New 52 Review: Mr. Terrific #1

The former Justice Society stalwart strikes out on his own, but certainly doesn't strike out with the former (or maybe soon to be) Power Girl, Karen Starr.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Mr. Terrific #1

There was a lot of hullabaloo among comic fans when DC's New 52 was announced and there was no Justice Society of America book amongst them.  In fact, the only remnant of the JSA that seemed to be involved at all was Mr. Terrific getting his own series.  Now, though, we've heard that the JSA is eventually getting relaunched on Earth 2, so they'll have nothing at all to do with this reboot hubbub and they'll do their own thing, leaving us to figure out the status of the JSA mainstays in this bold new world.

Turns out, Mr. Terrific is banging Power Girl now, although she doesn't appear to be Power Girl as yet, but just Karen Starr, of Starrware Inc., worth over $340 million and on the Fortune 500 list.  And she's having awkward racial conversations with one of his employees.

Mr. Terrific as a whole seems to invite awkward racial conversations, so let's just get that part over with.  Writer Eric Wallace has repeatedly referred Michael Holt a "diverse character," as opposed to the usual cases "where diverse characters are always supporting characters to their non-diverse counterparts."  While I understand his intent, the semantic nerd in me is comparing that terminology to 'urban' becoming synonymous with 'black.'  Using 'diverse' as a replacement for 'non-white' just doesn't work.  One person isn't diverse (although you could make an argument for the new Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales, who is half black, half Hispanic and potentially gay).  It generally takes a group of different somethings to qualify as 'diverse.'  Again, it's purely grammar nerdery on my part here, but it sets the tone that pops up a few times in Mister Terrific #1 – heavy-handed, forced references to race. 

(DISCLAIMER:  Wallace is a black man writing a black character, while I'm a doughy white guy writing about a black man writing a black character.  So, grain of salt on any of this before taking offense, please.  I'll try to show my work.)

Mr. Terrific #1


That bit's kinda funny (because NO ONE AT DC IS ANSWERING THAT WOMAN'S QUESTION), but it also feels forced.  A.) Holt's already been congratulated on his 'nice work,' so he doesn't have to make them seem ungrateful and B.) inserting 'black guy' in there with that tone doesn't really work when there's another black guy standing right there, does it?  Perhaps that's a miscommunication with artist Giancula Gugliotta, who is very hit and miss with this issue overall.

Then, there's that thing I mentioned earlier, where Starr notices that Holt's employee Aleeka has been giving her the stink-eye all night at a fundraiser.

Mr. Terrific #1


That's just 100 pounds of awkward hamfist right there, isn't it?   And who or what is Karen looking at in that second to last panel?  Giancula has some cool splash pages here and there and creates some excellent settings, but there's a bit too much here that just looks wonky in regards to actual people.

The point is not to say that race issues shouldn't be a part of Mr. Terrific.  It's just that whatever Wallace is attempting to do here doesn't seem to be coming off very well.  These moments, the hammering on his 'diverseness' and the fact that, when you get right down to it, 'Mr. Terrific' is just a painfully awful superhero identity that was better left to the Golden Age… it leads one to ponder why this guy was chosen to be in the cool, young New 52 at all.  Hitting these notes that hard just makes it scream 'diversity choice,' and if that was the case, I would've once again pitched Beth Chapel, the late Dr. Midnight.  If that's not the case, the Dr. Midnight theme is still cooler than Mr. Terrific.

Don't get me wrong – Michael Holt is a cool character.  Third smartest man in the world, vehement atheist, super-science guy who rides around on "snooker balls," as is quipped about amusingly in this issue – this is awesome stuff to play around with.  But he's got a big stupid awkwardly-colored T on his face and FAIR PLAY tattooed on his arms and he actually calls himself Mister Terrific.  That's just not good – and this is coming from a guy who can usually appreciate a decent amount of cheese.  It was acceptable in the JSA, which is all about throwback stuff, but on his own, in a world without some historical legend's mantle to carry on, a guy running around saying "my name is Mr. Terrific?"  It's just too damn dorky.  Even if the T-spheres are cool (despite never being explained at all in this #1). 

But enough of that awkward kvetching. There are cool things in this issue, like whatever the bad guy is.  We see nothing, but we hear a high pitched noise, and then people are seemingly possessed by some kind of tremendous asshole who berates waitresses and murders homeless people and makes them dabble in super-advanced fractal equations.  Then the same thing happens to Holt and starts driving him to kill a senator in public.  Some kind of new Eclipso thing?  Some mind control nasty?  Some sort of possession?  No idea, but it's interesting.  It's also pretty good at being a #1 issue, which sadly isn't the case for several of these New 52.  There's enough exposition to get a sense of who this character is, while also having him in enough situations to get a decent look at what a day in his life is like without losing all of the mystery.

Like who are the first and second smartest men in the world?  Why isn't Michael Holt the smartest?  Is no one allowed to be smarter than Batman?  Is the Hulk the third strongest one there is?   Is Wolverine the third best there is at what he does?  Come on.  Let your Mr. Fantastic be terrific, DC. 

Anyway, if you're jonesing for some kind of JSA fix, Mr. Terrific is the only place to look in the New 52, and despite the new look, he's still pretty close to the Michael Holt you remember.  Karen Starr might not be your Power Girl, though, and if that's going to be a problem – just wait a while.  You know she'll get a cape eventually, and with any luck, maybe they'll start an underground Justice Society together.  Wallace does pretty firmly establish that anything is possible in this high-minded man's life, and that's a decent foundation to build on.