Best Of The Best: HERO

Like with movies, I’ve been reading mostly newer trades (stuff I haven’t read before), but after getting most of the issues of HERO bound recently, I decided to sit down with that book and read it all in one sitting. Damn, is this a good book.

Written by Will Pfeifer and drawn by a series of artists including Kano, Patrick Gleason, Leonard Kirk and Dale Eaglesham, HERO doesn’t so much follow a character, but an object. In this case it’s the “H Dial” an old device from DC comics where the gimmick was that it would change the user into a random hero, sometimes suggested by the readers themselves. Over the course of the series, the device lands in the hands of many different characters and they use it as they see fit, kind of like that show Gun that was on ABC in 1997. Sometimes they use it to turn into a superhero only to discover that’s not as easy as it seems, sometimes to become a mega powered master criminal and sometimes to impress the kids at school. Like 100 Bullets, though, the gimmick eventually leads into a larger story with many of the characters coming back in the last few issues.

But the important thing about this comic, which ran for 22 issues between 2003 and 2005, is that it never felt like a gimmick. Pfeifer had this incredible ability to introduce us to brand new characters every few issues and give us something to like in each of them. Whether it’s the business man who wants to fly or the dudes who just want to make a super-powered Jackass, these characters all felt interesting in one way or another.

You might remember there being a lot of hype about this book when it first came out because Geoff Johns offered a moneyback guarantee if anyone bought the book and didn’t like it. He talks about that in the forward of the first and sadly only trade. Johns brings up the point that Pfeifer seemed to be getting at with the series which is that every comic book fan has thought about having these awesome powers, but how hard have we really through about what we would do with them if we did in fact have them. I think in the real world you’d have a lot more people doing what these characters did with the H dial and far fewer taking the Superman and Batman route. It’s interesting that, while firmly set in the DCU HERO never had any guest stars, but the whole point of the series kind of shines a spotlight on what those other heroes do day in and day out. Basically, it’s not easy being Superman.

I could get into an arc by arc breakdown of why this is such a good book. Every artist absolutely nails their arcs and the series actually has a very satisfying conclusion, though not necessarily a happy one for everyone involved. I liked how everyone who had the H dial earlier in the series came back. I first heard about this book when I interned at Wizard. I read all the issues then and even bought a copy of HERO from Pfeifer at the 2003 Mid Ohio Con. I went on to get the rest of the issues here and there and thank goodness I did because it doesn’t look like there’s any plans for DC to collect this story anytime soon. HERO introduced me to some of my favorite artists like Gleason, Kano and Eaglesham (my buddy Rickey owns the splash page of the woman who’s all cubed up and I’m super jealous of that fact). Plus it drew my attention to Pfeifer whose work I thoroughly enjoyed on Aquaman, another run that got cut short too soon.

I know it’s not easy to pick up HERO. You’ve got to hunt down an out of print (I assume) trade plus a bunch of issues, but I bet they’re not too expensive. Maybe add them to your shopping list this con season and see what you can come up with. I’m not about to lay down a moneyback guarantee like Johns did (he said in that forward, which was written in 2003, that no one ever took him up on that, I wonder if it still holds true), but I highly HIGHLY recommend this book for anyone even remotely interested in superhero comics. Even if you’re a Marvel zombie, I wager you’d like this book. Heck, even if you’re not a superhero fan and prefer more real world-based comics because you think no one would really act like superheroes do in mainstream comics, then this is the book for you because it basically says just that.

That’s the end of the actual review. Now I just want to briefly talk about the reading experience I had with my bound comics. There were 16 issues not collected in the first trade, so I was a little worried about losing text balloons and art to the gutter (the space where the staples go). I mainly figured this would happen in the middle, but the only place I had even the remotest amount of trouble was in the first and last few issues. And even then, I just had to stretch the book open a little bit more and I had no problem. I’m also currently reading a stack of single issues about the same size and I can easily say that I prefer having everything all in one convenient space. I recommend getting comics bound like I recommend HERO, all the way.

Trade Post: Agents of Atlas Dark Reign & The War That Time Forgot

AGENTS OF ATLAS: DARK REIGN (Marvel)
Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Carlo Pagulaya, Benton Jew, Leonard Kirk
Collects: Agents Of Atlas #1-5, Secret Invasion: Who Do You Trust, Dark Reign: New Nation, Giant Size Marvel Adventures Avengers #1 & Wolverine: Agent Of Atlas from Marvel.com
Man, I love Agents Of Atlas. Jeff Parker has done an amazing job of taking a bunch of dusty old Atlas characters and making them not only awesome, but really fun to keep up with. The hardcover collecting the very first mini along with the first appearances of most of the characters and a ton of extras is not only one of my most prized hardcovers, but also one of the best examples of what a comic book collection can be. So, needless to say, I was excited to read this collection of AoA stories which launched with Dark Rein, a story I generally don’t care for.

This book picks up, relatively, where the last one left off, showing how the Agents are dealing with being an extension of the criminal organization-turned-instrument for change Atlas group. It’s a pretty cool concept that really plays well in the Secret Invasion/Dark Reign era, even if I do think the idea of anyone handing power over to Norman “The Murderer Who Forced His Agents To Wear Green And Purple” Osborn is one of the more stupid ones in all of comics (and maybe fiction). Luckily, while the stories do firmly take place in the Marvel U, there’s a lot of other action going on with adventures from the team’s past to keep you interested even if the quoed status of Marvel isn’t your bag. Plus, I really appreciate Marvel including the Marvel.com Wolverine story as well as the excerpts from various books and even the Marvel Adventures annual (even if it was the one thing I didn’t care to read). There’s one more trade’s worth of this series, then I’m assuming there will be one that ties in with all of the Incredible Hercules/X-Men/Avengers crossovers and minis, and after that, the new series simply called Atlas. Keep up the good work Parker!

THE WAR THAT TIME FORGOT VOL. 1 & 2 (DC)
Written by Bruce Jones, drawn by Al Barrionuevo and one issue by Scott Kolins
Collects: War That Time Forgot 1-6 in Vol. 1, 7-12 in Vol. 2
When The War That Time Forgot came out, I’m sure a lot of people were questioning why this book even existed. Fans weren’t exactly clamoring for a book about faintly-recognizable-at-best characters from the annals of DC’s huge history, nor was anyone asking for a Bruce Jones comic, especially after his atrocious run on Nightwing and the generally dull OMAC book. But, the story held some interest for me for a reason I still can’t place. Maybe it was my love of Barrionuevo who I’ve been a fan of since he popped up on Batman: Gotham Knights with AJ Lieberman back in the dizzy. Maybe it was because I WAS curious about those oddly familiar characters like Enemy Ace, Firehair and G.I. Robot among a good deal of others. Or possible I wanted to read a story about a mysterious island like Lost. Whatever it was, I kept my eye out for the two volumes of this book (it really should just be in one) and gave them a read. I really liked it.

I will say right off the bat that one of the reasons I DID like the series is because of the characters. Many of them I had a very passing knowledge of them, which wrapped the story in another layer of mystery. Sure there was the one in the story about how these characters who had no business being in the same time, but I also kept wondering how Jones would explain whether these are the same versions of the characters we’ve seen in other comics. Let me tell you without spoiling anything that it does pay off.

The island holds warriors from all different time periods from ancient Viking times to the French Revolution to both World Wars and even on into the future. In the beginning they’re broken up into two warring camps trying to survive this island full of dinosaurs.

Well, as you might expect there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye. The story probably could have been told in 4-6 fewer issues, but I never thought it dragged. But, if you don’t have as easy access to these books as I do or even pay full price for trades, I can see why this would be an iffy purchase. But, if you like classic science-fiction with some mystery, intrigue, dinosaurs and somewhat familiar characters thrown in, give this book a shot.

Also of note are the ridiculously awesome cover artists this book boasted. Neal Adams, Brian Bolland, Walter Simonson, Kevin Nowlan, Ladronn, Justiniano, GEOF DARROW(!) and Howard Porter. They should be enough to get you to buy the book (they’re just 12 pages out of two whole trades), but I liked the story enough to keep the books in my collection…until I get a few beers in me and start clearing off the shelf again.