Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Mighty #1

DC Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99

Writers: Peter J. Tomasi, Keith Champagne
Artist: Peter Snejbjerg
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover artist: Dave Johnson

The debut issue of The Mighty is all set-up, yet still somehow manages to play coy about what precisely the set-up is. “Is it a generic superhero thing or do we actually have an interesting take on the genre?”—the story by co-writers Peter J. Tomasi and Keith Champagne insists that this is some kind of legitimate mystery for the first issue of a new series.

Stop me if you haven’t heard this one before: Alpha One—a Superman analogue, because there aren’t enough of them yet—is the world’s first and only superhero, and he’s flying around doing the kind of thing Superman does. He’s also part of a vaguely shady organization called Section Omega, whose main job seems to be to clean up after him.

To be fair, there are hints in the story that things might not be as they seem. If I had to guess where this is going, I’d say Alpha One—who doesn’t speak in the few instances he appears on screen—is mentally disabled or crazy or some kind of fanatic, and frequently causes all kinds of collateral damage, but still manages to do more good than harm at the end of the day. And Section Omega, an organization funding itself by selling Alpha One merchandise, is busy sweeping his screw-ups under the rug.

Which would be an intriguing and original take on the superhero genre, with a fairly profound moral question at its center. But, as I say, it’s just a guess that I’m coming up with because I would actually like to read that sort of book; it’s based on a few clues that are far from conclusive. The Mighty might just as well be something else entirely. It might just as well be the boring bog-standard thing that it seems to be. After all, if you’ve got an interesting concept in there, why be so coy about it? Why not introduce it on page one and demonstrate to the audience why it’s cool? Why put it on the backburner in favor of some generic mystery plot?

That would be one major problem. Another is that The Mighty #1 makes me lose the will to live by the time I finish reading page four. Seriously: Alpha One stops an out-of-control passenger train by stepping in front of it. If there were some prize for the most trite, obvious, hackneyed, uninspired, asleep-at-the-wheel kind of lazy-ass way of demonstrating your new Superman knock-off’s amazing Superman powers that are exactly like Superman’s powers, The Mighty would be the first front-runner for 2009.

The book’s main failure, though, is that it doesn’t have a three-dimensional character between its covers. Instead, it has Alpha One, a generic Superman analogue who’s doing the type of thing Superman does. There’s Captain Shaw, the head of Section Omega, a one-man exposition-delivery machine without the faintest hint of a personality. And there’s Gabriel, Shaw’s right-hand man, who has a past with Alpha-One that the script doesn’t share. Gabriel actually gets to do stuff, like talking to his girlfriend about his job, but he still remains a terribly flat and generic sidekick type with not one redeeming feature.

Speaking of redeeming features, I guess there is the artwork by Peter Snejbjerg, which presents the material in a robust, visually exciting fashion. Given that comics are a medium for stories, though, that’s not much of a saving grace. As a story, The Mighty seems depressingly soulless. Why did anybody think this is a comic that needed to be published? I’d love to know, because the first issue doesn’t answer the question.

Grade: D+

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