Review: Coyotes #4

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*WARNING*: Minor Spoilers

Coyotes #4 concludes the current arc of the series. As the Victorias raid the secret location of the Coyotes, they need the help of their oldest enemy Seff. In the midst of blood, violence, and lost, Red will rise out of the ashes. But will she become the champion of women and girls? Or another predator?

The fun starts with the cover. I haven’t talked a lot about the series’ covers since the first issue, but here it’s just too gorgeous to ignore. The intensity of the all-red palette emphasizes the danger and action, visually solidified with the images of Red carrying an unconscious Eyepatch, great canine beast behind them. The wavy, often chaotic art of Caitlin Yarsky makes this image stick in your head.

Opening up the issue to the first two pages, and we get splashes that blast the promised intensity of the cover at your face. Here, the art’s aforementioned attributes are in full swing to illustrate the messy, savage fighting. A lot that makes this work is the panel layouts. They are the traditional rectangles and squares but also huge and contain abundant details. It’s a significant departure from many western comics that prefer 5-9 panel layouts. There are barely any layouts exceeding more than 4 panels. It reminds me of manga. Less but wider panels makes a scene appear more dramatic. For comparison, here is an image of Coyotes #4 next to Shuzo Oshimi’s Happiness Vol. 1.

However, these larger panels also cause the pacing of the issue to be too quick. In a manga trade with 100+ pages, larger panels work. But in a 20+ page single issue, you finish in under 10 minutes or so. A smooth read sacrifices a feeling of hefty content. Mind you, most American single issue comics have that problem. Most of all though, I feel like the pacing concludes the current art too quickly. The events that transpire are satisfying and have a logical progression, but there should have been a lot more in the middle. I would have, if not add extra issues to the arc, increased the page count of the single issues. This was similarly done in Sean Lewis’ previous project The Few quite effectively.

Don’t let this nitpick eclipse the greatness of the art. It might be short, but each page is a slam dunk. A new trick Yarsky pulls is more experimentation with color. It has always been there, but grayish colors tended to be the primary palette. Now there are scenes with intense shades of orange and red. Now that I think about it, the presence of red ties back to how red has been an ever present color motif. Deducing the meaning of this color has been a challenge, but if I had to guess, it’s about the growth of Red’s character from hapless orphan to Champion of the Victorias.

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Since I’ve mentioned Red’s character arc, it’s time to talk about Sean Lewis’ writing. This issue definitely feels like the characters, particularly the protagonists, are the centerpiece. The Victorias finally face down the Coyotes, and serious power shifts take place. The most significant is of course with Red. She gains higher statues among the Victorias, becoming their champion. This ties back to the power struggle between her and Duchess, where the latter party seemed to have had plans for the young girl but never clear what those were. This lack of clarity gave the impression of nefariousness, an unfair dynamic between master and servant that diminished the Victorias’ feminist agenda. It isn’t clear if Red’s new statues evens it out. Duchess also seems to gain higher statues among the Victorias, which reveals some tension between her and Abuela that wasn’t fully explored due to the pacing. What any of this does to heighten the stakes is for the next arc to expand upon.

I’ve already spoiled enough of the plot, so I’ll try to be a bit more obscure by discussing the feminist theme. This theme has twisted into many directions, but the core is still how patriarchy and toxic masculinity terrify women into submission. Issue #4 doesn’t add another layer so much as it brings this theme to a satisfying triumph for feminism. Watching the Victorias slay the coyotes is satisfying. Hell, the Victorias are so gung-ho that a splash page has them unleashing superpowers, even one popping the claws freaking Wolverine style. Absurdism, the greatest power against patriarchy.

On a more serious note, there are two lines of dialogue from Red that really hit the nail on the hammer regarding these concepts. Free of spoilers, here is the first:

“This is what people do to us. They make us pose. And then they make us disappear.”

It is a commentary on the imagery of harmed women. Mass media is full of these images, from news reports that contain pictures of abuse victims to fiction where a dead woman becomes the protagonist’s motivation. There is a larger discussion on this topic, incredibly complex and too much ground to cover on this review, but there is something sickening about the prevalence of this imagery, yet its consumption is superficial. Women are harmed every day, and while their broken bodies and minds might be remembered (temporarily), themselves as individuals are forgotten. Their suffering, their personal trauma, is stolen and mass marketed to a larger audience without empathy or respect. It becomes a spectacle.

Violence against women is imagery quite common in Coyotes, but often with better context. We are meant to know, understand, and root for these women. Most of all, despite how monstrous it presents the men that commit this violence, it also gets to what drives them: fear.

”Funny when monsters lose their power. They don’t really want to fight. They just want to run.”

I might have mentioned this before, but men’s violence against women is out of fear. Without their beastly forms, the coyotes are just small, weak men. This seems to be a parallel to toxic men in real life, the domestic abusers in meat space and the trolls online. They have deep insecurity in themselves, and women are, for them, easy targets to take that self-loathing out on. They commit their violence while behind a facade of masculinity, but when confronted with women like the Victorias, the facade crumbles even as they act more aggressively. I guess what I’m trying to get at with my rambling is that Sean Lewis is engaging in feminism in an earnest way. It is not perfect, but at least he processes it way better than other men attempting, and failing, to write these type of stories.

That said, the coyotes are a particular case because the coyote forms are forced on them, kind of how like toxic masculinity is forced on us. But are we willing to accept it? The men that become coyotes are on the borderline of how much they just act out to what they are programmed to do vs. inner desires to murder women. It’s a moral conundrum, one that could have been further explored, but, again, the arc was too short. Either way, women should not have to hold the emotional burden of understanding the male violence directed their way, not when it is a case of life or death.

That said, there are men in Coyotes that show positive growth. Detective Frank Coffey goes from cautionary observer to full-blown ally of the Victorias, expressing utter disgust of the coyotes committing violence. Nothing about it seems self-serving. Just like the author Sean Lewis, Coffey is legitimately invested in feminism. Men that engage eagerly with feminism would be an interesting subject for the next arc. Judging by the black and white epilogue of this arc, that might just be the case. I’ll be excited to see how that goes.

Coyotes #4 is, despite minor bumps in the road, a satisfying conclusion to the current arc. The heroes show up and kick serious ass, new possibilities are open up, and Caitlin Yarsky gets to expand on her amazing artistic abilities. I didn’t even go into depth of her amazing lettering this issue.

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I think it speaks for itself.

In fact, this entire comic speaks for itself. Go pick it up. Enjoy the action-packed horror, fantasy, surrealism with an earnest feminist message. It’s one of the best sleeper hits of this past four months, and I hope it continues to grow in success.

Story: Sean Lewis Art: Caitlin Yarsky
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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