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'Faith' Makes Fat A Force To Reckon With

It's got to be said: The costume is ... not great. Faith, the plus-sized superhero starring in her debut volume from Valiant Comics, is a "psiot" who fights crime armed with the powers of flight and telekinesis. Unfortunately, she does it wearing a sort of half-coat, half-smock in the toothpastey palette of white with blue trim. Her matching white pants and plain white boots evoke a snowsuit. Faith's costume is so graceless, it almost seems like the work of an artist who's channeling unspoken fatophobia. Maybe her original creators, Jim Shooter and David Lapham, didn't realize fat girls could be stylish. (Faith was actually born back in 1992 in Valiant's Harbinger series, though this is the first time she's had her own book.)

And yet Francis Portela, who draws Faith, is obviously deeply fond of her. Under his pen Faith stops bullets beautifully and skates across the skies. Her ovoid belly and double chin are caressed and celebrated. But though she makes a powerful picture, it's a rather dowdy one.

Maybe it's a man thing. It's striking that when artist Marguerite Sauvage takes over from Portela to draw several daydream sequences, Faith starts to look a lot more fashionable — and acquires a measure of sensuality. In her daydreams Faith envisions herself in aviator shades, an olive windbreaker and tough leather boots. (Delightfully, she never pictures herself thinner than she really is.) Sauvage even tinkers with the details of the superhero costume to make it more flattering.

Both she and Portela depict a radiant, pulchritudinous, fat superhero who's long overdue in comics. But it's Sauvage who imagines Faith as a woman who wants to be, and is, cool. A few of the cover artists for the individual issues, such as Colleen Coover, Dan Parent and especially Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic, get it too. Coover depicts Faith dancing at a club, while Kevic-Djurdjevic envisions her in sinuous flight, her hair auralike, her thighs big and shapely.

The book's ultimate success, though, is due to its visuals: the phenomenal subversive power of a fat female body in motion.

Faith's daydreams also reveal a humanizing array of fantasies and insecurities — though they don't, significantly, include anxiety about her weight. Adding to her charm, writer Jody Houser (in one of several self-referential gambits) has made her a fangirl. The superhero cites Joss Whedon, says "Frakkin!" and gets starstruck when she encounters an actress from her favorite sci-fi TV show. Reflecting on her life, Faith is clear on her priorities:

"I hadn't really planned on staying in L.A. long-term. But ... It's the first time I've been on my own since I got these powers," she muses, dodging a helicopter on her way to work. "Besides, I found the best comic shop in Burbank. Not quite ready to give that up!"

Unfortunately, Los Angeles' excitement and variety aren't visible here. Faith's milieu is a yawner. She works at a Buzzfeed-like website, a painfully predictable day job where the staff consists of a painfully predictable array of stereotypes. The other characters, such as Faith's ex-boyfriend and the aforementioned TV star, aren't much more interesting, and the "Big Bad" Faith battles is too humdrum to be worth mentioning. Still, there's a lot to love (get it?) in this comic. Houser has accomplished something deceptively simple: she's made Faith a fun character to spend time with. Faith is lighthearted but virtuous, with a cheesy sense of humor, compassion and smarts.

The book's ultimate success, though, is due to its visuals: the phenomenal subversive power of a fat female body in motion. Faith's size makes her larger than life in a way few other female superheroes are. Standing next to a male co-worker she's monumental, her calf the width of his hips, each of her feet the size of his head. When she stops bullets with her mind, there's no question where her power is seated. And when she's aloft and spiraling — a body that's both fat and weightless, gliding and twisting in the heavens — it's surely more exhilarating than any other superhero's flight has ever been. Exuberant, bodacious and just plain awesome, Faith owns the sky. Now if she could just own it in, say, a moto jacket and knee-high boots ...

Etelka Lehoczky has written about books for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and She tweets at @EtelkaL.

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