I Know At Last The Secret Of It All
By Molly Brooks
Molly Brooks’ 2017 Power Ballad is, in the words of its creator, a “lesbian superhero romcom” webcomic.
Meera Verma is the perfect personal assistant, so keen that it has taken her only two days to realize that her boss, talented musician Carina Peterson, is also Los Angeles’ two-fisted costumed vigilante, the Skeleton. As any respectable personal assistant would, Meera immediately extends her services to the Skeleton as well.
Meera has only one defect as an employee. She’s made the terrible error of falling hard for her boss.
Carina didn’t start off as a vigilante. That’s a sideline she kind of fell into while parkouring across the Los Angeles rooftops. For the most part, detective work is not necessary; simply wandering around dressed as a skeleton seems to be all one needs to do to encounter criminals. (Possibly unrealistic. How often would a wandering vigilante encounter crimes in progress?1) It takes a personal connection to make the Skeleton try her hand at investigation.
Carina’s biological father, the late Marco Gallo, was married to Carina’s mother’s good friend, Diane Kane. Although Carina and Diane are not friends themselves, Carina takes note when someone ambushes Diane at a party and makes off with the Gallo-designed dress Diane is wearing. The details of the attack suggest Diane was only targeted because she owns the best collection of Gallos in existence and her appearance was a rare opportunity to steal one.
Meera has an impressively large pool of surprisingly useful ex-girlfriends with whom she is on amicable terms. One quick discussion with photographer/archivist Sydney lands an interview with the reclusive Diane. No immediate solution to the case presents itself.
An attempted break-in at a museum with a Gallo display provides the Skeleton with an opportunity. The burglar discarded the stolen dresses as soon as they noticed that the dresses were replicas. There are genuine Gallos on the premises. Convinced the burglar will be back, the Skeleton lies in wait. A for effort, D‑minus for actual results.
When fisticuffs fail, try more detection. The trail will be long and winding, but the Skeleton and her smitten personal assistant are nothing if not persistent. Plus Carina has money and can pay consultants. And Meera has her vast network of exes.…
Twining around the detective plotline is the romantic plotline: Meera pining for her boss but afraid to let her know it. How would Carina react? Meera cannot guess. Two, count them, two kinds of suspense!
This comic was an unexpected delight. The author avoided some common errors (A) and did some things just right (B).
A1. Carina is the Skeleton because it’s fun. No horrifying trauma in her past. No dead relative, no rape, nothing to turn her to rage and revenge. She just wanted to let off steam with a little parkour, in the course of which she met and foiled a criminal. It was so much fun she wanted to do it again. It’s a rough hobby, one that takes a lot out of Carina and her Kevlar armor, but she enjoys it.
A2. The plot also manages to skirt the pitfalls inherent in falling for one’s boss (and vice versa). This comic doesn’t turn into a case in point for “And this is why HR frowns on boss/subordinate fraternization, even when they both really really like each other.” Nor would it serve as an example of “sometimes these things don’t work out.” There is a long, winding road towards a happy ending and it passes right through Meera’s professional skill set.
B1. The author dealt deftly with plot issues that most comics ignore. We learn what Carina does when there just isn’t another rooftop within leaping distance. Carina’s secret identity stays secret as long as nobody takes a close lookand not because there are great big obvious clues people opt to ignore.
B2. The main antagonist has a perfectly reasonable, although unexpected, motivation for their crime spree. It’s not greed. Not exactly. It is a motivation worthy of a super villain.…
If you’re looking for a lesbian romance with the breakneck pacing of a Milk Morinaga serial intertwined with two-fisted, roof-leaping adventure, this is the webcomic you are looking for.
Power Ballad can be read in its entirety starting here.
1: LA has close to 2200 property crimes a year. That’s about six per day. LA is about 1300 km2, which means there’s about one property crime per 216 km2 per day. That’s a lot of area for one roof-leaping costumed adventurer to cover. Although I suppose it would be unrealistic to assume that crimes are evenly distributed across the city.