Thursday, September 17, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: J. Michael Straczynski's Red Circle

I hyped up DC’s The Red Circle a few months back. Well, August brought us the J. Michael Straczynski-pinned series of one-shots in case you were already unaware. Apparently a lot of people were, as the sales on the books were so-so at best. It’s a shame more people aren’t interested in trying out these new characters, but the format for their release honestly only encourages people familiar with the characters’s previous incarnations any chance of interest. DC did nothing to market these at all, and that is a damn shame. Even a small spot in the current Blackest Night crossover might have helped, but as I surmised when DC licensed these characters along with the Milestone line, they have no plans of using their licensed characters in anything that will potentially be reprinted again and again and again.

But I am here to review the four new takes on the old Archie heroes, and that is what I will do. Make your own judgments about DC’s handling of the license, but try not to let that keep you from buying any book you want, including these titles.

The line opened with The Hangman. With pencils by the criminally underrated Tom Derenick and inks by the legendary Bill Sienkiewicz, the art shines through. The character of the Hangman definitely has similar themes to other mystical immortals. I can best describe him as a cross of the Spectre and El Diablo, but with a genuine secret identity. Of all the characters, he has the most potential as the initial four stories end.

Inferno came next with art by Sword of Dracula’s Greg Scott. A lot has been made by Inferno’s fiery alter ego resembling Dan Didio. Inferno fills the standard John Doe/cypher character slot. His past is a mystery to everyone, including himself; he doesn’t know the origin of his powers; or even understand his transformations. JMS tweaks the formula a bit, but the initial chapter is quite predictable. He does have a brief and somewhat entertaining battle with the previous week’s star, but it does more to show how intriguing a character Hangman could be.

The Web opens week 3, with art by Roger Robinson (of Prototype and Azrael fame) and Hilary Barta. Here we get a rather large digression from the original concept. Now The Web is a rich heir with too much time on his hands. To prove to himself he can do good, he dons a costume and sets out to answer calls from help off the internet. The concept works better than I expected, even though I think JMS shoehorns a bit of tragedy in to the story to give it more of a Spider-Man meets Batman origin. The Web has the potential to either be great or an absolute mess. It will be interesting to see where the ongoing ends up.

The Red Circle rounds out with The Shield. The utterly out of place art team of Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens provide the story’s art. A survivor of a bomb blast in Afghanistan gets an experimental exo-skeleton and becomes the military’s first on-call hero. The book runs to the serious and the cartoonish stylings of McDaniel distract from what could otherwise be a solid political action thriller. JMS does more to hint at the backstory of the Shield than any other character, which is unfortunate...

as with last week’s The Shield #1, most of those subplots are nowhere to be seen. Instead we get a rather dull trip in to post-52 Bialya which seems less of a story than a set-up for a guest shot by DC’s other new military hero: Magog. Hopefully, Eric Trautmann can bring a little more to the story with subsequent chapters. I will say the art team of Marco Rudy and Mick Gray are far and away more suited for this character than McDaniel and Owens.

The backup featuring Inferno gives us a little bit more about the character, but it only serves as a set-up to a repeat from his one-shot, only this time he fights Green Arrow instead of Hangman. Greg Scott remains solid on the art, and Brandon Jerwa seems to have the seeds of a decent opening story arc. I just wonder if a co-feature is the best way to deal with a character that clearly has the longest story drive of these four heroes.

The Web #1 debuts later this month, and I am sure I will be back with a review of that when it is out. FOr now, I recommend The Red Circle but suggest you can take a pass on The Shield #1. Let’s hope later issues show some improvement, as I do not want to see the Red Circle heroes go the way of the late, lamented Impact Comics.

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