Review: Trinity of Sin: Pandora Vol. 2: Choices trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

I give writer Ray Fawkes a lot of credit for taking one of the most problematic characters in recent DC Comics history and making something palatable out of her. Pandora started as far back as Flashpoint as an all-seeing Monitor-type character, which was set aside in favor of her connection to the Pandora of myth; this too was put to lie as of Trinity War, leaving Pandora a character with implicit ties to the fabric of the New 52 but no actual origin to speak of, now saddled with carrying her own series. And despite all that, in Pandora's first volume, Fawkes created something fairly palatable and mostly logical.

Trinity of Sin: Pandora Vol. 2: Choices isn't unfortunately as strong as the first volume, which was itself already a long shot. The best part remains Fawkes's Pandora, a Highlander-esque immortal whose adventures throughout history impact on her present. But the book, in my opinion, makes some wholly poor story choices, and as well the book's art fails to buffer the story when it really needs it. Right at the end, there's the suggestion of a cool, different kind of book that Pandora could be, but it's most assuredly too little, too late after what's already transpired.

[Review contains spoilers]

In its very final regular-series pages, Pandora involves SHADE Agent Kincaid, Giganta, and Pandora teamed with I, Vampire's Andrew Bennett to foil some rogue vampires; Giganta and Pandora are invited to join SHADE as special operatives. Considering the wonderful weirdness of Jeff Lemire's Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE series, another strange-espionage series under the SHADE banner would be great, and that the three protagonists would all be women doesn't hurt, either. In the anti-heroic use of Giganta, Fawkes evokes Gail Simone's All-New Atom and Secret Six, suggesting a continuation of Pandora full of possibilities.

Unfortunately, said book is never to be, and indeed the premise is more interesting than the actual execution in Choices. In Fawkes's final five issues of the series (after the four-part Forever Evil: Blight crossover and before the Futures End tie-in issue), villains Giganta, Vandal Savage, and the vampires simply appear out of nowhere, and Pandora battles them basically because she's in the neighborhood. Fawkes has never had much opportunity to build a supporting cast for Pandora, and those he has -- Agent Kincaid and Pandora's weapons-maker Marcus -- are both onscreen here. The result is a story with a lot of A-plot and not much B-plot -- a lot of action, but not a lot of depth -- that's unlikely to grip Batgirl's audience, let alone Saga's.

Additionally, Fawkes's kindling of a short-lived romance between Pandora and Marcus was a big turn-off. Fawkes had previously posited Pandora as Marcus's "parent and guide" (a direct quote from Pandora Vol. 1), and I thought it gave Pandora some depth that as "bad" as the mystic realm thought she was, she was actually a wise mentor to a cadre of assistants throughout her immortal life. Through Marcus, the audience comes to see Pandora humanly as "not so bad." But with the curse of her sins apparently lifted, Pandora now reveals her love for Marcus, and further that he's her often-reincarnated lover that she raises from childhood to adulthood and then has a relationship with, troubling as the implications of that are. The book here simultaneously perpetuates the trope of the only female protagonist falling in love with the only male protagonist (only to have him be killed about an issue later) even as it loses one of the best things about Pandora to begin with.

The Blight issues involve a pseudo-Justice League Dark fighting Blight, a sort of avatar of evil, as Pandora, freed of her sins in Trinity War, becomes a (loosely-defined) avatar of hope. Nothing wrong with that, if done well, and among the better parts of Choices are when Pandora defines herself, once in conversation with John Constantine and once with Marcus, as an immortal who tries to help people, rather than being dispassionate as many immortals are portrayed. But first, Hope-Pandora's powers emerge essentially as whatever Fawkes needs them to be at the time, including Pandora making a lasso out of thin air with no explanation. Also, Hope-Pandora transforms to a character who looks like nothing so much as Masters of the Universe's She-Ra, and it makes her terribly hard to take seriously, overall but especially late in the book when Pandora is She-Ra but still wielding Pandora's guns.

I noted in my review of Pandora Vol. 1: The Curse that Francis Portela was a controversial art choice for this book, drawing rather clearly and straightforwardly supernatural battles perhaps better left to someone like Tom Mandrake. At its best here, Portela has a style somewhere between Gary Frank and Jesus Saiz, but too often the panels are too big and bright, kind of like Kevin Maguire's Justice League International. Pandora-as-She-Ra aside, Portela draws a Felix Faust in Blight that's laughable as compared to Mikel Janin's creepy skeletal version; in that same issue Portela has Pandora leaping toward Faust at the end of one page before Faust is shown on the next, and also his Nightmare Nurse is way off model. There's a violent fight between Pandora and Vandal Savage that would be truly shocking if Portela didn't draw it so cheerily against blue sky and boilerplate city blocks.

In this book's closing Futures End tie-in issue, Fawkes has one last chance to try to make sense of Pandora, and it seems he's going to take it. The sins that Pandora once released are revealed as multiversal aspects of herself, and apparently Pandora is part of some cycle of death and rebirth in the DC Multiverse. There's plenty of potential here to make some mention of Flashpoint or to otherwise explain Pandora's relationship to the Seven Deadly Sins. But Fawkes is ultimately no more specific than before, and Pandora ends with an explosion but not a bang. The image of Pandora's box fading to nothingness is the book's most apt metaphor; the legacy that Pandora leaves behind is basically just smoke.

Those curious about Forever Evil: Blight will certainly need to read more than just Trinity of Sin: Pandora Vol. 2: Choices, as among the tie-in issues are at least two instances where Pandora is killed and then subsequently resurrected in some other book before returning to this title. A final interesting thread Ray Fawkes offers is that Pandora looks at the aftermath of Forever Evil -- famine and a nuclear winter caused by the Crime Syndicate, apparently -- that nearly no other title has picked up upon. Here again, Pandora is ambitious, but entirely off on its own, and that's par for the course for this title that never really had a chance in the first place.

[Includes original and Futures End "variant" cover]
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