By Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, Josh Hood, Brian Level, Tyler Boss, David Hopkins, and Dylan Todd
Fuck you, Duncan. Fuck you for making me care. For making me root for you, relate to you, smirk with you and be embarrassed with you. Maddie was right when she said, “Fuck you, Duncan” and she was right to leave and she was even more right to come back for you. Through all the dramatic din and flashes of super-powered feats, We Can Never Go Home has always been so much more than what this fifth and final chapter’s title would have you believe. Death or glory becomes just another story? Hell no. We Can Never Go Home has defiantly proven itself to be the farthest thing from “just another story.” In just five issues, Rosenberg, Kindlon, Hood, and co. manage to pack more character development, raw honesty and emotionally resonant élan than any other comic this year. Scratch that; more than any other comic in years. It never lost step with the beat, it never wavered from its reverberant core of the irresistibly engrossing dynamic between its two young leads, and it never looked back. Issue #5, and the series as a whole, doesn’t let up and it’s not content to just hum its thematic and technical triumphs; it fucking sings.
Rosenberg and Kindlon’s script will make you angry, elated, saddened, and comforted as though the work itself was a character in your life. The way they’ve sculpted this work (in conjunction with the art, of course) into something that can be interacted with has been nothing short of a joy. The soundtracks, Dylan Todd’s pitch-perfect design package, the frenetic energy at which your brain spins its internal barrel in a game of emotional roulette; it all adds up to a thoroughly satisfying exhaustive experience of a read. A roll down door to a room that shouldn’t be entered this issue is emblazoned with Dante Alighieri’s famous “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” warning and in some ways Duncan proves this to be all too true and by the end he defies it. That’s the type of roller coaster we’re riding this issue and it is worth every second to ride it over and over again.
This issue certainly brings the pain in the form of action, but the lacerations, bruises, and bullet holes are hardly what packs the heartiest punch here. Rosenberg and Kindlon bring the issue and the series home by not bringing it home because, well, you know. It’s about growth and about acknowledging that said growth doesn’t equate to roses and happy endings because that’s not how the world works. If it feels incomplete, that’s because that’s how life tends to work out. Duncan and Maddie aren’t two-dimensional travelers on the character arc game board; they’re complex and constantly redefining themselves because again, aren’t we all? They fight and fail and triumph and love and fuck up and learn and survive and fuck up again. What started out as the awkward outsider and the hot popular girl in a fucked-up, but familiar high school setting grew into something far richer without losing the inherent truth of that metaphor of searching for one’s identity.
Pair all that with the magic and precision of Josh Hood and Brian Level’s art this issue and you’ve got one hell of a rock show. Hood is an intelligent and nuanced storyteller with a penchant for fantastically subtle panel layouts that steer your experience with ease. Hood’s sharp lines inform his minimalist and structured style, but the way his panels interact with one another belies the apparent simplicity of the pages. Take for instance the first two pages of Maddie’s gladiatorial evaluation and see how the angled panels of the first page inform the momentum and force of both the impacts and of the speed at which they occur. Then, notice the far more ridged grid structure of the next page and how tightly controlled the pacing is and how by slowing it to a near crawl the brutality and fervor is upped while creating a breathtakingly sanguine symmetrical portrait to close it out with. Combined with where Hood chooses to have figures and items break panel borders, the overall effect is a mesmerizing and clever affair that makes every figurative punch land that much harder. Extra kudos to Hood’s design work on Mr. Carroll that somehow manages to make Tom Hanks’ character in The Ladykillers look tame in comparison (i.e. dude is a perfectly skeevy super-creeper). Hood deserves a ton of credit for the skill he put on display throughout this series and for delivering it all in its alt-pop art meets punk aesthetic married with razor-sharp precision.
We Can Never Go Home is a complete visual package thanks to Tyler Boss’s colors, Dylan Todd’s design, and David Hopkins’s lettering. Every element complements the other and delivers a harmonic whole. Boss infuses an often stark palette with perfectly piercing notes of chromatic highlights. The texturing matches Hood and Level’s art in understated, but smartly attuned applications that add just enough to enrich the settings and tones. The magenta gradients, the electric lightning, the blushed cheeks, the slowly forming bruises, and the blood….my god the blood; it’s a cohesive package of coloring that informs as it enhances without ever being anywhere near overwrought. Todd’s tape and notebook framing sets and maintains the driving enthusiasm, rage, and confidence that define the series’ emotional riffs and Hopkins’s lettering hits all the marks of what excellent lettering needs to do (namely, effectively do their job so as to never scream out on their own).
We’ve been promised a return to the world of We Can Never Go Home in 2016 and thank the feckin’ gods for that. This series has been the biggest and most welcome surprise of 2015 and it deserves every accolade it’s received ten times over. Duncan and Maddie are two of the most fully realized characters anywhere, even as they themselves struggle to realize who exactly that is. Grow up, move on, hold on to things, but never ever go backwards. “That’s just the beat of time – the beat that must go on. If you’ve been trying for years, we already heard your song.” And it’s glorious. Fuck you, WCNGH, for being so much more than just another story.