Human Torch #1
Marvel Comics – Karl Kesel (w); Skottie Young (p); Joe Seung, Pierre-Andre Dery (i)
Last week, I thought Marvel’s fledgling Tsunami imprint hit a home run with the debut of Sean McKeever’s big robot book, Sentinel. So despite the fairly awful Wolverine: X-Isle issue, I felt that the line was off to a pretty solid start. After all, Tsunami is supposed to find new, successful ongoing series, so why begrudge them yet another sub-par Marvel mini-series? But maybe I spoke too soon, as the new line struck out this week, debuting Karl Kesel’s Human Torch, a book that I think the world could have lived without.
High school student Johnny Storm, already less than Principal Glick’s favorite student at Glenville High, returns from summer vacation with another of his trademark outlandish stories: this time, he claims that during a test run of an experimental space shuttle with his sister’s super-intelligent boyfriend, he gained superpowers and is, in fact, the Human Torch. Of course, no one believes him, least of all Olympic wrestling hopeful (and more importantly, Johnny’s rival for the attention of the lovely, but disinterested, Hannah) Mike Snow. Their rivalry culminates one night during a snowstorm (and I kid you not, the Snow/Storm gag was made in the book), when Johnny’s legendary temper gets the best of him.
The problem here is that, as an ongoing series, I just don’t see Human Torch having any legs to stand on. For one thing, the question that book asks (“What would the Human Torch have been like in high school?”) is a fairly simple one to answer: pretty much the same as he is out of high school. For another, you’ve got Mark Waid doing a fairly bang-up job over on the regular Fantastic Four book, where one of the key plot points has been that power does not necessarily equate to handling responsibility well, at least in the case of Johnny Storm.
So what, exactly, is the role here for this book? The high concept is ground that the regular series has already covered more than enough times and the manner in which it fits back into regular Marvel continuity is shaky at best. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that the book never explicitly states that it takes place in the Fantastic Four’s past (though clearly it must, since Johnny has only just gained his powers) and presupposes at least a cursory knowledge of the Fantastic Four concept, which makes it less than optimal for new readers. As a mini-series, I would have been willing to let these sorts of problems slide. Give us four fun issues about how Johnny was the same brash, immature, but ultimately likeable, screw-up in high school that he is now and call it a day. That would have worked just fine. But as a regular, ongoing series, I just don’t see the purpose. It’s the book that no one asked for and represents everything that’s wrong with the Tsunami line: launching new titles for no reason other than to launch new titles. And I thought that side of Marvel was supposed to have died with an editorial regime change that’s worked wonders for the House of Ideas, overall.
One of the great team-ups in comic book history is between Green Arrow and Green Lantern. I guess it seemed simply natural, at the time, to some exec at DC, given that they’re both the most popular characters with the word “green” in their name. However, groundbreaking scripts by Denny O’Neill and influential artwork by Neal Adams were what made the legendary “Hard-Traveling Heroes” arc memorable.
It is that famous arc that Judd Winick and Ben Raab have sought to evoke in this, the first part of a six-issue crossover between Green Arrow and Green Lantern. Unfortunately, it seems that in the hurry to put out the team-up that’s been inevitable since Kevin Smith returned Oliver Queen from the grave, someone forgot that social relevance was one of the hallmarks of the O’Neill/Adams run.
Even still, the opening issue manages to be entertaining, if not terribly memorable (it’s unlikely that we’ll be talking about this arc twenty years after the fact and seeing DC collect it in a limited edition, slip-cased hardcover). Most of that entertainment value is drawn from the conflict of personalities that arise from the same old Green Arrow and an all new (at least to Oliver) Green Lantern.
In Coast City, Green Arrow has a bit of a dilemma: how to reconcile the fact that known drug runners have turned up with nothing more in their trunks than an exorbitantly large number of jugs of bleach? Jugs of bleach, more importantly, that those criminals will fight for and, in some cases, die for. In the stomping grounds of Kyle Rayner, the Green Lantern, is story is the same. Their paths cross when they both track the deals to the same location and attempt to gather information at the same time. After butting heads over superhero methodology, the two come to blows, allowing the criminals they both sought to collar to escape. However, there is more at stake than meets the eye, as the figures Rayner had taken for Russian mafia-types are revealed to be laser-toting aliens of an unknown origin.
Will the two resolve their differences (which spring from Queen’s assertion that there’s only one “real” Green Lantern: his old buddy, Hal Jordan)? Will hilarity ensue? That’s the tone that the story has, a marked change from the mature themes of O’Neill’s scripts. Like I said before, it’s entertaining, to a point, but it’s not exactly memorable.
The problem is that even though I’m optimistic that the two heroes will still dislike each other at the end of the crossover (because, honestly, I would hate to see a too-neat wrap-up to the story), I’m also fairly certain that the story will end with them entering into a tenuous agreement of mutual respect, sealing the deal with a handshake or something.
To boot, Oliver seems remarkably willing to gloss over the fact that his friend, Hal Jordan, in addition to being a great hero, was also a nutcase who murdered the Green Lantern Corps, stole all their power rings and tried to destroy Earth in his arguments that Kyle isn’t really the Green Lantern. I mean, if Ollie were ignoring the fact that Hal had a tendency to drink too much on the weekends or something, I guess I could understand, but we’re talking about a guy whose only chance at redeeming himself was to appeal directly to God and become The Spectre. In addition, Green Arrow’s childlike diatribe and his subsequent fistfight with Green Lantern allows their alien adversaries to kill the drug dealers they were both chasing and leave nothing more than charred skeletons that resemble nothing so much as they do Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru (from Star Wars, for the less geeky), an event that provokes nothing more than a sort of general “Oh crap” reaction from the pair. Not exactly the reaction one would expect from heroes whose stock-in-trade is the saving of lives, even the lives of unsavory characters.
In the end, the issue is competent, if unremarkable. It’s not like it’s a complete waste of your money, but I would say that it’s for completists only.
I’ve made the joke several times in my store that, when dealing with old comic books produced in an unknown time period, there’s a sure-fire to at least tell if a Republican president was in office at the time. Because, inevitably, there seems to spring forth a wealth of stories about governmental misdeeds and cover-ups, more so, it seems, than when a Democrat is in charge of the country. So now, with a Republican in the White House again, apparently Captain America needs to battle shady government dealings once more.
The issue begins with some standard patriotic fare, Captain America attempting to explain to a child why he should respect the American flag, but finding himself unable to speak the words necessary for the task. Then a gorgeous series of panels is ruined by a vague, clichéd monologue in which Cap, for the umpteenth time in his career, questions his loyalty to the American military that created him.
The story then shifts perspective, moving on to an unnamed villain who narrates a flashback sequence for his daughter regarding why she must assist him in capturing and interrogating Captain America. The explanation, in a nutshell, is that while working in the Arctic, the villain discovered some sort of Atlantian burial ground and began dissecting the frozen corpse for government-funded research. Enraged at the desecration of sacred ground, Namor emerges from the deep and stomps toward the lab. En route, he encounters the frozen Captain America, lost since World War II. Freeing his former comrade-in-arms, Namor proceeds to tear the research facility apart, but is prevented from killing all those present when the newly revived (but incoherent) Cap stumbles onto the scene. The “twist,” predictably, is that the scientists are not Nazis, but agents of the American government.
Afterwards, the nameless antagonist engages in some hyperbolic, standard villain-type diatribes. Then Cap views the contents of a mysterious package that arrives on his doorstep, a WW II-era newsreel that shows the discovery of the block of ice that preserved him for so many years.
And here’s my complaint: last week in my review of Action Comics #802, I said that I felt that the concept of superheroes defending America from terrorism had simply grown tiresome. Well, the idea that the American government is complicit with terrorist organizations is every bit as overdone.
So while this issue doesn’t necessarily address the issue of terrorism (though previous issues, in a typically heavy-handed manner, have), it does feel the need to ramble on, both in the summary page and in Captain America’s dialogue, about agents of the U.S. government who “hide behind it” (it being the flag) “to do unspeakable things.”
To be perfectly honest, this is just one of those times where I read a book and say to myself, “I’ve seen this done before and done better.” There’s absolutely no reason to pick Captain America up, as the subject matter that it treats has been handled more articulately, more appropriately and more originally. Rieber’s run has, thus far, not added a blessed thing to the Captain America mythos. Thankfully, it’s coming to a close soon. The only positive aspect of the book is the art, where Jae Lee’s moody artwork is unfortunately overshadowed by Rieber’s story, which is about as subtle as a sledgehammer.