Or – “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone, Whever He Hung His Cape Was His Home...”
Many people have pointed out the recurring thread in Walt Disney movies regarding the lack or loss of a mother figure and it’s effect on the resulting stories. But there is also the obvious, but little discussed fact that a huge number of our favorite comic book stories are predicated on the loss of, lack of, or abuse by paternal figures… or, to use fewer syllables, they’ve got ‘Daddy issues.’ Witness Peter Parker’s guilt over not saving his surrogate father, Uncle Ben. The pre-Crisis Superman was so defined by the guilt over the death of his father (and his mother, to be fair), that there was a huge outcry when John Byrne rewrote history to leave the Kents alive. Batman’s paternal influence is obvious, but more quietly, look at how Brian Banner’s abuse shaped the nascent Bruce (and splintered off his Hulk personality) or how Charles Xaver’s distaste for his half-brother Cain Marko was partly induced by the rampages of Cain’s tough-guy abusive dad. The lives of Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and Jason Todd speak volumes about their interactions with their father figure, as absent from their lives in a metaphorical way as papa Thomas Wayne was absent from his Bruce’s. With all that subtext out there, it’s nice to see someone take this notion and bring it to the forefront, and that’s exactly what Jay Faerber has done in “Dynamo 5,” with interesting results…
Captain Dynamo is a minor superhuman operating in the already-clogged skies of the Image Universe, and is what Alan Moore deemed “A Wylie,” one of those superhuman characters whose primary characteristic is super-strength (generally seen with flight and eyebeams, what we call the Kryptonian powerset). His archetype, of course, is derived from Superman, who was himself inspired by the turn-of-the-centry Phillip Wylie novel “Gladiator,” hence the designation. He has been seen, occasionally, as a background character in Faerber’s perfect soap-opera pastiche, “Noble Causes,” but was recently assassinated in those pages by an evil criminal mastermind. To convey the aftermath of such a tragedy, some writers would have written a psychological tour de force about loss, others would have shown it’s effects on the other superheroes. Faerber, a student of comics as well as daytime dramas, went a different route, and the results are quirky and quite fun.
The issue starts in media res, with five superheroes in battle, each of whom possesses one of Captain Dynamo’s legendary powers: Strength, flight, telepathy, eyebeams, and shape-shifting. They all wear costumes reminiscent of the Captain, but their interactions are those of awkward strangers, rather than a super-team. The team member who seems most like the de facto leader, Slingshot, explains why…
That’s Slingshot in the domino mask and cleavage, hoisting Visionary. The fight scene goes on for a few pages, introducing the team members, and they’re a mixed bag. Some of the names are awesome (Visonary, Scatterbrain, Slingshot), others not so (Scrap, Myriad), and Faerber entertainingly plays against type by having the hip, pierced, gothy-looking girl be the muscle and the big football jock the telepath. Once the battle ends, they contact their mysterious overseer, who asks them if they, by any chance, found out what it is this attack was supposed to DO? None of the (extremely inexperienced) team ever thought of that, and suddenly, they realize they’re a man short.
Their eyebeam guy is gone, but luckily, at least their leader has a brain in her head. Maddie Warner (the Captain’s wife, and his ‘Lois Lane’ archetype) realizes that the point of the attack was to allow the mysterious organization called The Veil to scout out the kids for some nefarious purpose. She’ s a quick one, Maddie, a recent widow who made a horrifying discovery after her man died. Unfortunately, the wife of Captain Dynamo had more to do than send some suits to goodwill and look for insurance papers. Maddie was forced to go through the secret underground Dynamo lair by the pier, and there she found something that she never expected.
Captain Dynamo obviously misunderstood the difference between “philanthropist” and “philanderer,” though it’s a common mistake. As her city is overrun by hubbin’s old villains, Maddie realizes that the diary is more than a betrayal, it’s a blessing in disguise. There’s a chance that his powers were passed on, if only one of the side-trollops managed to concieve. The bad news is, none of the women had a child who had the not-so-good Captain’s powers. The good news is, FIVE SEPARATE children were born, each of whom inherited a fraction of daddy’s abilities. Now, do the math on this: If five children were accidentally fathered (an occurrance that would take tremendously bad/good timing), there must have been HUNDREDS of women, and THOUSANDS of dalliances over a period of DECADES. That’s staggering, the kind of thing that even Wilt Chamberlain looks at and quote Ron Simmons. With Maddie having gathered the children of Captain Dynamo, we get the best moment in the entire book, as Scatterbrain meets Scrap and proves that it’s more than just a clever name…
Maddie exposes each of them to the radiation that initiated Cap’n D’s powers, unlocking their own abilities, and assembles them into a team, operating out of Dynamo’s own underground fortress, acting as the team’s unofficial sixth member. But that was YESTERDAY… what have you done for me TODAY? With Hector (Visionary) captured, Maddie leads the remaining four children to the headquarters of The Veil, one of the remaining villains of her late husband. Myriad, with his shapeshifting powers, plays point man.
By the way, that’s Scatterbrain in the hood, Myriad with no face, and Scrap with the legs. And my word, but I hate the “easy way/hard way” cliche. It’s worse than “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” Although, I suppose we can forgive Slingshot, as she’s young and very new to the whole trashtalking thing. Actually, we can forgive it because, for the first time in history, the Veil chooses the easy way. This amuses me greatly, and the villains are taken into custody by the D5 and taken back to Maddie. She dismisses the children, reminding them that they’ve disarmed the baddies already (ominously holding up a large frapgun she confiscated), and then we get the twist… “Now that the kids are gone, I can admit something to you…”
Niiice. This isn’t as shocking as Thunderbolts #1’s ending, but it’s well-done, and the secret was kept in solicitations, something that isn’t very common these days. And the fact that she makes the point of switching guns to simulate a dual murder/suicide, like she’s done it a thousand times before, is chilling and flat-out awesome. That was a very well-handled moment, but one thing Jay Faerber does incredibly well (perhaps better than any other writer in recent years, even Robert Kirkman) is the soap-opera-style cliffhanger.
The fact that he is able to top the scene of ‘Lois Lane’ going all Frank Castle on the thugs is awesome… I am not familiar with Mahmud Asrar’s art before this issue, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout for him in the future. Asrar manages to incorporate a bit of the McFarlane-inspiration that you see in guys like Todd Nauck and Erik Larsen, but without the cartooniness that makes Nauck so hit-and-miss. His use of black is awesome, and he has excellent anatomy, with different bodies having different (but correct) proportion and shaping. His women (Scrap in particular) come across as attractive, yet not too pin-uppy. Impressively, he manages to handle Maddie (a regular woman ‘of a certain age’) with subtlety, making her obviously over forty while keeping her attractive, and not resorting to the timeworn ‘old woman with skeleton face’ cliche.
Faerber’s writing is always entertaining, and this book feels focused and tightly conceived. I’m an old Noble Causes fan, and while that book is just starting to pick up again, Dynamo 5 hits the ground running, albeit in a direction I didn’t expect, taking into account the prevailing winds, and avoiding of a lot of the first-issue pitfalls. An unexpected treat, Dynamo 5 #1 nails an above average 3 stars. It’s fun, it’s different, the characters have potention, and most of all, I’m looking forward to seeing what exactly Maddie HASN’T mentioned.