Saturday, September 20, 2014

Terminal Hero #2 Review

Last month, I somewhat randomly reviewed the debut issue of Terminal Hero, and even though it's a little late in coming, I thought I'd review the second issue as well. This decision was motivated by a few things: 1. I wanted to write something tonight but didn't have a ton of ideas or fresh material, 2. I continue to be a little unsure of how I feel about this book so I want to keep hashing it out here, and 3. I'm kind of into the notion of doing full reviews of every issue, now that I've been inspired to do the first two. And we're off.
     As with Terminal Hero #1, this issue felt like it covered enough ground to have been a full arc. Milligan is compressing the hell out of this story, and on principal I like that. It does make me wonder where it's going in the long term, because how many times can a protagonist have his life completely overturned before it gets old? This time out, Rory gets drafted by British Intelligence to be an assassin in exchange for them covering up the fact that he murdered his best friend. He then commits several assassinations while developing a sexually charged and combative dynamic with his government handler, Agent Davenport. Meanwhile, he continues his arguably healthy relationship with fellow doctor Emma, but continues to worry how safe it is for her to be with him, then decides to call it off with her and at the same time reveal his powers to her. He also meets Dr. Quigley, the man who developed the experimental Treatment Q that gave Rory those powers, and at Quigley's request Rory kills him, rather than using him for information like Davenport wants. Finally, Rory loses control of himself on a mission and blows up an entire building full of innocent victims, and decides that in order to be free he needs to convince the governemtn he's dead. So he switches places with one of the victims, using his powers to give a corpse his fingerprints, face, etc. and changing his own appearance as well.
     Like I said, there's a lot going on, more than enough to have been stretched over several installments. The debut issue included several huge shake-ups: Rory's tumor, the discovery of Treatment Q, the subsequent powers, and the ultimate murder of Raz. Issue #2 does it again, with the government hiring Rory, his first sanctioned murder, his break-up with Emma, the encounter with Quigley, and the identity swap at the end all constituting sharp turns in his path. This is a narrative that moves with vigor from idea to idea, relentlessly assaulting the main character with enormous decisions and earth-shattering events. On the one hand, it makes Terminal Hero feel dense and active, but it also lessens the impact of each of these large moments. Quigley's death in particular happens so suddenly, and after we get only the most cursory glance at who he is as a person. If the pattern holds, every issue will include a one-page opener about Qigley's past, so we may learn more as time goes on, but having him on stage here for the sole purpose of eliminating him seems like a wasted opportunity. And with his demise sandwiched between several other significant beats, it doesn't carry much if any emotional weight. Rory barely acknowledges that it happens, and though Davenport reacts strongly at first, she lets it go almost immediately.
     Even Rory's reason for agreeing to the government wetwork is weak and rushed; he's so worried about what Raz's sweet old mother will think of him if the world believes he's Raz's killer, and so afraid of maybe someday running into her and having to face her pain and anger, he decides it's worth giving up any agency in his life and becoming a living weapon. That's a hard motive to buy into when we know so little about Raz and Rory's friendship, and what we have seen included a pretty major abuse of trust from Raz that led to his death. Rory's captions insist they were best friends, and Emma has a line about how Raz "really loved" Rory, but being told something isn't the same as being convinced of its truth or narrative legitimacy. The thing about Raz's mom comes across as Milligan's hand-waving attempt to get on with the British Intelligence plotline quickly enough to wrap it up in a single chapter.
     On top of all this, Rory's not someone I particularly care about. I'm interested in his story, because the concept of someone with so much power being such a misguided and self-interested schmuck is exciting and scary, but his dickishness also makes me not give a shit whether he wins or loses, lives or dies. Truth be told, what I'd like is to see him eventually get taken out somehow and then a new person be exposed to Treatment Q in some way, to watch how this insane amount of mental ability would affect different kinds of people. Rory is a fine enough subject for now, but I don't know how long I'm going to want to follow the fucked up adventures of such a terrible guy.
     Piotr Kowalski and Kelly Fitzpatrick both continue to do great stuff on the art side of things. The scenes between Rory and Emma worked especially well for me. There was a nice naturalness to their interactions, whether sex, postcoital cuddling, or the borderline violent break-up conversation, and that went a long way toward making up for how little page space their relationship is given. I'm hopeful that there will be more of Emma down the line, in any capacity, because she seems like one of the few people who might be able to help Rory rather than try to take advantage of him.
     Dr. Quigley as a pathetic, comically obese sad sack and the weird, underground, sci-fi containment unit holding him was another excellent image, just horrifically disgusting enough to be fascinating but never off-putting. I'd like to wish for more of him, too, and indeed when he first showed up I assumed it meant he'd be at least a recurring part of the cast, but he's dead now so I'm guessing this issue was all we're going to get of the sweaty, scared, overstuffed man-child. He could always come back to life or show up in flashback scenes—in the flashbacks we've seen so far, he's not yet imprisoned and therefore not so monstrous in his appearance—but as of now it seems like dead means dead in Terminal Hero, so I won't be holding my breath. It's another downside of the book's pacing: some of the best characters and visuals don't get the stage time they probably deserve.
     I hate to harp on the speed so much, because over-decompression is such a lame trend in comics, and Terminal Hero is nothing if not entertaining, in no small part because of the rate at which it powers forward all the time. The art is still the best aspect of the series, but the thickness of the story, the non-stop rhythm of the mounting madness in Rory's life, is a big part of the appeal, too. Aggravatingly, it is also still the biggest thing preventing Terminal Hero from fully digging into any of its concepts, which in turn makes it hard to know what's worth investing in as a reader. When a new status quo can come and go in half an issue or less, it's a little difficult to get too enthusiastic about anything that seems cool when introduced, because I don't want to get my hopes up if it's just another quick pit stop in the race that is this story.

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