Review: Terrifics Vol. 4: The Tomorrow War trade paperback (DC Comics)

Terrifics Vol 4 The Tomorrow War

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Terrifics Vol. 4: The Tomorrow War is, like the series has been from the beginning, mostly mundane with occasional flashes of brilliance. Writer Gene Luen Yang has received deserved recognition for a number of his young adult works, but for me neither his New Super-Man nor his Terrifics rose above the level of very average superhero comics, except in fits and starts. That his upcoming stint on Batman/Superman seems to involve Golden Age or alt-continuity versions of the characters might be more up his alley, hopefully, but also Yang is teamed with Ivan Reis there, a stronger artist than some he gets here and which might yield a stronger result. Terrifics tried mightily and I hope the characters are remembered with charity, but I don’t think that this is the last volume surprises anyone.

[Review contains spoilers]

Of the 12 issues collected here, a full six are devoted to the book’s “Year of the Villain” tie-in, “If Me Could Turn Back Time/The One Where Bizarro Screws Up Time.” I’m glad DC went ahead and finished the title in one book instead of drawing it out (the final three of the 12 issues were only published digitally), though had it been half and half, I might have rated the second book higher; the later material is stronger than the Bizarro story.

And again, the Bizarro story has flashes of brilliance. Over a long series of events, the machinations of Bizarro and his “Terribles” causes time to regress “in place,” as it were; the Terrifics of the present are suddenly styled as the Terrifics of the extreme 1990s, then 1980s animation, to the Mystery Machine 1970s. That’s all cleverly done, as is Yang slotting in anachronistic malapropisms like “Maldenbooks” and “Bennie’s Babies” toys. As well, the story picks up from a Bizarro storyline toward the end of Peter Tomasi’s Superman run, for fans of that era, with cameos by Super Sons supporting characters Nobody and Kathy Branden.

At the same time, Yang’s prolonged Bizarro-speak writing gets tedious quickly, and the quips and puns that pass for humor in the book just aren’t funny (the same problem as in Yang’s New Super-Man). There’s promise in Terrifics' offbeat sci-fi tone, but there’s a common “what is even going on” among the characters (and editorial narration) that suggests chaos getting out of hand.

The art, including by Max Raynor and Stephen Segovia, is often too dark, lacking in detail, and chaotic, of the kind unlikely to draw in a casual reader (including an unnecessary space-taking splash page or two) as compared to the more polished work of Reis or Jamal Campbell. (The valiant artist-first “New Age of Heroes” experiment meets its ignoble end in this volume that lists no less than eight different artist/inkers ahead of writer Yang.) In all, though it gets good at times (including a Groundhog Day sequence that speaks to Mr. Terrific’s internal conflict between science and faith), by and large this is mediocre superhero comics, all A-plot and no B-plot or nuance, that suggests the very cancellation that arrives at the end.

It’s a shame because right after (in issue #25), Yang pens a great “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style story that’s bendy and well-designed, with fine art by upcoming Detective Comics artist Dan Mora. This too speaks to the “weird science” aesthetic that Yang and writer Jeff Lemire before him aspired to for this title, a book with Mr. Terrific, Metamorpho, and Plastic Man that could do a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story and have it be tonally appropriate. Unfortunately it’s the exception and not the rule in terms of how Yang’s stories turn out and who he’s teamed to work with.

As Terrifics nears its end (and goes digital), Yang leaps ahead, bringing to the fore some of the high concept sci-fi that has always seemed the characters' destination: Mr. Terrific opening an eco-friendly high-speed rail, a community science and advancement center, and more. Being superhero comics, things of course go terribly awry; being Terrifics, there’s some good and some not-so-good. I like this idea of Mr. Terrific creating something that transcends just catching bad guys, and further I adore the expanded “T-Council” that includes a couple of Blue Beetles, Dr. Shay Veritas, Atom Ryan Choi, and Dr. Kirk “Man-Bat” Langstrom. There’s also a rare expanded role (if ignominious) for Dr. Silas Stone, coming out from his famous son’s shadow to antagonize Terrific Michael Holt.

On the other hand, the book’s final villain is Sebastian Stagg, rejected son of the late Simon Stagg, basically just a guy with a big robot who’s happened to hire Lobo to do his dirty work. Though the art by Sergio Davila and even Raynor is better than what came before, the story seems rushed (not perhaps surprisingly for final issues), with villains like Lobo and the Parasite feeling more like what’s available than anyone with a true connection to the Terrifics. There’s some repetitious dialogue and two different issues where Mr. Terrific spouts the team rallying cry, “Go, Terrifics, Go,” more than once, all of which look like errors that made it out in the hurry.

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Mr. Terrific in a leading role (following the end of his own book) is one of the best things to come from Terrifics, and one hopes we’ll see him in something like a Justice Society book in the not-too-distant future. Really there’s no Terrific I wouldn’t like to see again — Metamorpho and Plastic Man are an inspired pair, and with the Legion returned I’d be interested to see this “present” Phantom Girl face the future. In Terrifics Vol. 4: The Tomorrow War and the series as a whole, the problem has never been the characters, nor even the characters together, just what the creators have been able to do with them. Hopefully some other time that will be “more,” and “better.”

[Includes original and (rather striking) variant covers]


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