The first arc of We Can Never Go Home ends in gruesome violence, explosions, and our runaway protagonists, Duncan and Madison, making a lot of stupid, some foolhardy, and a few clever choices in their neverending quest to find freedom. Most of the issue takes place in the compound of Mr. Carroll, who is collecting teenage superhumans like some kind of twisted Professor X with a creepy beard. The tests that makes Madison go through are designed to disrupt her friendship with Duncan, which was already pushed to the breaking point in the previous issue when he was about to have sex with the shapeshifter Casey, who he thought was Maddie. Writers Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon follow Duncan’s (who is only pretending he has superpowers) fucked up moral compass through superpowered battle royales, tense arguments, some torture, and a suitably gory climax.
Artists Josh Hood and Brian Level make Carroll’s “order” obsessed compound suitably spartan with bars on windows, sparse furniture, and almost bare walls, except for a Black Flag poster in the “common area”. However, Carroll’s HQ’s aesthetic is more a late 1980s version of the Dollhouse in Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse with a touch less Zen Buddhism than the fridge full of beer, flat screen TV, and pool table sporting rec room belonging to the X-Men. The boring nature of their surroundings makes the blood, guts, and viscera battle between Madison and various commune members that much jarring an intense. Hood and Level show just how brutal a battle between barely trained superhumans would be with bruises, scars, and pools of blood everywhere. Their panels shrink as Madison takes more punishment as Duncan looks on and must make a choice to stop the fight or let her “take on for the team” as Mr. Carroll so glibly puts it. This isn’t just a basic powers test, but a test if Madison (like his other teenage superhumans) will die for him. Rosenberg and Kindlon take the dark side of Silver Age Professor X (who faked his death to motivate his team), remove the telepathy, and add a faux punk rock side to him to craft a manipulative baddie in Carroll, who brings out the worst in everyone around him.
By the time We Can Never Go Home #5 reaches its final page, Duncan’s ship of a hero complex has thousands of holes poked in it and is sinking hard and fast if it’s not already at Davy Jones’ Locker. (Pardon the nautical metaphor, I don’t want to spoil the fast paced, final act of this issue.) Throughout the series, he imagines himself the dashing anti-hero while taking money from drug dealers, killing people (And lying about how he has the superpowers to kill people instantly.) so Madison won’t have to get her superpowered hands dirty, and helping her find freedom from a conforming lifestyle aka parents, who actually love and care about her. But he’s not even close to being the hero of We Can Never Go Home even as he gets tortured by Carroll’s goons when Madison runs off from the compound. This, and Duncan’s other decisions are motivated by selfishness, his main character trait throughout the series. And Rosenberg and Kindlon resist the urge to give him a redemption arc and let him continue to make questionable decisions to the final page. A character tells him “You love being doomed. Don’t you?” in strained lettering from David C. Hopkins, and this could easily sum up who Duncan is in the first arc of We Can Never Go Home.
We Can Never Go Home #5 has several dramatic reversals and gut punching action sequences, but writers Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon never neglect the extremely different character arcs of Madison Munroe and Duncan Schmidt. In the words of Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one is a rebel and the other is an idiot, and readers find out the definitive answer in this issue. Artists Josh Hood and Brian Level continue to excel at drawing angry 80s teens while using clever layout choices to make the action packed scenes more impactful and intimate. Colorist Tyler Boss punctuates his grainy, 80s VHS color palette with flashes of red for the gallons of blood spilled in this issue and white when Madison manifests her powers to make these panels stand out. We Can Never Go Home #5 has a riveting plot line, visceral art, and also shows the toxicity of the teenage male antihero while laying the foundation for a new kind of post punk rebel heroine (It is fitting that Siouxsie and the Banshees is on We Can Never Go Home‘s official Spotify playlist.)
We Can Never Go Home #5 will be available physically at local comic book store and digitally on the Black Mask Studios website and Comixology on Wednesday, December 2, 2015.