Phantom Lady and Doll Man are two superheroes that hardly have a big reputation as popular characters. Instead they’re more ones that could best be described as cult-favorites; slightly obscure characters that every now and then get trotted out for a revamp. And while this recycling/returning of this level of character can succeed (the Jack C. Harris/Joe Quesada and Christopher J. Priest/Howard Porter incarnation of the Ray leaps to mind), it’s a difficult process at best. So with the debut of “Phantom Lady and Doll Man” #1, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Cat Staggs and Tom Derenick needed to hit the ground running and grab the reader’s attention quickly. While at first they seemed to do just that, this is a book that loses steam quickly.
After a one-page flashback to Phantom Lady as a little girl (in which she witnesses the murders of her parents), Palmiotti, Gray, Staggs and Denerick craft a lively five-page sequence in the present day DC Universe where Phantom Lady takes down a group of thugs in an alleyway. This scene does everything it should; it details Phantom Lady’s powers and personality, and it moves at a brisk pace. By the time I’d read page six of “Phantom Lady and Doll Man” #1, I was ready for more.
What happened next, though, could best be described as the book squealing to a halt as it jumps back six months earlier before Jennifer became Phantom Lady, when she was first trying to take down the Bender crime family. Here we get a series of uninteresting confrontations; with the Bender family, with her ally/friend Dane and with the Bender family again. None of them hold much interest though; the shakedown scene with the Bender family at the club is a little dull and predictable, and the one with Dane makes you wonder why Dane ever sticks around (despite being in love with Jennifer). It’s slightly shrill and it ultimately requires characters to act stupid for the plot to advance.
The script also feels like we’re on the wrong draft at two points in the comic. We’re told twice in four pages that, “Everyone on both sides of the law calls the Benders the first family of crime” (with only a slight shift in the wording), and in the fight scene there are references to Phantom Lady’s goggles that don’t actually ever appear in the art. It’s a little odd, something that Palmiotti and Gray don’t normally have problems with.
The art from Scaggs and Denerick looks good. They excel when it comes to the early fight scene in the alleyway. It’s got good visual angles and it flows smoothly. The characters are drawn in a clean and uncluttered manner, and I’d like to see more of Scaggs and Denerick, post-“Phantom Lady and Doll Man.” They’re a good team that would be well-suited to a title like “Birds of Prey.”
“Phantom Lady and Doll Man” #1 is an all right comic, but in order to succeed it needs to be better than just all right. This needs to be exciting, fresh, and original if it’s going to survive in this difficult marketplace. Right now, unless things pick up hugely in the second issue though, I’m afraid it’s not on track to do that.