The latest superhero offering from J. M. DeMatteis hits the shelves mañana, and Mike Cavallaro, the book’s artist, was nice enough to send me a file of the first issue. And what do we do around here? Review things!
On the surface, The Life and Times of Savior 28 reads like a typical postmodern superhero epic, with the star, Savior 28, losing his way as the world turns darker. When we get this kind of story, it becomes a question of whether the creative team can take the material and make it rise above the standard. It’s a bit too early to tell with this book, but it’s off to a good start.
The basic story is thus: The narrator, Dennis McNulty, is an old man looking back on the life of James Smith, who was transformed into Savior 28 by a strange mystical artifact implanted in his chest (he’s called that because the process failed with 27 prior candidates). McNulty, at one point, became his teenaged sidekick, and now he’s reviewing how Smith fell from grace. Smith ages very slowly, so he goes through what the United States went through from 1939 (the year he became Savior 28) to the present. Of course, this involves a gradual disillusionment with the government, the loss of loved ones (as they grow old and he doesn’t) and continual battles with his arch-nemesis, Savior 13 (who was the only other candidate to survive the process, but was driven insane by it). DeMatteis works the 9/11 terrorist attack into the story (although it’s September 12 in this book), an event that Savior 28 could have prevented had he not been unconscious in a drunken stupor. It’s no spoiler to say that Smith gets killed (McNulty does so for us on page 7, plus it’s on the cover), but DeMatteis does a nice job showing it three times, each time adding a layer of meaning to it. It ends with a nice surprise that sets up the rest of the series.
There’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before, but if you like DeMatteis (and I do), it works. It’s a bit verbose (not surprising, given the writer), but for the most part, DeMatteis does a fine job creating this world in just one issue. He’s best with Smith, his wife, Savior 13, and McNulty – the character stuff, that is. Again, this isn’t surprising, because that’s always what DeMatteis is good at. We get a real sense of Smith’s descent into despair, which is nice because there’s not a lot of room for him in one issue to do it. Smith’s change of heart after the terrorist attacks is handled well, too – we can believe that he decides to become an advocate for peace, and DeMatteis’s commentary about superhero comics in general is nice, too, because he’s been writing about this for years, and it’s something that’s obviously close to his heart. The story doesn’t break any new ground, but DeMatteis does it well.
Cavallaro’s art bugs me. It’s actually quite good, but I detect some styles in there that I can’t name, and it’s bugging me. He has a strong line and a nice feel for superhero art. DeMatteis packs the book with content, so Cavallaro has to keep up, and he does so quite well. He does a very good job showing Smith’s physical deterioration as his mental state declines, and his full-page spread of how Smith got his powers is very funny. I last saw Cavallaro’s art in Parade (With Fireworks) and while it was pretty good there, he’s gotten better.
Yes, it’s a superhero comic, but it’s a superhero comic by a writer who really understands them. It’s always interesting to read a superhero book when you know the characters aren’t going to stay exactly the same or keep coming back from the dead, and DeMatteis does a fine job with Savior 28. Go ahead, check it out – it won’t hurt to buy something that’s not from Marvel or DC!
There’s a short preview here, by the way. If you’re interested.