REVIEW: DC Universe Presents #14

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Or – “What’s Black And Blue And Read All Over?”

It’s weird to think about the “old” DC Universe as a whole.  Both Blue Devil and Black Lightning seem to me like relatively new heroes (at least comparatively speaking) but both date back over a quarter-century.  Now, the sensational character finds of 1977 and 1984 have come together in the brave new world of the New 52, for all new adventures.  How do Black Lightning and Blue Devil fare?  Your Major Spoilers review awaits!

DC UNIVERSE PRESENTS #14
Writer: Marc Andreyko
Artist: Robson Rocha
Inker: Oclair Albert
Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb
Letterer: Dezi Sienty
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously, in DC Universe Presents:  Daniel Cassidy comes from a long movie-making line, as his grandfather was the legendary schlock-meister behind Graveyard Pictures.  Jefferson Pierce us a schoolteacher whose father is determined to bring down the notorious gangster Tobias Whale.  They’re both superheroes in the city of Los Angeles, but what is it that ties them together?

OPENING WITH A FUNERAL AND A FLASHBACK?

Last issue’s debut had some strange bits of inconsistency in terms of both art and story, so I was happy to find that this issue opened a bit stronger from a character perspective.  We see Blue Devil in action against a group of thugs, intercut with Dan Cassidy’s eulogy for his beloved lost uncle Liam.  Both timeframes suddenly involve Black Lightning, and establish the character’s previous relationship as high-school football teammates.  I’m a little bothered throughout the first half of the issue about how this relationship feels very similar to that of Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch over in Firestorm, but not nearly as troubled as I am by the redesigned Tobias Whale.  In order to avoid the inevitable comparisons to The Kingpin, Whale has been given a tuft of hair that makes him look like the portly muppet version of Billy Idol, and kind of works against the character’s intended menace.  Danny and Jefferson meet up after the funeral to discuss the coincidence of their both becoming superheroes, and discuss exactly what the Blue Devil suit is.  (Danny thinks it’s some sort of gadgetry, Jeff thinks it’s an actual demon skin.  I’m kind of with Jeff on this’n.)

BLACK LIGHTNING NEEDS TO LOOK LESS LIKE NIGHTWING…

The heroes discover the stunning secret of Grampa Liam (which is, to be honest, pretty clever in a Friday The 13th: The Series kind of way), and realize that magic is real at roughly the same time as Tobias Whale makes a blood sacrifice to the demon Nebiros.  Whale offers the big scaly monster a deal, offering to help him recapture Blue Devil and to provide an endless supply of souls in return for helping him to create a new magically addictive drug product…  which is kind of where they lose me.  The issue ends with heroes and villains teaming up, but there’s just something goofy about the idea of satanic drugs, something that sounds like a lower-quality episode of ‘Angel.’  From an art perspective, things are handled okay, if somewhat inconsistently.  Both Dan and Jefferson are occasionally drawn with very thin neck structures (like teenagers), which leads me to have issues understanding how old they’re supposed to be, and the repeated appearance of blue “soul-ghosts” that look just like Daemonites is a bit confusing as well.  Most problematic, though, is Black Lightning’s uniform (which is really a design issue rather than a true art problem) which ends up looking nearly indistinguishable from Nightwing’s old blue-and-black togs at many points.  The cover shows additional gold lightning-bolt highlights that don’t always appear in the interior panels, which might help, should they start drawing them in the actual issue.

THE BOTTOM LINE: BLAH

All in all, I’m excited to see these two characters, but not entirely on-board with this incarnation.  There are a great many clichéd elements to be had here, from both the crime-drama and magical-adventure genres, with the seeming intention that mashing up both story types will cover for them.  I’m happy to see Black Lightning back in action, but I’d really like to see him looking (and acting) more unique, and this Blue Devil doesn’t really touch on either the iconic “weirdness-magnet” or “regular-feller-in-demon-ranks” versions pre-Flashpoint. DC Universe Presents #14 isn’t a bad comic, but needs a little bit of extra zing (be it in terms of the art improving or a big story-twist that I didn’t see coming) to really launch it to a successful ongoing series, earning 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

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