What makes a hero?
The first thing that attracted me to this comic was the main protagonist. And superheroes, don’t forget the superheroes.
It’s a nice blend that takes a very simple concept and builds layers on it. Helping it is the fact that you don’t know who you’re supposed to be rooting for.
Barbiere creates a world not unlike a DC or Marvelverse, and puts a common beaten down man in the middle of it.
Santos’ artwork evokes a little of Darwyn Cooke and it helps that a particular portion of this book reminds me of Justice League: New Frontier.
We see a very common bordering on generic setting as a man saves some inhabitants from a fire. Only that this man is able to coat himself with flames ala Marvel’s Human Torch.
But it ends quite differently as he burns out suddenly and faints, landing in the arms of a firefighter. It continues to get stranger as the ‘firefighter’ contacts the man who was just rescued from the burning building and together with a strongman, they put him in an ambulance.
We then go back a couple of months to see the presently firefighter in the uniform of a surgeon. His obsession with dead bodies and unhealthy attachment to them are seen clearly as even his superior forbids him from overtime work.
But life isn’t so good to him. Getting yelled at by his boss, standing in line to get medicine and then missing the bus – life isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
Raymond (that’s his name) now recaps the current scenario. His story parallels a lot of DC’s timeline from the Justice Society comprising of wonders to the Justice League comprising of ‘Gods’. Crime was done to null but the people were divided.
He comes home and finds his wife Shannon hard at work in the kitchen. We learn that the medicine he was picking up was for her. Even as he gives her shots, he recaps every bad thing’s that happened that day.
Ray is a beaten down man, apparently lashing out at the world and not always wrongly. And the current scene is such that the common man doesn’t seem to even matter anymore.
Just then the bell rings and as Ray opens the door, he sees a man (the same ‘victim’ in the present) and before anything can be said properly, punches him.
Back in the present, we learn that the house on fire was an arson incident caused by the trio. We see that the hero is waking up even as the ambulance is stopped by the police.
The driver’s attempts to avoid any problems fail as he is handcuffed while another police officer inspects the back. This leads to drastic measures as both officers are assaulted and knocked out.
Sadly for them, another problem arises – the hero’s awake!
Trying to stop him, Ray suffers burn but he and the strongman are able to treat the superhuman with a second injection that renders him passive.
We finally learn in the past that the victim cum driver is Denny, Ray’s estranged and wayward brother. Apparently, he is an ex-con and wants to make reparations, handing Ray a bag full of cash.
At a research facility of Biochem where they’ve rigged up the setup for doing their experiment, Ray cautions that they shouldn’t take too much from the superhuman. He then goes home even as Denny ominously tells the strongman to get to work.
We again go the past as Denny outlines their plan to get rich. Apparently in prison, he was approached by a company Biochem to be admitted into their program to obtain the DNA of the superhumans.
Denny tells Ray that the DNA can lead to many good things – including a super cure for any disease, which hits Ray when Denny mentions his wife.
Even as Ray is pulled in through his love for his wife and underlying resentment, we see that his concerns for over-exploitation is not without grounds – in the present, Denny and the strongman are about to ignore any problems of excess extraction by extracting the very last drop of DNA from the superhuman.
This was an interesting first issue. It has long been a predicament in these kind of stories involving superhumans. Shouldn’t they do more to help? Isn’t their body full of genetic maps that may lead to scientific breakthroughs in medicine, athletics and so on?
But where does one draw the line between ‘for the better of humanity’ and ‘for profits and exploitation over-ridding privacy and well being’. In Ray, we get someone down the middle. He’s a good guy, but not moralistic or rigid in his goodness. While at the opposite end is his brother, who is incorrigible and exploitative – whether it be his brother or other people.
The ‘hero’ in the story on the other hand is subverted into being the one whom the reader delves into the least and is vague, forcing us to look at him as no more than a device for Ray and Denny to be at loggerheads over. And that’s fine.
So, the basic question remains in the end – what is a hero?
Trying to answers some questions of what mortals do in the lands of Gods, Barbiere constructs the tale of a normal man Ray divided in the middle.
There are absolutes present here, but I get who we’re supposed to dip into and it helps to not get extraneous information.
So, I give it 8.5 out of 10.
+Some good questions
+A well developed central character
+Nice use of plot devices
-Descends into exposition at times
-Sometimes it suffers from less than well rounded characters.