Review: Terrifics Vol. 3: The God Game trade paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Terrifics Vol. 3: The God Game is Gene Luen Yang's first outing on the title, and unfortunately it reads just like a writer's first volume on a new book. It's not as though Yang struggles at all finding the voices of these characters — in that, transitioning from Jeff Lemire, it's pretty seamless — but in perhaps getting used to them, the story is very plain, very straightforward. We seem to have lost all sense of the Terrifics as explorers of the Dark Multiverse; sure, we've got an adequate sci-fi plot here, but nothing that necessarily defines the purpose of the Terrifics title nor offers more than a typical adventure of their fantastic Marvel counterparts. Nor is there much in the way of intrigue or character development besides for Mr. Terrific himself, to the exclusion of the other core members of the team.

This volume collects just four issues, #15-18, plus an annual; DC recently announced this title will end at issue #30. That still gives Yang probably two volumes to do something with this title and hopefully he will, but honestly God Game was at the bottom of my reading pile to start with and this volume didn't do much to entice me to move the next volume higher.

[Review contains spoilers]

Over the course of all four regular issues of God Game, the Terrifics battle the Noosphere, a sentient robot escaped from Simon Stagg's laboratory that seeks to eliminate humanity and ascend to a divine state. Yang tries to inject a little nuance in that, ultimately, Mr. Terrific does not destroy the Noosphere, but rather tries to redirect its purpose since Terrific had a part in creating it and the Noosphere is, to an extent, alive. About the only B-plot in the book is that Terrific Michael Holt is getting to know the alt-dimension version of his deceased wife, that alt-dimension's Ms. Terrific Paula Holt, and Michael's siding with the Noosphere vs. Paula's recommendation to disable it puts them at odds.

The "God Game" moniker comes about because, at the outset, the Noosphere gives itself biblical overtones, like for instance its technological illusions resemble the biblical Ten Plagues. Here again, one sees Yang trying to build more than just a superhero slugfest, as the often-skeptical Terrific finally sees something potentially divine in technological advancement while the irreverent Plastic Man considers changing his ways when faced with the religious iconography of his youth. Terrific and Paula clash here also as skeptic vs. believer, though I was largely distracted from that conversation by the sudden concern that, with Death Metal and etc., we might get Charles McNider back but that Pieter Cross could be lost to continuity with Michael being sadly none the wiser.

The problem is that, despite his efforts, Yang doesn't succeed in making this story particularly strong or thoughtful. There is the shadow of an "old-timey" (mid-2000s JSA) Mr. Terrific belief argument, but it doesn't rise to the level of really interesting nor break any new ground for Terrific's character. It's pretty clear there's rogue technology at work even during much of the biblical material, and so the reader is ahead of the heroes on that; not to mention that there's really never a question that the Noosphere shouldn't be allowed to win — there's never a question who're the story's good guys and bad guys.

As well, yet again the book's threat is due to Simon Stagg stealing technology and using it to bad ends, which feels like the case for a couple other of Terrifics' storylines, if not every story in which Stagg appears — and with no consequence. As a matter of fact, Yang's annual story collected here involves Stagg doing the same thing, though this time stealing Plastic Man's powers instead of Terrific's T-Spheres. I had actually thought during Lemire's run that the relationship between Stagg, daughter Sapphire, and her boyfriend Metamorpho Rex Mason was changing, but here again with Yang we find the Terrifics cleaning up Stagg's messes and seemingly fine with it a page later.

That annual story is on its own fairly effective, with some good moments for Plas (whose stolen doubles take on the appearance of his enemies and allies, including his young son), and also art by Joe Bennett. It demonstrates again that Yang's got a handle on these characters, but that "God Game" at four issues is too long versus the compressed space of the annual. Probably two issues would've done "God Game"; holistically spending this entire trade on mostly the one story with no gravitas or larger implication for the team makes this feel like a throwaway volume — again, not the impression a new series writer wants to make their first time out.

Rounding out the annual is a story of Java, Stagg's right-hand caveman, which is good and benefits greatly from Doc Shaner's artwork, though I'll be curious to see if the events are actually followed up upon since it's by Mark Russell and not Yang. Following that is a "lost" Tom Strong story by James Asmus and Jose Luis that fits back into Lemire's run (Luis drew some of Lemire's Tom Strong material, so who knows if this story is just figuratively or actually literally "lost"). This is well-drawn — Luis looking like Jerry Ordway — and good I guess if you're a Tom Strong fan, but these events are so far out of the present of this series by now that it hardly seems worthwhile to fill the annual with this.

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2.5

Rating

So in all, Terrifics Vol. 3: The God Game fails to impress, and if I didn't already know the book was cancelled, a volume like this would lead me to believe that was imminent. Gene Luen Yang's New Super-Man grew on me, and again he definitely proves he's got the characters here, so I don't take this as a referendum on the writer per se — ultimately, from "New Age of Heroes" on out, Terrifics has had a tough road, and this is more of the same.

[Includes original covers, one variant cover]

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1 comment:

  1. And so falls the house of The New Age of Heroes. I don't think anyone expected The Terrifics to be "last man standing - nor, I expect, was DC very much bothered by it. With the coronavirus shutdown, The Terrifics has the ignominious honor of seeing its final print issues cancelled, only to be seen digitally or in a collected edition (Supergirl is the other one to suffer such a fate). Indeed, Vol. 4 of The Terrifics is said to be its last, collecting issues 19-30. It's a slap in the face to us single-issue collectors, but a boon to tradewaiters.

    It's too bad, because Yang was only just finally doing something interesting with the team. Issue #25 is a "choose your own adventure" issue, where the choosing isn't just a gimmick - it's part of the story. Then, DC only published half an arc featuring a "Terrific Council" of DC's smartest heroes under the auspicious title "The Day Simon Stagg Died."

    Like I say, a sad and ignoble ending to a line that promised to be the future of DC storytelling. No title emerged unscathed, and the one title that survived was cut down before its time. Ah well, at least Young Animal still lives with "Far Sector," eh?

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