Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Danger Club #4

Danger Club is one of my favorite superhero comics currently being published.  The high concept of the series is relatively simple: What if all of the adult superheroes died facing an insurmountable threat, and the teenage sidekicks were the only superheroes left?  Writer Landry Q. Walker, artist Eric Jones, and colorist Michael Drake answer this question with a mixture between Teen Titans, Lord of the Flies, and A Clockwork Orange.

It's a world gone to hell with no adult supervision to reign in the superhuman teenagers.  It's a world on the brink where super powered teenagers fight to the death for the amusement of Apollo until Kid Vengeance, an ersatz Robin with a plan, brutally takes down his former teammate and friend with what is essentially a pair of Kryptonite brass knuckles.  Despite Walker and Jones history of working together on kid friendly titles like Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, Danger Club is a comic that makes with the ultraviolence.  This is a comic filled with savage superpowered brawls, yet it also has touching emotional moments that show teenagers struggling to grow up and take responsibility for a world that the adults are no longer around to protect.

Danger Club #4 begins the same way as every issue in the series so far...with one page of a comic done in a Silver Age style, as if it is an excerpt from a more innocent time in the Danger Club universe.  These pages serve a few purposes.  They create a stark contrast in both artistic style and tone between the earlier, primitive four color world of Danger Club, protected by caring adult superheroes, and the current, bordering on post-apocalyptic world of Danger Club rendered with sophisticated coloring techniques.         

Jones and Drake really shine here in capturing the look of a Silver Age comic, with uncanny imitation of the coloring techniques of the time complete with colors overlapping into thought balloons and artificially aged paper, and Walker's copy ("Jealousy! Despair! Anguish!") only adds to the simulation.  Besides just highlighting the dark atmosphere of the following pages, this page also introduces key plot elements such as Wonder Wizard's daughter fostering jealousy of her sister's superpowers, and American Spirit's somewhat abusive relationship with his sidekick Jacky.  It's not just a throw away page; it's tight, concise storytelling that doesn't waste any space at all.
The story of the comic opens on The Magician standing on a dock and looking out at the horizon as he calls his mother and lets her know that he's going to be home late, and that he left a message.  This message (which he doesn't think she'll ever hear because she doesn't listen to her messages) is revealed to us through captions throughout this issue in a way that punctuates action oriented scenes that are mostly without words. The Magician admits to his mother that he is a superhero, and through these captions, we learn that his mother is the powerless daughter of Wonder Wizard from the introductory page.  

The Magician injects himself with an unknown chemical, possibly the compound that gives him his magic abilities, and he is dramatically transported to another psychedelic dimension where day-glo orange bubbles reveal moments of the past, the future, and the present, as if all time is simultaneous in this realm.  The art in these extradimensional sequences is just stunning.  Drake's colors here are just so good, and they do a great deal to sell the ethereal nature of this plane of existence.

The Magician's drug induced, magical odyssey through another dimension is intercut with scenes of Kid Vigilante, Jack Fearless, Yoshimi, and former teen supervillain Lady Bug preparing to attack the forces of American Spirit, the extremely old and sinister President of the United States.  Jack Fearless's betrayal of Kid Vigilante is telegraphed here with a conversation between the two of them in which he pretty blatantly questions his plan.  However, this betrayal was already revealed in flash forward in a previous issue, so this doesn't come across as obvious, predictable storytelling...rather, it heightens the anticipation for the confrontation that we know is inevitable.  There's also something to be said about the prescience of having American Spirit, who is basically an ersatz Captain America, as President of the United States, considering that Captain America is now the President in the Ultimate Universe in a recent storyline.

Of course, Jack Fearless does indeed betray Kid Vengeance, and we see that he has been in constant communication with his mentor American Spirit.  American Spirit instructs Jack Fearless via radio to "open fire" on his friend, and here, this is a less cartoonish and innocent portrayal of their relationship than in the introductory page.  On the intro page, a young American Spirit instructs Jacky (presumably an earlier incarnation of Jack Fearless) via radio to disarm a Nazi bomb, and this Jacky sweats bullets in a cartoony and silly fashion.  Here, American Spirit looks to be over 80 years old and he's hooked up to IVs and an oxygen tank as he radios this new iteration of Jack Fearless to stab Kid Vengeance in the back with sinister glee on his old, toothless face.  The juxtaposition of the Silver Age American Spirit and Jacky relationship with the modern American Spirit and Jack Fearless relationship highlights the bizarre and abusive relationship that the superhero has with his sidekicks.

Danger Club is a series that doesn't shy away from intense and ultraviolent action scenes.  Yet it's undeniable that there are moments of touching emotion that deal with betrayal, responsibility, and the progression from adolescence to adulthood.  Landry Q. Walker is writing a series that takes the idea of a teenage superhero team like the Teen Titans and he's superimposed it into a world on the brink of total collapse, a world where these young superhumans must grow up fast or risk the total disintegration of their society.  It's a must read if you like superhero comics, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the series goes.

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