Wednesday, 17 October 2012

DC Universe Presents #13: Black Lightning and Blue Devil

I do enjoy a good pair of mismatched heroes. Green Lantern/Green Arrow; Power Man/Iron Fist; Blue Beetle/Booster Gold before they became a two-headed idiot ... now here's Blue Devil and Black Lightning, making their DC New 52 debuts.

I expected light-hearted supernatural stuntman and streetwise gangbuster bouncing off one another. Instead I got two gritty heroes brawling, despite being after the same ganglord. Said baddie is Tobias Whale, the only memorable enemy of the original Black Lightning. He's running the rackets Blue Devil is smashing when this issue opens. A trash-talking demonic figure, Blue Devil stamps down on a drug deal, as Black Lightning watches from a distance. Despite the former attacking Whale's thugs, the latter assumes he's working for the crook, and a fight ensues. It's trident, chain and athletics vs black bolts of electricity, with Blue Devil winning until the arrival of police distracts him, giving Black Lightning the upper hand. The heroes flee the scene separately.

The rest of the issue introduces us to Black Lightning, aka Jefferson Pierce, in his teaching day job, and his reporter father, who's also trying to end Whale's reign as Los Angeles kingpin. We see Whale ordering his men to find out who the new heroes are. We learn that Blue Devil is a character, a dangerous movie effect worn by a guy named Dan, against the advice of his grandfather. There's another fight with Whale's men, and a tragic ending ...

So two relatives are introduced in an origin story and one looks set to die by book's end. Quelle surprise. That's the DC New 52 for you, a version of superhero comics in which fun seems verboten. Blue Devil aims for Batman-style scare tactics while Black Lightning is so serious he can't tell the difference between friend and foe. They operate in a gritty urban milieu and don't like one another.

But Mark Andreyko's Manhunter work proved him a clever writer capable of surprises and this, the first of a five-part story, shows he still knows how to produce a pacy script. Surely - surely - he's going to subvert New 52 expectations and make Blue Devil the happy-go-lucky hero he was during his Eighties run. And I can't believe he'll make Black Lightning all serious, all the time. Otherwise, what's the point? The DC Universe that debuted in 2011 is full of one-note types who couldn't crack a smile to save their lives - maybe this is where that changes. One mainly funny hero, one generally serious guy - that equals a niche, a USP, and that's what I want to see

Robson Rocha and Oclair Albert's art is effective, presenting a convincingly grimy LA, peopled by thugs and prostitutes. The heroes look impressive on the page, though the stars' character designs aren't my cup of tea. Blue Devil has a ridiculous open chest panel, ugly clawed feet and dumb dangling chain. Black Lightning has a dull outfit that looks like one of Nightwing's cast-offs, while his energy bolts come across as rather apologetic.

Tobias Whale, mind, looks tremendous - powerful, imposing, full of rage, while Jefferson and his dad are a convincing father and son. Overall, this is good superhero stripwork, easy to follow, full of dynamism and vibrantly coloured by Gabe Eltaeb.

Ryan Sook's cover is good work too, showing our heroes as belonging to, literally, different worlds. And the joint logo is excellent, with its cute lightning bolt and devil horns.

I'll give this series-within-a-series another look next month, hoping for a change in tone or some signs of interesting personalities. So far, it's not a bad comic, just not what I want to read.


4 comments:

  1. Poor Blue Devil. Given the levity of his one-and-only series (and hey, DC, how about Showcasing that?), he was never meant to be part of the grim-and-gritty comics world that was already rising up around him when he debuted in 1984. And taking Paris Cullins off the title to put him on Blue Beetle really didn't help things. Making BD an actual demon pretty much ranks up there with 'Let's have Killer Shark ACTUALLY EAT PEOPLE!' in the Mr. Obvious Literal-Minded Revisionism Comic-Book Writers Award standings.

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    1. A Blue Devil Showcase would be excellent! Think of the fun I'd have colouring it in.

      You're spot on about Killer Shark, what a load of nonsense.

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  2. I can't tell you how much I was looking forward to this, I was a huge fan of BD when he came on the scene way back. But this book was so slight...It reminded me of the really mediocre Challengers run they did a while back. Really, the problem I've had with DC Presents is that it goes from really good story-telling (the Deadman and Vandal Savage stories imo) and then this kind of stuff. Makes it hard to subscribe for a year...

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    1. True, true. I reckon they should go the old Showcase route and limit residencies to three issue, but give strips just one or two if that's all they need to make an impression.

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