Today, Patrick and (guest writer) Zach Kastner are discussing Ravagers 0, originally released September 12, 2012. Ravagers 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.
Patrick: There are some story types that are fundamentally more compelling than others. Storytellers know these tropes well and trot them out whenever a) they’re also trying something new or b) they don’t have any better ideas. This is why most cop and detective shows put a child in danger in the first episode. We can all get on board with that: save the child – there’s no way not engage with that story. The trope on display in Ravagers 0 (and I suspect through most of the Culling story line) is a newer one: teenagers forced to fight each other to the death. Oh Hunger Games/Battle Royale/Ravagers, you do have one hell of an interesting concept. But while something like Hunger Games really finds itself in the details, Ravagers couldn’t be bothered with anything other than the broadest possible strokes.
Deep in the bowels of N.O.W.H.E.R.E. (DC writers love their ungainly acronyms) headquarters, a grim-reaper-y villain — known obliquely as ‘Harvest’ — performs experiments on abducted teenagers. The experiments bring out the meta-human powers of people that… maybe wouldn’t have had superpowers without the experiments? Doesn’t matter – the point is these teens are being groomed for a superpower-fueled battle. We’re introduced to several of these teens, but the focus is on the metamorphing Beast Boy and the geokinetic Terra. Terra’s got a firmer grasp on her powers and seems to be a favorite among the N.O.W.H.E.R.E. administrative staff, while Beast Boy shows promise, but cannot reliably tap into his power. Also, it seems like there might be sexy-sparks between the two… maybe I’m reading too much into the multiple images of these characters almost-naked…
Anyway, in an attempt to move Beast Boy to action, Harvest chucks Terra into the arena. Rather than meet her doom, Beast Boy comes to her totally-smitten aide. They work together (awwwwwwww) and defeat their attackers, BUT TO WHAT END?
Okay, not a bad premise, right? The roster of superpowered teens is even filled out a little further with a brother/sister twin team called Thunder and Lightning (which is cute), a cyclops who bullies Beast Boy and some kind of energy-absorbing lizard man called Ridge. Unfortunately, those descriptions are basically all there are to those characters. This whole issue is lacking in details — it shuffles along from one generic conflict to the next, never making an attempt at personalizing anything. Hell, most of the spoken dialogue is pointless techno-babble spouted by the emotionally distant bad guys. I found myself glazing over on these long-winded explanations of blah blah blah.
But I don’t think I was the only one bored to a stupor by the writing. Looks to me like the editing team couldn’t be bothered to read it either. There are a few grammatical errors the characters make that I can chalk up to “people don’t always use proper grammar when they speak.” Like when Harvest says “Could the ones we took him from have something to do with his powers?” Okay, dude says “the ones” instead of “those” — lots of people screw that up. Or when Kevin (they cyclops keep his real name because?) says “You and me have unfinished business.” It should be “you and I,” but again, you hear people making this mistake every day. No, the big red flag goes up in this panel:
You can totally see what happened here. Someone wrote “do what should come naturally” and someone else thought it should read “do that which should come naturally” and they both just made it in to the final product. Oops.
And it’s a shame that the details are so lacking in the writing because Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund seem to have a bottomless well of sympathy for these characters. Tasked with inflicting so much pain on children, they do an admirable job of presenting chaos and fear on a level that barely seems to have occurred to writer Howard Mackie. Beast Boy’s transformation panels are all rougher and more displaced than the rest of the action. Check out this gut-wrenching torture/experimentation sequence from early in the issue.
I just wish anything else in the issue felt as honest as these few seconds of abject terror.
Zach, I understand you haven’t been reading Ravagers either, but I know you’re into the Young Justice family of books. Does this issue seem like a slight to good characters and an interesting concept? Have you seen these characters running around elsewhere in the world as to justify not developing them at all here? Or am I missing something and the techno-babble within is revealing a long-sought truth? As it stands, I’m ready to file this issue away in the ol’ “ignore” bin and move on.
Zach: Well, Patrick let me start off by saying I did the duty of following Teen Titans all the way through their big “Culling” crossover where I met the Ravagers momentarily before the event halted abruptly. Literally nothing came out from it, I didn’t really “learn anything” about each character that isn’t presented here. I can’t that I got much out of it emotionally either. So, I stepped away from the Young Justice books some, seeing Ravagers looming in the oncoming New 52 wave.
For the sake of Zero Month I wanted to give this a fair shake. I reaaaaally tried to like it. Ok, I’ll start positive before: Ian Churchill works his pencil off here. I forced myself to reread this issue three times to make sure I didn’t miss anything (that tech jargon you were talking about, more on that in a second) but what I kept noticing was the fullness of panels. There are almost NO blank backgrounds here, and the Churchill/Rapmund duo makes damn sure their side of the narrative is crystal clear. I could read this simply through images — and I think it may make this a better book that way.
Now, flip side, Howard Mackie may have concussed me with the number of times his exposition hit me over the head. As you mentioned Patrick, there are long-winded segments of shoptalk that should inform the reader, but simply create headaches. Mackie attempts to weave these lengths of exposition into common discussion by having characters reply with “Proceed,” “Go on,” “Good” or “Yes.” It really is just painful dialogue that really needs to be dialed back in order for this comic to find its harmony with the art.
The characters have the potential for something stronger than this series lets on. Beast Boy is now tied to Animal Man’s “Red” hence the palette swap from green to red. But Terra seems to have changed very little, from what little I’d known of her before the New 52. They could be introduced strongly into the larger DCU but until this Battle Royale concept is trashed I recommend staying away from the series, even if you have fondness of these characters from the Teen Titans or Young Justice TV shows. Right now, these are just shells.
Zach Kastner is a full-time college student and full-time comic reader. He is a screenwriter-in-the-making and also an art man. To get a peak inside his brain, follow him on Twitter @zachkastner
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