By: Marc Andreyko (story), Robson Rocha (pencils), Oclair Albert (inks), Gabe Eltaeb (colors)
The Story: In L.A., what goes on in the streets beats what you see in the movies any day.
The Review: I read a lot of bad fiction in my college creative writing classes. (Some of it, I admit, belonged to me.) Possibly one of the worst critiques you could make a person’s piece was that you liked the title better than the actual story. (To spare the feelings of others, I’ll offer one of my own short stories as an example: “The Underwater Panther”. Great title, most people agreed, but ultimately a crap bit of writing.)
In a weird sort of way, the cunning title of “Black Lightning and Blue Devil” (emphasis added) sets the bar pretty high for this story arc. It takes one heck of a tale to sell that moniker, and at first glance, Andreyko has the chops to do it. This was the guy who wrote the critical darling Manhunter, after all, which managed to survive far longer than any non-mainstream series in a mainstream world could hope to do. Unfortunately, little of the gripping storytelling he brought to a lawyer-turned-vigilante comes through between the stuntman and high school teacher.
Personality-wise, we don’t get much out of either B.L. or B.D. than brains versus instinct, superego versus id. In fact, Lighting spends most of his time insulting Devil’s intelligence, which seems pretty arrogant considering the sheer lameness of his epithets (“What do you call yourself? ‘Stupid Smurf?’”), not to mention how he attacked the lone hero in a gang of thugs and druggies. Did he not see Devil breaking up these formidably armed no-gooders the entire time he stood there?
Sometimes less-than-impressive superheroes can be redeemed by some formidable villains, but Andreyko goes for the most generic, go-to antagonist in comics: the mobster. The Whale is basically DC’s answer to the Kingpin, down to the blimp-like body, but without any of the charismatic command that makes the Marvel mafia man so compelling. Instead, he comes across shrill and silly (“I don’t pay you to be sorry, Quentin! I pay you for results!”), certainly not someone who should inspire much concern, no matter how much he’s “destroying L.A.’s kids.”
That brings me to a more debatable point. I don’t know if I ever really see the point of writers using real-world locales for their stories. Even in the Marvel Universe where that’s standard practice, I don’t know if they ever put those cities to any specific use beyond a generic urban backdrop for hero-on-villain battles to break out. More often than not (an example of “not” being James Robinson’s globe-trotting in his Shade mini), writers choose a city for the sake of personal/nostalgic pleasure, with only rare mentions of its special qualities: see “kimchi tacos”.
Ultimately, you come away from the series without much attachment to any of the characters, which is why the big death at the end of the issue seems in such poor taste. For one thing, this involves a member of the supporting cast that you knew for all of two pages before he died. Since Andreyko can’t be so foolish as to believe we can get emotionally affected by someone in such brief time, he must have been gambling on the sheer shock value of the scene, and he lost.
Rocha’s most distinguished bit of work to date is his fill-in material on Demon Knights, in which he almost always suffered by comparison to the remarkable Diógenes Neves. Here, given the time to follow his own taste and style, rather than emulate the work of others, his art seems like that of a completely different person, but even that person isn’t all that impressive. Here’s a question: what exactly is Blue Devil doing in that opening splash? There’s a lot going in the pages, to be sure, but what it all exactly is remains mysterious even after a couple reads.
Conclusion: Even my optimism can’t convince me that there’ll be significant improvement enough in the next few issues to redeem this one. Neither the art nor writing are as striking as the title.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – As a former teacher, I picked up right away on the fact that Jefferson reads a paper while his students are taking a test. He’s just asking for some major cheating to happen.
– Also, I’m pretty sure that Black Lightning blew up a car with a passed-out thug still inside it.
– The kimchi taco stand bears the image of a man with a Fu Manchu mustache and wearing a sombrero. Of all things, that may be the most racist thing I’ve seen in a comic all year.