Review: Trinity of Sin: Pandora Vol. 1: The Curse trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 30, 2015

I maintain that there's the glimmer of a good story somewhere within Trinity of Sin: Pandora Vol. 1: The Curse. Among the variety of challenges that face Pandora is that the character appears initially like something out of Wildstorm or Top Cow comic in the 1990s, the stereotypical tough-as-nails lady warrior with a mystic gun in each hand, hard to take seriously. Additional baggage comes in the form of the great emphasis the New 52 titles have placed on the Pandora character so far, all of which this volume promptly ducks.

But in the moments when Pandora is not trying to be what a variety of other series needs it to be and instead asserts its own identity, there's an interesting Forever or Highlander-esque tale of an immortal and the people she's taken under her wing. Pandora could be quite engaging, if only this book would decide exactly what it wants to be.

[Review contains spoilers]

Of the five main issues collected in The Curse, three are specifically related to Trinity War and the other two take place between the pages of Forever Evil. To that extent, Pandora is unapologetically an event comic, really for ardent completists and not a book one would just pick up casually on its own. Further, I could see some picking up Pandora because of the character's ubiquity in the first New 52 issues, but they'd be disappointed; Curse addresses the events of Flashpoint almost not at all.

Indeed it's a little surprising DC Comics even chose to include in this book selections from the Free Comics Book Day issue and Justice League #0 and #6 at all. More is surely better, but this extra material is confusing if not downright contradicted later in the book. First, it's collected out of order -- Phantom Stranger tries to take Pandora's newly-regained titular box away from her, and then second she goes to steal it from ARGUS. Pandora admits to realigning reality during Flashpoint, something never referenced again; she then vows to go and find "the Strange," something also never mentioned in the rest of the book. The early material shows a conversation between Pandora and the wizard Shazam, which is later depicted in a Pandora issue but with different dialogue and circumstances.

From a macro perspective this is all easily explained by the fact that Geoff Johns wrote the initial material and Ray Fawkes wrote Pandora itself, and Johns's plans for Flashpoint, Pandora, Trinity War, and etc. all changed from those early comics to now. That Fawkes revisits the Shazam scene is at least a gesture toward trying to make all the pre-series Pandora material make sense, but it's ultimately not successful. As a seasoned reader, I understand what to acknowledge and what to ignore, but again, Pandora is hardly an audience-friendly title for new New 52 readers.

At the same time, Fawkes's Curse does explicate other aspects of Pandora that Trinity War leaves muddy. In Trinity War, we're specifically shown that thousands of years ago Pandora touched the magic box and out flew the "seven deadly sins" wraiths, and for this the Circle of Eternity cursed Pandora to wander the earth. But the end of Trinity War reveals that the box is Earth 3 science, not magic, and no title outside Pandora even references the wraiths. Trinity War doesn't explain how both can be true, and that confusion hurts its story.

In Curse's last issues, however, Fawkes has Pandora confront the Earth 3 Outsider, who explains the wraiths not-so-simply as parasitic other-dimensional entities who travelled through the box to our world. Artist Francis Portela draws these not as the comical figures they've been so far, but as alien monsters, and with their colorization and such, Fawkes almost but not quite seems to connect them to the multi-hued Lantern corps entities. This is a quite fine and sensible explanation of how Pandora's story makes sense in the context of Trinity War/Forever Evil, and it's simply a shame it couldn't have been explained within Trinity War where it might have helped that story feel less haphazard.

Story issues aside, it's really the art that harms Pandora the most. Neither Portela nor Daniel Sampere contribute poor work, but both have a straightforward, comic book-y style. Visually, Pandora seems like a generic superhero, even a bit of a throwback as I mentioned, and her wraith enemies look silly and nonthreatening. What passes for "gore" in the book is equally cartoonish and absurd. The front of the book touts Pandora as "a marriage of crime scene drama and supernatural showdowns," which it very well could be in the spirit of Grimm or X-Files, but the art doesn't lend itself to that tone. Patrick Zircher, who contributes just a few pages, would be a better choice, or someone with a style akin to Tom Mandrake or Andrea Sorrentino. (Said "praise," by the way, is quoted completely out of context; the Newsarama Best Shots team actually says "the marriage of crime scene drama and supernatural showdowns is not a comfortable one here, and there is nowhere near enough to keep readers hooked.")

Where Pandora finally seems to work is in the all-too-brief scenes with Marcus Severin and with the SHADE and ARGUS agents. Severin is a so-called "weaponsmith" whom Pandora apparently knew in his past lives, and who Pandora rescued from poverty and taught his trade; she is a "parent and guide" to him, and he's forthright in his love for her. This is miles from the angsty Pandora who argues with Shazam and trades barbs with the Phantom Stranger; this idea of Pandora building a posse of loyal associates, some reincarnated, who help her serve justice is rife with story potential. Fawkes defines well the differences between SHADE and ARGUS (and DEO); if the agents are generic Mulder/Scully types, certainly the reader can see how a Pandora series could continue, with the protagonist solving supernatural mysteries via her army of assistants, helped and hindered by the government agents that chase her. That's a series I'd be happy to give a chance.

As it is, however, the trade that follows Trinity of Sin: Pandora Vol. 1: The Curse contains ten issues, of which half are also given over either to the Forever Evil: Blight crossover or Futures End, which is to say that the likelihood of Ray Fawkes getting to "do his own thing" in Pandora seems rather slim. There's a lot of mis-steps in this book, and it will only appeal to those that really, really want to get every detail of Trinity War/Forever Evil. That said, it is neither poorly written nor poorly drawn, and for a character who reasonably couldn't ever be expected to hold her own series, Fawkes makes Pandora likable and gives her an intriguing mythology. Maybe the upcoming Mystic U can make good use of her.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketchbook section]
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