Posted by: erikmona | September 25, 2011

NEW 52 REVIEW 23: Mister Terrific #1

Mister Terrific #1
Writer: Eric Wallace
Artist: Gianluca Gugliotta

Mister Terrific is a character DC’s been trying to get right for a long time. The original Mister Terrific appeared in the 1940s. He was essentially a “man of 1000 talents,” a self-made millionaire who found renewed interest in life after fighting crime in a goofy costume with the phrase “Fair Play” written on it. He was eventually killed off in one of the old classic Justice Society/Justice League crossovers. This modern version, Michael Holt, appeared in a 1997 issue of The Spectre. DC’s resident superghost came to Holt as he contemplated suicide, and inspired him with a vision of the Golden Age Mister Terrific. Holt took up the mantle, and then disappeared until James Robinson created a new incarnation of the Justice Society of America a few years later and recruited him (along with just about every modern incarnation of a Golden Age character) into the new team.

Back in that Spectre comic, Michael Holt was basically just a dude with no costume beyond a leather jacket. In JSA, he had a black T-shape on his face, and the arms of his jacket said “Fair” on one sleeve and “Play” on the other. It also had “Terrific” written in cursive on the back, which was naturally drawn differently by every artist who drew him. The version presented here, in his own ongoing title, ditches the jacket, updates the T on his face, and adds “Fair” and “Play” on each arm as tattoos. I think this is the best Michael Holt has looked since his introduction, and hope that he can settle on it for a while.

I’m not so enthusiastic about the rest of the comic, unfortunately. Wallace’s script offers a serviceable introduction to the character as he chases a powersuit-wearing supervillain through the streets and skies of London. Holt narrates the sequence in captions, providing exposition alongside the action. These captions provide the first “huh?” moment for me, as Wallace lurches into hyperbole. “Need to use the landscape to my advantage,” he has Holt say. “Unfortunately, what I know about London could fit into a two-part episode of Doctor Who.”

I know Wallace is just going for a quick joke and a fun Doctor Who reference, but I call bullshit. I run a small roleplaying game publishing company, and my business has taken me to London twice. Holt is supposed to be in charge of Holt Industries, a rival of LexCorp, Waynetech, and Queen Industries in the high-tech realm of the DC Universe. With that resume, I suspect Holt would have at least working knowledge of one of the most important cities in the world.

But whatever. That’s more of a nitpick, but it does point to an overdone hyperbole that creeps into Wallace’s script several times. For starters, there’s the absurd notion that Holt is the “third smartest man in the world.” In a world that includes things like the Thinker, robotics geniuses like Hector Hammond, Lex Luthor, and the like, it’s a pretty dumb notion, especially for a guy who doesn’t know anything about London. You’d think the third-smartest man in the DCU would have the city’s maps and phone books memorized, no?

At one point Michael Holt talks shit about a math problem that would “give Stephen Hawking a headache” (I guess that maroon isn’t even in the top 10!). At another point, Holt claims to hold “more degrees than half the faculties of Harvard and Yale combined”. I mean think about that, for a second. Unless the janitorial staff counts as “faculty,” on the merits that would mean that Michael Holt has hundreds of degrees.

According to Wikipedia, the pre-reboot Holt had 14 degrees. I’d be willing to bet that 14 degrees is more degrees than any one member of the Harvard and Yale staffs, but that’s not what Holt claims. Either Holt has increased his college degrees by an order of magnitude in the reboot, which seems unlikely, or he’s simply wrong, which means he’s far stupider than the comic wants us to believe. In any event, is that sort of over-inflated claim really something that the third-smartest man in the world would make?

Of course, he could just be exaggerating, puffing himself up to make him seem better than he really is, but does that make him a more likable hero? Is that in the spirit of the “Fair Play” motto Holt believes in so strongly that he tattooed it to his body?

Or is Michael Holt just kind of a dick?

So Mister Terrific flies through London and defeats the bad guy by magnetizing his armor and attaching him to the London Eye. Then Holt’s narration says “Yes, that’s me. An honest-to-goodness superhero. But it didn’t used to be that way. Once upon a time, I was just a guy in love.”

This leads to a recap of Holt’s origin. One day, he’s driving to meet his pregnant wife for dinner, only to find her overturned car snarling up traffic. She’s been thrown from the car, and has seconds to live after his arrival. “Educate the world,” she tells Michael with her dying breath. “Like you did for me. Like you would have done for our son.”

This throws Holt into depression. He gives up on religion and throws himself fully into science. After an experiment to open a dimensional rift fails, he plans to commit suicide by pushing a big red button labeled “SELF DESTRUCT SYSTEM.”

There’s no Spectre to be seen in this version of his origin. Instead, he is visited by the ghost of his unborn son, who appears as a young man in a column of energy. “I have a message for you. Don’t give up… Educate the world. The future depends on it.” Then Michael passes out and the scene cuts to black.

The next page we find ourselves in Holt Mansion, high in a skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles. Holt has been narrating his origin to his fuck-buddy, Karen Starr (who we know will become Power Girl, but who seems like a normal human here). I say fuck-buddy because the scene is staged in such a way to suggest that they just had sex. Holt invites Karen to a dinner fundraiser for a science-supporting Republican senator at the Conscientia Institute.

A word here, on the transition from Holt’s caption narration of the first 9 pages of the comic to the “live” discussion between Michael and Karen. On pages 1 through 5, in London, Holt is clearly talking to himself. The captions are an inner monologue, complete with “note to self” type observations.

At the bottom of page 5, Holt gives the “yes, that’s me” origin segue I quoted above. Who is he talking to, there? The reader? Karen Starr? The narrative reads ok as you skim over the issue on a light read, but when you read it closely, it drives you absolutely nuts. Did the third-smartest man in the world just subject his readers to a jarring point-of-view switch?

You know who really hated this comic? The fourth-smartest man in the world. Right now, that guy must really think that life was rigged against him.

So elsewhere in town, a guy in “a cafe in downtown Los Angeles” (which I guess is better than “a place in a town”) starts going nuts while eating lunch, because he’s getting smarter and smarter every minute. Too smart for his own good, in fact, as he starts getting really nasty to the waitress and other cafe patrons. He berates a homeless guy in the street, and eventually snaps the poor fellow’s neck.

The authorities call in Mister Terrific, because the super-smart killer left a piece of paper with difficult math equations at the scene of the crime, and Terrific is their science crime expert. Holt takes the evidence to his hidden lair, the T-Sanctuary (I was hoping for T-Zone, but oh well), an extradimensional hideout/laboratory located at fixed coordinates within the ninth dimension. Having already mentioned Doctor Who, Mister Terrific now gets his own TARDIS.

Cut to the party at the Conscientia Institute, the main branch of Holt’s non-profit foundation for scientific research and development. Karen is there, in a dress with a round boob window that foreshadows her Power Girl costume. Also present is one of Holt’s coworkers, Aleeka, who gets into a very awkward discussion with Karen about Michael’s affections. The conversation shows remarkably little finesse from both a racial and gender perspective. Both characters come off as catty, and the “stay away from my man/I’m sorry, I’m just feeling really pathetic” theme of the conversation seems more fitting to something like Millie the Model or Lois Lane, Superman’s Girlfriend comics of another era than part of the new “diverse” relaunch of the DC universe.

Meanwhile, Holt gives the senator a tour of the facility, including a super-tech device that keeps the building stable in the case of an earthquake. During their chat, Michael hears a weird high-pitched sound, and he too begins to experience accelerated intelligence like the guy back at a cafe in Los Angeles, and in no time Michael goes nuts, flips the super-tech do-hickey into reverse, triggers and earthquake, and splits giant rifts in the structure of the building.

“Why in God’s name would you want to do that?” the Senator asks.

“To kill you, Senator,” says Holt, glaring down with fists clenched. The end.

So in this issue we get a bland opening scene against a no-namer villain, a recap of Terrific’s fairly boring origin story, a cameo from a minor character only established fans will fully appreciate, a neat scene in the hero’s lair, and a bit at the end where our hero goes nuts and attempts to kill a Senator.

Unless this is the first issue of a major turn in the character’s history, where he becomes a fugitive and gives up his giant corporation and all of his material assets, I think we’re looking at a fairly standard mind control “hero gone bad” scenario that will likely reset itself to the status quo by the end of the story arc.

When coupled with Holt’s propensity for hyperbole, this heel turn at the end is a poor way to connect the new reader to the character. I don’t feel like I know what Mister Terrific is all about, even with all the exposition. I get that he’s supposed to “educate the world,” but educate them about what? Would a basic cable TV show on the Science or Discovery Channel do the trick? Does he have to tutor junior high school kids in math on a one-to-one basis? I don’t get it.

I also don’t get the appeal of Gianlucas Gugliotta’s art. His characters either look overdramatically posed or contorted strangely. His faces tend toward the ugly and misshapen. It’s not for me.

Narrative misfires, ugly art, and bad story choices undermine this book’s ability to drum up any real enthusiasm in me. I’ll give it another week only because I’m giving every comic a second chance.

I don’t expect it will redeem itself.

Status: On the Bubble.

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Responses

  1. SO sad. This character was good in Geoff Johns’ hands.

  2. […] Disappointing this week goes to Mister Terrific #1. Long a mainstay of the Justice Society of America, this was Mister Terrific’s first chance […]


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