without any unnecessary exposition. This first issue really just sets the stage for what’s to come, but some things came across a little too subtly. I’m a big fan of subtlety and nuance, but the “healing” part of the supposed gifts was a little too fleeting and very easy to miss. I’ve no doubt many things will be made clearer in future issues.
The black-and-white art depicts an earlier SOHO, where most people were newly arrived immigrants. In fact, they look very European which works in this context. (It wasn’t until I read a little bit about Ms.Aragno that I discovered that she is Italian.) The shadowy nature of their existence is depicted extremely well in the art, and the panels flowed very nicely. I suspect Ms. Aragno has a good future ahead.
This is definitely a very different and unusual comic (in a good way), which I hope is going to challenge people’s definition of “the other.” I look forward to the second issue.