THE PITCH: Billionaire superhero Michael Holt is the third smartest man on the planet and plans to use his wealth, smarts, and super science to stop evil.
HOW WAS IT? … And between this book and Static Shock, DC has created a universe that no longer needs Black Lightning. I wonder how this reads to someone who picks up this book and that book last week–two black characters who speak a lot of science-y gobbledygook who seem to have electricity-based powers. Would you assume the two characters are related or something? And with the weird timeline of the DCNu (some stuff happening in the present, some five years or so ago), would anyone possibly think maybe they’re the same character? That would be weird.
Of course–and this is in spite of some of my quibbles with that first issue–Static Shock is a much better book than the one we have here. Because Mister Terrific is a title that slides quickly from “kind of interesting, if a little rough” to awful mess with bad art, and by the final page you start hoping that maybe it’s not too late to get a new creative team here. I know this comes off as very harsh towards the new series by Wallace and Gugliotta, but this is not at all a good showcase for the character, the dialog is clunky and on-the-nose, the staging of conversation and action is hard to follow to simply nonsensical, and the “third smartest man in the world,” stuff needed to die with the old DC. Oh, and that costume still doesn’t work.
This issue starts in the middle of a fight in downtown London between Mr. Terrific/Michael Holt and some arms manufacturer whose built himself a mech suit. Holt trades some unfunny quips with the mech guy and some locals (the words “bum” and “yanks” get thrown around, so that happened) and Wallace gives us a take on the character that’s a little less self-serious than previous incarnations (he wasn’t particularly jokey or “fun” in the old DCU). So, I kind of liked that, except it for how it kind of blurred the lines between this book and Static Shock, but moving on.
We then get Terrific recounting his origin story–wife died, he was planning to commit suicide with some kind of portal machine, meets possibly a future version of the son he never had–and at the end of the flashback we discover that he’s telling all of this to the hot blonde he’s been sleeping with, which kind of begs the question, is he Iron Man? Does everyone know that he’s Mister Terrific? It’s kind of a big question because later in the issue a clunky caption says something to the effect that he shouldn’t be letting her into his life.
But wait! There’s also a love triangle, with Holt being pursued by his assistant, Aleeka, who has a tense and terrible back and forth with the new girl about how Aleeka doesn’t hate her because she’s white but because she’s a billionaire and can’t compete for Holt’s affections. And… I appreciate the idea here–trying to tackle the discomfort a lot of black women have with seeing a black man with a white woman–but man, it didn’t have to have dialog this flat-footed and weird. Worse, this whole scene is a mess (notice how they’re reacting to each other at the end of the conversation, but both of them are staring at the camera–I’m not sure how we’re supposed to “read” that).
The plot, as it were, kicks in when some sad schmuck at a diner suddenly gets hit with a burst of light in his eyes and starts saying terrible things to people and snapping and homeless guy’s neck. We’re later told that he’s somehow getting smarter and doing super-math and the whole thing fails to work because we get no actual evidence from either his actions or dialog that this guy is any smarter–he just sounds like a jerk. And there’s no other half to this mystery–the part that makes it imperative that Mr. Terrific solve it (well, at least not until the end of the issue), and so it just feels like a thing that happened in the story and you simply move on.
I can’t claim that Mr. Terrific was one of my favorite characters from the old DCU, but he had a pretty cool hook to him. He was essentially Batman defined by a strong sense of skepticism, with an added penchant for building the things that got the Justice Society out of trouble. He was hanging out with the next generation of superheroes and doing his best to teach them. Here, he’s a rich guy, his supporting staff are his Pepper Potts and 16-year-old genius (they don’t actually get to support him in the story, though) and the mostly personality-free new girlfriend. We call that a downgrade.
BEST BIT: Um, Mister Terrific zipping around on his spheres near the beginning of the book? That had a cool look to it, with his feet kind of straining to maintain a grip on them as they fly around. That was one of the most kinetic and visually-compelling parts of the book.
WORST BIT: “I’m a black woman and I was built for things you couldn’t imagine,” or whatever that terrible piece of dialog was. Just the worst.
EASTER EGGS: Purple lady on the prowl. Look out.
ACCESSIBLE TO NEW READERS? This is where the book excels–it communicates the character’s backstory, and mission and sets up all of his current relationships without too much fuss.
WILL YOU BE PICKING UP ISSUE 2? Not likely–from the dodgy art to the lack of actual smarts on display for a book about the “third smartest man in the world,” I don’t think there’s really anything here worth revisiting.