Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hero Squared: Love and Death #1

Six months ago, the world was a very different place for twenty-something loser Milo and his friends. When Captain Valor, the star of one of Milo's favorite comic books, actually showed up, in the flesh, in the middle of his living room, that was one thing. When the hero confessed that the two were actually interdimensional clones, that was another. But when he revealed that his arch-enemy Caliginous shared a similar connection to Stephie, his loving girlfriend, well, that threw the weirdness scale completely off the charts. It also sent our lead character's imagination in a new and not entirely noble direction. All of which begs the natural question: is it really cheating if the girl you're banging on the side is just an alternate reality's version of the one you're already dating?

Well known for their collaboration on Justice League of America and later Justice League International throughout the 1980s, Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis have reunited on this series. And, like their work on those superheroic adventures twenty-odd years back, the tone of Hero Squared is thoroughly tongue-in-cheek. This is humor in the same vein as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. You won't get any winks or nods from the cast along the way, but you likewise won't find them immune to the temptation to completely halt the plot and step back a few steps for some off-the-cuff observations about their situation. The humor is hit and miss – it's either charmingly cheeseball and genuinely funny or six feet beyond the limits of good reason. I'll take what I can get.

Free from the reigns of a rigid mainstream publisher, Giffen and Dematteis are able to really cut loose and explore subjects that would have been taboo with more established characters, for better and for worse. At times their remarks are welcome and unusual, such as their musings on the soap opera that is the love life of a super hero. In other moments, there's little argument the pair could have benefited from the contributions of a stern editor. I guess the best friend of a creative genius is someone who can say when they're off on a tangent and need to reel it in a bit.

Nathan Watson's artwork may not be the most striking I've ever seen, but it fits the bill for the tone of Hero Squared. His loose, hurried strokes make for a good continuation of the haphazard style of the storytelling, as if neither really takes themselves too seriously. Watson has his moments of weakness, where his cast looks like it's been momentarily lobotomized and I wonder why they aren't drooling on themselves already. But in general he keeps it together and tells a coherent, if not entirely exciting, ongoing visual narrative. Watson seems to be doing his best to mimic and update the style of Giffen's earlier work, but he doesn't quite have the chops to pull it off. It's a close enough approximation, but there's just something missing.

On all fronts, Hero Squared has its ups and downs. The story is original and interesting, and when it's firing on all cylinders it's tough to tell where it's going next. Giffen and Dematteis bring a good mix of serious moments and off-the-wall comedy, although their passion is clearly in writing the latter and the plot drags when they focus on the former. Paired with artwork that's at least serviceable, this is worthy a quick flip through.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.5

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