She Has No Head! - DV8: Character Rehabilitation Done Right, Now What?

DV8: Gods & Monsters #1 - #8. Brian Wood (writer). Rebekah Isaacs (artist). Carrie Strachan (colors). Fiona Staples (covers).  Jared K. Fletcher (letters). Ben Abernathy (editor). Kristy Quinn (assist. editor). Wildstorm. Full Color, 22-pages/book, $2.99/book.

I haven’t been shy on this column about my love for Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaac’s DV8 Gods & Monsters mini-series and now that it’s over I’m excited to talk about it in its entirety.

The first thing to say is that in the hands of Rebekah Isaacs and Carrie Strachan (colors) this series is, hands down, the best looking and most consistently stunning book I’ve read in the last year.  Add to that the massively talented Brian Wood and gorgeous covers by Fiona Staples and you really have something.

The greatest thing that Wood has done with DV8 is simply to re-introduce and re-invigorate an entire cast of characters and by the end of the series poise them beautifully (well, most of them – damn you Brian Wood!) for any talented writer to pick them up and use them in a new series (hint hint DC).  It’s no small feat to completely rehab characters practically forgotten in the massive landscape of comics, and Brian Wood does it here with grace and apparent ease.  This entire team has been wonderfully explored and developed, updated and made relevant again and I can’t think of a team I’d be more interested in seeing in another mini-series or ongoing…and prior to this mini-series I really couldn’t have cared less about most of them.

So what’s Gods & Monsters about?  Well, Wood has done a creative and loose re-imagining and modernization of the Rudyard Kipling short story (and film) The Man Who Would Be King – a story about “civilized” strangers in a "primitive" land, deemed gods by the local population.  How each of the DV8 characters (Sublime, Bliss, Frostbite, Threshold, Copycat, Evo, Freestyle, and Powerhaus) react to that role and deal with the responsibility is as different as they are, and it's some nuanced character work throughout the eight issue series. The story itself is told primarily through flashbacks by Gem, one of the main characters that was on the alien planet and is now held in the interrogation room of a space ship as she's questioned about the team's experiences.

One of the things I wrote about in my initial post about Gods & Monsters was how DV8 feels to me like a really fresh take on modern superheroes – they’re still in costume, but only sort of, and they’re still heroing, but only sort of, and they’re dealing with all kinds of complicated issues – it’s relevant and significant to me in a way that a lot of superhero comics don’t even touch.  Additionally, the book is really accessible to both men and women in my opinion simply because it has characters of each gender that are well explored and it doesn’t talk down to either group.  As an added bonus, thanks to Wood and Isaac’s there’s no sexism or overt objectification to get in the way of the story, a sad rarity in my experience reading mainstream comics.

I imagine some readers are going to be let down by the ending and feel that “nothing happens” in the series, because of that ending, but I would argue that:

A) A lot happens if you consider character development and growth to be “something happening" - which I do.

B) Wood did this interesting thing where as a reader by the end of the mini-series I found myself in the position of relating strongly the lead characters by giving readers and characters similar visceral reactions to what has just happened.  The DV8 characters, at the end of the mini-series loudly lament the pointlessness of what they've been put through - and considering one of them did not come back alive - pointlessness at a very high cost.  Emotionally jerked around as characters yet again and tested and proded and judged, they're angry and as a reader if you read the last arc and felt like "nothing really had a point" then you feel yourself heavily relating to their feelings of frustration and pointlessness.  But if you sit back and examine what you've been through in life, what you go through every day...much of it feels pointless even though none of it really is.  Because if testing yourself and seeing what you're made of through a series of frustrating obstacles is nothing happening...then nothing really happens to anyone, ever.  During Wood's story we learned what pushes these characters until they break, how far they will go to get what they want, and what happens when you really release them from all the bullshit they’ve been through and allow them their own agency with no rules and incredible power at their disposal.  It's the same kind of things, albeit magnified, that we learn about ourselves everyday, and I find the parallels fascinating.

It’s actually kind of brilliant and nuanced as far as I’m concerned.

Beyond the subtle smart character work Wood is doing, we must talk about the art.  Rebekah Isaacs' art is quite simply - a revelation - a breath of fresh air on the comics scene.  It’s both completely accessible and familiar in its style, yet completely new feeling.  Isaacs' has no problem distinguishing characters from one another (a frequent problem in comics) – everything from height, weight, ethnicity, gender, and personal style - are carefully considered and consistently detailed.  And can I just say, some of the details, like the hair, are fantastic.  Look at this, what detail!:

As I mentioned before, Isaacs and Wood together redesigned each of these characters’ looks – updating them nicely in fashion forward, practical, and cool ways, and the updates serve both the story and the overall feeling of DV8, placing them in a prime position to be powerful characters (and books) on the comic scene.  However, the real mind blowing work to me was Isaacs' epic landscapes, world building, and battle sequences.  Her work has a stunning cinematic quality and it’s powerful stuff.  It’s also perfectly suited for the epic yet pared down personal story that Wood is telling.  A story about the fate of an entire civilization and planet, but really a story about individual fears and weaknesses, and maybe a few strengths too.  It’s a delicate balance to seamlessly blend quiet character moments with vast battlefields and Isaac is more than up to the task.

It doesn’t hurt that Isaacs has the sublime Carrie Strachan on colors.  Using a natural muted palette for the alien planet and its inhabitants and a bright saturated modern one for our twenty first century “heroes”.  The two palettes should not look so in synch, but in Strachan’s hands it's all beautifully cohesive.

Fiona Staples gorgeous covers are stunning and smartly featured a single DV8 character (except #5, which featured two characters, and #8 which featured the group) on each cover.  It was a tiny bit of brilliance for a series trying to rehabilitate some long overlooked characters to give each of them such a spotlight, and when the covers look that good, it’s a particularly great idea.

Overall, if you haven’t been reading DV8 Gods & Monsters, and realize it's time to rectify that there have been several full series sets selling on ebay if you can’t find it at your local comic shop, I've also found at least the first five issues easily on Amazon.  If you’re dead set on waiting for the trade, then put it in your calendar now as it’s scheduled to release in April 2011. But can you really wait that long to see more pages like this?

I'd love to just leave it at that, but I can't help but wonder what the plan is here?  DC/Wildstorm has gone to all this trouble to put such an amazing creative team on this book (a rarity these days - for a creative team to start AND finish a series) to rehabilitate a totally forgotten property.  And not only to rehabilitate but to poise them perfectly to be picked up into a new series...only to have nothing happen with them at all?  Of course there could be some master plan here that I'm missing...but from outside as a fan it just looks like a lot of time money and effort pumped into a great project that could easily continue and now will just fall back into obscurity...? Of course there's nothing wrong with having an awesome mini-series just to have it, but as someone that's often disappointed with my pull list and that is culling it constantly... it seems a shame to so successfully reboot a franchise and then just do nothing with it.  Reboots are attempted and fail in massive numbers...now we've got a well-received reboot success...and no plans for the future?  It bums me out.  So rarely do I find superhero comics I like as much as I have like this one and now I find out I'll just have to be satisfied with what I've already got, instead of giving someone more money to see more of this.  A missed opportunity for both of us it seems.

In the meantime I urge everyone to check out the other work of these exceptional creators – both what's out now and coming soon: The prolific Brian Wood of course has his excellent series’ Northlanders and DMZ, both from Vertigo, and has a 4 part mini-series called New York Five with artist Ryan Kelly coming up from Vertigo in January 2011 as a follow-up to his 2007 Minx book, The New York Four.  Additionally, the exceptional Demo Volume #2 will be collected in March 2011.  Rebekah Isaacs is doing the art for a new mini-series with an intriguing hook called Magus forthcoming from 12 Gauge Comics in December 2010.  You can read a preview of Magus #1 here. As a double bonus the covers for Magus will be by Fiona Staples – look how gorgeous the first one is (see right).*  You should also check out North 40, which will release later this month and has lovely interior art by Fiona Staples.  North 40 was not a perfect series, but I really enjoyed it overall and it’s worth a look.  Carrie Strachan has been everywhere, doing gorgeous colors on a variety of books (including Justice League: Generation Lost, Fringe, Victorian Undead, etc.) so keep an eye out.

*Update: As per Rebekah Isaacs in the comments section - only the first cover of Magus will be by Fiona Staples, future covers will have Rebekah Isaacs art - which is still a great great thing.  Thanks for the clarification Rebekah!

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