Team 7 Vol. 1: Fight Fire with Fire that it's a shame the book doesn't come together as a larger whole.
Constant readers will know one of my favorite series in the past ten years is Greg Rucka's Checkmate, which used almost-random characters from the DC Universe in a espionage/political thriller setting, to great effect. Team 7 mimics that, combining disparate heroes and villains in similar situations; however, Team 7 never gets so far as to make me care about the characters the way Checkmate did. Varying art quality equally make it difficult for the book to hold my attention.
[Review contains spoilers]
I read Team 7 not long after I watched the first episode of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, and there's some parallels to be drawn between the two. Like SHIELD, Team 7 is about an elite group of agents recruited to stand between regular people and the "new normal" of super-heroes in the early New 52 world. But even as I found SHIELD perhaps too cutesy in the ABC way, it still did well introducing a number of new characters, dropping enough hints about their lives to get the audience interested in them, and balancing it all with good (if predictable) humor. Team 7's humor is so droll as to be deadpan -- "I can try," Suicide Squad's Amanda Waller tells new character Dean Higgins; "Don't try. Do," he replies, and "Thank you, Master Yoda" is Waller's un-funny retort.
Team 7 writer Justin Jordan benefits from a number of familiar faces in this book, including Black Canary Dinah Lance, Deathstroke Slade Wilson, Grifter Cole Cash, Waller, and even Alex Fairchild, whom readers know at least in absentia as father of Superboy's Caitlyn. Team 7's first stumble, however, is that Jordan offers not much to distinguish new character (and ultimately key player) James Bronson, nor Higgins or team pilot Summer Ramos. It's equally confusing that, by the second issue, Higgins is wearing the distinctive goggles that Bronson wore in the first (and Higgins's skin color has also lightened to match Bronson's), while Bronson wears a giant robot suit for no reason ever established in the story. It therefore took me a while to recognize the new characters in the first storyline, and this distanced me from those characters.
Once Team 7 gets past its rudimentary meet-the-team first issue, the elements are there for success -- these fan-favorite heroes go up against a floating prison of criminals mind-controlled by equally fan-favorite villain Eclipso. What's more, also seeking the power of Eclipso is Kaizen Gamorra, long-time Wildstorm bad guy and Authority foe. If like me you've enjoyed how the New 52 has mashed-up DC and Wildstorm, having Team 7 (Wildstorm) with Black Canary and Deathstroke (DC) and Fairchild and Grifter (Wildstorm) fightning Eclipso (DC) and Kaizen Gamorra (Wildstorm), this book ought be for you.
Again, however, the elements just don't coalesce the way one might hope. Main series artist Jesus Merino doesn't join the book in full until issue #4, and the art is of varying quality until that point -- sometimes the characters are very detailed, sometimes they have only faint features or distant looks on their faces; sometimes the art has an animated look and sometimes it's dark and sketchy. Team 7's main line of defense is simply to shoot their enemies, and so action is mostly bursts of gunfire from the team and explosions of blood from their enemies. It becomes not really a spy book so much as a generic action book, and I think Jordan could have done with a character or two less -- panels are often too crowded with team members.
The second four-part storyline in Fight Fire represents Team 7's last, as DC cancelled the title after the last issue in this trade. That storyline jumps around a bit, possibly to fit what would have been a larger story into fewer issues; this ought be Team 7's big moment, but unfortunately it falls down a lot, too.
Jordan opens with Deathstroke in the present, which is great because what Team 7 needs is not to be stuck in the past, but to show how Team 7's adventures affect the here-and-now; that issue raises some questions for the Superboy and Ravagers titles, but ultimately the flash-forward is for one issue only. The issue finishes with the terribly muddy introduction of (Mr.) Majestic into the New 52 -- somehow Gamorra activates Bronson's metagene and makes him Majestic, but even though Gamorra has activated him, Bronson still works for Team 7 and wreaks a good deal of havoc on Gamorra's country; Bronson becomes Majestic when he's attacked by Spartan, apparently a robot of Gamorra's who comes under Team 7 control. It doesn't make a lot of sense, and Majestic's introduction, Team 7's biggest contribution to the New 52, ends up confusing rather than exciting.
Team 7's cruelest tease, however, may be a premonition that Gamorra's psychics share that shows Majestic fighting Flashpoint's Pandora, something that seems ripped from the upcoming Trinity War but, my guess is, won't actually manifest. Though Majestic is a character too similar to Superman, intentionally, I've enjoyed his Wildstorm appearances and I would have been curious to see him in the New 52; without Team 7, however, I think that's unlikely.
This book marks the first time that I can recall that I've seen one of DC's gatefold "WTF" covers collected in a trade. Since the image fits on one page, at first I thought DC had included only part of the cover; then I realized they had shrunk and turned the cover vertical, "letterboxing" the sides, to make it fit. This is a fine solution for this particular cover, which looks right both horizontal and vertical, though I hope in other books we get a two-page spread rather than requiring the reader to turn the book sideways.
My hunt for a Checkmate equivalent continues, because while teaming Grifter, Black Canary, Deathstroke, and Amanda Waller ought always be a surefire win for me, Team 7 Vol. 1: Fight Fire with Fire didn't have the personality to deliver what I was looking for. I applaud DC for the concept, though; if they ever want to release a special re-teaming the Team 7 characters in the present, that's definitely something I'd pick up.
[Includes original and variant covers, sketches by Merino, Pascal Alixe]
Next week, Batman: The Dark Knight and Death of the Family. Don't miss it!