Review: Tangent Comics Volume One trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 31, 2008

In reintroducing the Multiverse to DC Comics continuity, the current DC Editorial has found a new dimension to the variant Earths that the originators may not have considered: marketing. Case in point: when the Tangent event was launched in 1997, I paid it no mind, feeling it wasn't connected enough to the DC Universe proper--not even as Elseworlds, even. But now that the Multiverse is back, DC can declare the Tangent Universe an "official" part of the DCU and re-release the Tangent issues in a trade--and now ten years later, I've bought the first trade, hook, line, and sinker. And you know what? I'm glad I did.

Dan Jurgens, creator of the Tangent concept and one of my longtime favorite writer-artists, describes in his introduction to the first Tangent trade that Tangent was created in the spirit of Julius Schwartz's reimaging of the DC Universe at the beginning of the Silver Age of comics. This is a concept that I can get behind; the Tangent Atom is related to DC Comics' Ryan Choi (or Ray Palmer, if you prefer, or Al Pratt) the same way Barry Allen was to Jay Garrick. Just like Jay and Barry, however, the two eventually met, and I'm far more interested in the Atom, Green Lantern, and the others knowing they're soon to appear in Justice League and elsewhere. But the characters here were, for the most part, very interesting, and this more than anything else makes me willing to give Tangent a chance.

Fans of Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory storytelling will find much to love in the first Tangent volume. The five stories are interconnected much like Seven Soldiers, with Metal Men and Green Lantern filling in background from The Atom, and The Flash and Sea Devils rounding out the edges. The stories offer a nostalgic glimpse of writing sensibilities in the pre-September 11 era; the Tangent universe is full of the threat of nuclear holocaust, Soviets invasions, and AIDS, as opposed to suicide bombers and terrorists. Perhaps one of the best indications of our fears as a society at any given moment is in the different ways we imagine our dark futures.

Of the five issues collected in this first volume, indeed my favorites were The Atom and Metal Men. Atom is somewhat standard superhero fare, but I enjoyed the twist in regards to Atom's family history. Metal Men is a more involved military/espionague tale, with a gripping moreal conflict; perhaps I liked this one the most, though maybe I wouldn't have liked it as much if I hadn't first met the characters in The Atom. I also thought Sea Devils was a fun off-beat tale, even if it started a little slow (foreshadowing, though, Kurt Busiek's later work on Aquaman). The Green Lantern title has an engaging concept, with the title character narrating tales of the unexpected--and great art by J. H. Williams--though the issue itself is short on action. And I'm sure the humor of the Flash title appeals to some, though I was engaged more by the serious fare in this collection.

So while I was hesitant about Tangent's new involvement in the DCU proper, after reading this first trade I have to say I welcome it. These are interesting, smartly-written comics in a well-created universe, and I'm eager to read the additional volumes and see how Tangent ties in to Final Crisis.

[Contains full covers, introduction by Dan Jurgens, artist sketches.]

Now on to the second Ion volume (with a cameo by some Tangent characters, no less), and more!
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