Trigger Warning This review covers a story with themes of sexual assault and rape. These themes are addressed in the review as well.
Maw #1 is published by BOOM! Studios. It comes from the creative team of writer Jude Ellison S. Doyle, artist A.L. Kaplan, colorist Fabiana Mascolo with assistance from Federica Mascolo, and letters by Cardinal Rae. The story opens with an overhead shot of a forest, a dirt road snaking through the trees. An unknown figure is crouched over in pain as they undergo a bizarre transformation. The perspective then shifts back thirteen days to a lush coastal countryside.
Two sisters, Marion and Wendy, are traveling to a female empowerment retreat. Their driver makes snide remarks about the feminist nature of the retreat, but the two sisters ignore him. Once they arrive, they are greeted by Miranda, one of the leaders of the retreat who seems to know Wendy. Marion is introduced but clearly is not interested in participating the way Wendy intends to. As the two are led around, they witness a woman recounting a traumatic event from her past, clutching a strange fetish as she does so. The more that Marion sees, the less convinced of the benefits of this retreat she is. But when the unthinkable happens, then the fellowship of these women may give her the strength to avenge herself.
The story of Maw #1 is bleak and unflinching in its portrayal of trauma and sexual assault. Much of this is portrayed through the cynical outlook of Marion, a survivor of sexual assault. It is through the lens of her experiences that the reader is told a story that could be ripped straight from any courtroom in America. Marion is jaded with the world and has retreated into her vices. The events in this issue are tense and harrowing, tending to focus on very real-world horrors. As a result, it does an excellent job of setting the stage and establishing the type of story the reader will be experiencing. Unfortunately, the story stops before the plot can really get going. Right when it feels like the story is going to pivot into a more supernatural type of horror, it ends.
Kaplan’s art is wonderful and gives the story a grounded, realistic feeling. This is bolstered by the gorgeous establishing panels giving the reader a look at the setting. Vast, lush fields and open skies are almost ever-present at the beginning stretch of the comic. The characters are drawn with a lifelike realism that further enhances the setting of its narrative. Of particular note is how the women are drawn with a variety of body types and skin tones.
The colors from Mascolo help to bring all of this together. The use of bright yellows and light greens with a white-clouded sky as the backdrop is immediately evocative of another story that uses a dubious cult-like setting. Namely the excellent horror film Midsommar. As I looked at the pastels, I couldn’t help but draw parallels. But where Midsommar presented everything in blinding daylight, Maw #1 has a darkness to it. Shadow is ever-present, and even on the brightest pages, the black line work stands out. The letters from Rae are well-formatted, clear, and easy to read. Their placement is immaculate, serving to both sit out of the way of the focal points of the panel but also drawing the eye to a spot where the art is best viewed.
Overall, Maw #1 is a good beginning to a horror story that sets its stakes early. The artwork is a pleasure to look at and helps convey the seriousness of the subject matter. The only thing that stood out as flawed was the abruptness of the ending, but even that works to the story’s benefit by serving as a cliffhanger. If you are looking for a horror story that doesn’t shy away from the brutality and cynicism of rape and sexual assault, then this is a strong first issue.
Maw #1 is available now wherever comics are sold.
Overall, Maw #1 is a good beginning to a horror story that sets its stakes early. The artwork is a pleasure to look at and helps convey the seriousness of the subject matter. The only thing that stood out as flawed was the abruptness of the ending, but even that works to the story’s benefit…