Today, Mikyzptlk and Drew are discussing Vibe 4, originally released May 15th, 2013.
Mikyzptlk: As the old proverb goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I’m the kind of guy that tries to do the right thing in any given situation. I may not always succeed in that, but I usually have the best of intentions. However, no matter how hard I try, that old proverb rears it’s ugly head from time to time. Unfortunately for superheroes, they are no more immune to that proverb than I, and Vibe is quickly discovering that. Even though he just wants to do good, he may be figuring out that he’s being ordered to do just the opposite. This issue explores what Vibe does with that realization, as well as how he might be able to stay on his intended path.
This issue, Vibe is found protecting his brother Dante from someone known as Breacher. Apparently, he was the first to traverse the multiverse and was ignored when he tried to warn Earth about Darkseid’s impending attack. He warns Cisco that A.R.G.U.S. isn’t what they appear, but is zapped away before he can reveal anything else. Cisco and Dante decide to look into A.R.G.U.S. further and, after a bit of Googling, discover that the organization formed out of the merging of other black ops groups. You know, the kind that doesn’t care about your rights. The brothers are interrupted by a call from Agent Gunn who has a new mission for Vibe: track down and capture Gypsy. After a few perceptual shape-changes from Gypsy, Vibe finds and eventually subdues her. However, instead of taking her in, Vibe decides to help her find her way home. Amanda Waller, not exactly keen on Vibe’s choices, decides there’s only one team that can successfully bring Gypsy back in. Unfortunately for Vibe, it isn’t his pals of the JLA.
This issue is Sterling Gates’ second issue since taking over as the regular ongoing writer for the series. The first two issues were written by the team of Geoff Johns and Andrew Kreisberg. While I certainly enjoyed those entries, I think that having the singular voice of Sterling Gates has helped to solidify this title just a bit more. I was slightly concerned with a creative shift so early into this series, but Mr. Gates has come in strong, knowing exactly where to take his characters as well as the overall story.
Speaking of the overall story, damn is it compelling. The series quickly established that it was about a young man who found himself in a situation in which he was in over his head. Initially, I just figured it would be a kind of coming-of-age story with Cisco figuring out what it means to be a superhero while learning to be a part of a large government organization. However, this issue hints at things being far more diabolical than they seem.
It’s kind of difficult to get behind a character like Breacher considering we know so little about him. However, what we do know is enough to perk up my ears and get me to pay attention. This dude is from some unknown parallel Earth? Cool. He tried to warn Earth about Darkseid’s attack all the way back in the beginning of the New 52? Awesome. He knows dark secrets about A.R.G.U.S. but is somehow teleported away against his own will eliciting a vow to kill someone? Yeah, I’m down. Who the hell is this guy though? Perhaps uncovering his identity could reveal even more of the secrets that this guy has stashed away, but only time will tell I suppose.
Shifting the focus over to the main character, Vibe is starting to show his stripes, and they are looking more heroic as each issue progresses. We’ve known since issue 1 that Cisco is a nice guy that wants to be a hero, but this series is really beginning to challenge that desire. Fortunately, those challenges are beginning prove that Vibe is exactly the hero he is trying to be. Before I get into that, let me just say that following Vibe chase after Gypsy was a ton of fun. I’ve never followed the character before, but she’s actually pretty cool, even though her powers did lead to a cheap “guest-star” role of Batman in this issue. Spoiler Alert: It was really just Gypsy using her Doctor Who-lifted “perception filters” to make everyone think Batman appeared. Whatever, it totally worked! For a second at least. Lastly, the reason she’s called Gypsy is because she and her family just wander the multiverse, Sliders style. I don’t know about you but, YES! Okay, I said I was shifting the focus to Vibe, so let’s get back to why he’s such a badass hero.
In the last issue, he disobeyed orders so that he could help Kid Flash, but he was able to accomplish that mostly without directly disobeying orders. This time though, he actually attacks A.R.G.U.S. soldiers in order to help Gypsy out. Oh, and once again, his instinct is help out the individual that he’s specifically been sent to capture. Cisco is a guy who is fairly insecure and unsure of most of his decisions, Vibe on the other hand is a hero who simply can’t stop himself from helping people in need. This is true even when challenged by a big, scary government organization, not to mention Amanda Waller. That’s admirable, and the mark of a true hero.
It’s safe to say that I am definitely on board with this series at this point. Sterling Gates has really helped to solidify the threads that have been set up by his predecessors, and I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here. Drew, I’m obviously a fan, but how are you feeling about Vibe now that we are at issue 4? Are you as intrigued by the various elements of this series as I am? Speaking of those elements, this issue presented us with a pretty big surprise involving Agent Gunn. I certainly wasn’t expecting that, but I really loved how it was presented, and it’s made me even more interested in a character I was already intrigued by. What was your take on that?
Drew: My reaction to that scene is a microcosm of my feelings of this series as a whole — which, unfortunately, are not as positive as yours, Mik. Sure, finding out that a character we’ve already met is gay is refreshing, but cut to the core of that scene, and you’re left with something yawn-inducingly generic: an incredibly compressed scene where a character expresses that he doesn’t want to put his loved one in danger. Guess what is going to inevitably happen?
To Gates and Neves’ credit, that’s an incredibly efficient piece of storytelling. The first panel introduces Gunn and his home. The second and third reveal that he hasn’t been wearing his wedding ring (told simply by him placing it on his left ring finger). The fourth introduces Casey and their relationship. Five through seven establish the tension surrounding Gunn not wearing the ring, and the last two panels give us a resolution to that conflict. The problems is, that same efficiency makes it damn clear that this scene isn’t here for color — Gunn’s concerns about bad guys exploiting their marriage is almost certainly going to happen, and likely sooner rather than later. That sense gives this scene urgency, but it also turns it from one of character development into a bland plot-point. Unfortunately, that’s how much of the rest of this issue struck me.
Honestly, everything about this issue felt formulaic to me, from the Breacher who conveniently delivers information, only to disappear before explaining it (I’m just going to refer to him as Obi Wan’s ghost), to the whole misunderstood fugitive thing. In that vein, I was particularly bothered with the generic treatment of Detroit. Like, I appreciate the specificity that Cisco and Dante go to the Skillman branch of the Detroit Public Library to do their research (though, really, they go to a library to google shit? What year is this? Cisco has a fucking smart phone), but I’m disappointed that Gates couldn’t come up with anything less generic sounding than the “Downtown Detroit Street Fair” to set the Gypsy scenes. Like, he’s not even trying to make it sound not made up. Even a cursory search of Detroit’s summer festivals could have turned up DOZENS of options, but Gates seems content to just call it his convenient plot contrivance and move on to the action.
Which would be acceptable if it were good action, but again, it’s pretty generic. Not only does it feature a Batman cameo, which is perhaps the biggest cliche in comicdom, but it features a shape-shifter pretending to be Batman, which we saw a month ago in DC Universe Presents 19. Moreover, it features Amanda Waller once again being so cold-hearted and manipulative that I can’t help but wonder how she ever rose to power in the first place. Like, if she’s willing to be opaque and cruel to superhumans who could crush her with a thought, how could she have ever made a good impression on, like, her normal, mortal bosses? More than anything, I’m reading enough titles where Waller is manipulating heroes — which is all the more perplexing, since I thought Steve Trevor was the point-person for JLA.
All that is to say, this issue left me incredibly underwhelmed, amounting to little more than a pile of tropes and no real emotional connection. The attempts to distinguish the events — the Detroit setting, Gunn’s homosexuality — end up coming off as hollow. I appreciate that Gates’ heart is in the right place, but as you pointed out, Mik, good intentions aren’t always enough.
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