Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Pop Goes the World

Posted by Don MacPherson on December 8th, 2012

Human Bomb #1
“Chapter One: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know”
Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Artist/Cover artist: Jerry Ordway
Colors: Hi-Fi
Letters: Taylor Esposito
Editor: Harvey Richards
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US

I’ve a huge fan of legacy characters, especially when it comes to DC’s Golden Age super-heroes (or “mystery men,” as they’ve been called). My favorite storyline from Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron was the one in which he revealed the “untold” origin of the Freedom Fighters, which included the original Human Bomb. That being said, DC has apparently tasked writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray to retool and reinvent the Freedom Fighters characters for the 21st century (for the second time, as they penned a couple of Freedom Fighters series in the years right before DC’s New 52 relaunch). As is the case with Earth 2, DC has apparently decided to sever its Golden Age properties’ ties to the Second World War, and from a nostalgic perspective, I find that disappointing. While I was interested to see what Palmiotti and Gray were doing with these concepts with a series of limited series, I figured I’d wait to see what the word online about such comics as The Ray and Phantom Lady. If the buzz was positive, I’d seek out the collected editions. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of chatter about them, and since I think the Human Bomb concept is a cool one, I decided to check out this first issue. While it’s devoid of any connection to the preceding spins on the character, the writers have crafted an interesting story that manages to overcome some significant challenges posed by the subject matter that didn’t exist when it was created in the 1940s.

Michael Taylor is a former U.S. Marine who’s set to receive the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony in the coming weeks, and his friends are all stoked for him. Despite others hailing him as a hero for his actions under fire in Afghanistan, he’s content to live a normal life as a construction worker laboring on the new structure being built on Ground Zero in New York. But Michael is forever ill at ease, haunted by dreams that he secretly poses a danger to everyone around him. The real nightmare comes looking for him, though, as a series of bombings in the Big Apple unlocks a destructive power within that draws the attention of new enemies and instills fear in friends.

Jerry Ordway provides some crisp, clear art throughout this issue, and he achieves a strong sense of realism in the figures and backdrops that bolsters the drama. I’m also thrilled he’s involved with this project, as he provides something of a link to DC’s classic Golden Age heroes; I know he’s not been around since that era, but it was his work with those characters in All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc. in the 1980s that really launched his career. As I noted, he performs well here. This endeavor is as strong as anything else he’s ever done in the medium. That being said, I can’t decide if his style is a good fit for this project. While the realistic look does serve the story well, the art is also quite bright, and I can’t help but think a darker tone would have enhanced the tension in the story.

There’s a distinct Manchurian Candidate candidate vibe to the story that may even be a direct homage, but it works well with the subject matter. The conspiracy angle is an intriguing one, and it really involves the reader in the story. By the end of the issue, I really wanted to see what happens to Michael, and how and why he’s being used by sinister forces. It’s not an entirely fresh concept, but Palmiotti and Gray execute it well.

Writing a Human Bomb story today no doubt posed some problems for the writers. When he was originally created, the concept of a suicide bomber — literal human bombs — wasn’t one the Western world ever imagined. An exploding man wasn’t a potentially disturbing or offensive idea. Today, it could be a cultural hot potato. Rather than trying to write around it, Palmiotti and Gray wisely incorporate the modern meaning of a human bomb into their story. The premise is in part about people — rather than having dynamite or some other explosive strapped to their bodies — being instilled with innate power that transforms their bodies into bombs, as opposed to dressing them up with them. The writers have merged the horrific concept we see unfolding in the news all too regularly and merge it with super-hero genre elements.

Obviously, the suicide-bomber aspect of the story, set on American soil, also brings up some sensitive subjects. The 9/11 terror attacks are a pervasive element of recent history that’s forever on people’s minds. Again, rather than avoiding the subject, the writers use it in the story, setting the action on the site of the Twin Towers. I suppose it’s a potentially risky prospect, but it makes for a more resonant plot. The cultural and media reaction to the action is entirely believable and easily relatable. Such topical elements in the story are definitely integral to the success of this Human Bomb reimagination, and in a way, it’s in keeping with DC’s original Golden Age characters and their connection to a dark chapter in history as well. 7/10

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