Comics has an accessibility problem. After decades of existence some books can be really hard to ease into. That’s why the infamous “jumping on point” was created — single issues designed to garner new readers and lure back old fans. Each week brave surveyors Luke Miller and Jamil Scalese will venture into the comics abyss and let you, the consumer, know just which series are worth JUMPING ON, and which are better left to be revisited at a later date.
(Chuck Wendig; Nik Virella; Romulo Fajardo, Jr.)
Jamil: This week most entertainment seekers will focus on the hyped debut of DC Comic’s first ever shared universe movie which co-stars its big boy in blue — Superman. Unable to be nothing other than the natural bad ass rebels we were born to be Luke and I are have decided to run counter to that and give some attention to Marvel’s version of the Man o’ Steel — Hyperion.
That moniker has been used by an amazing number of entirely different characters who look almost exactly alike. Very generally, if someone at Marvel needed a strong dude, good or evil, to punch another character they called on ol’ Hyperion for the task. The version in this new series is the one from the Jonathan Hickman Avengers run, a new “clean slate” Hyperion pulled from a normative, but dying, universe. He’s certainly an unabashed Kal-El pastiche. Last member of an alien race; raised by a noble person; Truth, Justice and the American Way.
Post-Secret Wars the Squadron Supreme have received an unexpected push and Hyperion #1 is part of that. Is this new superhero team offering anything new? Should we be paying attention to the Squadron, Hyperion or Nighthawk? I’ll let you go first. ‘Cause I don’t know the answers to my own questions and I want to just piggyback off whatever you say.
Luke: First, let me just say it’s weird that we’re doing a Marvel “launch” for this column. Not a relaunch, not a reboot, not a rebrand! It’s an honest-to-God launch. Marvel has never had a series titled “Hyperion” despite the seemingly infinite incarnations of this guy. This might be our “Spider-Gwen” moment, my friend.
Oh, and second, I love that this story takes place “in the middle of nowhere” which is also known as “Merkel, Nebraska.” Being the “born-and-raised Nebraskan” that I am, I got a kick out of that. Granted, “Merkel,” as far as I know (and as near as I can find out) doesn’t actually exist. However, “Valentine, Nebraska,” which Doll references and is apparently the stomping grounds of a murder circus does exist. And that place really is in the middle of nowhere. I went camping once about 10-12 years ago near there. The grocery store in that town gave me change in the form of a $2 bill, like it was a normal, everyday occurrence. The register had a whole slot in between the ones and the fives just filled with twos. It was a surreal enough experience for me that I can believe a metahuman carnival of murderous whimsy has taken root there.
(Slight gripe – there are several scenes with trees. Lots and lots of trees. That part of Nebraska doesn’t really have trees. And if they do, they’re sparsely dotted around cornfields because farmers planted them to protect their crops from wind. They don’t just run along roads like it’s the Pacific Northwest. Hell, the part of Nebraska I live in – a good 250 miles farther east – doesn’t even really have trees. Basically what I’m saying is, once you get maybe 50 miles west of the Missouri River, trees and hills and landscape-y type things don’t really happen anymore.)
Sorry, I know our readers didn’t come here for geography or dendrology lessons. They came here to hear about whether or not they should care about Hyperion. So far, I say yes, but you may sway me yet, Jamil, if you were so inclined. Remember when J. Michael Straczynski had that Superman arc where he just walked across America and it was terrible? Turns out all he needed to do was give him a semi, a groupie, and some low level thugs and there might’ve been a story there. Okay, fine, the villains are patently ridiculous, but I like the idea of an all-powerful godlike super being trying to get away from it all – only he can’t run from his inherent goodness/need to help people or the fact that there are bad people out there looking to harm others.
Jamil: Relating this issue to “Grounded”, that Superman storyline from about five years ago, is apt. On the surface the premise is extremely similar: strong hero takes a journey across America to (re)establish a connection with the commoners. If you think about it Hyperion could have gone in a million different directions, in theory the character’s versatility is pliable and elastic as Superman’s, but I think this literally “down to Earth” approach is very good, especially given how Hickman, Al Ewing and others have portrayed him as a regular, almost Midwestern, type guy who also is able to throw the Moon into the Sun and reheat cold coffee with his eyes.
Writer Chuck Wendig is a fairly new to comics but is plenty established in the world of prose. This first issue is sound in approach and execution, and aside from that weird “Middle of Nowhere” dig I didn’t see too many large flaws. Wendig chooses to frame the story through the eyes of Doll, a young runaway trying to escape a literal carnival of creeps, and that’s how we’re introduced to Marc (with a C! Previous iterations of Hyperion were of the Mark variety) Milton the trucker. Establishing (or interpreting) a character through the eyes of another is a classic narrative technique but I’m not sure it’s entirely effective here. The audience is semi-antiquated with Hyperion but we’re looking to know more, and that’s just not there in these twenty pages. Doll, implied to be a whiz with machinery, somehow knows that Marc is Hyperion but doesn’t give us much background about how she knows. In fact, there were more questions raised about her than the guy on the cover. Namely, what the hell is going on in the trippy dream sequence?!
The villains are also a bit of an odd, but fun, choice. I guess the Circus of Crime was too highbrow for the book? The major obstacle to their defeat is that Hyperion doesn’t want to reveal his powers to Doll, however that’s hurdled by the last page. I’m interested to see how exactly these goons will create a challenge for him. They seem more of the caliber Daredevil or Moon Knight villains.
What really makes this issue work for me is the art by Nik Virella. Despite the deficiencies in her knowledge of vegetation and landscape of the central North America she’s got a very polished and pleasurable style that does well with both the human and superhuman aspects of this story. I really enjoyed her work on 1872 and I’m glad Marvel is giving her more to do. Props to colorist Romulo Fajardo, Jr too for adding a luster to this that helps sell the spooky vibe I think the creative team was going for.
Luke: Don’t get me wrong, the tree thing didn’t actually bother me all that much. It was just something that only a person from the middle of nowhere would notice. I thought the art was great as well. It matched the semi-trippy, yet-still-grounded feel of the book that worked so well with the writing. I also liked the “through-the-bystander’s-eyes” point of view that the book took. I haven’t read any of Hickman’s Avengers run, or any Squadron Supreme. My only exposure to the character was a villainous incarnation seen in Exiles, so it’s nice to be getting a sort of “clean slate” look at Hyperion. We only know what Doll knows, which is very little, and we’ll get introduced to the character at the same pace that she does.
I was really all-in on this book. I wholeheartedly endorse jumping on here and just seeing where this ride goes. What about you, my friend?
Jamil: I liked it. In a time when I’m trying to make smart fiscal decisions regarding my comic purchases I think I can create some wiggle room to give this book a shot for a few more issues. For being a clone of the most basic hero archetype available Hyperion is a sneaky interesting character. How does a guy like this find his niche when the world already has Thor and Captain America? That’s a prime pivot of the “on the road” structure, a coming of age story for a grown ass man. I also liked the small nods to the current Squadron Supreme and Marc’s feeling toward their volatile methods. I’ve definitely wondered about that while reading that book.
So yeah, I’m going to hop on board. It’s a pretty vanilla superhero series but there’s a touch of something peculiar and charming that makes me curious enough to stick with it.