From A Library – Tangent volumes 1–3

Collection of the first Tangent comics, based on concepts created by Dan Jurgens.

Volume 1
Dan Jurgens – The Atom
Ron Marz & Mike McKone – Metal Men
James Robinson & JH Williams III – Green Lantern
Todd Dezago & Gary Frank – Flash
Kurt Busiek & Paul Ryan – Sea Devils

I haven’t read any comics from Dan Jurgens before – no particular reason, just that he tends to the more traditional superhero comic book in the DC universe, something I’ve never been into. The reason for interest in these books is the idea: Jurgens wanted to do to the characters of the DC universe what the creators under Julius Schwartz started in Showcase #4 in 1956 – reimagining them.

It’s more than an Elseworld but not quite another universe. So The Atom is this Earth’s most powerful being, with Superman levels of power (and no shrinking); the Metal Men are a group of elite American soldiers rather than metallic element-based robots; Green Lantern is a woman who resurrects the dead so they can undo a wrong, rather than the wielder of a power ring that obeys the owner’s will; the Flash is a young woman made of light, not the world’s fastest man; the Sea Devils are the results of a nuclear catastrophe, instead of a team of non-powered adventurers (and I have to admit I had to look that up).

Everything about the imprint has been considered – the books have a unique design, with a great visual branding on the cover (which they bizarrely omitted from the trade paperbacks), from the Tangent logo to the font to the mini-logos for each of the new characters. It looks very good and sets these books apart from other comics, giving them an identity.

Jurgens starts things off with a very old-fashioned tale, both in content and style, harking back to a traditional storytelling. It feels dated, even if the universe it initiates is new and potentially interesting. Here, he basically lays the groundwork for the new universe, with the first Atom being the centrepoint for the world-altering events that affect everything that comes afterwards, and the latest Atom discovering the truth while we are introduced to this world. However, it feels too Silver Age in its approach and in its art style. There are lots of recognisable DC names changed to this new world (such as Impusle cola), which I think misses the point – if you’re going to change things, do it gradually, rather than cram your book with lots of in-joke references.

Metal Men is just a war tale, told with some style by McKone, again using recognisable names in this new setting (Black Lightning, Hawkman, Raven), with some history building to bulk up this universe, but it doesn’t do anything special.

I own the Green Lantern comic because it was during my phase of buying all comics by creators I liked – James Robinson wrote this, so I had to get it. It also stands out among these other stories, using Captain Comet, King Faraday and Arthur Curry in anthology-style 8-page stories and doing it well: telling three different tales with beginning, middle and end and linking them with the Green Lantern concept (being a women who brings someone back from the dead to avenge their death). With the great artistic styling of JH Williams III creating a marvellous tableau and you’ve got the standout issue.

Flash is annoying: a super goofy tone, a stupid villain and a really aggravating first-person narration from the central character (‘I am like, so busted …’) all the way through. It’s a silly tale of fluff told in the admittedly enjoyable cartoony art of Gary Frank but it was tough to get through. This is more than can be said for Sea Devils, which has some very ugly Paul Ryan art, nasty and almost illegible lettering for the narrative captions, and a boring story of a boy facing up to responsibility. How did this come from the mind of Kurt Busiek?

Volume Two
Karl Kesel & Matt Haley – Joker
John Ostrander & Jan Duursema – Nightwing
Chuck Dixon & Tom Grummett – Secret Six
Dan Jurgens & Sean Chen – Doom Patrol
Dan Jurgens & Klaus Janson

The Joker is a do-gooder with a conscience, no respect for authority but a playful sense of humour and three secret identities. She develops an interest in a particular police officer of New Atlantis due to the connection to the nuclear strikes that caused the creation of New Atlantis. There is heart to the story but it is slightly on the annoying side of over the top; at least Haley’s art is pleasing to the eye.

Nightwing is not pleasing to the eye, either in art or writing; it’s a mess that is hard to believe. Durrsema’s art is 1990s bad: women have too much hair and the faces are really strange and there are big guns and big breasts. The idea of mixing secret organisations with magic does seem a good idea, but Ostrander doesn’t make it come together, which is a surprise considering his wonderful work on Suicide Squad. There is the embarrassing tantric sex operative, and that’s without the outrageous accent. It also suffers from the overdoing of names of other DC concepts (Hex, Gravedigger, Wildcat, Creeper, Black Orchid), making your eyes bleed.

Secret Six is a fairly flimsy ‘getting the team that isn’t a team’ together story, uniting Flash, Atom, Manhunter, Spectre, Plastic Man and Joker into a group that doesn’t work as a group at all. The villain, who calls himself Aquaman, has henchpeople who dress in 1990s style costumes (Warlord has a face helmet that looks like it would squash his nose flat if it was actually real). Grummet’s art looks like it is still evolving, light of touch but not as confident as his later work.

Doom Patrol involves a time travel story where the people from the future come back in time to stop the disaster that changes time but they are actually responsible for these very disasters. I hate those types of stories – they are so clichéd, and it is also filled with really bad dialogue from Jurgens, especially the attempt at Future Speak. The only interesting thing about this story is seeing early Chen art – it is the best in the book but it is still raw in places, suffering too much from 1990s problems, and with a strange inconsistency in the faces and facial expressions.

But the worst is left until last – The Batman is truly awful. The flat art, the terrible narration in a faux Olde English style, the inherent silliness of the idea: Batman is in a ridiculous modern knight armour, in London (with a flashback to how he was a knight of the Round Table who nearly ruins things on the word of his wife, who turns out to be a creature from Hell – no subtext there – which causes Merlin to curse him to live in Castle Bat [I wish I had made that up, but I didn’t] forever to atone for his sins as ‘the loneliest man the world has ever known’. Utter, utter rubbish that should not have been allowed to be committed to paper.

Volume Three
Mark Millar & Jackson Guice – Superman
Peter David & Angel Unzueta – Wonder Woman
John Ostrander & Jan Duursema – Nightwing Night Force
Karl Kesel & Tom Simmons and Joe Phillips – The Joker’s Wild
Todd Dezago & Paul Pelletier – The Trials of the Flash
Ron Marz & Dusty Abell – Powergirl
Dan Jurgens & Darryl Banks – JLA

Even though Jurgens, in his introduction to the first trade, talked about not reimagining the big names – something he went back on by doing Batman (appallingly, it turns out) and finishes the job with Superman and Wonder Woman in this trade.

To counteract the Batman abomination, Superman is actually interesting and rather good – Guice provides a nice charcoaly art style and Millar’s writing, as bombastic as usual, works well on a nice idea with some nice touches (such as the Dick Van Hero Show on television). In it, Harvey Dent develops all manner of super powers after falling from a skyscraper – it turns out he was the result of experiments on a small Southern town of mostly African Americans with Miraclo solution to accelerate the natural evolutionary process; it went badly wrong, with the exception of Harvey, only his powers didn’t activate until the accident. The story looks at how he develops beyond just mere super powers and how it would affect the person and the people close to them. It’s a very effective little tale, all the better for not really being part of the Tangent universe.

Wonder Woman is essentially a story about the pun on ‘wonder’ – the heroine of the story is Wanda, a laboratory-created product of a planet called Gotham, who are split into the war-like males (Beast Boys) and the cerebral females (Element Girls), in order to unite them; unfortunately, neither likes Wanda and she had to escape. She can now think people out of existence but also a tendency to philosophising, hence the pun. At least it has some nice art.

Ostrander and Duursema are unbelievably given another shot with Nightwing – this is a mess of a story in both writing and art that sees the Doom Patrol rescued by agents of Meridian, the European opposite number to Nightwing, who take them to the head of the Soviet state: the vampire Josef Stalin. That should be a fun idea, but it really isn’t, and it’s not really a story – it’s just a build up for creating the Ultra Humanite for the last book in the series.

The Joker’s Wild, another story about the Joker, is not as funny as it thinks it, but has a nice art style and is light and breezy, but it’s hard to believe the character warranted another bite at the apple. The only interesting aspect of this story is the discovery that Joker is actually three separate people – the three people who we had been led to believe three identities for the same person.

The Trials of the Flash has the nice comedy stylings of Pelletier’s pencils, but this is another character who doesn’t require another story. There’s a nice switch-and-bait when Plastic Man and the Flash are captured by the Firestorm Troopers, but this is insubstantial, much like the Flash herself.

The only character that warranted a return from the earlier trade was the Green Lantern; however, only the framing sequences by Robinson and Williams (which are the only good parts). The stories they surround are laboured alternative origins for the Green Lantern herself. The only thing of note is some early art by Georges Jeanty and Ryan Sook in his Mike Mignola days).

Powergirl (all one word) is rather awful all around – it’s a silly concept about a super heroine created by the Chinese government, with transitional art from Abell that doesn’t quite work as well as it would like. It’s not even about Powergirl – it’s about the other characters – and then she has ‘do anything she wants’ powers, including bringing people back from the dead, which is just silly even in a comic book.

The final book of this rather large trade paperback feels so 1990s, it’s not even funny. It includes everyone from the Tangent universe in a ‘big’ story but doesn’t match the different tones set up by the various different authors, even though Jurgens created all of them to begin with, which doesn’t make sense. It’s a feeble excuse to get Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman to form the new JLA without having an ending, leaving everything open for a hoped-for future.

There’s little to suggest continued existence beyond this collection of books, which is bemusing to see that DC have allowed Jurgens to continue producing comic books in this line. There is a nice idea in here but, with the constant and overwhelming referencing to DC names for no reason other than to say ‘This is a variation on the DC universe’ in big flashing letters, it didn’t have the courage to stand on its own two feet and believe in itself. DC must have owed Jurgens really big for The Death of Superman story …

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