By Madeleine Chan
The first pages of Moth & Whisper #1 set the stage for genderqueer thief Niki’s story in fairytale fashion. The almost haunting style of Niki’s parents’ paint-swirled faces on striking silhouettes veined with lines of color are reminiscent of storybook flashbacks, with paper cutouts and shadow play. Niki’s mother is introduced as a thief called “The Moth” in a pinkish-orange hue, a social chameleon able to disguise herself anywhere with ease. Niki’s father is likewise revealed as “The Whisper”, though his scenes are shown in a slight teal. He is able to sneak into places without anyone the wiser.
After that, any scenes where Niki is sneaking into galas or disguised in public are accented with their mother’s pinks/reds/oranges. By contrast, scenes where Niki is breaking into places are covered in their father’s myriad of blues. Occasionally, though, the color scheme leans towards dampened green tints, matching Niki’s greenish blond hair.
By the fifth and final issue of Aftershock’s vivid sci-fi noir, Niki – who took on both of their parents’ mantles in order to reveal the truth behind their disappearance – is at a crossroads. They’ve just found out their parents worked with organ-farming crime lord Ambrose Wolfe to secure Niki’s future, which potentially lead to the pair’s disappearance. Niki doesn’t want to take down Wolfe the way their parents would have, though, and hatches a plan all of their own design.
Pages of Niki sneaking into Wolfe’s base under cover of the cool, muted blues of their father slowly shift to greener blues and reach a pinnacle in a panel seen through night-vision-goggle green, where the twist in Niki’s plan is revealed and Wolfe realizes he’s caught. Niki leaves with the apt line, “You don’t know me Wolfe, you never will.”
After the story’s action-packed climax, the key to the book’s color and identity symbolism is revealed. Niki reflects on their journey to realizing they’re genderqueer and to their Robin Hood-esque role in a page parallel to the first issue’s. Their parents are seen in their pink/blue hues as the tones swirl like smoke, becoming more fluid, as Niki gets their own silhouette cutout filled with a vivid green. Those previous scenes glossed with green are where Niki’s true face is shown or their character is being developed, pages where Niki is being themself.
Amplified by its use of color, this story of legacy and purpose intertwines with themes of gender identity and self to tell a story about finding out who you are outside of the pressure of your parents’ shadow. Moth & Whisper #5 teaches that picking up the mantle doesn’t have to mean planting your feet in their footprints, but taking what is meaningful to you from their journey and making it your own. The careful orchestration of color shows that Niki is both a mix of their parents and an entirely new creation – the camouflage suit/AI helper left by their parents is even named Weaver.
And it’s all set against the backdrop of a dystopian surveillance state eerily close to our reality that enriches the themes of identity and presentation in a world set on defining you. Rye Hickman and Ted Anderson weave together a fitting conclusion for a dream of a story that gives color to the infinite potential of exploring identity in the comic medium.
Moth & Whisper #5 “Parental Guidance”
Co-creators: Ted Anderson & Rye Hickman
Writer: Ted Anderson
Artist: Rye Hickman
Letterer: Marshall Dillon
Madeleine Chan is a freelance writer focused on media, culture, and identity with a penchant for stellar storytelling and alliteration. Find their work at AIPT Comics, WWAC, and find more from Madeleine on Twitter here!
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