Welcome to our recurring feature in which I take on reading, viewing, or reviewing suggestions from MCC readers and sharing my results in the interest of entertainment science. Today’s suggestion was offered a few months ago by wwayne, who left me an English comment that seemed like quite a departure from his own moribund Italian blog. Nevertheless, a suggestion is a suggestion. This one’s for you, wwayne, wherever you are.
Today’s subject: Grifter, one of the initial titles from DC Comics’ “New 52” relaunch of September 2011. For review purposes I picked up the most recent issue, #13, which was new in stores last Wednesday.
What I knew beforehand: Grifter was created in 1991 by superstar writer/artist Jim Lee as a cast member of the creator-owned super-hero series WildC.A.T.s: Covert Action Teams, about a team of heroes from space who travel to Earth to hunt their nefarious arch-nemeses, the Daemonites. I was indifferent to the Image Comics series except for a handful of issues written by James Robinson (Starman) and a memorable run written by the legendary Alan Moore before comics publishers and Hollywood turned him bitter and X-rated. Grifter was present in those days but not a focal point. Lee later sold his babies to DC Comics and is now one of the company’s reigning vice presidents. His creations were later integrated into the DC Universe in altered forms.
As far as I could remember, Grifter’s super-power was being a guy with guns. One sentence in one panel of this issue hints at telekinesis, but I don’t remember that from my prior WildC.A.T.s reading experience. Perhaps it was always there but never mattered.
Why I hadn’t tried it before: DC relaunched fifty-two new series all in a single month. I couldn’t possibly try all of them, nor did I want to. The first few issues of Grifter were written by newcomer Nathan Edmondson, an unknown to me at the time, whose own creator-owned series The Activity is now on my monthly buying list. Before too long, Edmondson and his pseudonymous artist CAFU were replaced by writer/artist Rob Liefeld, a former business partner of Jim Lee’s. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a fan of Liefeld’s work. Short version: I do not consider it good in any of the ways that comics should be good to a reader over the age of ten.
I approached this reading suggestion with utmost trepidation, but sighed just a little when I discovered that #13 only credits Liefeld for the plot. Dialogue for the issue was written by Frank Tieri, not a writer I normally seek out. Pencils were by Marat Mychaels, whose own Image Comics work under Liefeld’s aegis in the past was…well, what I saw of it (e.g., Brigade), I would term “sub-Liefeld”. I was hoping twenty years would make a difference.
How it all went down: As of a recent issue, the Daemonites have already been vanquished in the New 52 universe. A white-haired mentor named Warick, about whom I know nothing and learned little else here, meets Grifter in a barely drawn room and banishes his notion that their work is done. Quite the contrary, whatever hijinks the Daemonites perpetuated in the first twelve issues was made possible by a Secret Cabal. In order to track down the Cabal and prevent a Daemonite relapse, they need access to super-secret databases. Grifter knows where they can pick up a super-duper-hacking computer that can hack super-secret databases. Slight problem with Grifter’s intended target: it’s located on a space station called the Eye of the Storm, home to another super-hero team called Stormwatch.
The mission, then, for Guy With Guns: sneak aboard the orbital satellite HQ; hack into their super-duper-hacking computer; download Secret Cabal info, which is hopefully labeled and organized in its own Windows folder; and escape from outer space without being super-powered to death by Stormwatch, who in their heyday were capable of toppling entire civilizations and alternate Earths without even needing antiperspirant. Warick brainstorms a few other super-duper-hacking computers they could access in a few safer locations, but Grifter dismisses them all because none of them are populated by gratuitous guest stars from other DC series.
Fortunately, Grifter and Warick have blueprints to the Eye of the Storm (somehow). Grifter travels to someplace with a teleporter (we’re not told where), joined by special guest hero Voodoo, who shows up out of nowhere without explanation, and whose super-power appears to be lizard arms. They cripple a handful of unarmed white-suited henchmen. Grifter jumps through a window because of Action, hacks into a barely drawn computer with no keys or buttons, and pulls up a copy of the same Eye of the Storm blueprint that he and Warick already had. After planting a good-luck kiss on Voodoo, Grifter dons an oxygen mask with no visible air supply (presumably it’s powered by future science), fires up the teleporter belonging to the White Suit Empire, and zaps himself to the hull of the Eye of the Storm, which isn’t in mere outer space, but is in hyperspace, somehow a different dimension where super-satellites can reside, floating around and orbiting nothing in particular. As delineated by colorist Andrew Dalhouse, hyperspace is a very colorful panorama of solutions culled from calculus graphs, random but pretty.
Grifter breaks into the satellite off-panel and finds himself accosted by two of Stormwatch’s most impressive members, Apollo and the Midnighter. As originally written by Warren Ellis, the duo were as all-powerful as non-gods can be. Here, Guy With Guns distracts the sun-powered Apollo by torching him with a long, cylindrical flamethrower that was magically hidden inside his skintight costume. The Midnighter takes two swings at him, but misses both times. Grifter uses a single “TK punch” and knocks him for a loop. Looks like Midnighter picked the wrong day to quit eating spinach.
Understand: in my mind, based on the characters as I once knew them, this is the equivalent of Superman and Batman being taken out simultaneously by the Punisher. This does not compute for me. At all.
Using a mental connection to some unexplained concept called an EOS, Grifter super-duper-deluxe-extra-hacks into Stormwatch’s super-duper-hacking computer. In response, said super-duper-hacking computer shows him a single image: the head of covert-ops queen Amanda Waller. Not her body, not her profile or statistics, just a picture of her head on an otherwise empty screen. Grifter downloads more unspecified stuff from the super-duper-hacking computer, boards a Star Trek transporter tube, and beams himself out of there…though at the last second, Midnighter jumps into the beam and vanishes with him. Apollo is left behind with a dumbfounded look on his face.
The issue ends To Be Continued. Part of me wonders if #14 will open with the two bad boys’ molecules fused by transporter accident into a single being. I can already envision the title of the story: “And Men Shall Call Him…Gridnighter!”
Judge’s summation: The plot manages to be simplistic and convoluted at the same time. Characterization is left by the wayside in favor of sci-fi travel arrangements and half-hearted fight scenes. The art is sparse, frequently underwhelming when the colorist can’t save it, and, I’d wager, drawn in quite a hurry. The old adage that “Every comic is someone’s first” is observed at no point here. This is overwhelmingly not for me.
Judging by recent news, I’m not alone in that assessment. The Monday after I purchased #13, the Internet was informed that Grifter is one of four DC titles now canceled and scheduled to end in January. Rob Liefeld’s departure from DC (nearly as controversial as his arrival) was not quite soon enough for DC to rebound in time and salvage the remaining dignity of Guy With Guns. I’ll be surprised if it’s mourned by anyone except for a few budding Nathan Edmondson fans. This development renders my review moot, but as I said before, a suggestion is a suggestion.