In my review of “Greatest Hits” #1, I asked, “okay, it’s the Beatles as superheroes, but then what?”
A lot more, apparently.
Since that first issue — which established that “Greatest Hits” was indeed a retelling of the early days of the Beatles, but with superhero analogues — this series has moved beyond its simple premise. While the Beatles-as-superheroes concept is still implicit here, David Tischman uses the familiar story to explore the notion of superhero celebrity. And like all “True Hollywood Stories,” things haven’t gone particularly well for the once-famous.
From the beginning, Tischman has framed this story as an investigation into the true nature of the Mates. With quietly desperate filmmaker Nick as our portal into their world — and into their past, via interviews and found footage — we learn more and more about this dysfunctional (but once great) team with each issue. But even after four issues, there’s still plenty of mystery. We don’t know, for example, what really happened during the alien invasion.
This is a Vertigo superhero comic in the 21st century, so of course it takes a post-postmodern attitude toward the alien invasion. While a first generation superhero deconstruction would have shockingly revealed that the alien invasion was staged as a somewhat futile attempt to sustain the team’s waning popularity, “Greatest Hits” operates under the assumption that, yeah, the alien invasion was probably faked — that’s the word on the streets, and the missing bit of film footage from that adventure seems to indicate something shady went on aboard the mothership. But there are a lot of unanswered questions about the invasion, and we aren’t sure how it will all play out in the end, thanks to the twist in the final few pages of issue #4.
With all the intrigue and quality storytelling, “Greatest Hits” still has a slightly problematic tone. It feels, for example, a bit flat-footed, as if all the characters are passively going through their scripted routines. And while that might work for the Mates (both in their prime, when they were heavily managed, and even in the present, when they are simply limping out the rest of their lives), it works a bit less effectively for the filmmaker protagonists. But perhaps it only feels that way since the superhero tradition is one of histrionics and dynamic action, and we get a more measured approach from Tischman here. The end of this issue certainly promises something different next month, and it will be interesting to see how Tischman plays it.
The art by Glenn Fabry and Gary Erskine is, of course, quite good. Understated, clean, and finely detailed. A perfect match for Tishman’s narrative.
With two more issues to go, “Greatest Hits” seems poised to be decidedly more interesting than I had originally assumed. It all depends on the finale, but Tischman and Fabry have created a series that has a chance to rise above the mass of superhero mediocrity. They’re saying something about the relationship between truth, fame, and legacy. They’re exploring some well-trod ground from a fresh perspective. And, most importantly, they’re giving us a story in which we don’t know what’s going to happen next.
How can we not feel compelled to keep reading?