Retro Review: Triumph #1-4 By Priest, Miller & Stokes For DC Comics

Triumph #1-4 (June 1995 – September 1995)

Written by Christopher Priest

Pencilled by Mike Miller

Inked by John Stokes, Mike Miller (#4)

Colour by Lee Loughridge

Spoilers (from twenty-four years ago)

I’ve been using these columns as a good excuse to go through the work of one of my favourite superhero writers, Christopher Priest.  A while ago, I devoted a column to his Justice League Task Force, and another to his Ray.  While reading those books, I realized that I’d ignored a four issue miniseries featuring Triumph, the character that Priest and Mark Waid had retconned into DC’s past, and then had go missing for decades, during which time he was largely forgotten.

Triumph played the Hawkeye role in JLTF; he was arrogant and dismissive, and often found himself in conflict with the Martian Manhunter.  I didn’t ever really like him as a character, but in the interest of completeness (and because I found the full set for a very low price recently) I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what he was like when he was on his own.

Let’s track who turned up in the title:

Villains

  • Doctor Cobalt (#1)
  • James MacIntyre (Triumph’s father; #1, 4)
  • Doctor Cobalt II (Stanley Cobalt; #2-4

Guest Stars

  • Hourman (Rex Tyler; #1, 3)

Supporting Characters

  • Wilma (Lester Holmes, Triumph’s operations person; #1-4)
  • Fang (Meredith, Triumph’s pilot; #1-4)
  • Father Rocko (Reverend Douglas Haeffner, Triumph’s operative; #1-4)
  • Eddie X (Triumph’s operative; #1-2, 4)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • Even though it wasn’t all that long ago that I read the Justice League Task Force issues, I don’t remember if Priest ever set up the fact that Will had his own set of operatives there, or if it was just one of those things we figured out along the way.  Anyway, this series opens years ago, when Will was still a kid. His father is the getaway driver for the villain Doctor Cobalt. Knowing that they are likely to be caught as they flee from their latest crime, they stop at an old farmhouse scheduled for demolition, and hide a chained up box in a bomb shelter, thinking they’d be able to come back for it later.  The hero Hourman is at the police roadblock, and when Cobalt fires at the police, Hourman is able to keep their car from going over a cliff. When Cobalt goes to fire at Hourman, Jimmy, Triumph’s dad, knocks him out. We see young Billy waiting for his father, and learn that he never comes home. In the modern day, Triumph, in radio contact with his team, is dragging a large vessel towards a dock.  Wilma, his Oracle, is coordinating everything, while Fang flies his rotojet. The vessel is holding a ton of illegal immigrants, and it’s not clear if he’s saving them or delivering them to the authorities. At the same time, his operative, Father Rocko, goes to a barber shop he suspects is the front for a drug operation. He beats on the guy to get his “bank.” Triumph is in his rotojet with Fang, his pilot, as they move towards his next mission.  Another of his operatives, Eddie X, is on a train. He isn’t following the plan, and shoots some guys, although with nerve disrupting gel, not bullets. These guys apparently ran over a young girl while fleeing a crime, and Triumph is there to stop them. For some reason, they need to have the track’s switch thrown, and Fang goes to do that with the jet, while a bunch of goons bust in and shoot Triumph. Fang heads back to help, Triumph is fine, but now it looks like the train is going to derail (none of this makes sense to me).  Triumph has to slow the train Superman style, which he manages to do. Triumph attends the funeral for the young girl, and thinks he sees Doctor Cobalt among the mourners. Later, he’s with his operatives (apparently Wilma is a man, and works at a table with a single computer), and has them look up Cobalt. He apparently died six months after arriving in prison. He then has Wilma look up Jimmy MacIntyre, his father, and learns that he’s escaped (he’d be a very old man, wouldn’t he?). Wilma reminds Will that he’s agreed to track down someone named Ricky, but he also wants to find MacIntyre (he doesn’t tell anyone that’s his father).  He also turns and fires Eddie.
  • Triumph is running another mission, to take out a drug dealer who is flying somewhere in a Lear jet, but keeps getting distracted thinking about what happened when he fired Eddie X.  The rest of the team rallied around him, giving Triumph an us or him ultimatum. Will basically decides to ditch the whole team right there, but then Eddie more or less apologizes and tells them all to stay.  Triumph, in contact with Wilma, moves on the jet, calling the drug dealer, a woman named Ricky, and taunting her. The throws packs of cocaine into the jet’s engines, and disables the jet. In the heat of things, he refers to Ricky as Jimmy.  He also tells her that the rest of her organization has been caught. When he hangs up from Ricky, she immediately calls one of her operatives, which leads Wilma to be able to track her to their main stash. As Will leads the jet to a landing, we learn that he has Fang going through the dumpster where Trevor Sklar’s trash goes.  Sklar is the son of Doctor Cobalt, and Triumph is hoping to find some leads as to where Jimmy MacIntyre might be. Fang is not happy to be in a dumpster. The plane lands in some water, and Triumph prepares to hand Ricky over to the DEA. Wilma lets Will know that the rest of Ricky’s organization has been caught. Father Rocko goes to visit Jimmy’s former cellmate, and threatens him to get information on where Jimmy might be.  Rocko talks to Fang, who is still very angry at Will. They don’t know that Will can hear them, as he waits to board a plane. On a private channel, Wilma explains that Fang might have feelings for Will; he explains that she has been with their organization, which Will only recently took over, for a long time. As Will boards his plane, Wilma explains that he’ll send all the information he has on Sklar to his PDA (ah, the late 90s) once the plane has reached cruising altitude.  Rocko is in a cab when he recognizes the driver is going the wrong way; in the next panel we see gunshots flying out the back window. Fang is about to give up on the dumpster diving when someone closes the dumpster with her in it, and throws it in front of a bus. She flies through the air, hits a car, lands on the road, and thinks she sees Eddie X watching. Will wakes up on his plane, and when Wilma sends him the Sklar information, he realizes he’s sitting right next to the guy.  Sklar tells him that when Triumph looked up Jimmy he was alerted to it, and then hacked into his communications network. He knows that Will is Jimmy’s kid, and tells him that he inherited everything his father owned, including Jimmy, who he freed from prison. We see the plane they’re flying in suddenly start to catch fire and break apart. We next see Will falling from the plane, while everyone around him burns. I don’t see how Sklar and Will look to be about the same age when Will was in limbo for decades, yet Doctor Cobalt died six months after going to jail, when Will was a child.
  • Issue three opens on young Billy Mac again, as a voice narrates in second person, telling us how Billy figured out that his father was a supervillain, and worked to keep the family secret by isolating himself as a child.  After his father went to prison, he was visited one night by Hourman, who echoed his father’s words in telling him he can choose to be who he wants. After that, Billy resolved to become a hero. We join Will in the present, where he thinks he’s in a flaming airplane, but we learn that he’s actually just dreaming.  The people on his flight think he’s having a seizure, and Will is confused to learn that there was no one sitting next to him on the plane. Wilma talks him down over radio, and Will tells him to put on his “Triumph 1000” suit and protect himself. As they talk, a helicopter flies overhead and a gunman starts shooting at Wilma.  Will tells him to stay off comms and to meet him at their alternate location. Sklar arrives at his home, where he is greeted by Father Rocko, who holds him at gunpoint. When they go inside, Fang is already there, and then Wilma arrives. They quickly wonder how Sklar could have been driving Rocko’s cab at the same time he was tossing Fang’s dumpster around.  Triumph busts in and orders everyone out of the house, just before it explodes. Will tells them to leave Sklar, and as they leave in the Rotojet, Will explains that Sklar wasn’t involved, but that someone else is behind everything. The figure that someone is protecting Jimmy MacIntyre from them. Rocko explains that Doctor Cobalt had another kid, who changed his name to Stanley Cobalt.  Will explains that he believes that Cobalt is after him, because he wants the thing that Cobalt and Jimmy stashed years before. After landing and gathering, Fang gets angry that Will is still not telling them the entire story. He is ready to fire them all, either from this mission or forever, it’s not clear, because he doesn’t want to divulge all of his secrets. This makes Fang angry, but also causes her to suggest that the team can be more than strangers, but friends.  Will is ready to leave when Fang reveals that her first name is Meredith. Will stops and then introduces himself (despite the fact that Wilma has been calling him Will since the first issue), as do Rocko (Reverend Douglas Haeffner) and Wilma (Lester Holmes). Will explains that Jimmy is his father, and talks about how he trained himself to be a hero. He reveals that he is the one who gathered the Justice League for their first mission, but got caught in the time stream for ten years (I’d thought it was longer at first).  He tells the team they should stay out of things, but they disagree, and tell him he’s not alone.
  • Triumph is on his way to see Stanley, who we learn has a big supervillain base.  When he arrives, they talk, and Cobalt shows off his power; he asserts that Will has to now work for him.  He shows him that he has Jimmy Mac restoring his father’s old car. Will doesn’t show that he recognizes his father, but outside the garage, he slams Stanley into a wall.  Stanley responds by tossing him high into the air, and walks away after Will crashes to the ground. Fang decides to break their plan and go retrieve him. She has to work to revive him, and Cobalt listens in on her communication with Wilma.  At the same time, he recognizes that as part of their plan, since they are using the channel he can monitor. Later, after she’s gotten him to their base or somewhere, Fang tells Wilma that Will has a broken back (although that doesn’t seem to hinder him throughout the rest of the issue or get mentioned again).  We learn that they used sensors in Will’s jacket to measure Cobalt’s powers, and that Cobalt has telepathic powers, which include some telekinesis. Together, they figure out that Jimmy has messed with the car, wiring it with a bomb, and that they can set up some tech to help them minimize Cobalt’s powers. Cobalt calls Triumph and tells him to follow orders.  Later, we see that Cobalt or Will’s team shut down all power to an airport. Cobalt’s plan is to have Jimmy drive him to the former spot where Jimmy buried the first Cobalt’s trunk, which is now under the airport. Because the area has changed so much, Jimmy just drives around, trying to engage muscle memory (from what, twenty years before?) to pinpoint the location of the bomb shelter where he stashed the trunk.  He finds the spot, and Triumph joins them, digging a hole. Cobalt goes in, and returns with the trunk. He orders a pick up from Wilma, who picks up him and the trunk, and carries his car by a winch. He tells her to drop the car, although it has the trunk in it. Cobalt points out that there is no laser cannon on the rotojet, and assumes it’s because Father Rocko has used it to dig a tunnel to the crate and swap it.  He tells Fang to take him to his stuff or die. Triumph is with Jimmy (it’s weird that Cobalt just left them behind), and lets him know that he’s figured out his moves. Triumph also tells him that they turned the rotojet into an energy dampening field, leaving Cobalt powerless. Unexpectedly, Eddie X is on the rotojet, and appears from hiding, wanting to kill Cobalt. They shoot at each other, which destroys the energy dampener.  Triumph rushes up and pulls Cobalt out of the jet, then drops him into a lake. He pulls out his unconscious body. Jimmy returns to the trailer where he used to live, to find Father Rocko waiting for him. Rocko explains that Jimmy swapped out Cobalt’s crate back in the day, and left a bag of money for his wife and kid. His wife never used the money, burying it in the backyard. Rocko gives him ten thousand dollars, and tells him to leave.  On his way out, Jimmy sees Triumph and once again tells him to never be like him, before driving off.

This was an odd miniseries, because while it does reveal a little more about Triumph, it doesn’t fit well with his Justice League Task Force appearances, nor does it establish Triumph as the type of character that could sustain an ongoing series.  It makes me wonder why DC decided to publish it.

Priest often constructs his plots like puzzles, and when writing a shorter story like this, it’s a little clearer to see how he works backwards from his intended outcome to fill in his storyline.  A casualty of that is that he’s not always good at introducing characters, leaving it to the readers to figure out who Triumph’s crew are. We never do learn much about these secondary characters, and that makes their parts of the story less impactful.  It’s never made clear how Eddie X would have known to be in the rotojet at the end of the story, or what happens to him or Fang.

I remember seeing these characters show up once or twice in JLTF, but there too, they didn’t have much impact on the story.  It feels like Priest was trying to set up a situation similar to the support network surrounding The Shadow, but doesn’t really get us there.

Artwise, Mike Miller contributes perfectly fine mid-90s art.  He’s a clear storyteller, and avoids many of the excesses of the era to help make the story clear.  

Beyond that, there’s not much to say about this series.  I intended this column to be a quick palette cleanser before I launch into a long set of columns that will cover one of my all-time favourite team books, which is set to be revitalized soon in a way that has me very nervous, as it’s a book I miss a great deal, but that is often handled poorly when relaunched.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

If you’d like to read any of the stories I talk about here, you are going to have to track it down.  It’s not surprising that this was never reprinted into a trade.

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