“Fear of Flying”
Writer: C.B. Cebulski
Artists: Karl Moline, Christina Strain (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
With a title like Loners, you would think this is about a bunch of kids who are cut off from their peers. In a sense, you’d be half right. The unique part about this book is it features a bunch of B-list superkids like Darkhawk, Ricochet (from Slingers) and even Julie Power from Power Pack. What’s great about this book is it concentrates more on the characters than the powers themselves. These kids are just trying to live a normal life, so they’ve joined a support group that functions much like Alcoholics Anonymous for super-powered teenagers. Going in, you don’t need to know anything about these characters because their backgrounds are explained fairly well.
This first issue focuses squarely on Mattie Franklin, the third Spider-Woman. She’s apparently relocated to Los Angeles to escape all the horrors she went through in New York after she was kidnapped, so she convinced her adoptive parents (one of whom is the esteemed editor of The Daily Bugle) to let her move. It turns out she wasn’t quite being honest with them, and really wanted to track down the people who kidnapped her and used her DNA to create a batch of Mutant Growth Hormone. What happens next should come as no surprise as she manages to talk Darkhawk into helping her find the people responsible for distributing MGH (because it turns out he has a little history with them himself).
CB Cebulski does a great job of introducing each of the characters and giving a logical reason for each one of them to be there. My only problem with this story is in the characterization of Julie Power – when exactly did she become a Marvel Universe equivalent of Paris Hilton? In the 90s Power Pack series she was always one of the more grounded of the group, so that bit threw me off a little. Thankfully, it’s not jarring enough to make me dislike the book. Karl Moline’s art here is fantastic – he illustrates each one of the characters much like I remember them. I admit to having a soft spot for Darkhawk because I always thought he was an interesting character, so Moline’s rendition of him here was very spot-on.
Overall, the reveal of the big villain behind the MGH distribution ring was an interesting choice and made perfect sense given my limited knowledge of the character. Thankfully again, I didn’t need to know anything about that particular villain as it was explained in a brief dialogue exchange and cemented her necessity in the story. One thing I do want to know, though, is originally when The Loners appeared in Runaways, they were being funded by none other than Rick Jones, sidekick supreme. If the book progresses the way it’s going now, I have a feeling we’ll see him before to long.
This book is a fantastic read, and a definite diversion from the mess of Civil War. There’s a brief reference to it here, but that’s mainly out of minor necessity given the new status quo of the Marvel Universe. If you’re looking for something in the vein of Runaways that’s a good, fun team book, this is definitely for you.
Six former teen superheroes have formed a support group to keep each other out of their costumed lives. Darkhawk, Turbo, the heroic Green Goblin, Lightspeed, and Ricochet welcome their newest member, Spider-Woman Mattie Franklin. But staying normal isn’t easy when you’ve had powers most of your life. Spider-Woman, Darkhawk, and Ricochet find a new threat to young people that gives them a reason to resume their costumed careers. Or were they always looking for an excuse? And how long can they keep this from the rest of the group?
Nostalgia is a powerful force. It can be argued it’s the one thing keeping the comics industry going. Nostalgia is why fans keep pushing for revivals of heroes and teams that never quite work as well as they originally did. And nostalgia is the biggest reason why this series was made and why most of us will buy it. For a little while.
Writer C.B. Cebulski admits he was a fan of these characters when they were first published in the 1990s. In fact, many of the writers and artists in the industry today began reading comics or first found work in the 1990s. Hell, 15 years ago, Quesada was just making a name for himself with Sword of Azrael and X-Factor. And let’s face it, most of us reading comics got into this world thanks to Image, Valiant, and the Batman & X-Men cartoons. So there is an audience for a series that throws together characters that were mildly popular in 1997, there are creators looking for such a project, and it will find editorial support. And it all comes from the same place: “Hey, I remember those guys! I’d like to see them in something new.”
So nostalgia is how this series got created. But it’s not enough to keep it alive. The biggest flaw in this series is the lack of reason for this series to exist. Are these people addicted to the rush that comes from superpowers and the crime-fighting lifestyle? That’s the premise for a deeper character study and an examination of the psychological effects of superpowers. Some of these people have experienced terrible trauma and tragedy as a result of their costumes. Others have enjoyed many benefits from their powers. Darkhawk found his missing father and reunited his family. Lightspeed’s life has been one big adventure since getting her powers as a child. So why would they give up those lives? Is there a secret tragedy that unites them all? Or do they just want to fit in with normal people? The reason is not established here.
If this turns out to be just a character-driven drama, with conflict arising from the different personalities, then it could still be a decent series. Some of the heroes’ personalities have already been established. Darkhawk is a jerk, Ricochet is creepy, Lightspeed is the glamour girl, Goblin is wimpy, and Spider-Woman’s the good girl. Clichés, true, but taken to the limit and done with enough style, clichés can become complex people. Just look at Star Trek.
Karl Moline does a good job on the art, though I’d prefer thinner inks. The people are distinctive out of costume, the fight scene is fluid and well-played, and the whole book has a down-to-earth feel. This doesn’t look or feel like a superhero fantasy. It looks more like a gritty drama. But the inking and dark colors hurt the more fantastic parts of the story. And even though much of the story takes place at night, it could have looked a little lighter. Still, Moline does right by the story’s tone and premise.
I’ll be sticking around for a few more issues to see where the series is going. And to see the arrival of Penance from Generation X. I don’t care what Marvel calls her; she’ll always be Penance. That guy who used to be Speedball is “Whiny Boy.”
Phil Ulrich, formerly The Green Goblin (the “good” one) and Mickey Musashi, formerly the New Warriors’ Turbo, are still running their support group for ex-teen heroes who want to stay out of the tights. Unfortunately, it’s not all that easy for them, especially with Spider-Woman (no, not the Avenger, one of the other ones), joining the group. She reminds Darkhawk that with great power comes great responsibility and leads him on a raid of a facility producing M.G.H.
Originally introduced in the pages of Brian K. Vaughn’s Runaways, this support group financed by Rick Jones was formerly known as Excelsior. That name appears to have been dropped, which makes sense. If you’re trying to not be superheroes, it can’t be a good idea to give your group a superhero team name! Vaughn did a great job with these characters when he re-introduced them, having them steal the lime light from the book’s protagonists, and I’ve been impatiently waiting for a follow-up to their story. This really is an odd assemblage of characters, but they don’t feel like they’ve been shoe-horned into this title arbitrarily.
As an ex-New Warriors fan, I am quite familiar with Turbo and Darkhawk. Julie Power less so. I’d never come across Ricochet or Phil Ulrich before their Excelsior days. And a new member of the group is introduced in the form of Spider-Woman Mattie Franklin. I knew nothing about the character whatsoever, and her inclusion is a bit odd. With Marvel giving the original Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, a huge push at the moment, having another one here could quite easily confuse some readers. But that’s not a reason to not give her a chance, and she actually fits in relatively well with this bunch of Loners.
The meeting scene in this issue is rather melodramatic. Surely, these young adults trying to stay out of costume just demands a little willpower and the whole re-introducing themselves every session seems a bit over the top. Some of them have no desire whatsoever to slip back into costume and given the Registration Act, they now have all the incentive they need to not display their powers. (How the hell is Julie Power not arrested after pulling her little flying stunt? Surely she should be expecting a visit from her friendly neighbourhood Thunderbolts.) The tears add to the excessive drama, but, as suggested, this could all just be acting on the girls’ behalf to better manipulate their male colleagues. Speaking of manipulation, Mattie uses her guile on Chris, a.k.a. Darkhawk, to get him to back her up in a take-down operation of an M.G.H. smuggling ring. But she also points out an undeniable fact: if you have the power to make a real difference, isn’t it selfish not to do so? Darkhawk is my favourite character in this group. Though I never read his solo series, I always enjoyed his guest appearances in the pages of New Warriors. He’s the most powerful of the bunch, but when he powers-up, he also becomes the most unstable, rushing headlong into battles without thinking, just as in this issue.
The Loners’ adversaries are rather disappointing. Just like Hydra, M.G.H. producers and smugglers really are 2-a-penny in the Marvel Universe these days. Which is odd considering most mutants have been de-powered and so the number of potential subjects for obtaining the drug has dropped dramatically. Here, they’re using a mutant called Nekra. I’ve never heard of her before, but a bit of background digging reveals she’s been around the fringes of the Marvel Universe for some time. But she’s yet another mutant to have retained her powers after M-Day. Despite what Marvel have said, I’m sure we’re back up to more than 198 by now.
Karl Moline does an adequate job on pencils. His style somehow reminds me of Michael Ryan’s, which is fitting given that he’s currently penciling Runaways. There’s a certain sketchy quality to his work that I actually quite like. But for some reason he doesn’t manage to capture the sense of grandeur that comes with superpowers. His action shots during the fight scene also lack a little something, a certain dynamism that would really sell it.
This series gathers together an interesting group of heroes trying to kick the habit. But some of them are starting to realise that one can’t give up helping people in need that easily if you have the power to do so. Though I’ll be coming back next month, I hope this will be more than just heroes taking down drug runners.
One measure of a comic book team’s ability is how well they can take old, intractable characters and make them interesting and fun. In that regard, and more than a few others, The Loners is definitely a success. It takes some fondly (and in some cases hardly) remembered characters from some rather obscure corners of the Marvel Universe and brings them together.
But the likes of Chris Powell (Darkhawk), Julie Power (Lightspeed) and others aren’t coming together for the typical purpose of fighting crime. Instead, The Loners have come together to form a support group. Yes, a support group. Not for alcoholics or narcotic users, but for former teen-age superheroes. Each of The Loners members has some extraordinary or even fantastic abilities but good reason to not use them. In addition to personal reasons, there’s that pesky Civil War that just happened in the Marvel Universe, which has left many with the feeling that it is best to stay low and out of the public eye. They need each other for a simple and understandable reason: if you had the ability to, oh I don’t know, FLY, you might want someone around to help you avoid temptation. So The Loners get together on a routine basis to remind each other just why they stepped out of the tights.
Right from the melodramatic beginning, which will be a real treat to anyone not familiar with the characters involved, The Loners is a good book. With lines like, “I used to be Spider-woman. The third one,” the setup makes it clear who these second-stringers are and that they’re aware of their place in things. Those who remember The Losers in their former glory as superheroes will most likely associate them with cheesy dialogue and the teen-age problems they were carrying around. However, now the members of this less-than-illustrious group have grown up slightly and are attempting to handle their situation with the maturity of young adults. Which means they don’t have much, but certainly more than they formerly did. At the very least, the whining has been toned down significantly.
Not completely, though. The Loners are addicts, after all, so a certain amount of complaining and finger pointing is bound to happen. It is handled in such a manner, though, that this comes across as entertaining rather than annoying. Also, the choice of how The Loners handles the addiction issue is interesting. The idea of someone who has been addicted to wearing tights has been explored since The Watchmen. However, The Loners seem more addicted to their individual powers (regardless of the source) than just dressing up and beating up strangers. This is probably going to be easier to relate to for the average reader since the temptation to use super-powers is more accessible than a sadomasochistic desire to smack around criminals.
This is all tied together quite nicely with an alcoholic anonymous type meeting which is stitched with the modern lingo of addicts. Even when a few members of The Loners fall off the wagon, they do it with that long used tool of addicts everywhere: rationalization. I swear to God, I’m only gonna use my powers of super-whatever this one last time for the good of mankind, et cetera, et cetera. Hopefully, for us this won’t be the last time for The Loners. Good, super-junkie fun.
If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the author’s work at http://madbastard.hypersites.com.
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