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

Monday, March 09, 2009

Seven Soldiers of Victory fans, I keep saying, go read Tangent Comics. Tangent Comics Volume Two admittedly, doesn't quite stand up to Seven Soldiers, but if you're a fan of slowly unfolding, multi-title, conspiracy-ridden comics universes, you'll soon discover why I've enjoyed Tangent Comics so much more than I thought I would.

The Tangent universe takes its cue, as writer Dan Jurgens explains in the first volume, from Julius Schwartz reinventing the DC Comics superheroes in what became known as the Silver Age of comics; the Tangent heroes share the names and some similarities with the DC Universe heroes, but also have great differences. In the Tangent universe, the Cuban Missile Crisis left Florida destroyed, replaced by the futuristic city New Atlantis; the third generation hero Atom (this universe's Superman equivalent) discovers that his grandfather may have been the cause.

Tangent Comics bear much resemblance not only Seven Soldiers, but also to the Amalgam Age of Comics that stemmed from DC/Marvel Comics crossovers. I felt often frustrated with Amalgam, as a character would have a relevant name (like Black Orchid in this books Nightwing story), but I wouldn't know enough about the character to get the joke or want to know more. In Tangent, there's no joke to get; the names are similar, but the characters tie back not to DC lore, but to the intricate conspiracy of the covert Nightwing group and its leaders' relationship to the Atom. In this way, Tangent keeps me interested even despite the number of new characters I'm meeting.

Indeed what I liked about the first Tangent volume was the strong undercurrent of political espionage; this was a book as much about superheroes as about conspiracy theories. The second Tangent volume, alternatively, introduces a bunch of supernatural elements to Tangent, unexpectedly. At first I felt disappointed that there wasn't more politics in volume two, but at the same time, the (minor) change in tone helps to differentiate the two volumes in a way that I felt gave Tangent more depth overall.

I don't know that Karl Kesel's Joker was necessarily my favorite in this volume, but the surprise ending of the story continues to resonate with me; the villain in Chuck Dixon's Secret Six was a little silly, but I'm a sucker for seeing some of the Tangent mainstays come together (especially with art by Tom Grummett). I found Doom Patrol a somewhat unsatisfactory end to the Tangent 1997 stories (the Batman story included here is actually part of the Tangent sequel, Tangent 1998) in that it didn't quite bring to a head the Nightwing, Atom, or Meridian storylines, though if you squint and tilt your head a little bit, the time travel included therein does sort of bring things full circle.

By the end of Tangent Comics Volume Two, you'll come to see that everything you've just read takes place essentially over the course of one day. The inciting incident is the first volume's appearance of a new Atom, and most of the events -- the Doom Patrol's arrival from the future, the Joker's romp through New Atlantis -- stem from or reference that event. What I liked especially is how we see in volume two the fruition of events mentioned in volume one (for instance, Plastic Man tracking and capturing the Spectre) -- these issues were originally published concurrently, but there's some delight in two volumes where the second answers questions from the first that you didn't even know you had.

[Contains full covers]

Inasmuch a fan of the DC Universe proper as I am, not often jaunting to Wildstorm or elsewhere, Tangent Comics have continued to delight. I'm on now directly to the third Tangent Comics volume, and then to the first volume of Tangent Comics: Superman's Reign. Come join!
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3 comments:

  1. The Tangent books were fun. I didn't like Superman's Reign as much as the originals, but then the real fun of Tangent (for me) was seeing them explore the concepts, while Superman's Reign was more focused on telling an epic super-hero adventure than breaking new ground.

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  2. Is there a reason you are holding off on reviewing RIP? I am really looking forward to a trade reader's perspective on it, especially one who didn't follow Final Crisis at the same time.

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  3. Geoff, the Batman RIP review's coming not too long from now, but still a couple months away. I'm overdue to post the latest review schedule -- you know Collected Editions posts in a semi-continuity-based order, and we're not even through Countdown to Final Crisis. But we'll get there, I promise.

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