I think this will be my last issue. A big part of my jumping on this book, when it debuted as part of DC’s New 52 promotion, was the presence of Sterling Gates as writer. His Supergirl work showed a huge talent for story, plotting, action and characterisation. Interviews and the first couple of issues made it clear Gates was angling this revamp to suit the talents of artist Rob Liefeld – action all the way with a side of characterisation. And I was OK with that, so long as Gates’ own instincts and interests weren’t completely subsumed.
But we’re up to #5 and the imprint of Gates is barely there as the Liefeld machine pummels forward. This issue Liefeld is listed as co-writer, and as of next month Gates is off the book altogether as Liefeld goes it alone. If this chapter is any indication of what’s to come, it’s time for me to go too.
The two mysteries set up early on in the series – the truth of Dove’s origins and the secrets of the bird avatar cabal – look set to drag on and on. Hank is beyond stupid and selfish, Dawn is a weird combination of grim and sappy, the supporting characters are barely there, the villains are for the birds …
‘Cages and Crossroads’ sees the opening storyline wrap, as our heroes search for Dove’s fella, Deadman, who’s been kidnapped by bad guys Condor and Swan. They talk to Deadman’s chum, Madame Xanadu – off-panel – who tells them that a demon named Bob, in Salem, will be able to help. So they beat up a demon named Bob, in Salem, until he tells them they need to return to Washington DC and find the entrance to something called ‘the War Realm’.
En route to save Deadman from they don’t know what, Hawk insists Dove stop for a chat. He reckons she should consider dumping Deadman because he’s brought only trouble their way. Dove is understandably peeved and insists they get on with the rescue mission
An old cinema hosts the entry portal to the War Realm, which sounds exciting and mysterious but Condor’s hideaway proves to be a mundane city rooftop – I wouldn’t have bothered. Condor, who at the beginning of this issue is a lookalike for Hawk, is now a giant birdman. His partner, Dove double Swan, is now dead. So there’s been a betrayal, a death and a transformation – off-panel. A fight ensues and while Hawk doesn’t do too well, Dove turns out to have an undefined light power that squishes Condor.
This climactic sequence happens in titchy panels, where you might reasonably expect larger views, maybe a splash page. But no, the spreads are used for a massive headshot of Dove, and a generic, sideways image of H&D diving off a roof. These money shots do feature decent Liefeld art – especially if you’re a fan of improbable arses – but they don’t help the story pacing. The Bob interlude uses up more room in a very random manner – who is this guy, how does he know anything, why Salem?
The coda sees an apparently Botoxed Deadman break up with Dove – like Hawk, he believes, ‘I’m dangerous to you’. Dove is devastated – as a superhero, she’s hardly going to be fretting about danger – while Hawk pretends to be sad for her. Next month, a Batman team-up which likely won’t leave room for subplot progression.
While Liefeld pencils and inks, he doesn’t handle the art alone. There are ‘pencil assists’ by Marat Mychaels and inks by Adelso Corona. As noted above, as a Liefeld art job it’s fine … the only panel I hate is the shot of Dove as Dawn, in which no one’s bothered to draw any clothes on her upper body – Matt Yackey’s colours and a few cuff-lines are the only indication she’s meant to be dressed. It’s lazy, but worse, it looks weird and takes you out of the story.
It’s a shame that the finer points of storytelling, such as motivation, explanation and believability, seem to be on the way out. Only last issue, things were looking very promising for this series, with a pleasing balance between the talents of Liefeld and Gates. But with this month’s sidelining, and next issue’s removal, of Gates – he was meant to be writing #6 – I don’t see this comic fulfilling its potential any time soon.