Month two of the DC Comics Relaunch is upon us with the New 52 hitting their second issues. As many readers and reviewers have noted, many of DC’s September debut offerings were decent, but constrained by the “debut issue blues”. These books had to on one hand hook readers with the plot and premise of the book going forward and on the other hand look backward in this new universe to explain relevant aspects of the characters’ back stories for readers. Some books did the latter well and some did it in a very clunky fashion.
No excuses with issue the twos! And, with week one of month two as a barometer, many of them serve up the action in October. I am pleased to say that both of the misfit team books reviewed below do just that. But, do they do it well?
Ok, let’s get to it…
Hawk and Dove #2:
I’m a sucker for doppelgangers. It’s probably one of the reasons I enjoy stories from DC’s multiverse and seeing villains as mirror opposites of the heroes they face, e.g. Zoom to Flash, Bizarro to Superman, Owlman to Batman (which we may see in the New 52 from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman series), Teth Adam to Captain Marvel, etc.
Dopplegangers have been a big part of Hawk and Dove lore since the book was relaunched from its 1960s roots in the 1980s. In fact the initial 1980s mini-series focused on a new character called Kestrel who was very similar to Hawk and Dove. He was a villain primarily clad in purple resembling Hawk somewhat; a deliberate color choice with the visual blending Hawk’s dominant red and Dove’s overt blue costume hues. Now, Kestrel is nowhere to be seen in this new Sterling Gates penned and Rob Liefeld penciled Hawk and Dove series so far, but we do meet another avatar: a new primarily brown costumed avatar in the form of Condor who debuted on the cliff-hanger page of issue #1. And, there are more avatars.
With the cover of issue #3 revealed, and the interior teaser images from issue #2 released by DC Comics, I don’t think I’d be spoiling too much by saying that Hawk and Dove #2 unites the villainous Condor with his new female partner, the dominant yellow costumed Swan. What is interesting about Swan’s in-issue origin is how she assumes her “avatar powers”. While we don’t know who her or Condor’s sponsoring avatars are – while we do know Hawk is the avatar of war and Dove is the avatar of peace – readers are left wondering if the only way to assume avatar powers is how Swan did. If so, what does that mean for how Dawn Granger assumed the Dove avatar from Don Hall, Hank’s brother? It was teased in issue #1 that Dawn and Don had met before which is a bit of a reboot from the pre-Flashpoint era.
The remaining mystery is why Hawk’s costume changed from red and white to gray and white for this new series, but I imagine that is coming – as folks may recall, the flashback in issue #1 did show Hawk’s originating costuming being the classic red and white.
Hawk and Dove #2 also has our titular heroes in battle with Alexander Quirk’s Monsters of Mass Destruction. I’m not a fan of zombie terrorists, but it is so over-the-top it is kind of fun to read. However, these creatures are more of a plot distraction and they’re dispatched easily by our heroes, but not before a seemingly lonely Deadman literally pesters Dove in the heat of battle like a jilted teenager; I guess those are the risks of Dove having a “ghost boyfriend”. For an avatar of peace, we see her lose her cool a bit with Deadman, which seems uncharacteristic for the typically calm Dove. The internet has been going gaga over this characterization by Sterling Gates, but I believe even the most calm person can get angry now and then, the same way Hawk also has his restrained moments yet he is usually a ball of rage on the battlefield.
Away from battle, we see old favorites like Hank’s ex (in-the-New-52) girlfriend Ren Takamori alongside Hank’s very-much-alive veteran Judge father who surfaced last issue…. and even current U.S. President Obama. With that, it looks like DC Comics is going back to having its U.S. President aligned with “real life”. I think the company stopped doing that after President H.W. Bush or during the Clinton administration, I don’t exactly recall when. After that DC started to have comic characters assume the presidency. Good to see we’re back to the future in this portrayal approach in the DC Comics Relaunch. Since Washington D.C. and politics will be an important backdrop for this title, I find that this presidential alignment gives the book a bit more authenticity.
The cliff-hanger of this book involves almost all of the characters I’ve spoken about in this review so far, so it is a biggie.
Overall, the story is entertaining and in many ways embraces the ridiculousness and fun of the super-hero comic book genre. There are even interesting bits of humor peppered in the book including Hawk remarking that despite his nom du guerre, he can’t fly, but it’s not a big issue since he just needs to smash. 🙂
Sterling Gates crafts an intriguing and entertaining yarn in issue #2 of Hawk and Dove as business really picks up. I am also loving the Washington D.C. backdrop in our characters’ civilian lives. I’m hoping one of our main characters, maybe Dawn, interns on Capital Hill. It’s clear from this issue that Hank Hall sympathizes with either Republicans or Libertarians, and I wonder who Dawn leans to, Democrats or perhaps she’s an independent?
Rob Liefeld’s pencils service the story. There is an energy in his pages and his characters take centre stage on each page. However, while we do see a lot more backgrounds from Liefeld than earlier in his career, there isn’t enough in this book. Most of the backgrounds are just plain walls in the different locales. Yes, our characters have proportional feet, 🙂 but I think more defined backgrounds in the scenes would help the action pop better off the page and improve the flow of the book’s visuals. However, since this the same style he uses in his Image Comics series The Infinite, I imagine we won’t see any evolution in the art. Can I live with that? Sure. Do I hope we’ll see a bit more effort on backgrounds? Yup. However, the other aspects of the art are relatively good. With Liefeld, you get the Liefeld style, which despite the internet’s keyboard warriors, remains a draw – pun intended – for many readers.
I’m entertained and intrigued by Hawk and Dove #2. With that said, I am so down for next month’s issue #3.
The inherent challenge for writers with team books is the constant struggle to feature as much of the team in innovative ways that make them seem vital all the while advancing the major plots and subplots in an organic way with the appropriate tempo. The challenge the DC Comics Relaunch overlays on these traditional team book trials is the need to explain the premise of the book and provide sufficient snapshots of each protagonist to entice readers to come back for more even if they’re left in the dark a bit. After all, there is no way to properly introduce all the characters all at once, with the antagonists as well, and do all that mentioned early in one issue; I’m not sure you’d want to anyway as a writer because why have a characterization earthquake in issue #1 at the expense of action, suspense, etc. So, that creatively means enticing and intriguing readers enough with your plot and initial characterization to warrant a second look.
Stormwatch adds an even further wrench into things by not being a traditional DC Comics property so it’s the attention-grabbing covers of the book and readers buzz that likely get people to crack the spine of the book. Once that happens, in my humble opinion, you can’t help, but be a little intrigued. With nine protagonists, many new to DC Comics readers old and new, writer Paul Cornell has his work cut out for him. For the uninitiated this new Stormwatch team consists of a mix of classic Wildstorm “Authority” characters, one DC standard bearer, and a few brand new ones:
- Martian Manhunter – Is the green-hued alien shapeshifter DC hero that has traditionally been affiliated with the Justice League. He has super strength, the ability to fly, and other powers reviling even Superman. And, that’s it for traditional DC characters on the Stormwatch roster, just Manhunter.
- Apollo – Traditionally this Wildstorm character has had solar based powers similar to Superman (wow, with Martian Manhunter that makes Stormwatch pretty powerful). It is interesting that this Superman analogue is now in the DC Universe with the genuine article. How they are differentiated should be an interesting feature as Cornell fleshes out his Apollo on Stormwatch. We don’t know much about Apollo in this book so far, but we do know he is powerful, potentially more powerful than Superman.
- Midnighter –The team will also have Wildstorm’s Batman analogue in the form of Midnighter. Not much has been revealed in Stormwatch so far about this character either, but he is scrappy, effecient and effective just like Batman. And, he also has a pretty cool costume except for the addition of shoulder spikes and a chin spike. I know, weird. 🙁
- Jack Hawksmoor – Wildstorm also brings us a character that can talk to cities and draw energy from them to fuel his abilities (pretty cool actually). He also has metal on the soles of his feet and palms of his hands that have yet to be explained, but they provide a cool visual. There hasn’t been too much revealed about the New 52’s Jack Hawksmoor either. He had a larger profile in issue #1 than issue #2.
- The Engineer – She is a genius imported from Wildstorm covered in a living metal skin and responsible for communications between the members of Stormwatch from the Eye of the Storm, Stormwatch’s base in Hyperspace. She also has leadership ambitions.
- Jenny Q – She is the last of the Wildstorm alumni reimagined for the DC Comics Relaunch. She is a century baby – a long line of individuals who live for one hundred years – that is being mentored by the exceptionally long-lived new character Adam-One. Her powers have not be fully explained so far, but they are based on 21rst Century phsyics. Intriguing.
- Adam-One – This new character has been alive since the Big Bang and has been aging backwards (like Jonathan Winters’ character from the classic TV show Mork and Mindy starring Robin Williams). He is a brilliant tactician and (current) leader of the team, despite not inspiring confidence. He resembles slightly the Drummer character from the fan favorite Planetary from Wildstorm of olde.
- Eminence of Blades – Another new character who is a master swordsman and a misdirection artist (a convincing liar 🙂 ). Not much else is known, but he may have psychic abilities as well after his exchange with the Scourge of Worlds in Stormwatch #2. He is probably the most interesting character of this Stormwatch team despite a seemingly unfortunate turn of events in issue #2. This character seems to role with the punches if issue #2 is any indication.
- The Projectionist –This is the least defined new character of the team. However, we know she has he ability to influence perception on a global scale which comes in handy in issue #2.
With the dramatis personae complete, I can report that the sophomore issue of this book continues to unwrap the team’s cast of characters for DC Comics readers in the thick of big and crazy action from the mind of writer Paul Cornell. The team is divided trying to recruit Apollo on one hand in Russia and on the other hand dealing with the threat of the Scourge of Worlds that turns the moon into the greatest weapon to ever be pointed at Earth.
It’s interesting seeing Martian Manhunter in action trying to recruit both Midnighter and Apollo to Stormwatch. What’s been great so far in Stormwatch is we’ve seen a tougher side to Martian Manhunter and certainly seen his powers used differently. The cliff-hanger from issue #1 was a great showcase of that. We still don’t see too much of Apollo’s powers here in issue #2, but we know that he and Midnighter, his destined-to-be-lover, want no part of being “super-heroes” which are seen as amateurs by the two-some and by Stormwatch. Midnighter has been stalking Apollo, literally, whether for professional reasons or personal reasons is unclear at this point.
In terms of the Scourge of Worlds plot, I have to say how cool is that a giant sentient physic eyeball is threatening the Earth with the moon as its weapon. Wow. I never thought I’d ever type something like that in a review or column. We learn more about the Eminence of Blades who has had his brain hard-wired literally to the giant eyeball villain. I won’t spoil this plot for you, but it is interesting to see the exchange between the two.
Also, seeing how the Projectionist’s powers work to conceal what’s happening on the moon and who is behind it, leads to an interesting Justice League International cameo. I got a nice chuckle at those scenes.
In the heat of the moon battle, the Apollo recruitment efforts in Russia, and the scenes in hyperspace, almost half the members of Stormwatch still have time to conspire against Adam-One for the leadership of the team.
The book ends with another great cliffhanger that brings the action, horror, sci-fi and suspense. There is so much going on in this book, but it all fits together well.
Stormwatch #2 is a genre-bending and blending issue that has solid characterization that reveals to true nature of many of the characters. Cornell is not afraid to make these characters fallible submitting to human vices and desires, but all-the-while fighting the good fight. I’m curious as to what keeps such a band of misfits together. The action of the book, zipping between locales, and the unorthodox lunar antagonist build on the solid characterization to craft a tale that feels very different from the other New 52 titles and carves out a unique place in the DCU for this team and stories like this.
The pencils of newly DC Comics exclusive Miguel Sepulveda really evolve in issue #2 as he is clearly getting more comfortable with the characters. In particular, the fact that he makes the scenes between the Eminence of Blades and the Scourge of Worlds seem important with the world’s fate at risk is a testament to his skill as an artist. Those scenes could easily have looked ridiculous – because really it is a crazy yet entertaining plot involving this giant eyeball antagonist – by a lesser artist
I loved issue #2 and am excited to see where Cornell and Sepulveda take this next month. This isn’t a traditional super-hero yarn and despite that I’m really surprised how much I have been sucked into this title. Wow.
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Tags: DC Comics Relaunch, Deadman, Hawk and Dove, JLI, Justice League, Justice League International, Martian Manhunter, miguel sepulveda, Paul Cornell, Rob Liefeld, Sterling Gates, Stormwatch