Monday, October 10, 2011

Mister Terrific #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Writer: Eric Wallace
Penciler: Gianluca Gugliotta
Inker: Wayne Faucher
Colorist: Mike Atiyeh
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover artist: J.G. Jones and Lovern Kindzierski

In principle, it’s a laudable goal to imbue the DC Universe with more diverse—meaning “not white, male and heterosexual”—characters. In practice, it gets us books like Mister Terrific, unfortunately.

The dude looks cool, certainly, particularly on the cover. And Eric Wallace makes a conscious effort to steer clear of the usual clichés here, as far as his hero is concerned. Mister Terrific is, pretty much, an old-school science hero who’s basically just very smart, and neither anger nor race issues seem to be on his mind much—so far, so good. Gianluca Gugliotta’s art has a kinetic quality to it, even if the proportions and perspectives look a little wonky here and there.

In terms of making the protagonist stand out, however, there’s not much to sink your teeth into here. His origin story is that he was smart and rich and had everything, and then his wife died, and then someone from the future showed up and told him to make the world a better place, and so he did. This can work, in theory, but the manner it’s presented here is way too slapdash to be convincing. What really drives this guy? What’s his defining moment? What makes him different from the 100 other costumed crime fighters he’ll have to compete with every month? A tragic backstory—even a convincing one—is a good start, but it’s not automatically an origin. It’s Spider-Man’s own involvement in his Uncle Ben’s death that makes his origin so effective, not the mere fact that Ben died.

There are a lot of familiar bits in here: a little Batman, a little Reed Richards and a little Iron Man, and so on, but the character lacks a theme of his own that makes him stand out.

Another thing he lacks is good dialogue. “You did the right thing. This is exactly the kind of situation I envisioned when I provided the L.A.P.D. with a way to contact me securely,” he says out loud in the presence of other human beings, for instance. Now, this may come as a great surprise to many of the “New 52” writers, judging from what I’ve read so far, but, believe you me: Clunky exposition does not suddenly disappear from view if you turn it into adverbs or subordinate clauses. It’s still there.

And as much as Wallace avoids making his protagonist a cliché, the same cannot be said about his British bystanders. (“Wicked.” Etc.) By the time we get to the Dr. Who reference on page 4, I’d be more than happy to just look at the pictures—let me hazard a guess and suppose that Mr. Wallace, just like Mister Terrific, happens to be familiar with Dr. Who and like the show, as well. What a coincidence that would be.

As a story, this doesn’t really hold up, either, since the cliffhanger hinges on your concern for a generic supporting character who just appeared a couple of panels ago. It doesn’t work, obviously, and it’s baffling that anyone thought it might.

Mister Terrific is another rather half-baked effort. There is effort, certainly, and that’s good. But ultimately, the story mechanics and the dialogue are too poorly thought-out to be engaging, and the hero remains way too bog-standard to have anything going for him other than his visual. If books like this one fail, it’s not because the title character isn’t white—it’s because the material doesn’t cut it.

Grade: D

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