This week brought us the release of no 'New 52' titles from DC whatsoever, so in their absence Comics Vanguard decided to go along and pick up a whole load of comics that nobody else does. Are we talking about small-press titles worthy of attention? Hah! No. We're talking about the second-tier DC titles like Mr Terrific, Catwoman, Birds of Prey and more. In the first of our looks at how these less-publicised titles are faring, we're going to tackle Mr Terrific, an African-American hero with the power of being very very clever indeed.
What We Knew Before We Read:
Despite the title not getting that much coverage from the comics internet (or at least the parts of the comics internet which we've discovered yet), we do know that Mr Terrific's title is meant to be all about science vs freakiness. Every month the character appears to have fought a different threat, using some kind of "Science-Ball". The art is meant to be fun, and the writing relatively light and straightforward. He is also, as mentioned before, African-American, so people are worried his series may not continue for as long as a white male's solo series might do. That's just the tone we've picked up from other people's articles, you guys -- we're going to go read the issue now. While you wait, here the first page of the issue:
Mr Terrific #3
Yes, we're jumping straight into the third issue here, so forgive us if we don't catch everything that's going on. Regardless, the story seems pretty simple thus far - Mr Terrific has a genius intellect, billions of dollars, science gadgets, cool tattoos, and a single fan. By the end of the issue, he loses one of those three things. This issue sees him fight a blue mind-succubus called "Brainstorm", who wants to absorb the intelligence of every single person in Los Angeles. Mr Terrific isn't keen on that idea, so he punches Brainstorm a few times. Brainstorm activates his ultimate plan, he is punched in the face once more, and promptly defeated. Then the issue goes into a weird melodramatic place which we'll go into in more depth later.
For the most part, though, this comic is absolutely straightforward. The plot doens't throw up any surprises - apart from the weird change in tone towards the end - but is enjoyable enough for what it is. Writer Eric Wallace knows a lot about technobabble, which is helpful, but the villain this issue hardly shows himself to be an intellectual. At the same time, the plotting is a little strange, too - Terrific has these Science Balls which each do something different, which means his solution to every problem is simply to throw a ball at it. He has ones which teleport things, ones which act as stunning devices, ones which cause people amnesia, and ones which let him levitate. That's a little too easy as a plot device for my tastes.
But at the same time, this does give the series an admirably goofy vibe. More than any other comic from the New 52, this feels like a tribute to the golden age of comics, where villains were melodramatic and heroes ultimately always do the right thing. Wallace's script spells out absolutely everything for the reader, which makes this a good comic for kids to read (although these is a little bit too much blood in the fight scenes, perhaps). This reads like an all-ages title, which attempts to entertain a wide audience - and actually succeeds, for the most part. Not densely written but certainly not decompressed, Wallace gives readers a lot of content over the course of the issue. Most importantly, Mr Terrific comes across as a likeable central character.
There's a spoiler for the issue, but we're only mentioning it because it's an interesting part of the story. If you don't want the issue spoiled, skip back upwards for more CLASSIC VANGUARD CONTENT.
The reveal halfway through the story illuminates a strange side to Mr Terrific (can you imagine?) and takes things in a radically different direction. Upon finding out that the death of his wife was due to the actions of this Brainstorm guy, T'riff goes mad and starts beating the villain to death. In front of his fan. Now that's fairly understandable, but the random reveal here seems rather anticlimactic and bizarre. It comes from absolutely nowhere, after a fight scene which leapt about from interesting to stilted, and ultimately doesn't add anything to the villain. He already comes across as a bit rubbish - in a goofy way - and this seems more like the kind of thing you'd expect from an arch-nemesis. Perhaps it's just that Brainstorm isn't set up as anything other than a melodramatic, idiotic golden-age style bad guy, but hearing him admit to murder is rather strange.
What does come out of this is interesting character work for T'riff, though. Wallace and artist Scott Clark (I don't know where Gianluca Gugliotta is, whose name is credited on the cover) play out some obvious but nicely-structured beats where he has to simultaneously accept his wife's death and adhere to his "fair play" policy which defines him as a hero. Subsequently, he goes off on his own and enters some kind of odd dimension portal thingy in his lab. And meets some random aliens. YES YES YES. There's a silly sequence where we see his board members plan to roust him from his company, and the completely ridiculous moment where we see a possible new villain revealed - the writing really doesn't leave anything to your imagination, everything is completely spelt out - but the comic ends with ALIENS. Hurray!