The DC New Talent Showcase returns for a second year, featuring writers and artists who came out of last year’s Talent Development Workshops. Last year’s effort, the first in a generation, was rather rocky in execution. Will this year’s effort be any better?
Written, Illustrated, and Colored by Various
Lettered by Dezi Sienty
With seven self-contained stories, the result of the DC Talent Development Workshop allows new writers and artists to breathe fresh life into established, beloved characters while learning alongside some of the publisher’s great masters. In this anthology, we see Poison Ivy face an ancient foe, Nightwing explore the meaning of family, Wonder Woman discover hidden treasures, Doctor Fate wonder what price magic has, and many more.
In light of recent news about new Marvel Editor-in-Chief C.J. Cebulski writing under an alias for his own employer for several years, and the general lack of diversity within the industry, it’s refreshing to see one of the “Big 2” make a deliberate effort to nurture new talent, particularly from underrepresented communities. On paper, this is a commendable idea. But does the result execute superbly, or fall victim to sophomore slump?
As we did last year, I’ll break this down story by story.
“Red Hood and Duke: Role Call,” written by Tony Patrick, illustrated by Minkyu Jung and Klaus Jansen, colored by Pete Pantazis
It’s training day for Red Hood and Duke Thomas, finding themselves in a computer simulation of Arkham Asylum that throws more than one surprise their way. With Red Hood as master and Duke as student, even the master is close to being bested by this training exercise . . . and thanks to Catwoman, learning a few lessons of his own.
Jung and Jansen do stick to the script in terms of illustrating both Red Hood and Catwoman, but do give a Duke a little more of a bulked-up appearance. He may still be in training, but he’s certainly got the physical capabilities to take on more. They provide rich detail for the Arkham simulation, so realistic that I didn’t realize it was a computer simulation until my second reading of the story. Pantazis’s coloring choices prove a bit too creative in some spots; rendering Poison Ivy to look more like Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Gamora didn’t seem to work here. There’s nothing remarkable or unique about the narrative; the reveal that Catwoman is behind the controls implies that her relationship with her subjects had a role in how the simulation was executed, but the brevity of this story doesn’t allow for that kind of development.
“To the Hilt,” written by Aaron Gillespie, illustrated by Lynne Yoshii, colored by Beth Sotelo
We go from the inside of a training bunker to the mountains of China for our next story, Katana’s pursuit of the mythical sword Soultaker, stolen by Snake a short time ago. From the looks of the opening panel, things are not going well, and Waller wants her to abort the mission. Katana’s not giving up though, not for something she loves dearly, even if the cost is her life.
You certainly get a sense from Beth Sotelo’s colors that Katana is in profound pain. There’s crimson dripping over every single page, and Lynne Yoshii conveys pain mixed with fortitude and determination in even the smallest facial features. Yoshii also uses shadow to her advantage with Snake; hiding half his body in darkness makes that sinister smile even more so. The setting of a self-contained mission lends itself to clearer writing; start, middle, and end are better executed in this narrative than its predecessor, with less ambiguity as to character motivation.
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Family,” written by Al Letson, illustrated by Siya Oum, colored by Chris Peter
Nightwing takes center stage in this tale, on a rescue mission to protect Abelard (half brother of Count Vertigo), his husband Bilal, and their daughter from their paranoid relative. The chase through a high rise is almost a success, with Vertigo and Abelard meeting in a nasty confrontation that looks to be fatal for the latter. But Nightwing knows he can count on his family to come to Abelard’s aid.Continued below
Creative panel layout works effectively to heighten the sense of the chase throughout the high rise. Characters break through borders, and Letson uses white space for Greek chorus-like appearances by Nightwing’s partisans to offer advice. Giving Count Vertigo a full page panel in shades of putrid pea-soup green spirals amplifies his own mental torment and sets up the innocent versus evil dynamic that powers through the entire story. Seeing a same sex couple as a central dramatis personae is wonderful, though there are places where we run the risk of falling into the “kill your gays” trope. Best that this story ended when it did.
“Silent Screams,” written by Owl Goingback, illustrated by Matt Merhoff, colored by Dave McCaig
This story stars our favorite plant lover Poison Ivy, the woman with a deep spiritual connection to the flora of the world. When they are in pain, they call out to her and they are clearly in pain from the presence of a very ancient foe that looks to drain the life source of plant, human, and Ivy herself: the shape-shifter Nahemah.
The art is beautifully drawn with a fine hand given to Ivy’s cape of leaves, the and mermaid-like movement in her hair. I’m not 100 percent happy with the over sexualized depiction of the rest of Ivy. I respect that she is meant to be a sex symbol, but costuming (or lack thereof) does not lend itself well to the physical action. In other words: we’re one step away from a wardrobe malfunction. Nahemah bears strong resemblance to a very creepy Groot; it may be too strong for DC’s intellectual property lawyers to allow another appearance and run the risk of a lawsuit from their main rival. The plot choice again works well with the nature of this anthology: we have clear exposition, action, and resolution with enough understanding of motivation. My only wish is for art that was just a touch more realistic for a woman that is action hero and sex object.
“Mercy,” written by Proctor & Harrell, illustrated by Lalit Sharma and Jagdish Kumar, colored by Beth Sotelo
Break out your guns, Deadshot’s in town! Floyd Lawton is confronting the demons of his past as he discovers the brother he thought he had killed long ago accidentally is in fact alive, sold by their father for medical experimentation in creation of a collective mind. And this just happens to be the latest mission Amanda Waller has sent Deadshot on. Did Amanda know that there was going to be this awkward family reunion?
This is the second story to explore the complications of family, but unlike our “blood family versus found family” theme of the Nightwing tale, we get the somewhat tired trope of the dead family member brought back to life. The narrative is constructed well with ample but not rushed backstory and a firm denouement. And while I’m not a fan of the “hey look! you’re not really dead” trope, this does have the best potential to become an ongoing series . . . a new partner/sidekick, reconnecting with family, a larger conspiracy of a Borg-like collective. With respect to art, Sharma and Kumar excel in detail. Every line expresses tenor, both on its own and as part of a shared pictorial depiction. There’s nothing abstract about their artwork, they bring three dimensions into a two dimension medium.
“The Cost of Magic,” written by David Accampo, illustrated by Sam Lotfi, colored by John Rauch
The penultimate story of this showcase is with Doctor Fate, torn between using magic to be a hero and a desire to live a normal life. Is it possible for a man with the most ancient of magic in his veins to be anything close to normal or human?
I could not find anything redeeming about this story. Doctor Fate read like a low-rent Doctor Strange, right down to physical features, costume, and the Tower of Fate. (That eye above his bed looks very much like the Eye of Agamotto, don’t you think?) The plot had the feel of being in the middle of a larger book, rather than the complete stories provided by other creators. Without this coherent tale, we’re left with an 11 page showcase of artwork. Yes, comics are a visual medium, but art needs to work with a compelling story to shine. Lofti and Rauch give us rich color and detail, particularly in Doctor Fate’s transformation from man to beast and back again. Too bad there couldn’t be more coherent writing to carry the art along.Continued below
“The Archive,” written by Scott Snyder, illustrated by Ibrahim Moustafa, colored by Romulo Fajardo Jr.
For the final story, DC busts out its star of 2017, Diana of Themyscira, aka Wonder Woman. In flashbacks, we see Diana in the Grand Armory looking at the various treasures of her land, wondering why they are dangerous (per her mother). Fast forward several years, and Diana (with Steve) find themselves in a similar archive: an archive of magic from the United States government. The government wants this archive destroyed, ostensibly in the name of public safety, but Diana knows better. These are treasures meant to be displayed, not demolished. That’s a debate left for another day, as more pressing and ominous threats within the government make themselves known.
Snyder is the lone established DC writer in this collection, and his experience shows in everything from writing to art. Clever placement of flashback provides context for Diana’s decisions in the present day, and he’s certainly given advice to Moustafa in the art. Her look is a combination of the New 52 era, the Batman v. Superman movie costume, and a touch of her Golden Age costume with a skirt. This is a woman beholden to no era, truly timeless. Moreover, she’s drawn tastefully when compared to our other leading lady in this book (Poison Ivy) — still feminine but not over-sexualized. And the monster that threatens at the end is a gloriously frighten Lovecraftian beast. The story still has the feel of being part of something longer and larger; I’m left wanting more. But that is a hallmark of good writing, and again, Snyder’s experience.
As with last year’s effort, the biggest weakness is in the independent stories. I have nothing wrong with the concept of the anthology to show off rising talent, but perhaps the focus could have been on one story, a la “Marvel Legacy” instead of individual narratives. Some writers know how to craft for a condensed format, others don’t. Like a holiday dinner without the gravy, the book needed something to tie it all together. The price tag of $7.99 remains an ongoing concern, especially since there are less stories than last year (seven versus nine), now you’re paying more per story that is roughly the same length. Perhaps a few more pages at the end showcasing the creators with photos and bios would help make this more worth its value, with the added bonus of emphasizing DC’s commitment to diversity past names, which themselves don’t always indicate gender or national origin.
There are some clear stars on the artwork side of things. Lynne Yoshii and Beth Sotelo have a very bright future ahead of them at DC, as do Lalit Sharma, Jagdish Kumar, and Sam Lofti, especially when paired with the right author. Praise is also due to the sole letterer on this book, Dezi Sienty, who had to adapt to seven different techniques and moods. That’s no easy feat, and Sienty’s work captures the seven unique flavors of this comic.
Final Verdict: 6.0 – Format still proves problematic, but there’s some talent within these pages that deserves to be watched.