It’s surprising that comics can be a relatively small community, and especially on the indy/small press level, you get a real feeling that everyone knows everyone. Not long after I had made my first tentative forays into getting The Standard published and out there, and started socialising with other indy comic creators here in Glasgow, I started hearing the same couple of books mentioned and praised over and over. One of those books was Sugar Glider. I had heard so many great things about writer Daniel Clifford’s storytelling, by the time I finally met him at the Glasgow Comic Con it felt a bit like meeting a celebrity. I happily picked up a copy of Sugar Glider #1, along with anthology book Sugar Glider Stories, and now have finally got round to reading them. I’m pleased to say that the praise is well deserved.
While a lot of new superhero stories fall into a formula of starting with an origin story, covering familiar beats and well-worn tropes, Sugar Glider #1 hits the ground running, with our hero Susie Sullivan having already adopted Sugar Glider as her masked alter ego. Little hints and tidbits regarding some shady characters looking for a stolen super-suit suggest we’ll be getting to Sugar Glider’s origin before too long, but beginning things in media res helps give this tale a refreshingly different pace.
This isn’t to say we’re launched into a fight scene with no room for characterisation. In fact, there’s very little fighting of any kind in this issue, and when Sugar Glider does get round to trading blows with bad guys it doesn’t end very well for her. You get the sense that, for Susie, it’s not a case of her wanting to fight crime, so she gets a costume that lets her glide through the air, but rather the costume is the main appeal, and the fighting crime part is something she engages in almost reluctantly. In one memorable scene, the first time we see Susie as Sugar Glider, she just spends the night gliding and climbing through Newcastle. It seems like this is an escape from her unfulfilling regular life.
“There’s never anything to do. I actually miss college,” says one character at the start of the story. And the post-graduate layabout in me connected with those feelings of restlessness and uncertainty that seem to define Susie. Clifford does some great character work, playing the Peter Parker Everyman notes in a more subtle tone, in a way that feels relevant to this generation. Characterisation is really a strength of Clifford’s, with even minor characters getting some interesting beats to work with.
Unfortunately, the art of Gary Bainbridge doesn’t quite live up to Daniel Clifford’s writing. It’s a shame, because I think Bainbridge is actually a good artist. His storytelling is sound, and he has some inventive layouts. You even get a sense that his actual drawing of people and particularly locations is sound. The problem comes at the inking stage. The inks are far too heavy, as if it’s been done with a Sharpie pen, and any detail has been nullified in the process. I would be interested to see what the pages looked like at the pencil stage, or what the inked pages would have looked like with a finer line. The rough, presumably hand-drawn lettering doesn’t help the visual presentation either.
I don’t want to be a total downer on Bainbridge’s contribution to the book, though. The Sugar Glider costume is realised well, and the aforementioned night jaunt is a well-executed silent sequence that captures the thrill of Susie’s experiences. The full-page splash that precedes it, where we see Susie shed off her everyday troubles and don the costume, is a great tableau as well, little window panels peppered around the page serving to magnify certain aspects of the scene.
It’s a little rough around the edges, but if you’re willing to look past that, there’s a whole lot to like in Sugar Glider. Daniel Clifford and Gary Bainbridge have created a believable world not too unlike our own, populated by likeable characters, and a story I very quickly became invested in. I for one am keen to pick up the next chapter, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of the superhero genre – and, indeed, to those who aren’t.