Written by Fred Van Lente
Art by Renato Guedes
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by Valiant Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
Valiant’s newest superteam can’t escape some serious growing pains in the debut issue of Psi-Lords. Comprised of nondescript characters like Tank, Beacon, Artisan and Hazard, writer Fred Van Lente’s team never really transcends its basic tropes and archetypes, while artist Renato Guedes’ painted style squashes the energy and excitement out of every page. While diehard Valiant fans might cheer for the return of a classic team, new readers are going to have a tough time trying to decide what makes Psi-Lords worth following.
The series comes out of the gate stumbling early, as Van Lente starts his story with one of the more tiresome cliches of the ‘90s — namely, priming his characters for exposition dumps with the liberal use of amnesia. If you haven’t followed Wolverine any over the past 20 years, the approach might at least hold some promise of deeper characterization down the line, but I’d argue that it actually exposes the Psi-Lords for being exceptionally threadbare in both their personalities and their central concept. We’ve got a rebel, a genius, a creator and a berserker, but while Van Lente keeps the story moving, there’s no history for readers to grab on to — and what little sketchy characterization we get is either in immediate conflict with one another (like Tank shouting about his captors being “badly-dressed fascists,” before saying he’s a soldier looking for a mission) or being a half-hearted tap into a well of cliches (like Hazard’s repeatedly on-the-nose fire metaphors about her current emotional state).
The thing is, if the Psi-Lords themselves were at least in the middle of an interesting mission, it’d be easier to overlook how little we actually know or care about the characters — but the amnesia concept actually winds up working against this, as well. This issue is essentially a jailbreak, but with no sense of who these characters are or why they’re there. We’re briefly introduced to a character who might have all the answers, but while Scion is able to helpfully give us telepathic bursts of expositional dialogue, he’s taken off the board with only cryptic answers of what this story is about. Combine this with unsubtle metaphors about these characters being gods, and it almost feels like misplaced confidence — in an industry full of superpowered characters, the Psi-Lords have about as much depth as the paper they’re printed on, with little in the way of inspired designs, power sets or personalities to make them stand above the rest of Valiant’s stable, let alone the rest of the industry as a whole.
But I’ll say this — comics are usually a team effort, and unfortunately Renato Guedes’ artwork doesn’t do Van Lente’s script any favors. Guedes has adopted a heavy painted style in recent years, and it comes at the cost of the clarity of this story as a whole. In certain ways, it reminds me a bit of Gabriele Dell’Otto, but without his sense of contrast to lead the eye and make his characters pop — instead, all the colors feel muddy and oppressive, and given the design similarities between the Psi-Lords, it makes these pages incredibly hard to follow. Van Lente has given these characters a sort of Green Lantern-style hard light construct type of power set, but Guedes is barely able to pay the most dynamic moments of the script (like Beacon electrifying the room or Artisan summoning a bazooka) much in the way of lip service. Some of this is due to Van Lente’s pacing — he’s asking a lot of Guedes to give Hazard a rip-roaring action sequence that is squashed across a four-panel grid, for example — but at the end of the day, having the right artist on a project will elevate even the most lackluster script. But Guedes’ style feels like absolutely the wrong fit on a project that should be accessible and fun.
It’s always a shame when a new #1 issue fumbles the ball, but Psi-Lords #1 feels like a troubled project just from the mismatched creative team behind the wheel. Given that he has a blank slate to draw upon, it’s disappointing to see Van Lente’s characters feel so ill-defined beyond their well-worn cliches, while Guedes’ style doesn’t introduce these heroes in a way that generates excitement or enthusiasm. It’s difficult to introduce new characters in a crowded marketplace, but it’s not impossible — indeed, Valiant already has a great case study in Secret Weapons, a book that rightly dominated critics’ lists two years ago. But in the case of Psi-Lords, these cookie-cutter heroes are going to have to tap into some serious superpowers if they’re going to course-correct this flawed beginning.