The Movement is a book I badly wanted to love. One of the few truly new ideas to emerge from the New 52, it had pretty much everything I look for in a monthly comic, at least on the surface. It had a fantastic premise – superpowered teens fight corruption and wage class warfare – that was extraordinarily relevant to modern society, a diverse cast filled with mostly new characters, and a dedication to building a strong sense of place in Coral City. But The Movement has failed to connect with readers (myself included) in a way that’s rare for writer Gail Simone’s work. Where did it go so wrong?
In my initial review of The Movement #1, I wrote:
The Movement #1 is a rare, can’t-miss book, the kind of ambitious, realistic storytelling you almost never see from Marvel or DC. Now, it just needs to become a good one, too.
Five issues in, I feel exactly the same. There hasn’t been any of the growth you expect to see in an improving book.
The biggest issue with the series is, I think, our point-of-view. Many books, when introducing a new premise centered around an organization or place – as The Movement clearly is – will have a new character or amnesiac forced to learn the ropes. There’s a reason this trope exists, especially in serialized media: We, the audience, need someone to identify with, while the story needs someone who actually needs all the exposition it has to give for its world to make sense.
The Movement has 2-3 different characters who could fulfill that purpose, but none of whom are particularly used to do so. In the early days of the series, I thought Simone was going to try to subvert that trope, as she brilliantly introduced the new team member, Burden. We could come to see Coral City and the Movement through Burden’s eyes, which would make both narrative sense (giving us that crucial in) and fit with Simone’s history of pitch-black comedy (because Burden is a hyper-conservative mentally-ill teenager possessed by a demon). But, after a few brief character beats, Burden kind of disappears into the background.
Foregrounded, then, are two other potential POV characters. The first is, like Burden, something of an inversion on the trope: police officer Joseph Whitt, first introduced sexually harassing a minor, is captured and imprisoned by the Movement early on in the series, and through him we see the ideals of the group challenged and their necessity highlighted. Like Burden, he simultaneously gives us something we need and challenges the way we see our heroes… and, like Burden, he is quickly relegated to a one-note side character.
Our point-of-view, then, defaults to Captain Meers, who is to date the most fully-realized character in the series. I like Captain Meers a lot. He could be a great supporting character in a different book, and his relationship with Virtue (one of the very few other well-realized characters in the series; the last is Mouse) is a pretty consistent highlight. But he’s too much an outsider, both to the Movement and to the villains, giving us glimpses of both but not really committed to either. Our point of view, then, on the Movement is tempered; as it spreads like wildfire across America, we as readers have a hard time seeing why, because our entry point into the phenomena is a man who is skeptical of it. Imagine how different it would play if out entryway was the driven, jubilant new recruit, or the recent convert looking to reform.
I think the problem with The Movement is simple: It’s too big. Simone is trying here to tell the sort of socially conscious action story that we used to see a lot in the ’70s and the ’80s, but that sort of big ‘message’ story conflicts with Simone’s best storytelling instincts, which tend to be character-driven rather than message-driven. That’s another reason we typically have that point-of-view character – it’s someone we get to know intimately and immediately, giving us an empathetic connection we can build on and expand as the series progresses. It’s why Villains United had Catman – and why Catman became such a breakout star for Simone.
Five issues in and The Movement is still trying to sell me its premise. That shouldn’t still be a problem 100 pages in. I still respect The Movement, I really do. It’s not just an exciting, fascinating idea that takes the basic premise of the superhero and truly updates it for the 21st century, it’s also a book that finds its creators stretching their talent in new and interesting ways. It’s a book with a mostly all-new cast, a lot of inventive world-building, and the kind of gritty storytelling fans always say they want but never actually seek out. It’s an ambitious book. It’s a smart book.
But it’s still not a very good one.
For more on this topic, check out my review of The Movement #5.