"A Hero's Compulsion, Part Four of Six: Challenges"
Writers: Tamora Pierce, Timothy Liebe
Artists: Phil Briones (p), Don Hillsman (i), Chris Sotomayor (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
White Tiger passes the halfway point of its story with this issue, and despite proving to be diverting enough in introducing a new adult hero in the Daredevil vein to the Marvel Universe, it hasn't exactly set the world alight either. This issue sees Angela Del Toro continue her quest to avenge her dead partner and bring a criminal group of forgers to justice at the same time as she maintains a new job in private security and adjusts to the life of a costumed vigilante with a little help from her friends.
One of my fellow reviewers recently praised Liebe and Pierce's work on this book with the compliment that "they write like novelists, really, really good novelists." However, being able to write a good novel doesn't necessarily mean that you can do the same for a monthly comic, even when it's a relatively self-contained miniseries, and there are some problems with the storytelling this issue that betray the writers' inexperience in the medium. Transitions from scene to scene are sometimes abrupt and don't flow in the way that a good comic should, making for a clunky reading experience; the plot is repetitive, covering similar ground in every issue and failing to introduce enough new elements to keep things interesting (even ignoring some ongoing subplots completely here, such as the "mystery" Daredevil); and the cliffhanger provides the traditional situation in which our protagonist's life is placed in jeopardy, but allows the moment to play out for slightly too long, even going to far as to offer up a cure for Angela's mortal wound in a tension-sapping final development that surely should have been saved for the next issue. By themselves, they're fairly subtle and minor flaws, but together they make an otherwise decent enough (if not particularly inspired) story seem too flat to be truly exciting.
There are some redeeming features, however. There's a real sense that Angela Del Toro has found a niche in Marvel's family of street-level heroes, with this issue featuring an appearance by Luke Cage to go along with previous guest spots from Iron Fist, Spidey and Daredevil. Some of the cameos might seem a little contrived and unnecessary (does Emma Frost's appearance here really add anything to the book?), but there's a definite sense that the new White Tiger is being established as a character who is very much an active player in Marvel's wider community of New York heroes. Liebe and Pierce also seem to have made a real effort to give every one of Del Toro's actions as plausible a motivation as possible, making the character's past experience of detective work and case-building feel like an integral part of her character, and one which gives her a certain confidence in battling the criminal underworld despite her novice status as a superhero.
The artwork sets the tone of Liebe and Pierce's story, capturing the action in a style which is crisp, clear, and vividly coloured despite the gritty environments. Penciller Phil Briones obviously has a solid grasp of visual storytelling, and he provides one or two memorable images - particularly when called on to depict a good old-fashioned superhero slugfest like the opening brawl with the Lizard - but it's nothing which is hugely inventive or mould-breaking either. The slightly retro feel to the book's character designs and the cliché use of criminal locales combines with the slightly repetitive plotting and predictable structure of the book to make it feel faintly like a 1970s TV cop show - something faintly derivative that you can enjoy on a certain shallow level, but which never feels like it's going to amount to anything great. The exception to this statement, however, is the stunning work by David Mack on the series' covers. He's a real one-off talent in comics, rendering superheroes in a highly realistic watercolour style which somehow manages to avoid falling into the trap of making skin-tight superhero costumes look silly. He would be a real asset to any book, and he continues to produce unique images of great depth and beauty here.
Lovers of a more traditional approach to superhero comics may welcome this book as an enjoyable blast of straightforward, old-school Marvel adventuring, and those readers who can interpret the crime-fighting antics of a pretty female ex-FBI agent in tight-fitting white lycra as some kind of profound statement about female empowerment will probably love it. However, for everyone else this will likely register as little more than a competently-written and well-illustrated but ultimately forgettable relaunch of one of Marvel's third-tier characters.
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