Review: Coyotes #1
I’ve been following Sean Lewis’ work since his debut at Image with Saints, co-created by the exceptional artist Benjamin Mackey. I also recently reviewed every single issue of The Few Lewis co-created with Hayden Sherman. I love Lewis’s knack for choosing the perfect artist to fit the content of the story and writing so viscerally as to challenge the reader to make sense of it. Caitlin Yarsky I’ve only recently learned of but already love her art given its gothic nouveau style: loose, picturesque and curved lines with a dark color palette.
In summary, Coyotes is the story of a girl named Analisa. She lost her family to a roaming group of coyotes that target mostly women and girls. She and her friend Valeria a.k.a Eyepatch, are taken in by Duchess and the Victorians, a powerful group of women. They run the City of Lost Girls, a sanctuary for women lost, abused, forgotten, and cast aside by the world. Analisa has vowed revenge upon the coyotes, and so Duchess trains her to become the assassin Red.
Coyotes starts off with a straightforward opening. A police officer, Detective Frank Coffey, enters a crime scene, a cabin out in the middle of a desert. It’s full of corpses, mostly women and children, but also a few coyotes. Analisa is the lone survivor, standing in the middle of the carnage covered in blood. This opening, and the entirety of the comic, is masterfully executed. Yarsky’s loose shapes move from one panel to the next so effortlessly it feels like an animated sequence. Most of the panel layouts are boxed, rarely breaking into paneless collages except a few times. However, each page always visually strikes you and stays in your mind even if you can’t recall parts of the story. It’s the type of visceral reaction that happens so rarely in comics, but when it does you just know the feeling, like for a moment you were absorbed into the pages and felt inside the world instead of looking at a mere sequence of static images.
Before this, Detective Coffey drives by a field fenced by towering red crosses. Red is a reoccurring color in this series, from the blood to the red lettering that appears (infrequently) in Analisa’s dialogue. Like most of the story, it’s not yet clear what the significance of the color red is–aside from being Analisa’s codename–but will probably play a larger thematic element later in the series.
After the introduction, the next page opens to a flashback. These sequences are where the story starts to get tricky. Right after the first flashback of Analisa with Duchess, explaining to her the need to forget the past or be killed by it, another flashback opens with Analisa with her mother and older sister Maria. Double flashbacks are tricky to pull off. They can cause confusion with the chronological order of events, making it frustrating for the reader to progress. Fortunately, a second read clarifies things and the reader gets, if not a whole, in general how Analisa went from a poor small town girl to an assassin for a hidden city. It’s not like you’ll need to go back multiple times armed with an encyclopedia of subliminal messages.
When the story does start coming together, it’s quickly evident Coyotes is a feminist tale. Much more than just ravenous animals, the coyotes are metaphorical representations of patriarchal violence. The women they target most often are free-spirited and non-conformist. The women prefer going out at night to work or have fun rather than staying at home as domestic servants. It’s only hinted at, but the coyotes’ nightly attacks are so frequent, they’ve become urban legends, scaring women into staying home. It’s this reason the City of Lost Girls is at war with the coyotes. It’s a war over women’s autonomy which they’ll fight to the death to preserve.
Much of how the story is written resembles a fairy tale. Analisa is a young, naive girl facing off against beastly antagonists that have gain urban legend statues in regular society. Duchess and the Victorians are like Analisa’s fairy godmothers, wiser, older women that instruct her on how to defeat the coyotes. Caitlin Yarsky aesthetically adds to this fairy tale structure with fitting visuals, particularly how her dark color palette creates a gothic undertone to the picturesque magical realism and invokes a sense of danger underneath.
The edgier, more violent tone adds an action element to the story, a somewhat grindhouse feel with buckets of blood and swearing. It’s a fusion that at times can seem contrarian, especially when Duchess and the Victorians, women that dress properly and convey a sense of hierarchy, curse like sailors and host parties involving lots of drinking and dancing nude. At first, I found it confusing but the harder I thought about it, the more it made sense with the idea of these women being complex people.
Autonomy for the Victorians is not just being able to go out at night. It’s about being your own person, to not fit neatly into one type of woman but a multitude that cannot be pin downed. In other stories, having beautiful or finely dressed characters spit out curse words would seem like pointless shock humor, but here it actually drives home the point that women should be allowed to act like actual human beings, which often involves behavior that is contrarian, inconsistent, and most of all difficult to understand. It’s not an element in fiction appreciated because readers tend to want more consistency in order to have a structure that leads to a satisfying conclusion, but it is something that can add an element of relatability and authenticity to characters that would otherwise be genre tropes.
This complexity isn’t always a positive though. There are hints in the comic, culminating in a splash page more frightening than even the coyotes, alerting the reader that the Victorians’ plan for Analisa isn’t for her benefit. All the empowerment she’s receiving might be just to shape her into a better pawn. This seems to undercut the feminist narrative, but I had to defend it on several counts. One is that being complex people, the Victorians are as capable of evil as they are good. They are united in a fight to end patriarchal violence but willing to manipulate someone to do it. It’s unclear if that decision is based on true malice, blind desperation, or whatever. Perhaps it’ll be explained in subsequent issues.
Another reason I have to defend it is how much it adds to Analisa’s character. There isn’t much yet to her aside from being a traumatized victim turned into an almost robotic killing machine. She currently acts according to what older people tell her. It’s an uneven power relationship, and I have to again give Yarsky credit to how she visually represents this. Duchess dressing fanciful while Analisa dresses either plainly or in her uniform hits at, in the worst sense, a master/servant dynamic. This is also true of how Duchess always seems to be towering over and talking down to Analisa. However, Analisa isn’t that naive. She is started to get a sense of not being in complete control over her destiny. Analisa wants to be more, for herself and her good friend Eyepatch (Eyepatch has yet to grow as a character too).
I think Analisa struggling to grow as a character and currently a blank slate for others to filter their agenda through is another underappreciated element in fiction. It’s something that far too many children go through because they’re condescended to by adults. They’re feelings and opinions are not taken seriously. This can even happen in circles that are meant to empower the marginalized. It doesn’t have to be a cynical situation though. Kids are much smarter than given credit, and it’s satisfying story arc for a child to evolve as their own person even without adult support or approval. I can seen Analisa growing as a person in the future. Her relationships, complicated or positive, are going to fully form how she turns out in the end.
As much praise for all the story elements I’ve given to Coyotes, it’s not without reservations. The biggest one is how too vague and esoteric the writing can often be. I expected this much from a story written by Sean Lewis. Like I said earlier, he writes in a visceral way that forces the reader to critically think about the story presented to them. Unfortunately, Coyotes seems to go by too quickly. After reading the first time, I felt dazed and confused. This was very different from reading The Few in which I had an easier time processing the first read through. In that series defense, each issue was double-sized, beyond the typical 20-24 page count. At some point, telling a story on a visceral level can too far, and the cerebral part in which a reader processes the meaning can be muddled. I understand there are works of art where this work, but maybe not so much for a monthly comic series.
Finally, I have to nitpick the setting. Unlike Saints and The Few where Sean Lewis made environments just as much a standout personality as characters, the setting of Coyotes has one as much as a postcard. I feel like a lack of familiarity with it might explain why. Perhaps Lewis and Yarsky have taken trips and been to Mexican or South American locales, but they seem to go more with generic cultural signifiers. It could also be a lack of interesting design. I remember how Yarsky draws characters more than settings save for two.
With all that said, the emotional core of Coyotes remains intake. I highly recommend the book based on the visceral impact the story has. It’s not just the terrifying sequences of the coyotes’ rampages, or the bloody fights between them and Analisa. It’s the anger, not a pitiful anger, but an anger that clearly wants justice and revenge for the wrongs committed against women. It’s not anger all the time, there’s also hope and joy. Particularly two scenes of women celebrating, one in the diner where Analisa’s sister works, the other one of the Victorians’ aforementioned parties. While the story might be lacking at times, the emotions it wants you to feel will stick.
I highly recommend Coyotes. It’s story is a little too vague at times, but has strong visuals, interesting themes, and an emotional impact that will stick. If nothing else, it’s got a little girl killing monsters which never gets old.
Story: Sean Lewis Art: Caitlin Yarsky
Story: 8.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review