By: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti (story), Cat Staggs (pencils), Tom Derenick (inks), Jason Wright (colors)
The Story: Now you see her, now you don’t.
The Review: Against all odds, the Freedom Fighters keep coming back to the DCU, no matter how many times you might believe the door has shut on their antiquated patriotism. They do have a certain campiness I find endearing, and Gray-Palmiotti play up to that quality in a big way. Maybe that’s why they’ve been at the head of each Freedom Fighters revival, though so far, none has resulted in the big comeback the team would hope for.
If there’s any Fighter who can strike it big on her own, it will have to be Phantom Lady. True, she’s earned most of her popularity as a sex bomb, but that doesn’t take away the fact that she’s the most recognizable of all her teammates. Gray-Palmiotti, perhaps taking the relaunched DC a little too much like a blank slate, give her a complete makeover in this mini, much as they did with the Ray some months earlier, and the results are almost nearly as uneven.
For one thing, it doesn’t seem entirely necessary for them to wipe her origin as the daughter of a U.S. politician who finds a passion for crimefighting. In exchange, they give her the ol’ Batman treatment: child traumatized by senseless crime—channels anguish into vigilantism. I also take issue with her new career as a journalist. DC already has several prominent women in the news (in Metropolis, no less); couldn’t Gray-Palmiotti have given her a more distinguished vocation, like—oh, I don’t know—a quantum physicist, like she used to be in her last incarnation?
Anyway, Gray-Palmiotti do a fine job setting up her new background, even if it is overused and tired. The opening page has enough punch to start the issue on the right foot. But on the second step, the story stumbles. All of a sudden you get a whole blurb about her power set that reads more like the enthusiastic fancies of a high school fanfiction writer than anything else: “I’m equipped with Black Light Gloves that can manifest blackness in various forms of black fog, hard light objects, like razors and shields, and, most important…living shadows! They distract my targets and conceal me.”
Gray-Palmiotti probably wanted to make sure the debut issue got some kind of costumed action, but then they force you to go back in time once again—which is where the real meat of the story lies. This comes a little too close to the formula they used on The Ray, and it has the same weakness. We really just need to know more about her civilian persona and learn to care about her a little bit before we invest in her superhero antics.
The biggest attraction of this title has to be the chemistry between Jennifer (no last name, apparently) and childhood friend/sweetheart Dane Maxwell. They have just the right balance of realism and rom-com cutesiness, and their “friends with benefits” deal has a lot of possibilities, given how rarely mainstream comics tackle this kind of relationship. The only downside is their utter stupidity. Both of them are, painfully and clearly, just plain dumb—which is kind of attractive in itself, since it fits more with how you expect real people taking the law into their own hands would turn out.
Hands down, the best thing about this title is Staggs’ art, which hits both the superhero and urban crime elements of this series at perfect pitch. There’s nothing photographic about her art, yet when you look at the faces she draws, you could very well see those same expressions on your own friends. If Dane and Jen have as many sparks between them as they do, it’s all due to Staggs’ great sense of body language and “acting.”
Conclusion: While not very happy with some of the storytelling choices Gray-Palmiotti have taken in their revamp of Phantom Lady, they do a solid job of it, and they have the benefit of Staggs’ strong art to back them up.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Letterer Carlos M. Mangual, if I catch you covering up an important scene with a giant sound effect again, I will not be kind. Seriously—“WHAM”?
– As for Phantom Lady’s costume redesign, it unbelievably enough manages to be completely nonsensical and faux-“modern” and still be shamelessly revealing—at least, from the cover, cute as Amanda Conner’s art is.
– I do like the idea of exploring Metropolis’ seedier side, though. Still tame compared to Gotham, but that’s inevitable, right?