With this set of capsule reviews, I examine the finale of Dark Nights: Metal, the debut of Breathless and a new Shadowman series, and the latest issue of The Terrifics.
by Pat Shand & Renzo Rodriguez
As I read this inaugural issue, everything about it reminded me consistently of writer Gail Simone’s Clean Room, though not in terms of plot. Instead, it was the atmosphere, the characters and definitely the artwork. Artist Renzo Rodriguez’s linework here is highly reminiscent of what we saw from Jon (The Wild Storm) Davis-Hunt on Clean Room, up to and including the designs for the menacing alien creatures. Bear in mind, I say this as a compliment, as Clean Room was an intense and intelligent horror story. The same can be said of Breathless, and while there are monsters and evil bastards lurking within these pages, the real horror is the underlying commentary on the state of health care in the United States. Clearly, the commentary here is that Big Pharma is invested in the continuation of illness so products to ease symptoms can prove profitable. That means cures are bad for business, and when greed is in the mix, dark dealings can arise.
As one of the covers suggests, the central protagonist, Scout, is going to be the badass heroine of the book. I like her character and her attitude, and her interactions with her aunt at home are full of spunk and spark. What confuses me a bit, though, is the inclusion of another female badass character: Claire, with the company’s paramilitary “acquisitions” team. So far, the two characters seem almost identical. Also, the plot hinges on the notion that Scout’s assistance, Grace-Eisley, is completely clueless about what she should share publicly about her work and what she shouldn’t. It makes it difficult to enjoy her character, but the overall strength of the plot allowed me to forgive that clumsy catalyst. 7/10
by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion & Mikel Janin
Like the series as a whole, this finale to DC’s delayed event title has been over the top, loud, ridiculous, colorful and bombastic, and it brings together so many disparate elements of DC lore, just as you’d want a line-wide crossover to do. And it’s really not very good. It’s diverting and entertaining at times, but it makes almost no sense. There’s no suspense, but there’s nothing on the line here. We know the heroes are not only going to prevail, but they’ll thrive because we know DC isn’t going to mess with these icons. The moment in which Cyborg, Flash and Raven arrive in a multi-dimensional music ship with good-guy Batmen from other realities and other heroes is a fun moment, but it’s meaningless to the plot. Their role here changes nothing, and most of what happens takes place off-panel, explained through dialogue. We never even glimpse Cyborg, Flash or Raven, so it left me wondering what the point was of that subplot (answer: there was none). Dark Nights: Metal is all about cool concepts and visuals, by the execution of those ideas is clumsy at best. The only thing that this event book seems to have accomplished is to offer yet another convoluted history for Hawkman and the introduction of a bunch of new characters/titles, most of which likely won’t last long. The introduction of “the Over-Monitor” and the disembodied brain of the Anti-Monitor seems to come from out of nowhere, and again, contributes nothing to the story (save for confusion for those who don’t get the Crisis on Infinite Earths references).
Capullo certainly brings a lot of intensity and energy to a diverse array of extreme interpretations of familiar characters, and in that regard, his art is fun. It’s also quite loose at times, even looking rushed (and give the lateness of this final issue, I can only assumed a mad scramble after a missed deadline is likely). The artist offers a lot of interesting alternative designs of distorted versions of familiar characters (both heroes and villains) in a key double-page splash early on, and those twisted looks and concepts will amuse long-time DC fans. But there’s no room for the creators to explore those dark reflections. Ultimately, some interesting ideas and inventive continuity connections were at the heart of Dark Nights: Metal, but the execution is lacking and far too complicated to work. 4/10
by Andy Diggle & Stephen Segovia
I recently praised the writer of another Valiant title — Ninja-K — for how accessible the fifth issue of that series is, featuring a completely retooled and reimagined interpretation of the title character than the one I remember from the mid 1990s. I’ve been discovering that Valiant has some strong offerings, including the Quantum and Woody relaunch, so I decided to delve into this new Shadowman series too. Unfortunately, while this is a first issue, it doesn’t read like a new take on the concept. There are references to a lot of earlier Shadowman continuity, and I found myself at a loss later in the issue. It’s too bad, because the first half of the issue, focusing on mystic New Orleans warrior Alyssa Myles, was really interesting. She’s a cool, skilled and confident character, and I was much more taken with her mission and role in the story than the title hero. Jack — billed as the sixth person to carry the Shadowman mantle — seems like little more than a mystically empowered brute here, a blunt instrument without direction. I wanted a lot more Alyssa and, well… maybe not less Jack, but certainly more information about him.
Artist Stephen Segovia is definitely channelling Leinil (Secret Invasion, Supercrooks) Yu here, and as I was repeatedly reminded of that artist’s style in this pages. Alyssa is a striking figure; her confidence shines through in the body language Segovia instills in here, but he wisely never sexualizes her either. The darkly magical behemoth she encounters in the bayou exudes power and menace as well, and I loved the color work that went into bringing Alyssa’s spellcasting to life. 6/10
by Jeff Lemire, Ivan Reis, Jose Luis, Vicente Cifuentes & Jordi Tarragon
DC’s take on its own Fantastic Four continues to delight in its second issue, with over-the-top cosmic action and an interesting mix of divergent characters. What really makes this comic fun to read is the friction among the characters. Plastic Man and Metamorpho’s Human Torch/Thing dynamic works incredibly well, and at the end of the issue, Mr. Terrific’s gruff and dismissive attitude adds another interpersonal dynamic and conflict that was interesting as well. It’s clear the new Phantom Girl will be the emotional thread that keeps the peace among the heroes, as the others understandably adopt a protective attitude toward the lost and innocent young woman (whose origin is relayed succinctly here, though I wonder if there’s not much more to her story). One of the questions that arose when this series was announced was why these disparate and unconnected characters would continue to align with one another, and the answer reveals itself at the end of this issue. The connection turns out to be surprisingly literal, and only something that would work in the super-hero genre.
Something that surprised me was that a second art team was tapped to illustrated the final six pages of this 20-page issue. That fill-in artists were called in as early as the second issue makes me think the regular art team wasn’t given enough of a head-start when beginning work on this series. That being said, Jose Luis’s style is quite consistent with that of Ivan Reis’s, so there’s no jarring shift in the overall look of the issue as a whole. I continue to be impressed with Reis’s portrayal of Plastic Man, especially the moments in which he bulks up. If one can change the shape of one’s body on a whim, it stands to reason the choice might be to portray oneself as some kind of masculine ideal. Another key strength of the art is the clear cue that Phantom Girl is considerably younger than the rest of the cast, and she’s also not rendered in a sexualized manner. 7/10