The Loners #1 (of 6)

by

Or – “Does Barry Manilow Know That You Raid His Wardrobe?”

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The Marvel Universe. A place of myth and legend (so long as you’re a geek like us.) It’s greatest strength is the myriad of characters, interacting, changing (within reason), growing (as long as it doesn’t affect revenue) and bouncing off one another. Every Marvel character has a following, and if you don’t believe me, google and see how many people are happy to see Armadillo turn his act around. Unfortunately, the greatest weakness of the Marvel Universe is the same thing: It’s myriad of characters blah blah blah fishcakes. It’s strange how only a few years can take the wind out of a popular characters sails… So, what happens when you’re one of the superheroes who gets caught in the undertow?

Lone1.jpgWell, first off, let me compliment whomever chose the cover image (a parody of the movie poster for The Breakfast Club), though I never pictured Darkhawk as the Bender. For one thing (with respect to DH’s fans), Bender was a lot cooler than poor Chris Powell. I mean, c’mahn, people, if you can’t figure out that Phillip Bazin is a criminal, it’s time to rethink the heroism thing. The guy just oozes ‘crimelord.’ The Loners initially formed at the behest of a mysterious request to find and convince The Runaways to stop getting involved in fistfights with superhumans. Ironically, it turned out that their benefactor was Rick Jones, the lad responsible, essentially, for the Hulk’s genesis, and fought alongside the Avengers and served a term as ‘Bucky’. No hypocrisy there, hmm? The group stayed together as a ‘support group’ for former superheroes, dedicated to keeping each other out of costume (and thus out of Iron Man’s extradimensional gulag). We start on a disturbing note, with Phil Urich on the phone, desperately trying to talk a teenage girl off a ledge…

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The girl falls, and I’m stunned at what a downer this opening is, until she sweeps upward, taking off and revealing her powers… As you can see up top, she’s the artist formerly known as “Lightspeed” now a struggling actress (at SIXTEEN??) in L.A. Phil disappointedly hangs up his phone, and turns to Michiko Musashi (the former Turbo) who asks what ‘pushed her over the edge.’ “The Hyatt,” Phil replies. Mickey is astonished that she couldn’t make it one more block without flying off the wagon (or is that falling off the handle?) and Phil admits that he should have scheduled their meeting away from tall buildings, which get her every time. Heh. Mickey says it’s time for an intervention, but first they have to get to their meeting. It’s structured very much like Alcoholics Anonymous (which might be considered a little insulting to the real alcoholics, at least in my mind) and the group’s newest member stands up to introduce herself: “My name is Mattie Franklin, and I used to be a teenage superhero… My powers pretty much destroyed my life…”

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Okay, raise your hand if you think that Matilda needs considerably more counseling than her friends are capable of providing her? Yeah, me too. As the trauma-inducing recitation of Mattie’s guest-appearance in “Alias” finally ends, Julie Power arrives (“You flew home to change?”) fashionably late. She half-heartedly defends herself from the abuses of her friends, until Chris “Darkhawk” Powell snipes, “Why do we even bother? It’s just gonna go in one ear and out the other with Tinkerbell, here?” Julie (always the strongest member of Power Pack) rises up to her full 5’1″, and informs “Dorkhawk” of his misconceptions in a rather straightforward manner.

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The thing is, Julie’s right. It’s NOT the same for them, and most importantly, it’s not as if Julie has EVER had a normal life. She was, like, eight when she got her powers, and they’ve been a constant ever since. Julie breaks down into tears and I realize for the second time in less than ten pages, these kids need to see Doc Samson, STAT! Of course, Julie’s breakdown causes Mattie to be upstaged, and Ms. Franklin immediately responds by upping the emotional ante…

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Remember, folks, when you’re a teenage, it’s not about who’s right, it’s about who has the better exit. Chris races after her, but finds Mattie smiling and laughing, asking him “do you think they bought it?” Chris is confused, until she whips out her skin-tight suit and says “I fell off the wagon!” The alcoholic metaphor is really starting to wear on me, here. She explains to Chris that the drug dealers who were using her for MGH have relocated to Los Angeles, and she wants to deal with them once and for all… with Darkhawk’s help. Chris isn’t sure, but relents under pressure from Mattie…

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But who is that mysterious figure lurking in the shadows? A mystery… for about five more pages. When they arrive at the warehouse where the drug runners are located, Mattie tries to sneak in, but Darkhawk (still showing signs of the instability that plagued him in the “Runaways” crossovers) blows down the door and goes in shooting. Spider-Woman follows, and the fight is brief, until Darkhawk sees the woman whose body is the source of the MGH, and thinks she’s a prisoner…

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Nekra Sinclair, former pal of the Mandrill, and runner-up twice for “Nekkidest Woman in the Marvel Universe” (losing to She-Hulk and Tigra, respectively), but stupidly, Darkhawk mistook her for a victim. She’s a willing and able part of the plan, especially now that she’s one of the last mutants extant who aren’t X-Men. Miz Sinclair’s attack turns the tide against Chris and Mattie, but luckily, they’re being shadowed by a mysterious figure, remember? And he’s got a few mutant moves of his own.

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Injury to the eye panel! Call Doctor Wertham! Richochet turns back the tide, and they handily clean out this particular hive of scum and villainy, and strangely, Ricochet (the newest character) talks like he’s the most experienced. I guess he’s just oldest? In any case, the heroes are appalled at what they find in the MGH runners’ records (Drug rings have records? And they’re clearly labeled in binders? How very progressive…)

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So much for abstinence, I guess. Though it’s only funny till Iron Man shows up and kills one of you… In any case, we’ve kicked off the Loners’ solo series, and the questions that it raises are ones that have needed some closure since Bendis brought up the whole “MGH drug” thing in the first place. I like the array of characters, and I’m hoping to see Turbo and Phil in costume before the series is over.

The art didn’t grab me at all, with Karl Moline’s faces occasionally reminding me of the Dodsons, without the lushness of Rachel’s inking. The coloring was very murky, even for a story taking place at night in a warehouse, and there was an awful lot of whining going on for my tastes. Still, it’s nice to see under-featured characters (though Marvel is edging close to oversaturating the market with this type of book, seeing as how nextwave, both Avengers titles, The Initiative, Agents of Atlas, X-Factor and Exiles all fall roughly into that category) and the story has an interesting hook. In fact, that hook may be my biggest complaint about the book. It seems that the new Marvel wants a fresh take on every single book, with something that you can’t get anywhere else. That certainly does make sense from a marketing perspective, but it leads you down some blind alleys creatively, and in terms of open-ended stories. The premise here, “kids who don’t want to use their powers,” is undermined by page three, and completely violated by the end of the issue, thus making the hook kind of silly, at least in my eyes. It’s a good book, certainly, but not great yet, and ranks a respectable 2.5 stars out of 5.

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