I’m always happy to see a new superhero comic from DC’s Vertigo line. The reluctance with which Vertigo has embraced superheroes in the past decade has surprised me, especially since the line started out as a bunch of off-beat Karen Berger-edited superhero comics. But these days, unless you’re Grant Morrison, you probably won’t be pitching your superhero comic in the Vertigo offices.
But here comes David Tischman, former Howard Chaykin compatriot from “American Century” (among other things), flying solo as writer of “Greatest Hits,” a mash-up of superhero genre trappings with the classic story of four lads who become pop sensations. It’s a pretty direct Beatles-if-they-were-superheroes tale, but with analogues in place of Ringo and the boys.
The first issue opens with a rolling film reel and a magnificent double-page spread of Newark in chaos, as the Mates, the “world’s greatest team of costumed heroes” uses their powers to stem an outburst of racial strife.
It is 1967, after all.
The opening sequence, done pseudo-newsreel, kind-of-on-the-spot-reporting style, does a nice job introducing the heroes: the super-strong Crusader, with his Union Jack emblazoned tights and fancy moustache; Vizier, magical druid with the garment of many colors; the Solicitor, a kind of purple Question-esque character with a “Clockwork Orange” subtext; and Zipper, a flamboyant post-Mod with super-speed.
But after only four pages of late 1960s superhero insanity, the story flashes to the present day, as has-been writer/director Nick Mansfield — a man who has sunk so low he’s desperately trying to land a gig working on the direct-to-video “President Dog” — dabbles in the idea of a documentary about the Mates.
The rest of the issue flashes back and forth between Nick’s contemporary trials and tribulations and the mid-1960s formation of the super-team. It’s not a bad structure, but Nick’s story isn’t interesting enough on its own, and although it will surely link up with the story of the Mates at some point, it’s too much inside-Hollywood cliche and not enough to compel me to read more about him. The Mates, on the other hand, are quite fascinating, as they try to assemble a working-class kind of superhero team and have a less-than-easy time of it.
The art here, by Glenn Fabry, is cleaner than his usual style. His lines are more open than usual, and his figures less chiseled. It’s quite good stuff all around, though, and he’s just about the perfect guy for this particular job.
But it’s not a great first issue, story-wise. It’s got more than a little bit of potential, but while the best Vertigo first issues end with strong hooks, “Greatest Hits” #1 ends with the lads being rushed by a crowd of exuberant fans. It’s hardly a surprise of any sort, given the high-concept of the series, and it’s an example of the kind of trap this comic can easily fall into. Okay, it’s the Beatles as superheroes, but then what?
Hopefully, Tischman can take the story in a surprising direction over the remaining five issues, because Vertigo superhero comics are few and far between, and this one hasn’t yet lived up to its potential.