by Keith Giffen, Judd Winick, Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan
I wanted to like Generation Lost. The original Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. De Matteis and Kevin Maguire was one of the titles that drew me into comics. I have fond memories of these characters and their adventures together. A great title featuring these characters would have made me giddy. Even a good title would have made me happy. Unfortunately, this isn’t a particularly good title.
There are two major flaws with Generation Lost (and yes, I realize that was also true with two of last week’s reviews). The first has to do with the writing. Judd Winick’s dialogue is poorly constructed. The awkward phrasing keeps taking me out of the story. It doesn’t flow naturally. I keep hearing echoes of Chazz Palmintieri’s character in “Bullets over Broadway”: “people don’t talk like that.” You might think that’s a minor problem but it affects everything else. It makes the characters less believable. It makes their disagreements feel forced. It keeps the reader distanced from the story instead of engaged in it.
The other major issue I had was with the basic threat. The big villain of this series is the recently resurrected Max Lord. Unfortunately, the story isn’t sure what kind of villain Max Lord is supposed to be. In the opening scene, he mentally controls two police officers, forcing them to shoot each other. At that point, he’s little more than a street thug, albeit one who seems to take pleasure in inflicting pain. However, in the main story, he constructs a machine that will amplify his powers so that he can affect every mind in the world at once. His big plan is to make the entire world forget who he is so that he can operate behind the scenes without being hunted down for his former crimes. At this point, he’s the master calculator and world conqueror.
It’s like we’re reading about two different villains. In one scene, he’s cruel and capricious. In the other, calculating and conniving. Now, it’s possible to combine those traits into one truly awful villain, someone who is both Lex Luthor and Joe Chilll, such as the Wild Cards’ Puppetman. Unfortunately, Giffen and company don’t pull it off. Why would Max kill the two cops when he could simply make them forget who he was and walk away? Why draw extra attention to himself with a couple of unnecessary murders before pulling off his big plan? There’s no common thread or character trait between the two scenes.
Instead, consistent characterization is sacrificed for the needs of the story. We need a dramatic opening scene so we’ll have Max Lord kill a couple of cops. We also need a big master villain so we’ll have Max brainwash the entire world. Max Lord changes as the story dictates. If he’s already doing that in the first issue, it doesn’t bode well for the longer series.
by Steve Niles, Ashley Wood and Fiona Staples
It’s one of those ideas that we’ve seen before: paranormal investigators uncovering the secrets of the world. Often, they’re working for the government, as in X-Files or Warehouse 13. Occasionally, they work on their own as private contractors, as they do here. Yet Steve Niles and company take this familiar concept and make it seem fresh and new. The Mystery Society is fast-paced, frenetic and fun.
The stars of this series are a married couple named Nick and Anastasia Collins, though Nick also goes by the name Nick Mystery. We meet Nick first. He’s dashing and debonair, like a modern Errol Flynn. He seems to be in complete control of the situation, even as he’s being walked into prison. Anastasia is smart and beautiful. She’s also fully capable of kicking some butt, as she does when an intruder invades their apartment looking for Nick. Their playful banter is reminiscent of Nick and Nora Charles, though it’s updated to the 21st century when a couple is allowed to be a little more direct about sex. Most importantly, they’re interesting individually and as a couple. You feel like you wouldn’t mind spending some time in their company or reading about their adventures.
This first issue jumps right in by telling us about their adventures. A reporter asks Nick about the origin of the Mystery Society. Nick replies that origin stories are boring and tells the story that got him in trouble with the authorities instead. I happen to think Nick is right. I’ve read enough origin stories to share the opinion that most of them are boring. That’s why second issues (and second superhero movies) are often better than the first. Niles sidesteps that potential flaw with a wink to the audience and leaps into a straight adventure instead. Yet, by doing so, he provides a tease that the mystery of the Mystery Society’s origin may just be a story worth telling one day after all.
In this particular adventure, Nick infiltrates Area 51. There are smoke bombs, giant robots, rope climbing, more giant robots, ice bombs and oh yes, playful banter with Anastasia over their com system. Meanwhile, Anastasia is dealing with her own aforementioned fight scene, giving us a double dose of action. There are also a couple of nice twists at the end, including a scene in which the test subjects that Nick rescues may just have to rescue him.
It’s not always fair to make comparisons, but the first issue of Mystery Society is every bit as good as BPRD. I’ll definitely be back for more.
by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver
“S.H.I.E.L.D.” is one of those ideas that could be really good or it could be really bad. The basic premise is that S.H.I.E.L.D., the directorate that protects Earth from all kinds of threats (and no, I’m not going to bother with the acronym), has been around a lot longer than any of us imagined. It didn’t start in the 1960s. Or even in the aftermath of World War II. Instead, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been around for centuries and its former members include such luminaries as Leonardo da Vinci. Inserting superheroes and a modern spy agency into the history of the world could be awkward or ham-fisted. But the promotional art for the series showed that it could also be really cool- especially the ad showing the helmet of Galactus sitting on da Vinci’s worktable.
The first issue starts slowly. A young man is recruited off of a New York sidewalk in 1953 by two men in brown suits. The scene moves at a leisurely pace: one page of establishing shots, one page in the car, a third page on the streets of Rome.
The fourth page contains the first big reveal. Leonid, the young New Yorker, is introduced to a man in a strange helmet. The helmet guy brings him into a very early elevator and the elevator descends to the Immortal City. It’s a beautiful cityscape, stretching down as far as the eye can see and featuring architecture from every era and culture. As Leonid descends into the city, Hickman and Weaver slowly draw us into the story as well. Leonid is introduced to the high council of S.H.I.E.L.D., more guys in funny helmets. They are going to tell him the hidden history of the world.
At this point, I’m still not sure what to make of S.H.I.E.L.D. The story has been more weird than quirky- off-putting instead of intriguing. Plus, not much has happened before we’re promised a big exposition dump. I’m not looking forward to a lengthy explanation of the history of the world.
Then I turn the page and my mind explodes. Hickman and Weaver aren’t going to tell us the history of the world. They’re going to show us. Hickman and Weaver teach us the full potential of that simple lesson taught in every Creative Writing 101 class. We see a Pharaoh in ancient Egypt beat back a battalion of the Brood. We see a soldier in ancient China face off against a Celestial. Each hero utters the same simple phrase, “This is not how the world ends.” It’s both prophecy and defiant declaration. It encapsulates human bravery and institutional perseverance. With each scene, my estimation of S.H.I.E.L.D. increases. I’m being drawn in, almost against my will. This is masterful stuff.
And that’s only half the story. The second half gives us Leonardo da Vinci, Galactus, the Night Machine, gravity boots and a pertinent connection between the past and the present. By the end, I’m practically out of breath. SHIELD is ambitious, brilliant and beautiful. I can hardly wait for the next issue.