Or – “Sometimes, I’m Pleasantly Surprised That A Book Was Ever Green-Lighted…”


Cary Bates is a name that I haven’t heard in comics’ circles in several years.  The mind behind the Trial of the Flash, the revamp of Captain Atom, and one of the wackiest Earth-Prime crossovers ever (Earth-Prime, for you rotten kids out there, was supposed to be “our world,” where DC chronicles the history of stalwarts like Superman and Batman and ol’ what’sisface in the orange shirt) in which he and his co-writer traveled to the DCU and fought/helped the Justice League, respectively.  Cary was one of those guys who was everywhere during my youthful comic reading.  He’s back with a new limited series for Marvel, and I have to say it’s… not what I expected.

TB1.jpgPreviously, on True Believers:  Cary Bates is one of those stories that could have only happened in as insular and strange an industry as comic book publishing.  At the age of 13 (and, mind you, several years EARLIER than Jim Shooter broke in at the same age) Cary successfully sold a cover design idea to Mort Weisinger, the Superman editor at the time, and his first writing job was for Mort at the tender age of 17.  Having left comics in the 1990’s for animation and comic strip writing, Cary sort of dropped off my radar a few years ago.  With Cary having always been (at least in my mind) a DC guy, back when being a Marvel or DC guy actually meant something other than who was paying the best royalties, I’m interested to see if he can do something interesting with a new set of toys, and also whether the jaded kids of 2008 are going to warm up to his old-school writing skills.  Either way, this ought to be pretty interesting…

We kick off our festivities (under a pretty striking hot pink cover featuring some snazzy Paul Gulacy female pulchritude) in an unpleasant area of New York, with a well-drawn (read that as saying I’m a little embarrassed to admit how hot she is) young lady lying in the street in a little leather miniskirt and fishnets.  (Ironic that here, that uniform means “trollop,” while in the DC Universe it means “Chairperson of the Justice League of America.”)  A helpful samaritan (not THAT Samaritan) helps the jilted lady up and offers her a ride.  The young lady reveals herself to be a prostitute, snarling that her john kicked her out of his car after she refused his request for a “Crusty Bunker.”  (I’m going to break my usual rules here, and explicitly explain that “Crusty Bunker” was a pseudonymous name in the credits of 70’s comics indicating that the issue, or part of it, was handled by a group of artists from Neal Adams’ Continuity studios, including quite a few guys you might recognize.  Knowing is half the battle!)  They exchange obvious fake names (“Bud.”  “Serenity.”) before they take off.  I expect that something is up with this woman, but I’m swerved when “Bud”‘s accomplice leaps up out of the back seat and chloroforms her.

The trick is that “Serenity” isn’t being up front about HER motives either, having been street-walking only to catch Bud’s specific attention, to track down a group of missing girls.  She wakes up in a cell, disgusted at having been undressed and redressed in a tiny slutty black bathing suit in her sleep, and realizes that she’s in a minor-league all-female version of Fight Club, watching two drugged prostitutes fight in bikinis in knee deep mud.  “Bud” returns with a needle full of drugs and Mutant Growth Hormone, ready to make her the top of the card attraction, but “Serenity” gives him a surprise as she morphs her body around the injection point.  Outside, her partners recognize her power signature, as the young lady turns all staticky (as seen on the cover) and starts cracking skulls while her partners come in for the extraction.  They find that the “wrestling league” is overseen by a group of men in the masks of Marvel’s finest superheroes, all of whom end up getting busted (one after his expensive sports car is literally cut in two.)  The news of the masked men’s malfeasance shows up on our protagonists’ website (an address that, hilariously, leads to a Christian dating website in real life) causing several rich men some great discomfort, a Senator to step down, and a talk-show host to lose his job.

Days later, at SHIELD headquarters, we see two middle-management information analysts breaking the whole thing down for Tony Stark, explaining that “Serenity” and her friends are the title True Believers, and that their entire operation is about embarrassing those who abuse power and influence.  The True Believers refer to themselves as “warriors of the information age,” fighting against the lies that come with modern journalism.  The irony is that their target is one of the biggest beneficiaries of those lies, one Anthony Edward Stark.  Tony and his sidekick Maria Hill get the full rundown of the team’s modus operandi and their gimmicks.  Headtrip seems to have mental powers.  Red Zone has a big helmet that “weaponizes wi-fi.”  That sounds interesting.  Battallus is an armored powerhouse.  Payback is the girl with the swirly powers who looks good in hooker drag, but who occasionally speaks in a voice that isn’t hers.  Tony thinks that she’s crazy, Maria Hills is worried about the vengeful connotations of the name “Payback,” but the analysts assure them that they have the situation under control.  Agent Mavis Trent beams as Tony compliments her on her excellent work, and heads home to her other job.  She enters a non-descript office, stripping out of her demure power ensemble, pulling down her hair and morphing into… Payback!  (Some said they saw it coming, but they got me with this revelation.)  She meets with her partners and they choose their next target, who gets a warning shot across his bow while watching TV with his family.  “Reed Richards!  We’ve uncovered some disturbing information that directly implicates you in a major scandal!  Out of respect for your years of heroic public service, we’re giving you twelve hours advance notice!”  The issue ends with the Fantatic Four sitting in stunned silence, with me pretty awed that the T.B.’s broke through Reed’s security…

This is a very intriguing first issue, with a nicely topical and not-at-all retro feel.  I kind of expected Cary’s writing to feel more like it did when I was a kid, but I suppose it did, in that the entire issue was nicely done and exciting.  The story surprised me a couple of times, something that a long-time comics reader like myself greatly appreciates, and the only thing even bordering on a negative is the blah factor of the character’s battle names.  The art is by comics legend Paul Gulacy, who has a flair for piercing facial expressions, interesting textures and very attractive women, and does not disappoint on any front throughout the issue.  Gulacy’s take on the Fantastic Four is the highlight of the issue (ranking slightly above Payback in the bikini…  I’m sorry, but this is really good-looking art, ladles and jellyspoons) and makes the first family of the Marvel Universe look like real people while maintaining their iconic status.  This is a pretty damned impressive first issue from a group of real comics pros, a 4.5 star book, and I’m excited to see where the story goes.  Heck, based on this issue, I’m ready to sign on for a True Believers ongoing series…


The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. Maximus Rift
    August 16, 2008 at 3:12 pm — Reply

    Matthew: If it’s that good, it’ll never be an ongoing series ;p

    Seriously, that’s for the review. I’m buying a copy.

  2. ykw
    August 16, 2008 at 4:01 pm — Reply

    “he and his co-writer”

    Elliot S! Maggin, bay-beee! Not worth a toot on any other title, but one of the two or three greatest Superman writers of all time. Even if he did come up with that goofy story telling why no one recognizes Clark as Kal…

    Felt weird reading Bates on a Marvel title. A good weird, but still. Easy to see he’s been working in TV for an awfully long time, as his script was pretty well devoid of old-school narrative tropes like the ones that surprised ol’ Irwin Schwab over in AMBUSH BUG.

    “(Some said they saw it coming, but they got me with this revelation.)”

    If the book had a better artist than Paul Gulacy (who can’t maintain a facial character model from one panel to the next), I don’t think it would have been quite as much of a shock. I think we were supposed to have been able to recognize her when the scene at S.H.I.E.L.D. (Supreme Headquarters Inter… ah, %&#@ it) opened.

  3. Brother129
    August 16, 2008 at 4:13 pm — Reply

    I really enjoyed this issue from start to finish. Definitely a pleasant surprise.

  4. Josh P.
    August 17, 2008 at 1:20 pm — Reply

    Maximus Rift has a point, if it’s that good it will be a financial disaster. But everyone will like it, just not buy it.

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