Review: Magog: Lethal Force trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 07, 2011

We've discussed on occasion whether it's fair to say some series might be "unnecessary." I understand giving every writer and artist a chance to make their mark, but some series seem rather unlikely to succeed, and to me Magog was one of those. As a matter of fact, publishing a Magog series -- a series about a character created as a one-note villain meant to represent everything wrong about superhero comics -- seemed like such crass opportunism on DC Comics's part that I decided this was one I was going to skip.

Except for two things.

One, my local comics shop had a President's Day sale where Magog: Lethal Force was very cheap, and two, DC let it be known that Magog had some ties to their upcoming Flashpoint crossover (an old ploy; see the low-selling Breach's "tie" to Infinite Crisis). Well, that was enough to bend my weak will. Not to mention that I'm still high enough on writer Keith Giffen from his work on the first Doom Patrol trade to give his most unlikely book a shot.

What we end up with is an interesting experiment by Giffen as to how to run a book with a truly unlikable narrator. It is not as interesting, mind you, as just about anything else you can find on the market; I say that not to be snide, but to make clear that I don't consider Lethal Force an important buy, though your results may vary. Rather, if you have Magog: Lethal Force in your hands and an hour to kill, I do think Giffen makes some attempts worthy of study.

The Flashpoint tie-in aspect, however, is quite nearly non-existent. Characters do bandy around the word "Flashpoint," specifically in reference to an underground group of arms dealers, and it must have some relation to the DC crossover since I can't believe editor Mike Carlin would let Giffen name this title's main antagonists "Flashpoint" just by coincidence. However, Magog's Flashpoint has nothing to do, at least as far as this book is concerned, with time or time travel, alternate realities, running fast, nor anything else that I believe -- in albeit limited understanding -- the Flashpoint crossover has to do with. Again, I don't intend to put down this book necessarily, but one ought not set aside Giffen's Doom Patrol, for instance, for Magog thinking you'll get the first hints of Flashpoint; if there's hints, they're cryptic indeed.

In Lethal Force's first chapter, in a way I found somewhat heavy-handed, Giffen demonstrates the two sides of Magog David Reid. On one side, Magog tracks a group of weapons dealers through Sudan; even despite that the bad guys have dismembered and enslaved Sudanese villagers, Magog's defeat of them is startlingly brutal -- this super-powered behemoth "hero" murders every one of his non-powered enemies. On the other side, Giffen shows Reid in a cafe, seemingly flirting with a married waitress and making plans for a tryst; it turns out instead that Reid has been helping train the woman in hand-to-hand combat so she might one day defend herself against her husband.

Giffen's point here seems pretty standard among anti-heroes -- Magog is hard on the bad guys, but soft on the innocent. We see this again later on when Magog takes as his sidekick the disfigured Miasma; when Miasma's zombies attack Magog, he fights, but when Flashpoint takes Miasma prisoner, Magog defends him. Giffen, come to think of it, has written anti-heroes harder than this -- Lobo, the Main Main himself. In contrast, Magog comes off as something of a softie.

There's other aspects of Magog worthy of study, perhaps if Giffen had longer on this title. Toward the end of the book, as Magog is caught in a battle between Miasma and Flashpoint's forces, the Flashpoint soldiers refer to Magog as a JSA operative on site, when through most of the book Magog has bucked his JSA credentials; this difficulty of being considered a hero even when he's trying not to be a hero would have been something I might have enjoyed seeing Magog negotiate. Also, as henchwoman Chelsea tortures the imprisoned Magog, she notes he always finds ways of avoiding her questions without actually lying; indeed, we're told, Magog doesn't lie. Much of Magog's "tough guy" persona by way of Giffen is just plain silly, really, but I admired the fact that Magog doesn't lie even to the bad guys; I think Giffen even intends that Magog is a "noble soldier" to the point of absurdity, but I thought this was a nice twist.

Ultimately, however, there's a way in which Magog challenges my overall sense of comic book suspension of belief that convinced me I couldn't follow this character long-term. Magog, for one, really dislikes Green Lantern Alan Scott, and indeed much of the Justice Society. I get that Alan is supposed to be stuffy, but if you really believe Alan is stuffy, you wouldn't enjoy the Justice Society, and I do; I'm not sure you can be a Magog fan and a Justice Society fan, and I was a Justice Society fan first. Second, at one point when Miasma reveals his scheme, Magog thinks about how boring it all is. Now, super-villains revealing their schemes might be boring, but if Superman thought that way every time Lex Luthor opined, I'd have trouble following Superman into danger -- it challenges my suspension of belief that there is danger. For Magog to be this irreverent -- and not in a comedic Lobo way but in a kind of mean-spirited way -- spoils my fun.

Now, no doubt Keith Giffen is a savvy enough writer that he could be presenting an irreverent anti-hero Magog now, with plans to find Magog as a "traditional hero" at the end of the arc. To an extent, this could be like saying "I don't like Jack Knight because he's a jerk, so I won't read Starman" -- a true example of missing of the point. But, we know as is that the Magog title doesn't last (Scott Kolins takes over before cancellation); even "anti-hero turns good" seems a rather played out arc to me at this point; and to an extent I wouldn't want to read a "good" Magog -- that's not who the character was created to be.

I want Magog to remain exactly who he is ... I just wouldn't necessarily have kept picking up his series.

[Contains full covers. Printed on glossy paper]

As always, I'm open to other opinions; if you really dug Magog: Lethal Force, please be sure to chime in and let me know what you enjoyed.
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18 comments:

  1. I enjoyed Magog. I didn't see him as a one-note villain as I think this Magog, as shaped by Johns and then Giffen, is a hero, although not one particularly sympathetic to the JSA's standards, rather than Waid's Magog. How is he a 'truly unlikeable narrator'? Additionally, looking at how this story unfolds, it's the JSA that are 'wrong' (and somewhat blind) about the situation and Magog who is right. Magog suffers from a perception problem amongst many comic fans, and is somewhat dismissed out-of-hand. I don't know why.

    On a separate note, this trade ends after issue 5 of Magog, but a more natural stopping point would have been after issue 6, and I can't fathom the choice for stopping at 5.

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  2. Andrew Belcastro3/07/2011 01:15:00 PM

    I'm okay with one use villains getting their own series. Black Adam is great.

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  3. True, Black Adam is an example of a villain who might could support his own ongoing series, though I'd note DC hasn't actually pulled that trigger yet. To further dig myself into a hole, let me say I also don't understand DC's insistence on giving every character a series, instead of a string of focused miniseries -- my opinion is that would have had more success for Magog, and then they could add and change things to tie in to Flashpoint or JSA as they saw fit.

    (And note I have no problem with villains getting series; the emphasis above was on "one-note," not "villain.")

    Personally, I found the Magog character that Giffen wrote "unlikeable" (though I grant both that Giffen might have intended it that way, and that Giffen might have intended for Magog to become more likeable as the series went on). For me, at the point in which Magog has killed a bunch of soldiers far less powerful than he, talked about how he doesn't much like Green Lantern Alan Scott, his low opinion of teammate Cyclone, how the villain Miasma talks too much, etc., I come around to thinking, "What does Magog like?" I get Jack Knight, the grouchy character, and I get Lobo, the rampaging ultra-violent character, but with Magog, I didn't feel that extra spark of something else -- humor, humanity, pathos -- that made me want to follow the character despite his rougher characteristics.

    Again, maybe all was unfolding just the way Giffen intended, and I didn't have the patience or otherwise I'm not the right reader for this book, and I fully grant both of those things are possible.

    So what did I miss in issue #6? Bummer that it would have better tied things up, though I note issue #5 ended in "prologue," as if a new story were starting.

    Thanks to Robert and Andrew both for chiming in and pleading Magog's case. Others?

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  4. Andrew Belcastro3/07/2011 05:58:00 PM

    Didn't Black Adam die in his first appearance? That's why I was counting him as a one-note character.

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  5. Issue 6 features the conclusion to the Haven part of the story. The JSA arrives and there are coming to Jesus moments between Magog and Power Girl and Magog and Alan Scott. Magog is a much more sympathetic character in issue 6 (where his suspicion of the Haven is shown to be justified).

    Giffen was spinning a lot of plates at the beginning of Magog. There was the Haven storyline (that I took to be the prominent one) and threw in a Magog's mother misdirection in the middle. All of the characters in issue 5 are in issue 6 (which also ends with a prologue).

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  6. It's a shame that this got a collection, but that they canceled the solicitation of the final Manhunter volume (which was to collect the backup feature in Batman: Streets of Gotham).

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  7. You actually bought and read this?

    Wow... Hope was money well spent...

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  8. ComicReaderDude3/08/2011 11:28:00 PM

    Speaking of the Manhunter backups collection volume "Faceoff", since I know its cancellation was and still is a sore point with many people here, it is good to know that there are at least two ways to get those stories.

    The first is that apparently the Titan Books print of it still went out for sale in England, as Amazon UK has a listing for it for sale, however with the exchange rate you can plan on paying a little over $21 US for it, not counting shipping.

    The other way is to buy the first 13 issues of Streets of Gotham digitally through the Comixology DC Comics store which includes the backups. With the cost being almost equal to buying it from Amazon UK, I opted for this route.

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  9. If we're talking DC Comic's Comixology story, that sounds like a good time to plug the Collected Editions list of digital comics that haven't been collected. I've noted the Manhunter: Faceoff stories, as well as the Captain Atom/Action Comics co-feature, missing issues of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and over a dozen more, with additional books added every day. It's a resource I'm quite proud of (building karma so an iPad will fall out of the sky and into my lap!).

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  10. Hi... I've read a few of your posts and while I've enjoyed your critics (and I agree and disagree with some of them), I can't believe you bought this book just because it might have some marginal connection with Flashpoint.

    I don't judge the fact that you may want to read a Magog book, or that you may have wanted to read the book because of Giffen or because it was really cheap, but just because it might be somehow tied with Flashpoint? come on!

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  11. Yeah, I bought Magog because I thought it lead in to Flashpoint. It's not, I don't think, an unreasonable assumption, because later Magog issues have to do with Kingdom Come and alternate histories and such, letting alone the fact that Giffen uses the actual word "Flashpoint" in this volume, which is either not a coincidence or the worst coincidence ever (and bad editing alongside).

    I probably should feel bad about the fact that I bought Magog for the supposed Flashpoint tie-in -- in the eternal war where comics companies try to get us to put down more and more money by releasing increasingly ancillary tie-ins to their yearly events (see fifteen Flashpoint miniseries), and the comics fans decry the practice and ask for more temperance on the comics companies' part, I'm the big loser, I know. I'm the shill and the sucker combined, the one who keeps falling for it so the comics companies keep doing it.

    Except ... golly, at the end of the day, I like comics. I like comics continuity. I like that Streets of Gotham has a bit in it that ties into Red Robin, that Batman: Life After Death and Arkham Reborn share a scene, that we know Power Girl was fighting the Ultra-Humanite during Gotham Central Sirens: Union. I like the way that creates an entire expansive universe. Heck, I made a whole <a href="http://bit.ly/dctpbtimeline>timeline</a> about it, I like it so much.

    So yeah ... I bought Magog on the cheap because I thought it tied in to Flashpoint. And yeah, that's a couple of bucks in DC's pocket I'll never see again. But I can't apologize about the impulse that made me do it -- Magog tying in to Flashpoint (maybe) is one of the great things about comics.

    Hope you know I appreciate your comment, Esteban, and I mean much of the above to be taken tongue-in-cheek. Please stop by again and chime in on another post!

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  12. SHAME ON YOU!!!
    You should take better care of your money :D

    lol.

    I really can't say I understand you, I have to respect you, of course, but to me, the only real tie-ins any sort of story arc could possibly have, are the ones that the writer of the main story writes, otherwise they simply never deliver... no matter what the cover, the solicitation or the footnote says, and if I get lost, there's always Wikipedia.

    Is like that story with the kid shouting "Wolf",with these events... one is supposed to read a "world shattering story", and that never really happens. All I care nowadays is about being entertained by the story, I'll read the event if it seems interesting, but I won't bother myself buying the tie-ins (not even borrowing them) because they never really matter... every once in a while you'll get a good story, but really... if its another writer they can't possibly write something that truly adds substance to the main story unless they have not only read the main plot, but have participated in its conception, and they never do, there is no time for such a world-building endeavor... they get the cliff notes (if anything) and go from there.

    BTW, it took a long time for my comment to appear, I thought I had been edited-out.

    I want you to know that I did read your whole review and I did so because I was actually curious about this book (not enough to buy it or read it), because of Giffen. I can't really say that I care about Magog, I think that the character wasn't supposed to live beyond KC, and I never thought there was enough (or any) interest in this character to support its own series (not that the cancellation probes my point anyways, books get axed left and right nowadays), and I don't like Howard Porter's work, but I thought... "well, maybe Giffen can twist this concept enough to make it interesting", but it seems that if he did so, he didn't really managed to do something so good that I would leave behind my lack of interest for the character and the penciller to actually go and read the book.

    See you around.

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  13. Hear hear!

    A couple of years ago I bought all 3 volumes of the Death/World Without/Return of Superman just because I was getting back into Green Lantern and wanted to read the destruction of Coast City (in the Return of Superman book) before I read Emerald Twilight.

    I bought all the Countdown to Final Crisis books, despite hearing how much they sucked and how little they tied into Final Crisis. And a lot of it did suck, and it didn't really tie into Final Crisis. But I still enjoyed large chunks of it, especially that Lord Havok & The Extremists book.

    I like comics, and I like that DC has a shared universe. I'm totally okay with other series tying into "events" that are ongoing. All I ask is that the event book is clear enough that you don't HAVE to read the tie-ins to understand what's going on. For example, I'm sure many people skipped Superman Beyond back during Final Crisis, yet it was integral to understanding the last issue of FC itself. Fortunately, that's the type of thing that they can resolve in the collected editions, by including all of the important stuff in the collected book.

    My point is (if I have one), that I totally understand what CE did in buying this book, and I've done much the same thing. Sometimes it doesn't work out, but sometimes you end up reading a good-to-great story that you would have skipped otherwise.

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  14. I agree with Esteban that usually just the crossover tie-ins written by the crossover author are the ones "where it's at" -- two recent exceptions immediately come to mind, Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds and Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge, both of which are great, near-classic tie-ins not written by the main crossover author (though admittedly, to call either of these really tie-ins to Final Crisis is a stretch ...).

    To some extent I think trade-waiting helps to mitigate the problem Esteban is describing. I thought the Blackest Night tie-in miniseries were the kind of profiteering we've been discussing, and I didn't think the quality of the JSA and Wonder Woman miniseries was so hot -- but, in buying the Black Lantern Corps collection, I got the JSA and Wonder Woman miniseries and could sample them at a slightly discounted price (with retailer discounts), and also included was the Flash miniseries, which was very good and worthwhile.

    I have no doubt, even as I've moaned about the Flashpoint miniseries seeming a little suspect, that I'll end up buying the collection of said miniseries, probably in hardcover. And I won't like all of them, but I imagine I'll like some of them, and I'll have satisfied my curiosity about them while probably not spending the same amount as if I were to pick them up off the stands. None of this excuses gross profiteering either, but it mitigates it slightly -- even if I hadn't picked up Magog at a deep sale discount, even buying the book at Amazon's regular discount comes to less per issue than buying this book retail on the stands.

    Esteban, I appreciate that you took my reply in the spirit intended. Please chime in again in the future.

    Mark, I love that you bought the Death of Superman trilogy just for Green Lantern. I'd have done the same thing.

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  15. Sorry, back in my previous comment I meant to say "proofs", not "probes", lol.

    I like continuity too, but sometimes I feel like comic book companies are trying to get advantage of my OCD ("Are you reading JLA? look!, this month the Doom Patrol travels to that place where the league showed up to drink coffee in one tiny panel nobody remembers!").

    I don't think that buying the Reign of Supermen TPBs is such a bad thing (I actually like that story). But I can't quite agree that is the same that picking up the Magog book. The Reign of Superman is not exactly a tie-in with Emerald Dawn (in my mind), the events there motivate the actions of the character here, but they aren't actually interconnected, they are two separate stories with a single event that's significant for both.

    If you were reading GL back them, the book would tell you "Coast City was destroyed in X issue of X Superman Book", you knew that part of the story you were reading happened there. With Magog you got an Hypothetical clue of the plot for a yet-to-exist book, written well ahead of schedule by another writer... that's quite a longshot.

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  16. I love this conversation!

    What you're picking up on Esteban, I think, is DC's old way of cross-continuity, versus their new way.

    Mid-1990s Superman, Jimmy Olsen got fired from the Daily Planet. Chasing down some story on his own, he ends up in a Wally West Flash issue. No great fanfare, no three part holographic cover story, just Jimmy guest-starring in an issue of Flash, branching organically from what was going on in the Super-titles. Read it if it's of interest to you; if not, you're not missing much. Same I think, to an extent, with Reign of the Supermen and Emerald Dawn.

    But recent DC crossover events are ALL ABOUT the hypothetical clue to the plot of a yet-to-exist book. See the brief, sketchy appearances of the Villains United villain society in Breach, in Manhunter, pretty much everywhere before Infinite Crisis. See a mention of the Death of the New Gods (leading, though not really, into Final Crisis) in Blue Beetle, in Birds of Prey, and so on. The hero cemetery that figured largely into Blackest Night made its debut in Nightwing, a series not even still published when Blackest Night came out. This is your DC today: the hypothetical clue to the book not-yet-published. Absolutely they're trying to take advantage of your completest tendencies (some would argue that's part of the fun).

    So, I respectfully disagree when you say that buying Magog for a hint of Flashpoint is "quite a longshot." Rather, I think, it's learned behavior, and not outside of what DC has lead us to expect over the past couple of years.

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  17. You are absolutely right about these references becoming some sort of "M.O." of the company, and something that we, as readers, have become used to expect from them, but to me there is a degree of clumsiness in the execution that has lead me to avoid them as much as possible.

    Here is how I see it: The writer (Johns, Morrison, or someone else) pitches a project and it gets greenlighted. Dan Didio then (probably Bob Harras, now) gets a short outline of the story and goes to the "writer's room" (or more likely the phone, or some writer's retreat if DC has them), and says to the writers "next year we are doing an story called 'Breakfast of Champions', so I want you all to put some references of the heroes eating cereal.

    Then he goes to Newsarama and CBR and says: "We are doing this huge event and people should pay attention to what Tony Bedard is doing with Ultra the Multi-Alien, to see what is it going to be about.

    And poor Tony Bedard has no idea what to write that leads to something and at the same times leads nowhere so he doesn't screw up, because he hasn't read a script of the actual book, and doesn't really know the other writer's story... perfect example? The Death of the New Gods.

    That's a book that was sold as a prelude to Final Crisis, where the writer had absolutely no idea what the heck was that Morrison was writing. And the same can be said about Countdown.

    I don't hate the idea of interconnected books, but I don't believe in the hype and I won't buy a book to search for clues as to what's to come. To me that's a waste of money and time and I believe that history can back me up.... there are a really small amount of stories and references that have played a significant role in the Event that followed them. The only ones I can think of are the ones that Morrison wrote previous to his work in Final Crisis, and that's because HE built over them.

    There is also a certain amount of money that I'm capable of spending in comics, and while the idea of a truly huge story told in many comics does excites me (if done properly), I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to follow it. There is a natural temptation from the Publishers to build hype and put out books with a predatory instinct, meaning that, just like in the movies where some blockbuster wins its budget back just by spending a ton of money in publicity (not really being worthy of anybody's time), they know that readers will spend money on books that they are told are important to the upcoming main storyline, and that bothers me.

    It bothers me because no matter how many times we see it, people keep falling for it, and as consumers we should vote with our pockets. There is people that are entertained with the movies, just by the activity, just by going to the the movies. I'm a little more demanding and I want the movie to be good, when is bad I regret going to see it and the same happens to me with the comics I read, I want them to be good, and I hate when I spend money on bad comics (but that doesn't apply to when I try some weird-looking independent book, because I'm taking another kind of chance with it). And comics built out of hype, usually are bad.

    My opinion on the matter is one that has been created by the Publisher's behavior, I'm reacting to the quality of the product they have sold me, so I think that there might be some other people who think alike and that makes me believe that this is a short-sighted, money-grabbing mistake, one that fascinates some people and that is also responsible for other people leaving the hobby... I don't know.

    I certainly know for sure that DC completely screwed up Andy Diggle's Planet Heist story, by forcing him to make it tie-in with the Rann-Thanagar War miniseries, which sucked big time.

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  18. To follow up on CE's comment, I wanted to mention that the Prelude to Final Crisis book consisted mostly of a collection of the "clues" leading into Infinite Crisis. But at the same time, I learned when re-reading Infinite Crisis the second time, without re-reading the tie-ins (the 4 Countdown to Infinite Crisis books, and the IC Companion), that IC really can stand on its own.

    At the end of the day, comics is a business, so I don't expect the publishers to not try to maximize their opportunities with these events. So go ahead and publish a million tie-ins; all I ask is that I don't HAVE to read them to understand the main story.

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