Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing Team 7 2, originally released November 14th, 2012.
Taylor: Teams are in. Everywhere we look in today’s society, teamwork is emphasized as being one of the most important skills to develop. When you apply for a job, employers want to know how well you work with others and what your contribution to the team will be. Sports stars are lauded for the ability to swallow their ego and function as a member of a team that functions as one unit. And speaking of teams, we can’t ignore the recent Avengers movie which was one of biggest team love-fests to ever grace the silver screen. Hell, even Batman, the quintessential solitary dark night, learned to work on a team in Christopher Nolan’s latest film. Indeed, it seems that the way of the lone wolf — your Clint Eastwoods and wandering Ronin — is a thing of the past. Given this favorable disposition towards the idea of teamwork, it seems like DC’s Team 7 would be an instant hit. But as the second issue demonstrates both in its plot and it its execution, sometimes getting a team to work together effectively is harder than it would first appear.
The second issue of Team 7 opens with our “heroes” continuing their battle with the Eclipsed zombies they discovered at the end of the first issue. While the team kicks a significant amount of ass with guns blazing, they are outnumbered by the Eclipsed zombies and have to make a retreat and regroup. They make their way to the communications center of the Float where Dinah discovers a video feed that explains exactly where the Eclipsed monsters came from. It turns out the government was trying to develop a serum that would pacify dangerous criminals and turn them into productive members of society. However, in what has to be one of the dumbest ideas ever, they tried to develop this serum from Dr. Jekyll’s formula, which makes its appearance in All Star Western. When they injected the serum into John Akara (from issue 0) he turns into a monster, kills some scientists, then transforms the remaining inmates on the Float into similar evil zombie/monsters/vampire things. The Team finds Akara, a battle ensues and they kill him, but they soon realize that the float is heading towards Sentinel Island in order to free Eclipso.
Stories about teams and teamwork all follow a similar pattern. First the team is gathered, then they underperform because they fail to work together, then they learn to work together, and lastly they accomplish their goal by functioning as a unit. We see this pattern emerge a little bit in this issue and while I can appreciate that it is a standard practice, I’m not sure that it is employed very usefully or tactically in this issue. Dinah, acting as narrator, voices her concerns about the ability of Team 7 to actually work together to accomplish their goals, a sentiment that is shared by John Lynch when he narrated the first issue. While it’s certainly believable that these two would share similar doubts about Team 7, from a story telling perspective it’s somewhat redundant and places two characters into the same role. It would have been more gratifying to see Dinah’s character taken in a different direction in this issue to better develop her not only as a character, but also as a member of a narrative team. What further complicates the role she is assigned is that Team 7 doesn’t actually appear to ever be challenged or in danger so their ability to work together is never actually tested, making her concerns seem questionable. So far Team 7’s ability to shoot their way out of any tight spot seems to do the trick.
Similarly, the tone of the overall series to this point is kind of odd. Every member of Team 7 is apparently a smart ass who loves to comment on the team’s ability to work together or the actions of its various members. While I’m not opposed to the use of comic relief in any way, I found it off-putting when every character we are supposed to care about takes so little of what is going on seriously. This left me wondering what tone writer Justin Jordan is going for in this title. Is it supposed to be light and kind of goofy as the dialogue suggests or is it supposed to be more serious minded as the plot would have us believe? And this ultimately relates back to the very concept of a narrative team that I mentioned earlier. If only one member of Team 7 acted as comic relief then a more solid tone could be set, however, when every character is cracking jokes the issue begins to resemble parody as opposed to adventure. The use of one comic relief is executed quite well in Justice League Dark with Deadman acting as the comic and the effect is a title that has a stable — yet fun — tone. Regardless of all that, I will say that I laughed quite a bit when I saw Bronson flying out of control in his heavy suit.
So Patrick, what tone do you think this issue was going for? Am I trying to read this title too straight or is it still searching for its true voice? Should I be having more fun with it?
Patrick: Team 7 taps into a very specific kind of action comic — the guns ‘n’ muscle comics of the 1990s. It’s the kind of environment that assholes like Cable and Duke Nukem came crashing out of. Jordan’s characters are a little bit more graceful than that, but it is sorta hard to escape the “everyone’s a comedian” group dynamic you mentioned. I wouldn’t even mind everyone making jokes if it felt like they were making different kinds of jokes — that’s how Firefly kept its merry band of wise-asses in check. But literally, over the course of four panels, both Amanda Waller and Grifter make the same joke.
Two pages later, Bronson theorizes that the weaponized serum could be used against Americans and Deathstroke replies “”It could only improve Washington” — which, for those of you keeping score at home — counts as the exact same joke.
So while I think the series is intended to be one of those tricky exercises that walks the line between homage and parody, I’m not convinced Jordan’s displaying a sophisticated enough level of humor to actually pull that off. Taylor, you mention how ridiculous it is that everyone keeps saying that this team doesn’t work well together, when it seems like they obviously work fine together. What doesn’t work out so well is juggling all these characters in a single adventure narrative. The cover teases “Dinah and Slade Battle the Eclipsed” but the alternate cover teases “Before and After: The Team of Black Canary & Lance.” Focusing on a pair of these characters while the others run around like idiots in the background would be great. Mostly, it’d be manageable — both for the readers and Jordan. And despite the claims on the cover, Waller and Higgins are the two characters most strongly characterized here: Waller for her resourcefulness and Higgins for his headstrong bravery.
Oh, side-note Taylor — that’s Higgins flying by in the heavy armed suit, not Bronson. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to look that up before saying for certain. For the life of me, I cannot imagine why this team is so fucking huge. The Justice League is smaller than this, and I know all those characters from other places. Most of these guys haven’t had an opportunity to be developed beyond a single quip or the color of their hair. Dinah comes so close to giving me what I want when she lists the pairs that work well together:
The implication that Slade and Fairchild have this kind of bro-y relationship that works really well, but is also maybe hilariously affectionate, is awesome. Why can’t I see that relationship portrayed here instead of simply mentioned by Dinah in voice-over?
The art in this issue is a little wonky. On the one hand, it’s amazing how well all eight characters are accounted for in just about every panel. But on the other hand, faces tend to distort in the least expressive way possible. Also, some of the body proportions seems way off to me (exactly how much shit is Amanda Waller lugging around with her? also, girl, take off that hat: you’re inside). Ron Frenz is credited with the “Breakdowns” and Julius Gopez is the credited penciler, so I guess that explains that difference in quality.
For whatever reason, I can’t escape the feeling that Justin Jordan will find a voice that works for this series — perhaps one that’s neither as jokey as this issue or as antagonistic as the previous. I’m never left feeling that these characters are shallow, but I am often disappointed by how little of them we actually get to see. Maybe that’s me offering too much credit where none is due, but I’d like to have fun with these characters. I just feel like we’re always gonna be one great issue away from that happening.
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