Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Superpowers of the Twelve

I know, a little late in reviewing the most recent comics. Part of that is that they really haven't changed. THE TWELVE is still a book looking for the actual plot and story that we got a glimpse of way back in issue 1. SUPERPOWERS is still all plot shoehorning characters in with random changes. THE PHANTOM by Moonstone still fires on all cylinders. ABE SAPIAN is moody and creepy, but am I the only one that thinks Mignola's writing could stand a little more depth to it instead of just creepy spooky things happen with minimal explanation or exploration? Especially when the character is Abe Sapian who is just a bit more introspective and cerebral than Hellboy whose solution is to either shoot it or hit it.

THE TWELVE is more character bits as the characters try to adjust to the present day. And a whole lot of nothing happening. This is taking the superhero concept and writing it as a soap opera which is a bit different than having soap opera developments in a super hero story ala what helped make Claremont and Byrne's X-Men and Wolfman and Perez' Teen Titans stand out. If you watch a soap opera, there's a lot of talking about action and character interaction and characterization, but in reality very little happens on camera, and if it does, it's fast and over in an instant. While the talking about said events go on for some time. So, it fails for me because despite the fact it involves time-travel, super-powers, and costumes, it's not being written as a superhero comic. It's a soap opera with superheroes in it.

Which is why the characterization doesn't work. While it seems like that JMS is making more rounded, three dimensional characters, he's not really. If you argue they were blank slates with generic personalities before, he's only subsituted that personality for an equal singular personality trait. So far, in The Twelve, most of the characters are still flat, defined by just one or two things and nothing more. Only the Phantom Reporter is really fleshed out and his moaning about not having contacts and no purpose in the modern world was the least convincing as his job would have been one of the easiest to pick back up. Even he would have noticed that there is FAR more options for reporters these days. We are so many issues in and the only character so far actually given that life and a motivation for who and what he does has been Rockman. The others aren't really more well-rounded characters yet, they are still as much single defining character traits as they ever were. Dynamic Man is a bigot but we don't know why he got that way or why such a man would be a hero, so instead of being a generic do-gooder, he's now a generic bigot. Mr. E's a self-hating Jew, again how does that tie in to a man that seemed to be a very effective hero, what inspired him to take up the dangerous life he lead and be so good at it? Giving a character more personality is not the same thing as giving him serious character flaws or dealing with sexual issues only. Somehow, that has become the shorthand for being more 3 dimensional character. It's not. It's just as two dimensional, it only happens to be on the other side of the coin. You want a character that lives and breathes? He needs more than just negative characteristics. James Robinson understood this to some degree. He gave Jack Knight a life: hobbies, interests, conflicting emotions and feelings. You give the characters likes and dislikes and motivations. And, while THE TWELVE has taken its sweet time giving us all these little character bits and interaction, it hasn't really done that for any of these people, especially in regards to them being superheroes. This story could just as easily be told if it was just a science-fiction fueled tale of some soldiers thrust through time with minimal re-tooling. In which case, it's a bad superhero story.

The plus side is JMS’ take at least doesn’t out and out contradict what we know about the characters. SUPERPOWERS, on the other hand…It's hard for me to be excited about this great project bringing back the heroes while there approach seems to be, what can we change? Even saying the urn is darkening the heroes, it again doesn't work story-wise because Krueger hasn't bothered setting the characters up for us to see how they were different originally. Thus these changes don't have any power relevant to the context of the story, they just come across as just modern revisionisms, that they cannot really be bothered to actually try to really treat the characters with any kind of respect. Reminds me of the criticism I had of Casey's LAST DEFENDERS, instead of bothering to give us relevant story information, the writer is being lazy thinking the fact that it is a superhero comicbook it excuses any actual work at writing.

And look at one of the panels of the Flame arriving at the Hollywood sign up above. It shows him hitting the ground, but the angle has his legs and body are facing away from us, yet, somehow, his right arm and head are positioned as if the body is facing us. The image could only work if his head and arm had somehow become completely detached from his body. However, we see him stumbling around in the next panels. Ugh. Even the inker should have realized something was wrong with this graphic.

Other notes: Page 1 - If you don't know the characters and/or this was your first issue, the captions would lead you to believe this is the Fighting Yank when it's actually the Death-Defying Devil nee Daredevil. While I was never really a fan of the character as he was done in the 40's, you have to admit, he's one very cool visual design and Ross wisely didn't tweak him too much. "You don't say much, do you?" from when we pick him back up a few pages later is a reference to his first story and origin, where he was struck mute as a child from witnessing the crime that left him an orphan, but strangely enough could speak while in costume. This little bit went by the wayside as the series progressed.

The Scarab - this is a new Scarab, the design had people speculating that it was Blue Beetle. To further the Blue Beetle theme, the original Scarab was an Egyptologist who transformed into the powerful Scarab via a magical ring just as the Silver-Age Dan Garrett Blue Beetle transformed via a magical scarab. When that version didn't take, Steve Ditko introduced a new Blue Beetle in Ted Kord who used technological gadgets to make up for the fact he had no magical powers. So, now we have a techno-Scarab as well to make the circle complete. The hooded and blind-folded old man is the Samson from the first issue. Before he was just superstrong and invulnerable to everything other than things like fire burning his hair off and him losing his strength. His being more Baldur-like and weapons just not harming him is a new bit. Interestingly, Baldur was brought down by a simple dart thrown by the blind Aesir Hodar.

The Flame - Linda is Flame Girl. When he thought he was dying the Flame had given his girlfriend his powers. He didn't die and so they became a crime fighting duo.

Really not liking the changes to Black Terror's mask.

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