Today, Patrick and Mikyzptlk are discussing Justice League of America’s Vibe 1-3, originally released February 20th, March 20th, and April 17th, 2013 respectively.
Patrick: Superheroes are legendary. The greats — like Batman and Superman — are name brands both in their own universes and in our own. One of the recurring themes in the New 52 has been heroes grappling with their own relevance in a world so densely populated by superheroes. Aquaman is a great example of this – the character is the subject of near-constant ridicule, all in an effort to make his struggle to be “cool” explicit. Geoff Johns has turned that character around in the last couple years, and even when the storytelling hasn’t been at its best, the idea of Aquaman as a impotent fish-enthusiast has basically disappeared. Johns lends a little bit of that credibility to the first couple issues of the series devoted to DC’s ultimate underdog: Vibe.
Er, sorry, “Justice League of America’s Vibe.” While a bunch of the other members of JLA have solo series, none of them bear that persistent branding of “Justice League of America’s _____.” I sorta get that for characters as strong as Green Arrow (especially as the series recently took on an awesome new identity under Jeff Lemire and Andre Sorrentino), but it seems like Catwoman and Katana could be saddled with this super-title. Vibe does seem particularly focused on the character’s role with JLA, borrowing liberally from scenes and dialogue of the main series, but twisting them to place Vibe at the center. Throughout this series, it becomes clear that Amanda Waller is using Vibe in a particularly Amanda Waller-esque way – repeatedly putting him in extreme danger and to hell with the consequences. The apostrophe-s in this series’ title is possessive, and the relationship between the hero and the team he works for reflects all the ugliness that implies.
Hey, y’all: meet Cisco.
Cisco’s life was changed (as most were) during Darkseid’s invasion five years ago. Notably, his older brother was killed and he gained the power of vibration. What exactly is “the power of vibration?” Cisco can do some basic force-push kind of stuff by vibrating the air around him, but his true power lies in his ability to interact with parallel worlds – the theory being that these worlds exist on different vibrational frequencies. This is what Waller identifies in him as being valuable to the JLA – effectively, he’s the first line of defense against the rampaging hordes of Apokolips. Which is a good thing, because Amanda Waller is keeping a whole cellar full of meta-humans, including Darkseid’s daughter.
This is where I have to throw on the breaks a little bit – because the series is playing its longer game close to the chest. Darkseid’s daughter is housed in this huge crazy-secure cell, but there are other metas with ties to Apokolips in power-dampening tubes – metas like Gypsy. Gypsy, it turns out, also has a father on Apokolips – one that’s sending messages to her via monster-messenger. That’s actually Vibe’s first assignment: help Waller apprehend the messenger. This is also our first big tip that Vibe might be working for the bad guys – just take a look at the “monster.”
Further, Vibe’s assignment in the third issue is to track and apprehend Kid Flash, who Waller claims is a known criminal. If the face of the Apokoliptian refugee here didn’t move you to sympathy for Vibe’s enemies, then the fact that his second target is a damn Teen Titan should set off some alarms.
Cisco is mainly characterized by his insecurities. It would be hard not to be insecure in Vibe’s shoes – everyone, from his brother to the agency that’s training him, doubts his abilities at every turn. Three times in as many issues we see Vibe knock someone down with his powers, only to have his targets look at him with that “what the fuck, man?” look on their faces – the first time, it’s literally a kid stealing a candy bar. Regardless of what Vibe’s powers are capable of, he’s clearly in way over his head. What is compelling here is how Cisco pushes back against this characterization – he’s always trying to make good, even if it means impressing an agency which doesn’t seem to have his best interests at heart. He’s not angry about his position in life, he just knows it means he’ll have to try that much harder to prove himself.
At it’s core, this series is a kind of a tent pole. As an inter-dimensional border-cop, Vibe is being made to interact with a lot of disparate threads in the DC Universe, and knot them all together into one big conflict. I can’t tell yet if this is a boon to the series or a hindrance. On the one hand, it’s fun to see Cisco’s character develop against the backdrop of a world I’m already invested in. But on the other hand, I can’t help but feel like the writers are using my affection for that world as a shortcut. I use the generic “the writers” because the first two issues are written by DC’s Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and Andrew Kreisberg, and the rest of the series is penned by Sterling Gates. All of which speaks to the writer’s room feel of the series. Vibe feels like it’s written by committee, which is fine, but that does mean that it’s shy a personality of its own. As an extension of the greater DC Universe, it succeeds in telling smaller stories that humanize the characters involved: I genuinely like Cisco, and this is the first time I’ve liked Kid Flash in the New 52.
I also feel like Pete Woods’ art is playing it incredibly safe – everything has that very standard American comic book look to it and nothing is particularly adventurously staged. Even when the pages are filled up with vibrational and Speed Force effects, it all feels kinda samey and straightforward.
I’m sorta torn here, Mik. I have fun with this series and I think Cisco is an interesting kid, but I struggle with calculated safety this issue enjoys. One of the great joys in reading comics is that anything can happen in them – they’re like science fiction on steroids. But Vibe‘s path feels oddly prescribed.
Mikyzptlk: Oh yeah, there is definitely a preordained path for Cisco at play here, but I don’t consider that to be a bad thing in it of itself. As you said, Patrick, the full title of this book is Justice League of America’s Vibe meaning that the events of this book will impact JLA and vice versa. Do I think that’s a shortcut to make me interested in this book? Absolutely – but hey, it worked. The writers got me hooked, but what is more important is that I stay hooked. I’m happy to say, that for the time being at least, I’m still hooked. The thing I’m worried about, Patrick, is that all of the other points you made are spot on. I think everyone involved with this book are playing things much safer than they need to be. For a guy with powers as ill-defined as Vibe’s, there’s no telling where they can go with this series and I hope the writers (or I guess just Mr. Gates at this point) will take the emergency brake off and really dive into the potential that this series has.
That said, I’m still pretty excited for this book for a few reasons. First off, there’s Vibe himself. I like this kid, he’s got a touching origin tinged with tragedy. He’s been thrown into a situation he barely has a handle on, but wants to make sure that he does the best he can do. In a lot of ways, I feel like this is how I’d react to becoming superpowered and it’s enjoyable to see a bit of myself in the monthly adventures of a superhero. When Cisco is invited to join the Justice League (okay a Justice League), the look of excitement on his face is exactly what my face would look like were that ever to happen to me (don’t tell me this is all just fictional, YOU’RE FICTIONAL).
Another reason I’m enjoying this series is its ability to provide insight into various aspects of the DCU. The most intriguing discovery so far is The Circus, a super-secret holding cell for what I can only assume are the more interesting universal “breachers” that have been imprisoned by A.R.G.U.S. Plot-wise, the most important (ex)prisoner right now is Gypsy, but the fun doesn’t stop there. In issue one alone we get treated to a handful of interesting detainees, including some Grant Morrison and Wildstorm characters. However, most interesting of all (at least to me) is Pariah. This character was introduced in the classic Crisis on Infinite Earths, and is usually only around when a universe is about to come to an end. Could this have anything to do with the upcoming Trinity War or is it just a fun easter egg put in place to get a chuckle out of dorks like me? I don’t know, but either way it’s interesting and, coincidentally enough, I’m interested!
Ultimately, while this book does entertain by giving us a relatable character to care about while providing valuable insights into other areas of the DCU (including the dark corners of both the JLA and A.R.G.U.S.), this book could stand to loosen up just a bit. While it is essentially just another back-up to JLA, that doesn’t mean they can’t have some more fun with it. Here’s hoping that Sterling Gates gets a bit more leash with Vibe in the future as that may just be what this series needs.
P.S. You can write Kid Flash just as much as you’d like Mr. Gates, in fact I insist!
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?