The magical girl genre has proliferated in comics and animation a lot as of late as the generation that grew up with those shows has started getting into the industry. It has lead to a lot of interesting twists on the genre, such as the explorations of what happens when you give that power to people long past high school and struggling in life (Bee and Puppycat, Power Up) when you grow into a legacy of it (Steven Universe), or when you try and run from that fate (Zodiac Starforce, Help Us, Great Warrior!).
However, the magical girl as a revenge fantasy is something that hasn’t really been explored until Mia Goodwin’s Tomboy.
Tomboy is about Addison Brody, a normal teenage girl being raised by her father and grandfather, attending Catholic school with her best friends Nick and Jessica, and obsessing over the anime Princess Cherry Cherry. However, her relatively normal life gets turned upside down when Nick is killed by corrupt cops trying to protect pharmaceutical mogul Irene Trent. When she ends up on the same train as them on Halloween, the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur for Addison as her beloved Princess Cherry Cherry tells her its time to “transform.”
When Tomboy was first announced, a lot of people in the industry were comparing it to the Batgirl of Burnside or Spider-Gwen, and on the surface, it’s easy to see how those comparisons could start. All three are stylistic stories about young vigilante women who are fighting against corrupt forces of their city. However, actually reading the series, the comparison really doesn’t hold up due to tone. Where Batgirl and Spider-Gwen are titles giving the characters a chance at having stories that don’t tie them down to their dark pasts, Tomboy is a story that relishes in darkness. The lines between fantasy and reality are constantly blurred as Addison is spoken to by the ghost of her dead best friend and an apparition of an anime princess. It doesn’t help that it’s unclear that her grandfather may actually be haunted by an angel of death or he could have suffered a similar mental break as well after the death of his wife. With the uses of ghostly Catholic and anime inspired imagery and revenge fantasy plot points, the series should probably draw more comparisons to properties like Puella Magi Madoka Magica or The Professional instead.
Goodwin is probably known to most audiences as the original series artist on Princeless before Emily Martin took over starting with the second arc. The expressive and colorful style she had in that first arc still exists in this book, but with crisper lines and cooler colors. The more fantasy-driven pages are especially gorgeous, especially when Goodwin draws inspiration from Catholicism, which is a strong stylistic and story influence in this book.
The story itself is mostly fine, with there being a sort of strange gallows humor as Addy falls deeper into her mental state as she becomes more of a killer. However, it isn’t the psychosis that sometimes puts a wall up between the reader, but rather the story happening outside of that. A lot of the story that isn’t focused around Addison and her grandfather sometimes feels tacked on, even though the crime aspect is supposed to be a driving force behind the story. From the opening pages, it’s obvious that there’s a set up for an inevitable conflict between the Brodys and Trent’s forces, but the balance of a family coping with tragedy in different and violent ways and corrupt cops trying to stop them never feels quite right. Not to mention the confusion over just who and what Iris is anyway makes it even more confusing over whether this book is about a girl struggling with a disconnect from reality or if there’s more fantastical elements to the world than previously thought.
Tomboy is a book that is not easy to pin down. Influenced visually by magical girls, Catholicism, crime, and revenge stories, the book takes a darker route than other properties in the rising magical girl genre. While the first part of Goodwin’s story can sometimes be on shaky ground, her art more than makes up for it with expressive and distinct character designs and fantastic images that help immerse the reader into the minds of the characters as they struggle with a grip on reality. Only time will tell if Addison’s “divine intervention” continues to be effective though.