I know this isn’t the post I promised to do next, but I found the draft for it sitting alone and unloved and I decided that I would leave no writing behind. Fret not, my love letter to Scalped is coming soon, and after that probably a little more personal writing regarding the experiences surrounding the passing of my great grandmother. Until then, comics! @.#
I want to like the new Mr. Terrific series. I really do. I love the character, I’m thrilled to see him getting a proper spotlight of his own, and it was one of the few titles in DC’s New 52 lineup which jumped out at me as something worth reading. That said, its losing me. I’m giving it every credit and benefit of the doubt that I can, and yet there’s something about it that just isn’t doing anything for me. The first two issues were passable without being spectacular, but the third issue is getting close to putting me off the title entirely.
There was an interesting cliffhanger at the end of the previous issue, with the mind-controlling villain Brainstorm manipulating the crowd around our intrepid hero into becoming a frenzied mob that attacked him, believing him to be a terrorist. That is more or less handwaved within the first page or so of this issue, though, preferring instead to have Mr. Terrific just jump straight into fisticuffs with Brainstorm. There’s some painfully forced expository monologing about Brainstorm’s origin and his evil plan and yada yada yada. Its just so bland and forgettable. The villain commences with executing said dastardly masterstroke, and the hero thwarts him with a predictable last minute twist that’s almost as painful as the former’s egomaniacal nattering. After the dust clears there’s an utterly pointless scene where Brainstorm reveals he was partly responsible for the death of Mr. Terrific’s wife, a major event in the character’s motivation, and Terrific nearly loses it and beats him to pulp before being stopped and reminded of his principles yada yada redux. Its supposed to create pathos but it really just ends up seeming contrived.
I know what you’re going to say. “But Walker, its a superhero comic, what more do you really expect?” Maybe I’m being too harsh on the book. Maybe I shouldn’t expect more from it. I do, though, and what bugs me is that I know it could be better. Mr. Terrific is one of the few non-stereotyped African-American comic characters out there, he has an interesting philosophical underpinning which could be explored, and as a hero who’s foremost power is “Science!” the possibilities for story hooks are really endless. Reference to philosophy has been brief and begrudged. The plotting is formulaic and peppered with meaningless gibberish strutting around like techno-babble. I think that is ironically one of the things that is bugging me the most; the watery half-assed techno-babble. Believe it or not there is an art to well-executed faux-scientific glossolalia. Admittedly though, I’ve been spoiled by Warren Ellis’ masterful work of science-bent-over-until-its-magic-and-then-bent-all-the-way-around-into-science-again (whew), Planetary.
What Warren Ellis does so well in Planetary, in addition to writing an extended send up of twentieth century pulp culture and deconstructing the very notion of science fiction and even science fiction ‘writing’ (I’m a fan of the book, can you tell?), is essentially the best goddamned technobabble anybody’s ever put to paper. The shit is almost always trippy in the extreme, but simultaneously it ‘feels’ essentially grounded in real world scientific fact. It takes and explores an established scientific concept, pokes about at its ragged fringes a bit, sprinkles a little fairy dust on it, then takes it on a drag race past its bleeding edge and into the most bizarre of potential possibilities one could extrapolate from it. It is in maintaining this tether to that grounded concept, however, that really sells it. It puts you in awe of Science! with a capital S and ! The current Mister Terrific series, by way of contrast, takes the route of lazy science fiction and just throws a bunch of four-dollar words around and snorts when a character professes their ignorance. We don’t need to be reminded that Mr. Terrific is one of the smartest men in the world. Just have him show us. Again, maybe its unfair to compare the two books. Mister Terrific isn’t Planetary and maybe I shouldn’t be looking for one in the other. Planetary has set the bar, though. I don’t so much care if Mister Terrific can’t reach as high, but I do wish it would at least make the leap.
Now, to do some Science! in my kitchen.