Two warriors are reincarnated again and again to do Eternal Battle. Will either ever escape the cycle?
If there’s one medium that’s firmly grasped the literary theme of arch-rivalry, it’s comicbooks. As the regular home of stories detailing the clashes of such famous adversaries as Batman and the Joker, the Flash and Reverse Flash, and Spider-man and the Green Goblin, comics have always embraced the complex dynamic between bitter enemies, in which the combatants often seem to understand each other better than some of their closest friends and allies. BOOM! Studios’ new comic mini-series, Welcome Back, takes the concept of the timeless rivalry to new heights, detailing the eon-spanning tale of two warriors destined to battle and kill one other for eternity, through years after years and life after life. Whereas this premise would make for an entertaining action thriller in its own right, Welcome Back also manages to be an engaging personal drama about the grip and pull of life and destiny, and about one’s place within it. It also just happens to be a whole lot of fun.
The story begins chronicling the centuries of battle between the two warriors, dating back to 1281 C.E. in Feudal Japan. As two samurai, the warriors battle again until one is felled. Immediately afterward, the other takes his own life, as has apparently been the case in the aftermath of each of their battles. “The ending is always the same. Always sad,” says the narrator. “We wonder, too late, what it would be like to do otherwise.”
Even from the beginning, the issue emphasizes a intriguing theme within the narrative of such stories of combat: being the immense amount of time and effort put into hatred, and whether such energy wouldn’t be better used peacefully. The comic continues to show the two warrior’s battles across the course of history, from the Stone Age, to the era of the Vikings, to the American West, with the outcome always the same: one warrior dies, and the other, for whatever reason, takes their own life. The pages show a tragic cycle of violence, with neither warrior able to escape the ultimate outcome, no matter the winner.
The story then cuts to the present era, with a young woman named Mali having visions of these acts violence in the middle of a coffee shop. Mali explains how she’s down on her luck and in hiding from public view, having gained a semi-celebrity status as the stepdaughter of a serial killer.
With a whole following of eery stalkers obsessed with her and her relation to “famous” stepfather, Mali settles for what she deems a “compromise life”. She's settling for the simplest accommodations and pleasures, with no real ambitions in a life she feels isn’t truly hers. Mali, however, continues to have visions of violence, to the point where she breaks her boyfriend’s nose in the middle of the night, causing him to leave.
The idea of a typical, out of luck individual finding out he or she is actually a great warrior isn’t a new idea, and has been used in a number of works throughout the years, such as in Mark Millar’s comic Wanted and the movie adaptation starring James McAvoy. Yet, Welcome Back manages to put a unique spin on this idea by giving a strong characterization of an individual in need of such empowerment. The same who lives in persistent fear of those who might hurt her. Despite being the latest reincarnation of an individual bound to be hunted, the storyline creates a fascinating buildup to Mali’s realization of her destiny. Writer Christopher Sebela does do by establishing an already helpless reality, so as to introduce Mali's warrior status as an ostensible rescue than a curse.
This contrast shows a parallel between the cyclical entrapment of reincarnation and the social entrapment, within a single lifetime, that arises from lack of means. Remembering her countless past lifetimes, Mali thinks, “I want to throw up. Not because it makes me dizzy, but because everything finally makes sense.” It’s an intriguing setup to show how a destiny of violence, in Mali’s case, is an ultimate escape from banal, limited urban reality.
Meanwhile, Mali’s reincarnated adversary blazes a trail of violence across Portugal, in search of another “Sequel,” or reincarnated individual, who can tell her where Mali is. This woman, named Vos, is a demonstrably more adapt fighter, having apparently already embraced her warrior persona.
Later, in route to an airport to America, Vos goes over her battle plans to eliminate Mali. Her personal driver asks her what the ultimate goal is, and Vos explains how it is her destiny to die, whether by her opponent’s hand or her own. When the driver asks what the point of this is, Vos simply says “we don’t ask those questions.” The scene illustrates how after millennia of combat, nobody in the game even seems to remember what the cause or rules of the violence were. This creates an interesting parallel between real, historical acts and campaigns of violence stretching generations, with descendants acting purely on the knowledge of past conflict.
Despite a fairly simple concept, Welcome Back benefits from enough engaging characterization and narrative, as well as over the top action, to prove a very enjoyable read. The comic’s script by Sebela reads like a well-crafted, stylized action film, and the artwork by Jonathan Brandon Sawyer is both kinetic and expressive, maintaining a high-octane pace. As the summer winds down and the major action thrillers have gone, this one is definitely worthy of filling the void.