Hawk and Dove and Deathstroke are just two examples. But the most successful of these so far is Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's new take on their old classic, in Resurrection Man: Dead Again. Here's a sequel that's an exceptional improvement on the original, taking the classic Resurrection Man's core character (and even his foes, the Body Doubles) and re-imagining them in a manner that creates a more cohesive world than the original. Resurrection Man is already cancelled after its second volume, but readers have an enjoyable book here irrespective.
[Review contains spoilers]
From the first pages, Resurrection Man improves on the original by presenting protagonist Mitch Shelley as more realistic and at the same time more supernatural. On just the second page, Abnett and Lanning reveal that Shelley's resurrections actually hurt, whereas in the original series Shelley's rebirth seemed so effortless he once died over and over just to be gifted with the best power. This new Resurrection Man is a story where dying is nothing to be taken lightly, closer to what the audience imagines they might experience if they had Shelley's abilities.
On the other hand, no sooner does Shelley board a plane then he's attacked by what seems to be an angel. Whereas the former Resurrection Man faced mostly science-fiction threats (and his murderous ex-wife) in the early issues of that series, here Abnett and Lanning address the metaphysics of being a "Resurrection Man" right from the first issue. Though fantastical, here again Abnett and Lanning offer a more "realistic" examination of the issues surrounding Shelley's situation than the sometime-superheroics of the original series.
Equally improved are Shelley's constant nemeses, the Body Doubles. These buxom assassins, introduced in the original series, reeked of 1990s overstated costumes and stale quips, though they proved popular enough (or DC marketing so hoped they'd catch on) that they appeared on their own in a couple of one-shots and miniseries. But if their popularity is in dispute, their place in the Resurrection Man still never quite made sense; as a couple of random hired guns, Shelley could have as easily just fought Lobo.
In Dead Again, however, the Doubles -- while still buxom and maybe even more sexually gratuitous under Fernando Dagnino's pen than they were originally with Butch Guice -- know Shelley, had worked with Shelley, even looked up to Shelley; even the Doubles' suggested relationship with one another has its origins with Shelley. By the end of the fifth issue, they've even become Shelley's allies to an extent, part of Resurrection Man's new supporting cast that also includes a nineteen year-old supervillain trapped in an old man's body.
Dead Again is perfectly workable, without the obvious signs of what might have lead to the title's demise as in Static Shock, Mr. Terrific, Hawk and Dove, or even Grifter. If anything, Dead Again is slow to start and not terribly well-served by its first issue, which mostly involves Shelley fighting the angel-creature and jumping out of an airplane (not terribly different than the first issue of Grifter). It's action-oriented, which works for Grifter, but Resurrection Man is stronger in the second chapter when the mystery of Shelley's origins comes more to the forefront, and certainly in the sixth and seventh chapter, which are one-off episodic stories of the kind that made the original Resurrection Man series a fan-favorite.
Another drag on the new Resurrection Man -- not a reason for cancellation, but a way in which the new series is lesser and not greater than the old -- is that Shelley's pre-Resurrection Man persona is surprisingly unlikable. Abnett and Lanning get credit for a deft Deathstroke cameo in Shelley's origin flashback, but Shelley as weapons-contractor-and-general-jerk is less captivating than Mitch Shelley, mob lawyer from the classic series. While the Body Doubles' role in Shelley's origin remains inspired, when Shelley lets a soldier die and then whines when he himself is injured, the audience finds him pathetic more than just "evil." That Shelley is now concerned he might one day revert to being that "bad person" is an interesting twist for this new series, but Shelley's old persona doesn't carry the true threat Abnett and Lanning might have intended.
A nice touch is that, in addition to all that Dead Again adds to the Resurrection Man mythos (which before now didn't exist, but anything can happen), the book ends about where the original Resurrection Man series began -- with Mitch Shelley heading to a library to try to piece together his old life. This was logical, in the original series, which also used email and instant messaging in a kind of futuristic fashion; now, when the Body Doubles transport instantaneously through something called a Matter Hammer, Shelley seeking out a library seems (if unfortunately) quaint. If Abnett and Lanning see fit to have a librarian named Irma waiting there for Shelley, in homage to the classic series, that would be great.
Mr. Terrific, again, is an example of a DC New 52 series that was enjoyable, but both art and writing were rough enough to explain its cancellation. But Resurrection Man: Dead Again is a book with no too-obvious flaws except perhaps it doesn't star a franchise character, and if it explains the book's now-second cancellation, then it also makes it too bad all the more. At least there's one more volume still to go.
[Includes original covers, just two slim sketchbook pages from Fernando Dagnino]
First up next week, it's the DC New 52 Superboy: Incubation -- and then, the Collected Editions review of Superman: Earth One Vol. 2. Don't miss it!