Review by Ian Keogh
This combined and complete edition of Jennie Wood and Jeff McComsey’s Flutter is very welcome, with the original three graphic novels out of print, and deserving better than to fade into obscurity. It concerns superpowers, but is far from a conventional superhero story, the teenage Lily’s shape changing abilities used to explore themes of gender and identity.
Lily is introduced along with her father, just having moved to another new small town, this time the fictional St Charles in New York state, a pattern that’s defined her life. She doesn’t know her mother, but based on her father’s conversations readers are given a fair hint as to who that is long before it’s confirmed. Wood also plays the long game before revealing how it is that Lily can change her appearance, and why she has far greater than normal strength. Due to circumstances convincingly explained early on, Lily attends school as the male Jesse, which is a life-changing experience in more ways than one. Jesse is good at sports, and so easily accepted.
Some of the subtleties in Wood’s plot are lost due to McComsey being a developing artist, far stronger overall by the end of the book than he is the start. His storytelling is instinctively good, but his chosen style isn’t the best when it’s important to be able to identify people who’re not always who they seem. By the end there’s a greater consistency, but conveying emotions visually never becomes a strength.
Wood twice leaps forward by a few months in breaking her story down into three distinct arcs, originally issued as Flutter: Hell Can Wait, Don’t Let Me Die Nervous and Rid of Me. Follow the links for greater discussion of individual plots. They merge for a fraught two years in Lily/Jesse’s life in which revelation is a constant threat, increased when Lily is filmed preventing a bus toppling over the side of a bridge. Wood combines a very close emotional drama with the mystery of Lily’s abilities, but never tips into standard superhero tropes, which keeps Flutter unpredictable and very readable, because it’s ensured that Lily’s problems are more interesting. By the end, though, all aspects have been satisfyingly concluded.
A few mis-steps do occur, but balanced against the good, they can be forgiven. Given McComsey’s limitations, there are places where the distinction between past and present could be better signposted, and the death of a character should have a far greater emotional impact than we see.
The collection adds an editorial from Wood at the end detailing the distressing personal circumstances during which Flutter was completed, and they explain to an extent why in-story someone doesn’t deal well with death.
It’s noted online that Flutter has been optioned for TV dramatisation, but it’s all gone very quiet since. It doesn’t matter. The graphic novel stands alone as a testament to themes thoughtfully and sympathetically examined, and provides a rocky, unpredictable read.