Review: Terrifics Vol. 2: Tom Strong and the Terrifics trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

I don't have much basis for Tom Strong, so while I realize that the Strong family's presence in The Terrifics Vol. 2: Tom Strong & the Terrifics is supposedly a big deal, I'm not sure I felt the oomph of it that writer Jeff Lemire meant for me to. Nor am I sure this book's "Challengers of the Multiverse" aesthetic is used quite as strongly in the beginning as it could be.

Fortunately, this book's second story redeems that, using the Multiverse exceptionally well and also introducing some new characters with interesting story potential. Unfortunately, this volume also marks the end of Lemire's tenure on the title just as it was getting good. Gene Luen Yang comes on next time; I did like Yang's New Super-Man, though the tones of these books — while similar — are not the same. I have some concerns about how that's all going to shake out, but that's a conversation for the next review.

[Review contains spoilers]

Perhaps confusingly, for a book about explorers of the (Dark) Multiverse, Terrifics doesn't quite stay true to the concept, sometimes using alternate DC earths and other times just using different dimensions. In the end, Terrifics delivers, with a team of real Multiversal doppelgänger villains and some heroic guest stars. In the beginning, however, after introducing Earth-25's Tom Strong and family, the book then shunts the team to the "Aztech Empire" and "Funnyland" — the former, a cyber dimension with seemingly no extra relevance to the DCU, and the latter, an animated dimension a la "Captain Carrot," but not actually Earth-26.

That same sequence in "Tom Strong & the Terrifics" also includes a Swamp Thing cameo, equally with no great depth; for the amount Swamp Thing shows up, spouts off, and disappears, Lemire could as easily have used Batman or really any other DC hero. "Tom Strong and the Terrifics" is entertaining, sure, but not particularly moving even when the team breaks up, and it feels like there's a lot of potential unmet — that given Tom Strong, given the team split up into various realities, the end result could have been more memorable than alternate dimensions that'll never be mentioned again.

Fortunately, things pick up quickly in the second half of the book. Now, Mr. Terrific is headed back into the actual Multiverse, following an enemy who's been killing Terrific's alternate selves and also recruiting bad guys across Earth-13, Earth-42, and Earth-44. The result is a robotic "Metalmorpho," a vampire Plastic Man, and a goth "Phantom Boy," all appropriately evocative of their home worlds as established in Grant Morrison's Multiversity.

Equally, the fight between Mr. Terrific and the "Dreadfuls" takes place on Earth-23, where Calvin "Superman" Ellis is president and a doppelgänger of Terrific's deceased wife Paula is Mrs. Terrific. "Terrifics No More" continues with a veritable tour of the DC Multiverse, including a Batman Beyond cameo. That's a much better use of the Multiverse's availability; obviously Lemire knows what he's got and how to use it, so why it takes until the second story to manifest is a puzzler.

It's astounding no one thought of this until now, but for all of the amount of time Mr. Terrific Michael Holt has mourned his wife, of course somewhere in the Multiverse she's the one living while he's passed away. That could in certain respects be seen as the end of Holt's story, but it's mighty interesting that Lemire brings Paula back to join the reunited Terrifics team — I'd love to read how this relationship works out, or doesn't. I'm concerned that I don't see much about Paula (or Plastic Man's son, Offspring) in forthcoming solicitations, and hopefully Yang doesn't decide he wants to take the book in a different direction sans new team members.

"Terrifics No More" also includes good character beats for the rest of this eccentric team. Lemire reintroduces Plastic Man's son Luke, gives them a good heart-to-heart talk, and then apropos of nothing puts Luke in the Kingdom Come-inspired Offspring costume; I consider Lemire's jumping right into this with nary an explanation to be a feature, not a bug. I found the storyline of Phantom Girl's spat with her mother contrived, especially after how moving this title's last trip to Bgztl was, but the idea of a romance between Phantom Girl and Offspring is fun.

Finally, we see Rex Mason leave his love Sapphire Stagg and become Metamorpho again. This has been a long time coming, in that the curse of Rex being Metamorpho has been that he can't be with Sapphire, but equally many of Rex's superheroic obstacles come from his conflict with Sapphire's father Simon without Sapphire intervening. It could be seen as the end of Metamorpho's story too, that he's finally acknowledged the plain truth that he likes being a mutated hero and that his relationship with Sapphire's not too healthy, but after so many years of Metamorpho being in the same situation, this growth feels well deserved.

Art at the outset is by Dale Eaglesham, who gives the team an appropriately heroic look. I worried a bit about Victor Bogdanovic coming on; though I got used to his cartoony art on New Super-Man, I didn't like it on the more serious Action Comics and I wasn't sure how it would translate here. Ultimately, Bogdanovic comes off fine, depicting well both the drama between Plastic Man and his son and also Mr. Terrific's lonely travel into the Multiverse. Joe Bennett comes on next, with a sketchier style than I'm using to seeing from him (with inks by Dexter Vines), but it works to add some gravity to the team reuniting in the end.

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With all the other "New Ages of Heroes" titles gone by the wayside now, Terrifics is a weird, hard sell for me. Other odd collections of heroes at least have "Justice League" in the title, but it's tough to figure where a title spotlighting Mr. Terrific, Plastic Man, and Metamorpho together really fits in the DC landscape, short of riffing on the Fantastic Four. Jeff Lemire's Terrifics Vol. 2: Tom Strong & the Terrifics is good, ending much stronger than it begins, and I'm always happy to see Grant Morrison's Multiversity concepts revisited. I'll be curious though, as Terrifics keeps plugging along when so many other titles are not, if Gene Luen Yang can bring a stronger raison d'etre to the book than it's had so far.

[Includes original covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Terrifics Vol. 2: Tom Strong and the Terrifics
Author Rating
3.5 (scale of 1 to 5)
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1 comment:

  1. The Terrifics, which you rightly state as a riff on the Fantastic Four, is an appropriate title for Tom Strong to appear in. This was a character (along with the whole ABC line) that was a riff on the material Alan Moore had been doing for Rob Liefeld. Tom Strong was basically Moore's Supreme, with the Superman elements removed and buffed back into the general Doc Savage model.

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