“Hearts of Steel”
Writer/Artist: John Byrne
Publisher: DC Comics
Nudge lives up to her name, finally getting the team to focus on an odd broadcast she noticed (and “taped”) weeks before: someone’s staging Robot Wars, and that’s the Chief’s job! Rita, Cliff and Nudge undertake a sting operation. Faith takes her leave (apparently her only purpose away from the JLA was to give Nudge a confidence boost), and we learn that Nudge is Korean.
Byrne draws nice robots, and takes advantage of the medium to design deadly anthropomorphic ones in this homage to the “Battlebots” TV shows in Europe and America.
Not so interesting:
Nudge has an ethnicity, but still not much more of a personality than standard stereotype teenage girl. Are we really to believe that no one noticed her race until this point because she was sorta Goth? Busiek created a very similar angry young girl for his Power Company team, but somehow Sapphire had more heart, emotion and natural dialogue than this brat.
It’s a problem with all the characters in this series, actually. They’re flat. We’ve yet to see one reason why they’ve allied themselves with the Chief, or even a close read on what exactly the Chief is doing. Investigating weird phenomena? Doing things the JLA can’t or doesn’t? The manipulative mastermind who created and destroyed the last Doom Patrol can’t be forgotten when reading this guy, especially since Byrne has given him no story of his own, just an attitude of imperiousness that recalls the past rather than replacing it or updating it.
Rita seems to enjoy her adventures, but what skills does she have other than her formidable power? It’s not enough for her just to be the den mother and moral voice of the team; that’s a clichéd non-answer to who she is as a person.
We’ve still got no movement on the many-armed ape or the alien in blue, five issues in. In fact, the only character we know anything about is Larry, the Negative Man. Dropping the hermaphroditic stuff from Morrison’s Doom Patrol is one thing (he never dealt with the real Larry either, just turned him into something else), but while Byrne has gone for a daredevil attitude that works for this character, the nature of his power and appearance sees him experiencing the least amount of action and exposure.
This title can’t continue with ciphers going through the motions in minor key, underground adventures, however quirky the concepts. The Doom Patrol has always been a team of misfits banded together for mutual support. Even when Morrison decided that it was the Chief who damaged them in the first place (literally creating his own dysfunctional family of followers), he didn’t lose sight of that. There’s a hint of true friendship between Rita and Cliff, the team’s most intrepid adventurers. But otherwise Byrne so far has just achieved good looking characters vs. generic threats, and my interest is waning.
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