Review: Ravagers Vol. 2: Heavenly Destruction trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, April 28, 2014

New series writer Michael Alan Nelson joins for this final volume, replacing, for most of the book, original writer Howard Mackie. Though Ravagers Vol. 2: Heavenly Destruction isn't tonally different from the first volume, it's obvious a new writer has come on in the not-so-subtle shift of series villains Rose Wilson (nee Ravager in the old continuity) and Warblade (formerly of Wildstorm) to the side of angels.

Ordinarily I might balk at a new writer joining a series and changing things, but given that Rose and Warblade both have heroic tendencies in other continuities, Nelson's changes have precedent. Ravagers as a whole was never great nor quite distinguished itself, but Nelson's volume (the last of the series) is enjoyable enough; in this gradual coming together of the former "Colony"'s heroes and villains, Nelson gives a sense where this title could have gone had it lasted a little longer.

[Review contains spoilers]

Nelson's main story here involves a small town where a rogue Colony member infects the town with a disease; Rose are Warblade are in the unlikely position of having to save the town so as not to get in trouble with their boss Harvest for not capturing the rogue Ravager. Bringing the Ravagers story down to a small stage helps ground what has sometimes seemed an over-stylized book, and in fact the sheriff here trying to protect his town and his children is perhaps Nelson's best character in an Under the Dome/Resurrection kind of way. Though not fully realized, there's potential all over the place here -- in Rose finding her conscience, in Rose and Warblade having to reluctantly team with the "hero" Ravagers (and their having to work with Rose and Warblade, as well), and in the hurt feelings between former friends Rose and the Ravager's leader Caitlin Fairchild (late of Wildstorm's Gen13) -- that makes for an enjoyable story.

Such is the beginning and the end for Nelson, because the third chapter begins the transition into the two-issue finale that follows, bookended by a Zero Month issue by Mackie. Nelson's transition story is fun, and suggests the kind of fun Ravagers could have been if perhaps, again, not so over-stylized in the beginning; the team basically sits around and hangs out like teenagers, and it's refreshing and different in the same way that Mackie's "field trip" issue was in Ravagers Vol. 1: The Kids From NOWHERE.

The final issue is called "The Man Who Killed the Ravagers," and it's an apt description of Nelson's finale as a whole, in which Deathstroke essentially takes down the team one-by-one. To an extent it's a fairly ignominious end for a team of characters who never did much wrong aside from looking like rejects from the 1990s; the only saving grace is the last-minute reveal (somewhat obvious) that Deathstroke doesn't actually kill the characters. The story is a jumble, probably due to the suddenness of the cancellation, and certain plotlines like Caitlin finding out she's a clone fall flat without the real time they deserve.

There's plenty of continuity notes on the way out, however. One is how the book leads in to the finale of Deathstroke Vol. 2: Lobo Hunt (equally jumbled). Another is that future Doom Patrol leader Niles Caulder gets captured by Harvest, so I'll be curious to see how he gets out of that in a future issue (that Nelson has Caulder release Doom Patrol villain Animal-Vegtable-Mineral Man is a nice touch); also in the Zero Month issue (by original series team of Mackie and artist Ian Churchill) we get a bunch of references to Beast Boy's past, including mentions of "Niles" and "Rita," well-known to Doom Patrol fans. I know the Doom Patrol are scheduled to appear in the New 52 sometime soon, and it's possible Ravagers's ultimate worth will be judged in retrospect, how much what it hints at here actually makes it into continuity versus what doesn't fit or gets swept under the rug.

Ravagers is probably a book most overlooked either due to the 1990s aesthetic Mackie and Churchill brought to it or its swift cancellation. Indeed I couldn't recommend Ravagers Vol. 2: Heavenly Destruction over something like Saga or Mind MGMT or Wonder Woman, though it is a shame to lose the only other "teen team" book in the New 52 besides Teen Titans, however. If you enjoyed the first volume of Ravagers, however, then the second volume comports itself well as a sequel, and I'm mainly now interested in seeing where these characters show up next -- whether some enterprising writer might find a use for Fairchild, Ridge, Thunder and Lightning, and the rest in some title down the road.

[Includes original covers, two-page "WTF" cover]

Later this week, it's Batman/Superman Vol. 1: Cross Worlds. Don't miss it!
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  1. Another example of how Bob Harras bringing in his 90's Marvel buddies just killed books. It's a shame other writers on those books weren't given enough time to right the ship before the books were canceled, but the damage had already been done. Nepotism rules!

    1. Well ... maybe, maybe not. I didn't think there was anything wrong with Mackie's writing on this title to start; frankly I think the problem was this was a too classic-ly superhero-y title that was itself spinning off the troubled Teen Titans, and that's what doomed it from the start. Under your scenario, are you suggesting readers simply avoided the book because Harras put Mackie on it, the quality of the book notwithstanding? In that situation, I can't fault Harras for putting an able writer on a book, irrespective of what the "crowd" might think;. If you're correct that it's simply the presence of the author and not what the author actually writes, I think that's sad.

  2. To be honest, until your review I didn't even realize that there was as second volume of The Ravagers. I simply assumed that it was another one of those done in 8 issues, so uhm....good job, I guess?

    That being said, Michael Alan Nelson is a really good writer; his too-short stint on Supergirl was easily the highlight of the series thus far (and I say that as someone who liked Mike Johnson and Michael Green's work). So I'm happy to hear that he managed to do some good work here in spite of the title's instability.

    One of my major grievances with DC in recent years (this dates back to even before the New 52, in my mind) is their bumbling of lesser titles and properties. Titles like The Ravagers (and The Green Team, and Katanna, and The Movement, and so on) are basically dead-on-arrival, because DC doesn't bother to promote the books, build up interest, offer some kind of sales gimmick, or attach a big name to the title. So, frankly, it doesn't matter whether the writing is good or not because it's going to fail anyway. Unfortunately, this seems to lead the execs to believe that a book won't sell unless Batman, Superman, or Green Lantern is involved hence the over-saturation of those characters.

    Titles like Starman, Hawkeye, and Immortal Iron Fist prove that there is an audience out there for less-popular characters if a company bothers to invest in a title (again, through marketing, consistent creative teams, etc.), but DC just doesn't seem to be interested in that at the moment. As long as that's the case, we can just assume that titles like the Ravagers are going to fail regardless of quality.

    (Sorry for the rant.)

    1. Excellent rant. I think you're spot on. I'd even theorize it was a cascade effect failure -- the "Young Justice" line didn't perform how DC wanted, Teen Titans and Legion Lost didn't perform as wanted, "Culling" wasn't a barn-burner, and then Ravagers was a necessary off-shoot of Culling, but at that point the damage was done. Either way, glad to hear that Nelson has other good work on the horizon.

      There's a fairly significant crossover between Team 7, Deathstroke, and Ravagers here -- significant at least for those titles -- but again, I think the writing was already on the wall for all of those titles, such that that, too, didn't get the hype it might have otherwise needed. As we saw with Trinity War, too much hype is sometimes a problem, but too little is, too.