Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

17 April 2008

The Loners: The Secret Lives of Superheroes

Collects: Loners #1-6 (2007-8)

Released: February 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 144 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 078512215X

When I bought The Loners: The Secret Lives of Superheroes, I had high hopes. Even halfway through, I thought, This could still work. But in the end, it all fell apart. Or maybe never came together. Either way, I wish there were more positives here.

The Loners: The Secret Lives of Superheroes cover The characters in The Loners (originally named "Excelsior") were brought together in the pages of Runaways, where they were the counterpoint to the Runaways: a group of young people with powers who had given up superheroing and were trying to get other young people to do the same. There are many ways you can go with this idea; trying to actively evangelize to different young heroes would have been my choice. (A "prison ministry" sort of thing might have been hilarious in the right hands.) Writer C.B. Cebulski went with the "superheroing as an addiction," and I can't deny that's a valid option. As shown in Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it's perhaps a difficult one, but it could be done.

Or perhaps not; Cebulski doesn't succeed at all. Since addiction is an internal conflict, most of the group's fights are internal as well. Without an external threat, though, it makes the characters all look weak. Any temptation at all makes them fall off the normalcy wagon, except for Phil Urich (the heroic Green Goblin) and Mickey Musashi (Turbo), who are the leaders. (Neither has any powers without his equipment, and Phil's were destroyed during Onslaught.) Admittedly, there are a few fights with goons connected to a Fujikawa lab, but whenever that's going to get interesting, it's shuffled off stage.

I do like the characters. Most of them were assembled by Brian K. Vaughan, but that's all right. Phil, Mickey, Julie Power (Lightspeed of Power Pack), Chris Powell (Darkhawk), and Johnny Gallo (Ricochet) are B-list teen heroes from the Marvel stable, at least a decade removed from their heydays. Rick Jones, Marvel's ultimate sidekick and the group's putative sponsor and mentor, is nowhere to be seen, but Cebulski adds Mattie Franklin, the third Spider-Woman, which is a nice addition: when last seen, she had been drugged and abused by a bunch of punks, which should have colored her impression of the appropriateness of superheroics for teens. The mutant formerly known at Penance and a new Red Ronin are also dropped in, but they don't make much of an impression.

Despite knowing he had only six issues to work with, Cebulski resolutely refuses to wrap up any of his dangling plotlines, and with the series' relatively low sales, it's unlikely he'll get a chance. There's a couple of deals made with the Fujikawa goons that aren't revealed, and there's no indication what the lab's purpose was in the first place. Julie Powers's unregistered status and hinted at homosexuality are mere titillations, and the new characters are sort of vomited onto the page and are clarified only with great reluctance. Ricochet's motivation — guilt over not helping a friend on the mission that took his life — is brought up and dropped in the same issue. Mattie's mission within the group is resolved, but only if you know enough about the Marvel Universe to remember the last name of a hero in an ensemble book based on a forgotten Spider-Man crossover and canceled after 12 issues (Slingers).

The point the plot twists on — Phil's unresolved romantic feelings — aren't even hinted at, not even in the issue he narrates, until #5, when it springs fully grown from his imaginary goblin mask. Cebulski's mainly at fault here; I think he's aiming at a specific, new manifestation of Phil's Goblin madness, but it's impossible to tell, and Phil doesn't regain enough lucidity to let us know.

Artist Karl Moline can't escape blame completely, but there's only so much one person can do, and I suspect he might have been as surprised as the rest of us at Phil's change (especially after Phil had feelings for Penance — er, Hollow). I do like Moline's work, though, especially working with former Generation X character Penance. He manages to get a sense of Bachalo's cartoony style while grounding the rest of the characters in more realism. He does a good job with both conversation and action scenes, although I do have a complaint about the slight tarting up of Julie Power. (It just doesn't seem right to do that to a member of Power Pack.) Cover artist Jason Pearson gets on my nerves, however; his thick-lipped, mascara'd, and flat nosed (just Ricochet in his mask, on that one) style offends my aesthetic sensibilities, and I have no idea why he based the covers on posters from John Hughes movies (a connection I never would have gotten without Wikipedia).

There won't be a The Loners, v. 2. I might have wished for it to wrap up these plotlines, but I wouldn't have bought it anyway.

Rating: (1 of 5)

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