Review: Crush and Lobo trade paperback (DC Comics)

At first I was hesitant about Adam Glass' Teen Titans; what looked (as depicted by Bernard Chiang) to be a rapidly aged-up Robin Damian Wayne seemed the start of an artificially angsty group that also included a Lobo knock-off, Crush. In the end, it turned out to be among the better Teen Titans runs I’ve read in a while (with help from Robbie Thompson), and apparently it has staying power.

As unlikely as it seemed at the time, Crush has been the run’s breakout star, appearing in a variety of one-shots and included among the new pantheon of DC’s LGBTQ+ heroes. At least one of those one-shots (not, unfortunately, included here) was by Detective Comics' Mariko Tamaki, and she continues that into the Crush & Lobo miniseries.

[Review contains spoilers]

What gives me pause about Crush & Lobo is definitely more my baggage than it is the story’s fault. Tamaki’s story is funny and jaunts along well, offers a mystery and a couple of twists, and even becomes for a moment in the middle a romance comic of the kind DC doesn’t normally publish. Variety is good, diversity is good, and risk-taking is good, and all of these make Tamaki’s Crush & Lobo worthwhile.

But, for a book called “Crush & Lobo,” this is really more Crush’s book with Lobo as the antagonist. It has been a while since we’ve had a Lobo miniseries, when in the 1990s one about couldn’t take a step in the DCU without tripping over one. Said Lobo miniseries were often the site of “mature readers” madcap violence in the DCU, long before DC Black Label; what with the “Bite me, fanboy” cover to issue #3, I was hoping Crush & Lobo might deliver some of that old school Lobo irreverence.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

It is not to be. It is not to be so much that when Crush does get to pummeling a bad guy late in the book, the scenes are marked “Censored,” as Crush notes, because this is a T-rated book. Which is a funny bit in line with Crush’s self-aware narration all along, but also, when you think about it, awfully toothless for a Lobo book. I even had difficulty spotting a “feetal’s gizz” or a “frag” — if they’re there at all, woe be it that they’re that hard to find in a book with Lobo’s name on it.

And I’d like to see us be able to have a Lobo-level Crush book so that, perhaps at some point, we might have Lobo-level Crush books that don’t have Lobo in them. The era of the brash “Main Main” character has surely ended, though hilarious space violence is forever, and Crush opens the potential for hilarious space violence through a more modern, enlightened lens. There’s a little bit of that, with Crush constantly, egregiously smacking around a MODOK-looking alien, but we’re not hardly at the point of the Easter Bunny hiring Lobo to kill Santa Claus.

I do like Tamaki’s general characterization of Crush, a Czarnian who doesn’t hesitate to punch a stand-up comedian but who recycles and brews her coffee in a moka pot; again, a Czarnian bruiser for the modern era. Tamaki also recognizes among the most important components of Lobo and grafts that on to Crush — no matter how vile or violent Lobo is, he’s still got a bizarre soft spot for space dolphins (an environmentalist, if you will), while Crush, in turn, is beloved by space lizards.

I would like to see another Crush miniseries by Tamaki, and I’d like to see it without Lobo involved. At the same time, the identity of Crush’s human mother is a particularly interesting open question that I’d be interested to see Tamaki answer. That’s a story that could involve Lobo or not, though it speaks to other facets of Lobo that Tamaki reveals. In Crush & Lobo, Crush meets Julia, a seemingly normal alien woman smitten by Lobo; later Lobo teases that people like Julia love him for the same reason Crush’s girlfriend Katie likes her, that they’re “sniffing around for a little bit of … chaos.” Still, it suggests two potentially normal beings — Julia and Crush’s human mother — who ostensibly saw enough in Lobo to have a relationship with him, and that’s an avenue I’d be curious for Tamaki to explore further.

Around the sixth chapter (of eight issues) I felt a little frustrated with the pace of Crush & Lobo, as the book was half over and Crush was bumming around Space Vegas eating a cookie-fied version of herself (are these a thing?) before going on a date — this is a far piece from Crush tracking down Lobo before she’s blown up.

But I got it in retrospect, especially when Crush herself describes the issue as “some sort of twisted queer flashback accountability nightmare” — that, for an issue, Tamaki leaves the Lobo drama behind and turns Crush & Lobo into a romance comic, complete with mistaken identity, meet-cute, and poignant breakup. This is a common manga genre, but not so often seen among DC’s superhero set, and furthermore, that something with “Lobo” in the title would ever be associated with romance comics would have been so unbelieveable 30 years ago that I can’t help but respect Tamaki’s tangent. Over a couple of one-shots, finding or losing love does seem to be a situation writers keep putting Lobo’s daughter in, and who am I to argue with the way the tide’s flowing?

There’s a variety of good cover artists for Crush & Lobo, including Chiang, Amanda Conner, and Amy Reeder, and among the variants Dan Hipp and Jen Bartel. I was curious what this whole comic would have looked like illustrated by Conner; artist Amancay Nahuelpan’s work is fine especially in the beginning, and especially in the scenes of Crush and Katie, with shades of Jim Calafiore. Toward the end, though (see Lobo and Crush facing bounty hunters in Space Vegas in the seventh issue), I felt Nahuelpan’s art seemed too heavily inked, too much in DC’s house style, and I thought Conner’s animated figures might be preferable. (The inking issue largely works itself out by the book’s final pages.)



Mariko Tamaki’s Crush & Lobo leaves room for a sequel and I’d be happy to see it; that’s far preferable to Crush riding off into limbo. We don’t need an ongoing series, I don’t think, but I’ve long thought DC did well with occasional miniseries for certain characters. Or — we’ll never be this lucky — Tamaki gets a hard-talking DC Black Label Crush graphic novel? We can dream.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketches]


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