Justice League 23.2: Lobo

lobo 23.2

Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing Justice League 23.2: Lobo, originally released September 11th, 2013. This issue is part of the Villain’s Month event. Click here for our Villains Month coverage.

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Spencer: For better or for worse, the New 52 created the perfect opportunity for DC to update and reboot its characters. The changes that really worked were the changes that solved a major problem with the character or provided them with a fun new direction; the rest just seemed pointless at best. The changes to Lobo’s character made in Justice League 23.2: Lobo definitely fall into that “pointless” category, but that isn’t all that’s wrong with it; its biggest issue is that the changes are made in a manner that seem to punish Lobo’s fans for having ever been invested in the character in the first place.

Meet Lobo.

The Two LobosLobo’s an intergalactic bounty hunter; violent and immensely powerful, Lobo is only concerned with getting paid and getting his next job. That job comes from Rhialla, who offers Lobo a gig hauling some cargo through a dangerous stretch of space in return for some information he’s been looking for; turns out the cargo is actually a group of aliens who are being harvested for their valuable bones. They think Lobo is there to rescue them, but without even flinching he hands them over to his employer. In return Lobo receives the information he desired:

Dear DC: we still hate that "bait and switch" crap.  Love, Retcon Punch

So yeah, for those of you without a program, the “imposter” Lobo is actually the original, pre-reboot Lobo; in effect, what DC and what writer Marguerite Bennett are saying is, “Hey, you know that Lobo character you guys love? Yeah, turns out he’s a fake. This guy is the real Lobo. He’s going to take down the Lobo you know, and you gotta deal with it.” I don’t understand what led to this decision. It’s pointless, it’s patronizing, and it’s needlessly inflammatory. What is DC thinking?!

I’m guessing this twist was supposed to be edgy or something—which I suppose is appropriate considering this is a Lobo story—but this kind of move only works when the story attached is so excellent that the offending moment can be glossed over. It’s probably no surprise, but this story just isn’t good enough to pull it off.

Lobo works best as a character when he isn’t taken seriously. After all, Lobo is basically a highlight reel of 90’s-era comics’ worst indulgences—ultra-violence, regeneration that basically makes him unbeatable, needlessly edgy and provocative—and as an art form, comics rallied against those kinds of traits long ago. The best way to make Lobo enjoyable is to turn those traits up to 11, basically allowing him to become a parody of himself; we can laugh at the character while still getting a little guilty pleasure out of it. Unfortunately, this issue abandons that take almost completely. There’s once or twice where Bennett allows Lobo to talk wise or make a silly joke—I loved the running gag about using his bounty’s head as a hood ornament—but besides those rare moments, both the issue and Lobo himself are painfully humorless.

It’s hard to latch onto this new Lobo as a character at all, actually. He’s so “cool” that he barely shows emotions at all; he smiles when he kills, is bored at all other times, and that’s his entire range. Unflappability can be a great trait, but when it’s all a character has going for him than he’s going to be a complete cipher. There’s nothing to enjoy about this Lobo and nothing to relate to.

I’m almost wondering if we’re supposed to revile him. The scene where Lobo discovers what his “cargo” actually is and allows them to be taken to their death anyway was painful to get through. I don’t necessarily think that the “old” Lobo would have tried to save them either, but it doesn’t do the “new” Lobo any favors putting him in this situation when he’s already been introduced in such an off-putting way. I realize that it’s Villains Month, but that doesn’t mean the featured villains can’t be interesting, nuanced, entertaining, or even sympathetic. This new Lobo isn’t any of those things. He’s an evil, intergalactic Fonzie, only without any of Fonz’s patented shark-jumping charm.

Perhaps the biggest strike against this issue is that its actual merits (or lack thereof) are almost impossible to discern through the editorial quagmire it got caught up in. I think editors often get a bad rap (and no credit for the good things they do), but it’s impossible to look at this issue and not see a dozen poorly planned decisions that led to this issue’s mismatched cover and poorly introduced replacement character. I have no idea if Bennett could have done more with the character if given more freedom, but I’m disappointed she didn’t at least get the chance.

Patrick, I don’t think we’ve ever talked Lobo before; do you have any prior experience with the character, or is this your first foray into the world of the Main Man? Did your experiences—or lack thereof—with this character color the way you perceived the new Lobo? Could you find anything appealing or interesting about the character that I overlooked, or were you equally turned off?

While you answer those questions, I’m gonna go watch some of the DCAU’s Robert Barone-voiced Lobo to wash the taste of this new one out of my mouth:

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Patrick: I have a little experience with Pre-Flashpoint Lobo – he was stomping around the universe, herding emotional entities in the wake of Blackest Night. I didn’t love the character then — under the Pen of Geoff Johns — and I didn’t much care for him during Rob Liefeld’s run on Deathstroke (but then again: duh). I get that he was invented as a parody of 90s comic excesses – he’s not played with any subtly: Lobo is an outer space biker who rides around the cold vacuum of space without sleeves.

I guess I have a hard time separating parodies of 90s nonsense with the actual 90s nonsense – especially in comics. Like, how do you exaggerate the following for comedic effect?

Liefeldcaptainamerica

Which is to say that the concept you are championing never worked for me. And while I don’t necessarily feel like the new Lobo concept particularly works for me either, the fact that this new character is essentially an amalgamation of 00s-style comic book characters (complete with bullshit-retcon-twist) is just too fun to pan outright. Further, I think the beauty of the Lobo / Lobo relationship is that this issue actually leaves the previous version of the character completely in tact. You can’t say the same for Wally or Steph or Cassie. It’s not even as though the old Lobo is of no consequence to the new Lobo, it’s actually quite the opposite, as pretty boy has been working for years to track down the big guy.

Spencer, I don’t disagree that there’s not much to love about the narrative or the character, but that sells short the fundamentally ballsy idea that Marguerite Bennett puts forth. The first two lines of voice over in this issue are:

You think you know me. Screw you.

And then the retconned Lobo behaves like a humorless jackass while seemingly defying every characteristic of the original (except his cruelty, of course). In this issue, Lobo is representative of every reboot and every fashionable redesign – of course he’s unpleasant. Bennett’s not having fun at our expense, she’s having fun at the expense of the suits that make the decisions – those that say “sorry” and mumble “not sorry” under their breath. It’s such a bold idea, I wish there was a fun story supporting it. As an experiment, as a statement against DC’s editorial practices, I think this is a smart, brave issue.

I also find the the dialogue to be particular well-written. Lobo may be an unrepentant fucker, unworthy of our affection, but he is a man of few words, warrior-like in his brevity. When the other characters get a chance to speak, they’re actually remarkably eloquent. The MC in the first scene uses the words “ebullient” and “gloaming” – both of which are pretty good GRE words (meaning “joyous” and “dusk” respectively). There was a second I thought Bennett was employing bullshit alien slang — something I’m on record as hating — but was pleasantly surprised to discover that “gloaming” is a real word. Something new, every day.

Actually, there’s shocking little copy in this issue from any source and Ben Oliver and Cliff Richards are left to convey much of Lobo’s brutality through their art. Their work is never so balletic as when Lobo gracefully slices someone in half — an act that occurs more than once in 20 pages.

Lobo cuts a dude in half

Also, while that scene of Lobo sending the slave-people back into their cage (and by extension, to certain doom) was stomach churning to read, it is viscerally rendered by Oliver and Richards. everything from the way the representative prisoner emerges from the bottom of the panel, to Lobo’s two-finger point back into the box perfectly establishing the power dynamic, and the utter shittiness of the merciless bastard we’re following.

So, I don’t know – am I meeting Bennett half-way on this one because I don’t have any affinity for the old version of the character? Probably. Am I excited at the prospect of reading future stories about Lobos duking it out for the title of “Real Lobo?” Not really. But it is hard for me to stay mad at this issue, when it seems to articulate complaints about itself right in the text. I am a sucker for that kind of shit, after all.

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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?

15 comments on “Justice League 23.2: Lobo

  1. I also enjoyed a lot about this issue, but I can’t blame Lobo fans for being upset. DC should have known cribbing the twist from “The Principle and the Pauper” was playing with fire.

    • There’s no reason to suspect they don’t know that. There’s nothing wrong with playing with fire – especially with a character as relatively low-stakes as Lobo. The commentary track for Principle and the Pauper has Ken Keeler admitting that he realized with that episode that the rest of the world didn’t view the Simpsons as quite the writer’s sandbox that the creative staff had. This more feels very much like a sandbox move, and I love the idea that comics are a flexible enough medium to do that – even if it pisses people off.

  2. So I just feel the need to mention that I’ve never been the world’s biggest Lobo fan or anything. I usually enjoy his appearances when he shows up in books or TV shows I read, but I’ve never gone out of my way to find a Lobo appearance before and it’s not like I’m all excited when I see he’s making an appearance. So I like the character, but I’m not one of those fans who “love” the character I mentioned in my half of the article.

    I also went into this issue with full knowledge that there was a New Lobo introduced inside. I saw an article about it weeks ago, so I tried to go into this issue with an open mind, prepared to judge the new Lobo on his own merits. So I’m legitimately not hating on this issue because “oh there’s a new Lobo, I automatically hate anything new!”;it’s that Tamzarian-esque twist (thanks Drew!) that really drew my ire. WIthout that twist, I thought it was a fairly decent issue. I still can’t latch onto this new Lobo in the slightest, but at least the story was straightforward and didn’t have any narrative gaps or plot holes or out of character moments (even if I almost would have preferred that to an “in-character” new Lobo).

    It’s just that big twist at the end that pissed me off. I may not be the biggest fan of the character, but that’s a pretty mean way to treat the fans of the character.

    I do appreciate the points you made, though, Patrick. I didn’t notice the giant middle finger Bennett was giving editorial at first, but I love it. Last time we saw Bennett was on the most recent Batman Annual, and while it wasn’t a perfect issue, I like most of what she did there, so as I said in my write-up, I’m sad she didn’t get a chance to flex her muscles more with this book. I also appreciated the art, but couldn’t really figure out any individual example I wanted to point out, so I’m glad you picked up my slack on that one, Patrick.

    • Oh, I think your perspective on the twist, the retcon and this story are all perfectly valid and even important things to keep in mind, even when interpreting the issue as Bennett’s middle-finger from editorial. Like, the meta-text of the issue doesn’t work unless you hate it a little, right? Same is true of Armand Tamzarian – if no one reacts negatively to the reveal about the character, then the commentary doesn’t mean anything.

  3. I’m in a similar boat to Patrick’s here in that I wasn’t ever really a fan of Lobo, and I think that makes it easier for me to like this issue. In general, considering how extremely hit or miss villains month has been so far, I’d actually rate this on the plus side. The story works well, I like the new design personally; it hasn’t made me want to seek out more Lobo stories in the future but I wouldn’t be angry if he did turn up in something I was reading.

    That being said, I can totally understand fans who are irate about this, hell, I get all bent out of shape every time the Joker and Harley Quinn are in a shitty story, let alone when working parts of their characters are retconned (see: Joker #1, Suicide Squad #6-7; 14-15, if you like pain) so to see their character being shoved off to the side can be a major slap in the face to fans. I suppose the up-side is that the Lobo they love still exists, it just happens that his real name isn’t Lobo. Perhaps DC will still use him down the line if it seems like it’ll make fans happy. In the meantime, I’ll cover my ears and sing loudly while I pretend that Harleen Quinzel wasn’t thrown into a vat of acid, and isn’t the umpteenth Harley Quinn the Joker has had.

      • Ya that’s what I mean, as far as my continuity is concerned, all the issues listed in my previous post don’t exist, never existed and never will. I refuse to let awful writing taint my favorite characters forever. The point I was making though is that being that I’m so protective of my favorite characters, I could understand someone who’s a huge Lobo fan being super pissed off about this.

  4. I’ll admit I’m not a Lobo fan. I don’t hate the character or anything like that, but I usually found the character annoying when he popped up in various Superman titles back in the 90s. But, I get the appeal, and I like the idea behind him being a parody of various 90s cliches.

    That said, I like the idea that this “new” Lobo is being structured as a parody of more modern comics/genre characters. With a sleeker new, “pretty-boy” look and an attitude that calls for very little words. Not to mention the preciseness of everything he does. I think the idea is valid.

    Plus, who knows where this story will go? Perhaps the “classic” Lobo will be victorious. Or, even better, what if we are introduced to a legion of Lobos, each parody a different era of comics. What DC has presented here is something that can go in any direction.

  5. I was thinking a lot about this issue yesterday, and I think it’s actually a much richer meditation on what makes a character a character than even Patrick is giving it credit for. I was ready to trot out my old James Bond comparison: it’s not that he’s immutable — he’s been interpreted by different actors and placed in different time periods — but there certainly are a lot of physical trappings that we associate with the character that I’d say can’t be taken away; if he doesn’t wear a tuxedo, order a martini, and brandish a Walther PPK, I’d argue that what you’re watching isn’t a James Bond film.

    Whether or not you agree with that sentiment, I think we can all agree that if you change a character too much, it ceases to be that character. The question here becomes “what is it that makes Lobo Lobo?” The character we get here is still a merciless badass, but he’s traded in his barrel-chested, hairy, 1970’s biker aesthetic for a slim, youthful, 1950’s biker aesthetic. Are those changes enough to make this interpretation a betrayal to his fans? I think it depends on to what degree you were drawn to the character by those elements (or, for Patrick’s argument, whether you think the commentary on comicdom’s excesses trumps those elements).

    Ultimately, whether the tweaks to his look constitute a betrayal don’t matter — it’s the implication that we’ve all been following the escapades of an imposter that feels like a “fuck you” to fans. I’m generally of the mindset that reboots are non-destructive — if you prefer the old version of Superboy or whatever, it’s still there — but this actually goes out of its way to invalidate previous stories. I’d argue that it still doesn’t do damage to previous stories, but there’s certainly a non-inclusive sentiment.

    But then I thought about it more, and it seems to me that Bennett is actually going out of her way to include those previous stories. She could have simply ignored that the old Lobo stories ever existed, but this actually finds a way to bridge that gap, saying “no, those stories definitely happened, but here’s why we’re going to follow a very different character.” It has gotten me thinking about what it means to be Lobo, a kind of existential issue I would never have dreamed of getting from a Lobo story before.

    • Oh, yes – this is definitely more than I’ve ever thought about Lobo before – never mind how much I’ve thought out the concept of Lobo-ness. I’ve literally never given the character concept a second thought before (the first thought being: that’s dumb, if not without charm). Bennett’s given me both the tools and the occasion to ask fundamental questions about the character and I think that alone makes the issue valuable.

      I’m also interested in what it means that Old Lobo is an imposter. Like, doesn’t that play to his previously established traits? Who else would have the balls to steal the identity and reputation of a cold blooded killer? It doesn’t make Old Lobo any less LOBO if we discover that his real name is Eugene or something, right?

      • Right, right: a rose by any other name, etc. But, I think it might make him less Lobo. I get that it doesn’t make sense, but there’s a palpable sense of betrayal when you learn that Skinner’s real name is Armin Tamzarian.

        I think what feels particularly bad about the reveal is that it double-crosses us. Like, the “we both know that woman isn’t your wife” reveal in the first Batman Annual works because we were led to believe that that particular detail was consistent with what we had always known about the character. Here, we’re just settling into the idea that Lobo as we didn’t know him had never existed, only to be surprised again that he does exist, but he’s not Lobo. (But now I’m imagining a triple-feint, where, after a showdown with old Lobo, we learn that this Lobo is delusional, and the reveal here is a lie.)

        Point is: sure, it doesn’t matter, but things only have to feel like they matter for people to get upset about it.

  6. Looking at the New 52 design, am I the only one that thinks Bennet had wanted to base her Lobo off of his earlier appearances in the Old 52? Each time I read the comic, I’m vividly reminded of the Lobo from JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL, L.E.G.I.O.N., MIRACLE MAN, before Bisley took over and gave him a steroid-infused overhaul.

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  9. “It’s just that big twist at the end that pissed me off. I may not be the biggest fan of the character, but that’s a pretty mean way to treat the fans of the character.”

    But couldn’t one say that that is in keeping with the character? We’re talking about Lobo here, a guy who not only murdered his own planet but also gleefully flipped off readers in his various covers and in some of his comics. His jacket even says on the back “Bite Me, Fanboys!” in bold.

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