Written by Steve Lyons
Art by Ed Benes and Blond
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
So I'll be honest — reading this book, I could only think to myself... who's the target audience here?
Let's recap a second. Steel is one of those characters that's always had a lot of potential as a supporting character, but for whatever reason, hasn't made a big of an impact since his initial introduction during the Death and Return of Superman. And while this Steel one-shot does look back to that initial origin for inspiration, it takes it in a weirdly uninspiring direction — this might be Doomsday for our armor-plated hero, but this Tin Man is lacking enough heart to make readers care.
Part of this, I'd imagine, is the nature of the beast — you've got to kick off Reign of Doomsday somehow, and to do away with Steel (even temporarily) is likely a decision that wasn't in writer Steve Lyons' hands. But to be honest? Seeing Steel in a tragic role isn't a dealbreaker for me — there's a lot of potential to make us care about a character, especially if he's about to be forcefully taken away. Instead, Lyons takes a surprisingly detractive tack on Steel, playing up the idea that he's not Superman — and by implication, is absolutely no match for the man who killed him.
That's going to sound like a fanboy response, but that's not the direction I'm coming from. But when I read a superhero comic, I want to root for the protagonist, not pity him, you know? John gets maybe two hits in during the entire book, and considering the resilience — the persistence — of the character, I'm surprised that that doesn't come through. Random civilians, even John's niece already think "he's doomed" from the get-go. Yes, Lyons plays up that Doomsday is a threat — but to be fair, hasn't those bona fides already been established by the fact that Doomsday killed Superman himself? Considering the story of the original John Henry — fighting and triumphing over the odds before dying himself — I'm surprised that Lyons couldn't have given Steel a moment of real, palpable nanobyte-free victory before his inevitable fall to Doomsday's wrath.
Now, I'll probably be a little bit blasphemous here when I talk about the artwork. Ed Benes, whether you love him or hate him, is a largely proven quantity in the marketplace. I get that, and in that regard, DC will certainly be hedging its bets here, especially since Lyons is an unknown to many readers. But at the same time, Benes is so mainstream, with so few choices in the design, that visually, this book doesn't have a strong voice. What surprised me here is that Benes typically scratchy shadows fade quickly, with Doomsday himself being a little too smooth — to the point of being flat. But some of this is not his fault — some of it has to do with the material he's given, and unfortunately, Lyons doesn't give him many big money shots to strut his stuff.
And perhaps the weirdest part about Steel? You know this isn't the end. Steel himself isn't dead — or why else would he get swooped away at the end? — and Doomsday doesn't really get taken down a peg or two, either. Yes, Lyons delivers some of the basics about Steel as a character — although I think the background as a weapons designer is one that's been sadly overlooked in a post-Iron Man landscape — but I don't think that he nails what makes him compelling.
So back to my earlier question here: Who's the target audience for this book? People who like Steel? People who hate him and want him gone? People clamoring for Doomsday to return? I know that every war has to have its first casualty, but this Steel one-shot seems less like a tribute to a strong supporting character — in fact, it reads like the exact opposite.
Batman Beyond #1
Written by Adam Beechen
Art by Ryan Benjamin, John Stanisci and David Baron
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give to the first issue of the now-ongoing Batman Beyond is that, well, it very much evokes the tone of the fan-favorite cartoon, all while including the various other factions of the future DCAU as a whole. While there's sometimes a youthful roughness around the edges, there's an energy and excitement to this book that proves to be a great fit for our all-too-imperfect hero.
Adam Beechen's big strength is his speed — from the very first page, we get a smart premise for a new supervillain, who has a terminal disease stemming from handling "metahuman evidence" for the Gotham City PD, and he quickly follows it up with some action with Terry McGinnis himself. Beechen's also got the voices of the characters down — maybe it's nostalgia talking, but you really "hear" characters like Bruce and Terry.
Continuity fans will also have a lot to like here, as Beechen brings in the future version of the Justice League into this book, as well. For me, I'd actually argue that that might be too much, too soon — after all, we're just getting used to Terry again, so why steal his thunder? — but at the same time, one could also argue that anyone who's seen the cartoon knows enough about Terry as a character that you don't need any additional recap. In that regard, it does feel structured more like a cartoon — where the familiarity is already expected — than a comic.
The artwork, by Ryan Benjamin, is where the book walks on a tightrope. He's got the edges of the original Bruce Timm designs, but there's also that personal stamp to it, that additional scratchiness that sometimes threatens to overwhelm the images. Out of the entire team, Benjamin might be the roughest — while you can feel the speed and creative impulse behind a melee between Batman and the Tweedle-Dee Gang, but other times, there are visual continuity details missed, like Terry's earpiece switching sides across a couple of pages.
Still, as far as first issues go, you have to hand it to DC: Batman Beyond is moving quickly, and it's that breeziness, that self-assurance, that reminds me of the original animated series. While it's not quite as clean-cut as Bruce Timm — but to be honest, how many people are? — the stakes are high, the villains compelling, all while maintaining that familiarity that brings so many people to the table. All in all, it's definitely worth checking out, to see if this Batman will continue Beyond your expectations.Have you read any of this week's comics already?