I can’t spoil “The Biggest New Mystery in the DC Universe,” as it’s only the first issue so we don’t know what the mystery is, but there are spoilers ahead for…
I was as uncertain about what would be in the Spotlight this week as I was about picking up the first issue of the second title in the “Wonder Comics” line, as it was a relatively light week and I try to avoid clustering related titles too closely together in time, but ultimately I decided on this simply because it’s a beautiful-looking comic.
Our story opens with a page that seems like it was designed to up the ante on the nine-panel grid layout of Mister Miracle, bringing the total up to twelve, with each panel containing a different talking head, though they’re all talking about the same thing.
But who can blame them? These (young) people live in the kind of sleepy town where nothing ever seems to happen. At least, that had been the case until this happened:
The battle between Superman and Mongul only lasted for seventeen seconds, but it had a huge impact on the town, in terms of property damage and the collective psyche of the town’s residents.
As the town deals with the physical and psychological aftermath of the events, one person in particular – a young woman named Naomi, who actually missed seeing it happen – is grappling with the repercussions, asking questions of all of her friends who were there for it. Said discussion involves some complaints about the fact that despite making a mess, Superman hasn’t come back to help clean up the mess he left, which prompts a question about whether or not any of them would like to trade places with Superman, who is probably too busy dealing with “Superman stuff” to come back, which prompts a response from Naomi that is quoted above.
Despite being busy with “Superman stuff,” the Man of Steel does return, and this time, Naomi doesn’t miss it.
We start to learn a little about Naomi. She’s seventeen, she’s adopted – which we learn during a therapy session in which her therapist suggests that the core of Naomi’s fascination with Superman stems from the fact that Superman was adopted as well, which also clues us in on the fact that Naomi is in therapy and has been for quite some time – and she has a very inquisitive personality.
That latter point comes to the fore in the course of some discussion with her friends about how the single most interesting thing that’s ever happened in their town isn’t in the news anywhere else. It’s during this conversation that Naomi learns that this may not have been the first time something like this has happened.
This sparks an investigation by Naomi that mostly yields no results, as no one seems to remember the event that allegedly occurred years earlier.
It seems she’s reached a dead end, until, on a whim, she decides to check with a local auto mechanic who looks like he could be Mongul’s lovechild. He admits that something may have happened, but says that he wasn’t there when it happened and doesn’t like to talk about things that he hasn’t seen himself.
He does, however, provide her with one especially pertinent piece of information. Namely, when, exactly, it happened.
This is a great-looking book. Campbell has a lush style that is a visually-interesting blend of realistic and cartoonish and infuses each character with a distinct personality.
Sadly, the substance is no match for the style. While there is a mystery at the center of the story, there is no real tension to be found in it, as there is too much of a division between the place-setting and the revelation that there hidden truths waiting to be discovered. That is, we get a bunch of pages introducing us to Naomi and to her friend, and then, suddenly, in the last few pages, we learn that there’s some secret.
You start out wondering where this is heading, but, cover blurb aside, you don’t get the sense that it’s heading towards some mystery, you just wonder if it’s going to get around to telling any kind of story. You might assume that there is a mystery to be solved, given the “every sleepy little town has its secrets” trope, but the story lacks the necessary slow build up to that reveal.
While there have been many stories that have done so, exploring the impact that the adventures and misadventures of super-powered beings have on the lives of ordinary, non-super people remains fertile storytelling ground, so I would hope that the mystery at the heart of this story takes advantage of the opportunity.
I won’t beat a dead horse, but I will mention that this is a book that has a bunch of young people engaged in conversation, so it provides ample opportunity for Bendis to be Bendis.
This issue also has a preview of the next title from the “Wonder Comics” line, Wonder Twins. I’m probably not going to check that out, as I just don’t have it in me to be interested in any iteration of Zan and Jayna. The premise seems to involve the alien twins adjusting – poorly – to life on Earth and learning how to live like ordinary teens while simultaneously working with the Justice League.
As for Naomi, I may check out the rest in trade form at some point, but for right now…meh.