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

05 February 2012

White Tiger: A Hero's Compulsion

Collects: White Tiger #1-6 (2007)

Released: September 2007 (Marvel)

Format: 152 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785122739

What is this?: A former FBI agent inherits her uncle’s mystical martial arts amulets and feels she must fight crime with the abilities it has given her.

The culprits: Writers Tamora Pierce and Timothy Liebe and artists Phil Briones with Al Rio and Ronaldo Adriano Silva

Remember when you were a kid, and there was always one guy who tried so hard to fit in, laughing too loud at the in-jokes, agreeing to any stupid suggestion, and making up grandiose stories that clearly weren’t true? And that only made you dislike the poor sap?

Angela del Toro, the new White Tiger in White Tiger: A Hero's Compulsion, is kinda like that guy.

White Tiger: A Hero’s Compulsion coverIt’s not del Toro’s fault, not really. The fault lies with wife-and-husband writing team Tamora Pierce and Timothy Liebe. Pierce is an experienced writer of YA fantasy novels; I’ve actually read Melting Stones and enjoyed it. But Pierce and Liebe’s unfamiliarity with comics might be a factor here.

I think the rules for establishing a new character — which del Toro essentially is — is different in novels and other types of serial storytelling. In a novel (or movie) series, some amount of downtime is generally expected between books, and a great deal of unexplored backstory is a given. People and events can be easily inserted, in most cases, where they are needed. Comics can try to do that, but eventually you end up with someone like Wolverine, who knows (or has smelled) everyone. Del Toro’s familiarity with how other characters smell is left unexamined, but it seems like everyone wants her to be successful.

Angela del Toro was introduced as the inheritor of her uncle’s mystical amulets in Daredevil (v. 2) #51, and the title hero was a bit of a jerk to her in her introductory arc. Pierce and Liebe go in the other direction in White Tiger: she gets help from everyone. Serving as her guardian angel is Iron Fist — unconvincingly disguised as Daredevil, a deception former FBI agent del Toro takes too long to unravel. Black Widow helps her shop for a costume and goes drinking with her. Those two, plus Luke Cage and Spider-Man, join her for her first Marvel team-up. The mention of the Black Cat makes some sense (similar street-level power levels), but Deadpool makes a gratuitous appearance, as does Emma Frost. (For some reason, the White Tiger’s costume is mistaken for Frost’s super lingerie ensemble. That seems … wrong, unless all female superheroes / villains in red are mistaken for the Scarlet Witch.) All that was missing was a big banner saying “The Marvel Universe Welcomes the New White Tiger, the Coolest Hero Ever.”

Perhaps the strangest part, however, is del Toro’s main supervillainous antagonist: Cobra. Not the original, squeeze-through-tight-spaces Cobra, but his nephew, who has similar powers but is better at hand-to-hand fighting and was created for the White Tiger miniseries. There’s nothing wrong with creating a new villain — even a new, knockoff villain — for a new hero. But the writers and Marvel were doing everything they could in this book to integrate del Toro into the Marvel Universe. Why create a new villain when an editor (or fan) could probably give you a half dozen pre-existing candidates who would fit thematically and physically against the new White Tiger?

It’s not just that the heroes like and accept del Toro; other than villains in the main plot, her life seems almost perfect. Although del Toro has some martial arts abilities before she gets the amulet, her powers come mainly through magic; she’s not like Spider-Man, who added powers through training and design. She’s not very careful with her secret identity, but she doesn’t get into trouble. Her costume is designed for her and given to her without any effort on her part. To give her a push as a real contender, Spider-Man foe the Lizard shows up — twice, neither time for any plot-related reason — and White Tiger defeats him both times. There is ready-made family drama — del Toro comes from a large family, and her uncle’s widow has to have some strong feelings about seeing a new White Tiger — but the story actively shies away from this until it lightly touches upon it in the epilogue. Del Toro is handed a job in her civilian identity that pays well, plays to her strengths, and gives her free time to fight crime. It’s almost as if Pierce and Liebe are going out of their way to eliminate conflict for del Toro, which is a shame. It’s not that all of these had to be followed up on. Any one would have added a great deal to the story’s tension.

There is a lot of potential for conflict and future storylines here. The real Daredevil, the one del Toro had a mentor / antagonist relationship with, never appears in the story because he’s in prison. The potential for family angst is near limitless, with many of del Toro’s relatives serving as cops. On a similar note, there’s always the traditional moral antagonism of the costumed vigilante vs. law enforcement. Pierce and Leibe chose to pit del Toro vs. the Japanese criminal organization that killed her FBI partner, and that’s a good choice, but there’s room for more conflict. I could understand them not using all sources of conflict if this was the lead-in to an ongoing series or establishing the character as a major player. But del Toro isn’t a major player, and most of her subsequent appearances shoot her status quo in the head.

French artist Phil Briones pencils #1-5, with Alvaro Rio and Ronaldo Adriano Silva drawing #6. Briones doesn’t remind me of a stereotypical European artist; most of his work on White Tiger fits in with the Marvel house style very well. It looks slick, and it has a smooth line, so I’m inclined to approve of it. His action sequences are more fluid and dynamic than most artists, but strangely, it’s his non-action scenes that feel stiff and posed. For a final issue art substitution, the transition to Rio and Silva is surprisingly smooth. The two new artists don’t look like they’re aping Briones in #6, but their styles, although slightly less detailed, mesh with Briones pretty well. The covers, by David Mack, are beautiful, but there are only six of those, so they’re not quite worth buying the collection (or all of the original issues, for that matter).

White Tiger has two facets that might intrigue Marvel fans: Pierce, the big-name writer, and the link to Daredevil. Neither amounts to much. The latter never goes anywhere because the real Daredevil is in prison, and although Pierce (and Liebe) craft an overall competent superhero story, it never reaches the height of a good prose novel. White Tiger’s involvement in the Shadowland storyline makes most of this book moot in terms of long-term consequences; as a stand-alone story, White Tiger looks like a collection of just-missed chances by someone who just wants to be accepted.

Rating: Marvel symbol Marvel symbol (2 of 5)

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