Wednesday, February 29, 2012

52 Catch-Up: Mister Terrific #1-6

Every comic book fan has at least one title that they loved that somehow got passed by the rest of the comics-reading world. Maybe it was centered upon an obscure older character, like Ka-Zar. Maybe it was based around a new character elevated by a recent mini-series, like Blue Beetle. Maybe it was the pet project of a newbie writer that editorial ultimately lacked the confidence to see through to the end, like Agent X. Whatever the case, we all wind up with a simmering resent me of the great mass of comic readers - the slack-jawed yokels whose refusal to read anything without a Bat-Logo or an X-Man headlining it has trapped the comic book industry in a vast malaise for decades, crushing all innovation. For me, that book is Mister Terrific.

Let me say at the start that I do not believe that Mister Terrific failed to find an audience because its' main protagonist is a black man. I do believe that Mister Terrific failed to find an audience because it is a smart book by a smart writer that refused to talk down to its' audience. It centers upon Michael Holt - Doctor of Many Things, Olympic Gold Medal winner, third smartest man in the world, head of a high-tech company and a snappy dresser. Driven to near-suicidal depression following the death of his wife, he had a vision which inspired him to use his fortune and his talents to help people. As an activist and businessman, he tries to make the world a better place. But when bad people use science for wicked ends, Michael Holt becomes Mister Terrific.

Eric Wallace is a writer for Eureka and it showed. Every issue was as full of high-concepts and technobabble as your average Doctor Who episode. Indeed, the first issue made a Doctor Who reference and Mister Terrific himself travels through an extra-dimensional space, though he never got around to traveling in time and he looked more like The Silver Surfer than Tom Baker as he traveled.

That may be a piece of the puzzle. At its' heart, Mister Terrific wasn't really a super hero book - it was a science hero book. Michael Holt is cut from the same mold as Tony Stark but unlike the infamous Iron Man, Michael would rather use his brains to help people than play dress-up with the rest of the costume set. He also takes his responsibilities as a businessman a lot more seriously than Tony Stark and his motivations for going after the telepathic villain Brainstorm - whom he contested with in the first three issues - are more about the attack on his business and his personal feelings of violation at being telepathically controlled than they are about any sense of justice.

Maybe that's the problem? Michael Holt does heroic things but he only does them because of obligation. Logically, he deduces what the right thing is to do. Emotionally, he's trying to do something to make his dead wife proud of him. There's no real drive for him to do the right thing for the sake of being the right thing. I personally find this conflict fascinating but I know some people who would be turned off by that.

Or maybe it was the artwork? I thought Gianluca Gugliotta was a good fit for this book after the first issue but as time went on, his human figures became more and more alien-looking with elongated necks and odd expressions. Ironically, this became clearer in the two-part storyline in Issues #4-5, where Michael Holt is held captive on an alien slave galley and must fight his way to freedom.

Incidentally, did you know that this storyline featured a controversial element which used a hermaphroditic alien as a metaphor for all GLBT acceptance? No? Well, I'm not surprised. Because Eric Wallace made it a part of the storyline and didn't feel the need to make a big deal about it, unlike some writers who love to toot their own horn about every single relevant story they write. And it was all the better for being a surprise and only being a part of the story.

Issue #6 was the first issue I felt really fell flat. Wallace's script was strong as ever and The Tomorrow Thief was an interesting take on the standard phasing-burglar bad guy. But as stretched-out and sloppy as Gugilotta's pencils became, Oliver Nome's pencils were blocky and restrained. Whereas Gugilotta's necks were freakishly long, Nome's men lacked them completely.

I don't know why Mister Terrific got canceled. All I know is that it was probably too good for the teaming masses of comic book readers and that I will miss it. So long, Michael. Maybe they'll let you team up with Green Arrow sometime down the line.

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