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

Monday, October 03, 2016

Given the tortured history of these characters in the New 52, Trinity of Sin Vol. 1: The Wages of Sin is better than it has any right to be. The comics staring Pandora and Phantom Stranger (with guest star Question) were actually for the most part good, give or take a bloated Forever Evil: Blight crossover, and the short-lived Trinity of Sin serves as a fine coda to those books. Phantom Stranger writer J.M. DeMatteis knows these characters and writes them well, and makes a story of demigods and dreamscapes -- often tedious territory for comics -- eminently palatable. These characters deserve more than to be the butt of jokes or fodder for "shocking deaths," and DeMatteis delivers with their last adventure.

[Review contains spoilers for Trinity of Sin and DC Universe: Rebirth]

Trinity of Sin finds these characters in an interesting place. Though much of the Pandora and Phantom Stranger series involved the characters seeking absolution for crimes real and imagined, the conclusions saw Pandora becoming an avatar of hope and the Phantom Stranger at peace. As such, even as the Trinity goes once more into the fray, there's a refreshing lack of angst amongst the characters (especially given the built-in angst of Pandora's original sorceress-with-guns depiction). DeMatteis does well picking up the characters faithfully from where their series' left off.

To be sure, DeMatteis gets into some mystic mumbo-jumbo of the kind that can at times get heavy-handed in comics, involving a demon Nimraa who overlaps a "Dark Earth" over our own reality. At one point the Trinity of Sin have gone beyond this alternate reality to a second pocket dimension inside a "Redemption Box," and it occurred to me that under other circumstances I'd be rolling my eyes. But DeMatteis can get away with a lot given what blank slates these characters are by and large; I have much more tolerance for the New 52 Question to fight his way through a dreamscape with nothing to compare it to than I do for Stargirl and Martian Manhunter to do the same in a Justice League of America Forever Evil crossover story.

Moreover, DeMatteis grounds his story well in each individual character's psyches: Pandora having been accused of a crime she didn't commit, the Phantom Stranger actually guilty of his biblical crime, the Question punished without knowing what he did. The "Redemption Box" sequence with the Question is wrenching simply for how three-dimensional DeMatteis writes the character, and this is especially admirable given what a cypher this Question is -- Trinity of Sin is this Question's first real extended, spotlighted screen time. It helps also that this sequence is also particularly, appropriately gory, and mostly via DeMatteis's strong narration and not the art itself.

DeMatteis also uses a structure in Trinity of Sin's six issues where the narration on the first page (often a nine- or twelve-panel grid) reoccurs again in the middle or end of the same issue. It's deceptively difficult and more impressive as it continues, because it means six times DeMatteis had to figure out how to begin and end an issue the exact same way but to have the meaning of the words be different. Each issue becomes something of an ouroboros, the end being also the beginning. Even as Trinity of Sin was a book unlikely to see a long run, one never senses DeMatteis just biding his time here, and instead we find a book complex in form where most might not even bother looking.

Out of the gate Trinity of Sin has as its biggest obstacle the fact that the architects of the New 52 set up Pandora as being significantly important but then abandoned those plans before they came to fruition. As such, the Trinity are themselves a metaphor for something not worth the reader's investment irrespective of what the characters do on the page. Much credit to Ray Fawkes over in the Pandora title for making the character more than a 1990s style anti-hero with pistols. Fawkes and DeMatteis have proved the Pandora character to be viable, even likable, and surely she deserved better than her ignominious end in DC Universe: Rebirth, letting alone being tagged as a symbol for what was wrong with the New 52 when in fact Pandora -- a new, tough, female character -- might've been part of what was right with it.

On Trinity of Sin Yvel Guichet's thinner style works just right. I had some quibble with Guichet's artwork on Stormwatch Vol. 4: Reset, finding it not suitably big and bold for Stormwatch. Here, however, while the man-beast demons are adequately rendered, Guichet's sparseness does its job but doesn't get in the way of DeMatteis's words. Some things like Pandora's avatar of hope armor has been too detailed, to the point of comedy, in other titles, and again, Guichet achieves the right tone stripping it all down to the bare lines.

Of late there's not a lot of characters who get less respect than the New 52's Trinity of Sin, and I'm neither about to hold my breath for answers to Pandora's role in Flashpoint any more than I am to the actual identity of the Trinity's Question. But if like me you read all of Phantom Stranger and Pandora, there's no reason not to proceed to Trinity of Sin Vol. 1: The Wages of Sin, a wholly satisfying epilogue to their solo titles.

[Includes original and variant covers, cover sketches]
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