Monday, 23 April 2012

DC Universe Presents #8 review

Last issue ended with Challengers Prof Haley and Kenn Kawa killed by friend-turned-lunatic Ace Morgan, joining Clay Brody, offed in the first instalment of this three-part showcase. This time we find that Haley survived, learn that Ace's body is actually possessed by someone called The Forgotten Lord and see two more Challs - Brenda Ruskin and Rocky Davis - lost. While Brenda is 'merely' sucked into an otherdimensional hole, Rocky is stabbed to death by, er, I've forgotten.

On the bright side, TFL is blown apart by being given too many of the mystical talismans for which he, and the Challs, have been hunting - too much power. The issue ends on an optimistic note as June points out that the forged-by-fate team is 'dealing with things beyond our understanding, outside the realms of time and space', so their dead/lost chums could still be out there somewhere. She's even had a dream showing everyone alive and well. So the survivors - herself, Prof, Red Ryan and Marlon 'Maverick' Corbet - will seek out all seven talismans in the hope they'll reunite the eight souls who were 'living on borrowed time'. And meanwhile, they'll continue to Challenge the Unknown!

Good luck with that. In three gory issues the newborn team has lost half its loose membership. I expect the rest will be stabbed to death off-panel and we'll hear nothing of the Challs until their next revival. Which is a big shame, given writer Dan DiDio's stated love of the concept, not to mention the enthusiasm of penciller Jerry Ordway - before getting the assignment on this tryout he'd put his own proposal for a revival to DC. Knowing how strong and experienced a writer Ordway is, I'm pretty sure he could've masterminded a more-than-satisfactory three issues. To be fair, the story was planned to span five instalments, but was cut back so more new series could get houseroom in DCUP. But it doesn't half show.

Sure, the villain is done away with - the power overload surely qualifies as death by old chestnut - but without us learning anything about him beyond 'generic dark lord'. The mystery of the talismans is left hanging. We don't know how the monks of Nanda Parbat are connected to the Challs. And June apart, we've not got to know any of the supposed leads much beyond name and job description. It's tough to care about characters when they're quickly introduced, gifted barely a line, then shuffled off this mortal coil. Using versions of eight of the people who have been Challs in DC history was a mistake, despite the clever reality show set-up making it possible - a 60pp introduction piece just isn't long enough to service everyone's back stories and characters while setting out and solving the talisman mystery.

I've been cheering this short series on, having rather enjoyed the first issue, so it's disappointing for it to prove so ultimately unsatisfying. And that's despite strong art from Ordway and inker Ray McCarthy: the action sequences are thoroughly diverting and the quieter panels feature good 'acting' and fun bits of background business. Colourist Tony Avina, letterer Travis Lanham and cover artist Ryan Sook also bring a high level of craft to the table. The parts of DiDio's story that actually make it to the page are pretty good, with nicely worked individual scenes and more than serviceable dialogue. This month's run-in with giant ants is a classic Challs caper, the talismans maguffin has legs and in June, Didio gives us a likeable, strong character who happens to be female. For Easter egg spotters, there's a wink to an entry in upcoming sister book National Comics.

But there's just too darn much storyline for three short issues. I'd be delighted were DiDio to use his co-publisher power to get this opener wrapped up somewhere in DC's New 52 line sharpish - preferably bringing everyone back and establishing that individual Challenger missions will be capped at five operatives. Then I'll be able to recommend folk trawl back issue boxes for DCUP #6-8. Until that day comes, though, this run is strictly for nostalgists with a strong stomach, and Jerry Ordway fans.

12 comments:

  1. InformationGeekMonday, 23 April, 2012

    I'm still waiting on my comic book store to get my issue in. Once I get it, I'll read the whole 3 issue storyline in one go to see how it all reads. Hope it's good.

    Out of curiousity, will you be getting in on the next storyline in May with James Robinson writing Vandal Savage? Also, any interest in National Comics in July? It'll be a series of one-shots focusing on a new B/C list DC character every issue. Sounds interesting!

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    1. Am I interested it National Comics? I only namecheck the thing above!

      Anyway, hope you enjoy this run when you get it.

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  2. I have to agree. I was iffy on the first issue, and it wound up being disappointing overall. Maybe five issues would have resulted in a stronger story. On the other hand, after my lukewarm reaction to the first chapter, I doubt I would have decided to spring for 4 more. The three-chapter format made it much more likely that I'd finish what I'd started.

    Here's hoping the Vandal Savage story works better. Much as I liked OMAC, I've got a lot more trust in Robinson than Didio, overall, so I'm hopeful.

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    1. I'll certainly give the Kass Sage strip a try, Rob, I suspect it'll be very good given the creative team.

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  3. Good review Martin. Finding out the series was cut from five to three does go a long way to explaining to me why it was likely as disappointing as it was...

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    1. Yeah, I didn't know that until I read an interview with Dan DiDio last week,

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  4. Your review is spot on! I was really looking forward to seeing the Challengers relaunched and loved the idea of the two incarnations being merged together. But poor characterisation and shallow characters really spoiled the delivery for me.
    I could almost excuse the shallowness of some of the characters due to the reality tv theme. But it was a shame to see someone like Brenda, a physicist in her Challengers series, reduced to little more than a fame-hungry bimbo. They may as well have just created new characters.
    Finally, I too would love to see all the members returned to life and united as a team with rotating squad members for each mission. Hope this isn't the end of the Challengers, I just hope they get a better deal when we see them next.

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    1. Cheers Mr Oddly, I tell you, we should be running this show!

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  5. I'm not really that nostalgic, and while I like Ordway I'm not his number one fan... So I think I'll pass on this one.

    By the way, I finally reviewed Saga # 1, I know you did a month ago but if you want to know my opinions about it you know where to go, right?

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  6. I didn't get a chance to check these out, but maybe I'll give 'em go for nostalgia's sake. I did, however, enjoy the Deadman arc and I am curious about Vandal Savage, especially after reading "Demon Knights."

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    1. Mmmmm, nostalgia has a strong pull, but these may annoy you ...

      Speaking of nostalgia, I see a Sea Devils Showcase debuts today!

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