April 10, 2011

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Series Review: The Mighty

Written by Peter J Tomasi and Keith Shampagne
Illustrated by Peter Snejbjerg and Chris Samnee
DC

A man's life is changed when he's caught in a Navy experiment, gaining powers and becoming America's only super-hero. Who needs the big blue boy scout of the comics world when there's one in real life? Surrounded by a group of loyal officers to help his crusade, Alpha One makes the world a better place...right? Something doesn't feel quite right when Alpha One's right hand man (literally) is killed, leaving a former rescued child to take over. As he gets closer to the man who saved him, it's clear there's more to Alpha One than he lets on. Just what is the truth behind a man with absolute power whole seems absolutely uncorrupted? Find out in...The Mighty.

I feel a bit bad for Tomasi here, because I can't help but compare this one to Irredeemable, and that's unfair. They are both "What if Superman was a jerk?" stories (an idea that never grows old for me, because I just don't like Superman or any other character who is way too overpowered) that try to examine what would happen if beings of incredible power started to use that power for their own ends, instead of in the unselfish ways we frequently find them portrayed.

The comparison stops dead there, however, because while Waid's character might have once been noble, it's clear that Alpha One never intended to help humanity in any way that did not further his own agenda. I don't feel like it's much of a spoiler to reveal this fact because unfortunately, the hand is tipped way too early and often. There is a definite attempt to keep the story suspenseful for most of the first few chapters, but I had it figured out by the first scene with Alpha One. I don't quite know if Tomasi wanted the reader to figure out the killer on page one, as it were, but I did. Frankly, either way it really weakens the story. Once we know Alpha One is a bad man (and of course, so much more as we inevitably find out), it was hard to keep my interest while Cole, the orphan turned second-in-command to Alpha One, bumbled his way to the truth.

Along the way, there are just too many holes in the story. I don't believe Alpha One could keep the truth under wraps for so long, especially in the internet age. He couldn't kill all witnesses and their friends without it being noticeable, and one text message headed to twitter (or even usenet) blows this all away. His organization is meant to be noble, and I could not shake my disbelief that so many noble people could not start connecting the dots. His hiding place is too public. Alpha One gets far too sloppy for any cover-up to stick, and then when Cole finally makes his move, the ending is too clean for my taste, despite a bloody battle.

Tomasi doesn't have a bad idea here, but he needed to set it in a simpler time. Like an old locked-door mystery trying to work in the 21st century, this story feels too retro to work today. Give us any time to think over the plot (and unfortunately, there's far too much time to think over the plot, with action sequences slowed down by a ham-fisted attempt to forge a friendship between Cole and Alpha One) and we realize that even within a fictional world, this doesn't seem to wash.

It doesn't help much that the story gets an abrupt artist change and that the end of issue six (and the end of trade one) doesn't match up to the start of issue seven (and the beginning of trade two). Samnee's art is not the best, with characters looking ill-defined and a seemingly stubborn desire not to give the jand facial emotion. Snejbjerg's characters are also lacking character in their expressions, but at least the characters feel more fleshed out. I'm at a loss as to why the art in superhero comics is often so poor. There's no lack of people who want to draw capes. Go find people who can actually do it well for more than a few issues at a time!

Even if this wasn't lurking in the shadow of the far superior Irredeemable (or even John Byrne's Elseworlds where Superman works for the British in Colonial times), I don't think I'd have been a big fan. While I think the concept is interesting--a superpowered being hides his evil goals in plain sight--the execution, both in plotting, script, and art, was lacking. This is a "dark Superman" story even Lex Luthor can pass on reading.