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September 15, 2011

Foul Work: The Ill-Conceived Relaunch of Mr. Terrific

Filed under: Uncategorized — fairplaythings @ 10:39 pm

The DC Relaunch is everywhere these day, and seemingly working out very well for the company, even if a cohesive universe has yet to emerge from the chaos.

Part of the chaos is a title called Mister Terrific, a first for our favourite hero here at fairplaythings.com. I was already concerned about the title given what I’ve read about the relaunch in general and what little I’ve gleaned about the title in general.

  • The world’s third-smartest man - and one of its most eligible bachelors - uses his brains and fist against science gone mad in this new series from Eric Wallace (TITANS) and Roger Robinson. Michael Holt is the head of a successful high-tech corporation and an institute that recruits and encourages the finest minds of the next generation to excel. As Mister Terrific he inhabits a world of amazement few others know exists, let alone can comprehend.

Not a lot there to really go on. But the emphasis on “bachelor” was not doing the title any favours. Nor was the change in costume, to one that looks like the worst of superhero and wrestling stereotypes put into one bad package. Jacket and boots replaced by wife beater and Nikes, with the motto of fairplay now a tattoo on both biceps and his t-mask a red crimson. Based on the Previews description, I’ve already put it on my own internal comic deathwatch, and expected the title to expire within the next two years.

Having read the book, I doubt it will last to the summer. It’s just that terrible!

Wallace has taken full advantage of the reboot to sutbly transform Michael’s origin. It starts with the most tired death scene for one who is suppose to be his motivation (wife Paula, who gushing blood from multiple wounds) still managing the strength to tell Michael of their unborn son. Visions of Natalie Portman crying out “Luke… Leia…” still ring in my head. This quickly leads to a scene where Michael, instead of contemplating suicide from a bridge, retreats to a lab to lament the failure of his latest project, ” a quantum experiment to open a dimensional rift.”

Yes, that’s right. Even the main character didn’t buy the death of his beloved, and is contemplating his own death because SCIENCE FAILED HIM.

In the original (and, for me, beloved) telling, the Spectre arrives to counsel Michael on the folly of his ways, using the moment to inspire the would-be superhero with the exploits of the original Mr. Terrific. The issue serves to introduce a new character, while finally bringing closure to a 25 year old mystery as to why his fellow JSAers never sought out Terry’s killer following his death high above the Earth. If John Ostrander gave him a decent origin though, it was James Robinson and David S. Goyer who introduced him as a legacy hero to the Justice Society and lay the groundwork for an exciting character who later led Checkmate as the White King.

In the new 52, however, there is no Spectre, and there is no Terry. There is, however, a ghost from the future who reveals himself to be Michael’s unborn or yet-to-be-born child. Apparently this is enough to change Michael’s mind away from suicide and introduce the hero he always knew he could be to a brave new world with lines like “You did the right thing. This is exactly the kind of situation I envisioned when I provided the L.A.P.D. with a way to contact me securely.”

All that’s missing is the Terrific-mobile.

The overall presentation is that Michael is something like a Silver Age Batman without the cowl. The comic even feels like a bad silver age book with its predictability and banal banter. Even the appearance of Karen Starr, lounging on Michael’s couch covered only in a Capitals basketball jersey, and presented as a potential love interest, only serves to undermine whatever characterization could be derived from her throwaway appearance without raising his.

Even more troubling is the absence of any reference to the original Mr. Terrific. In the Ostrander take, Michael places a crude fairplay logo on his jacket as a tribute to the hero from whom he drew inspiration. If Terry has no part to play in Michael’s origin, why bother with the name and the tattoos in the first place? He might as well be Batwing or Black Lightning.

I never thought I’d like Michael in the beginning. While I love the Spectre introduction, it meant more for me to see justice done for poor Terry. I even daydreamed ways to kill off Michael to make way for a new Ms. Terrific who could bring back the familiar red and green. But those early steps were just too good, and I thrilled to every adventure. Michael’s team-ups with Terry, his trials facing the results of the anti-life formula in Final Crisis, and his struggle in an alternate future dominated by Nazis are among my favourites.

So this revamp hurts because it takes away what was good about the old character, and then tries to let a pale imitation carry a title all on his own. DC clearly hoped the title would bring some measure of diversity in its main titles. But this hackney story and origin has only succeeded in ensuring Mr. Terrific won’t have his own title again for a very long time.

And that’s not fair.

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