Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Trade Waiting - Dynamo 5 Vol 1, Post-Nuclear Family

Today, I'll be looking at a creator owned series from Image Comics by Jay Faerber and Mahmud A. Asrar called Dynamo 5. It's a superhero book that manages to set itself apart from the sea of creator owned projects that end up being mere clones of Marvel or DC properties and I rather enjoyed it because of that. Hit the jump to find out more.

Written by Jay Faerber
Art by Mahmud A. Asrar
Collects Dynamo 5 #1-7

Dynamo 5 is a creator owned superhero title from Jay Faerber and Mahmud A. Asrar. It is a twist on the idea of the superhero family with all of the members of the Dynamo 5 team being the illegitimate children of Captain Dynamo, a Superman stand in for Faerber's book with a slightly tweaked set of powers. They are led by Captain Dynamo's widow, Madeline "Maddie" Warner.

The story starts off with the less than dignified death of Captain Dynamo, who was poisoned while having an affair. Maddie, a retired investigative reporter, finds out out about the numerous affairs that Captain Dynamo had and how he may have had five children with different women throughout the years. Each of the five children she recruits ended up gaining one of the five powers he had. The members of Dynamo 5, and their powers, are:
  • Visionary (Hector Chang) - Various vision based powers including laser and x-ray vision
  • Scrap (Bridget Flynn) - Super strength and limited invulnerability
  • Myriad (Spencer Bridges) - Shape shifting
  • Scatterbrain (Gage Reinhart) - Telepathy
  • Slingshot (Olivia Lewis) - Flight
Faerber does a good job of establishing them early on, mostly through the way they are introduced. He frames the story so that you get the very basics of the characters in a page or two while he goes a little more in depth later. There is a nice variety to the team and while they are not the most dynamic cast of characters, there is enough depth and substance to make them good characters that stand out. Faerber also goes against conventions and stereotypes with things like Gage, the telepath, being a jock and the goth girl, Scrap, being the muscle and team leader. While he does not do too much with stuff like this, it does add a little bit of variety to the book.

Obviously, the book deals with the teams formation, but Faerber gets that out of the way in the first issue and uses the rest of the trade to focus on the team dynamic, both as a group and with the wider world. Since Captain Dynamo is dead and Dynamo 5 is replacing him defending Tower City, it's obvious they have to deal with his former allies and enemies. In addition to focusing on how Dynamo 5 deals with being new heroes, Faerber also uses the middle chapters of the trade to introduce some other players of the title. These are typically minor characters that have a previous history with Captain Dynamo.

As mentioned above, the middle of the story is about how the main characters deal with their new found powers, lives and knowledge of their father and heritage. The point is how they deal with the family aspect of it all, both with their original families and their newly formed one with each other. Each character deals with it differently and Faerber uses their new found powers and knowledge to add some tension to the story.

The last part of the book is a three parter that deals with the return of Captain Dynamo or, at least, someone that is imitating him. Faerber uses it to nicely wrap up a couple of things that he was working on in the earlier parts of the book while getting some nice surprises out of it. By the end of the book, Faerber has firmly established the core concept of the book and a lot of the characters and team dynamics.

Normally, I'm generally suspicious towards creator owned superhero books for two main reasons - 1) usually they are obvious rip offs of Marvel and DC concepts or 2) they are just down right horrible, in either concept or execution, typically pushing things to extremes in an attempt to differentiate themselves. Dynamo 5 does, in fact, borrow some concepts from Marvel/DC territory and, like I said, normally, I would hold this against Dynamo 5. But I didn't for two more reasons. 1) These connections to Marvel and DC are a peripheral part of the story and 2) the rest of the story is so good that it simply does not matter. While there are groups like The Veil (a Hydra/Cobra-like organization) and F.L.A.G. (a S.H.I.E.L.D. stand in), plus Captain Dynamo (Superman), they are not the main focus of the book.

Another factor is that Dynamo 5 is a superhero/family book of which there are very few put out by Marvel or DC. You could argue that either Fantastic Four or Justice Society of America cover similar territory, but they are skewed more towards the superhero aspect while Faerber does a better job of balancing the two.

As for the art, Asrar has something like an all purpose, generic superhero style. That may not sound like praise, but I do like his art. He does know how to tell a story, which is important given the type of book Dynamo 5 is. His action scenes also work well and there are some energetic scenes in there plus some nice, superhero styled splash pages every now and then. He is also good with facial expressions, which, again, really help with the kind of story Faerber is telling. He may not be the flashiest artist around, but his work is a perfect fit for the book and gets the job done.

Verdict - Must Read. Dynamo 5, while covering some familiar territory, is a wonderful book that takes on a life of its own and provides some nice contrast to Marvel and DC on how to do a superhero book.

Like this review? Interested in this book? Purchase Dynamo 5 Vol 1: Post-Nuclear Family from Amazon.com and help support The Weekly Crisis.

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Bill said...

Big fan of this book. Ever read Noble Causes? Dynamo 5 is technically a spin-off from it, Captain Dynamo having appeared briefly in that book a while back. It's also written by Faerber, a family of superheroes done Soap Opera-style. Pretty good read (at least until the end, IMO). Available in trades or in two "archives," phone book style b&w on terrible paper.

But I totally don't share your issues with creator-owned superhero stuff. Invincible, Dynamo 5, Atomic Robo, The Boys, Firebreather, Incognito, Kick-Ass, Powers, Umbrella Academy... all good books, as far as I'm concerned.

Matt Ampersand said...

I really need to check this out, I keep hearing nothing but good things about it.

Daniel Woburn said...

I literally got volumes 1 and 2 from the library (librarian went to one of the most well-known comic book stores in London, Gosh! Comics, and bought a shitload of the latest and greatest. She doesn't know a lot about comics, but she picked up some real goodies) the other day. Blew through 'em both in 2 days. Definitely fun reads, although there's something a little... lacking? about the dialogue and the way it's all constructed. It feels very brief, maybe even a bit basic. But it's still really enjoyable.
The art is nice, if a bit bare-bones, and the characters are all designed well. Eric, you're right - the artist does do some sweet action sequences.
In regards to what you said about independently-owned superhero stories being clones of Marvel and DC, I can forgive that entirely. Marvel and DC have been around for the better part of a century - they've had that long and a revolving door of imaginative writers and artists to define the superhero comic. What hasn't been done already? Which super power hasn't been thought of? Which superhero personality haven't you seen before? People these days who write comics generally grew up reading comics. You've gotta be influenced by something. DC and Marvel created the archetype superheroes; your Supermans, your Batmans, your Wolverines, your Hulks, your Spider-Mans. There's a reason why we see so many imitations of these characters.
The trick is to take what you know and twist it into something fresh - exactly like Faerber has done, as you so rightly mentioned, with the characters of Gage/Scatterbrain and Bridget/Scrap.
I mean, you've gotta give it to the writers who at least TRY to create something original, even if in doing so it turns out to be something you've seen before.
Eric, i'd like to see a review of the second volume, and see what you thought! In my opinion it really takes off, especially when you learn more about the characters (ie Spencer).

Eric Rupe said...

Bill - I've been thinking about getting Noble Causes for a while but its something I'm probably going to pass on in the end.

As for the series you listed, you literally picked the best of the best. A lot of those are better than most of what Marvel and DC put out. Powers is better than most of Bendis's Marvel output in fact.

Haven't read Firebreather though it is something I am considering, Atomic Robo isn't a superhero book and I think Invincible is emblematic of everything wrong with Indie hero books. To me, it basically reads like a bunch of Marvel and DC stuff Kirkman wanted to write, but couldn't. That's just my opinion on it though and, for the record, I read up through the 8th trade.

Kirk Warren said...

You could also argue against many of Bill's examples as 'super hero comics', too.

Powers is not a sueprhero comic in my opinion. It's basically CSI/Law & Order for super hero crime. The focus is never on the actual powers so much as the non-powered (well, debatable in light of the more recent changes to the main characters) 'heroes'.

Atomic Robo is more like a science version of Hellboy's mysticism and neither I'd consider a "capes and underwear on the outside" book.

Could probably argue similar things about every other book listed. I think Eric was just a little too ambiguous about just what it was he disliked about indy based super heroes when it is mostly the blatant Marvel or DC ripoffs without an ounce of originality and of which rely heavily on blood or "90's artwork" or what have you to sell the book that he dislikes.

Bill said...

I dunno. Atomic Robo is super strong, cracks wise, saves the world from supernatural peril by punching bad guys in the face. Hellboy's the same way. Not exactly the typical superhero book, but I dunno.

I think the bigger argument, at least having read what you wrote about Invincible, is that... I mean I think the book works, and I get that it owes a lot to old school Spider-Man and has some Justice League-type elements in it. But Marvel and DC have been putting out superhero books for 70+ years, it's hard to do something superhero-ish without treading on some ground they've covered before. If you're particular enough about it, you can look at any superhero book as riffing on Marvel/DC.

I mean Dynamo 5, it starts with the death of Superman and Lois Lane learning that he'd been cheating on her for years. She was a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. agent the whole time. To protect Metropolis in Superman's absence, she makes a team of Angel, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Mystique, and... Wolverine (who is not only the group's tough guy, but also appears on almost every cover).

And I don't mean to take anything away from Dynamo 5, I just think that's genre writing. You take bits and pieces of things that have come before, and combine them in interesting ways. Dynamo 5 works for me, Invincible too. It's fine if you don't like Invincible, but I don't really see how it coming off as something Marvel/DC-like is a problem. If it's something he couldn't write for the Big 2 but couldn't, and it was good, wouldn't it still be worth reading?

Eric Rupe said...

Daniel - I liked the second trade more than the first and you are right, it does pick up. It will probably be awhile before I review it though, I've got some other stuff I want to read first.

Bill and Daniel - My main probably with Indie heroes is that in other genres is that writers are referential to the stories that influenced them without it being blatantly obvious a lot of the time. I think the reason why a lot of Indie heroes have that problem is that superheroes have been built up around the characters, not the stories and concepts. The "World's Greatest Hero" doesn't always have to be a Superman stand in yet it usually is from what I've seen.

For example, Irredeemable by Waid isn't really about the world's great superhero becoming a villain, its about Superman becoming a villain. That's why the whole story works, at least they way Waid set it up. Superman has become a villain multiple times so Waid's story is nothing new.

As a counter example, Apollo and The Midnighter work because they do something Superman and Batman can't, being a gay couple, WB would never allow DC to publish that story, right now any way. It would be too controversial, the bad kind of controversial.

If a Indie hero story does something with a Marvel/DC character that they couldn't do themselves, then yes, I perfectly fine with it. If it is something isn't really distinctive from the source material, I'd rather just read the source material.

Bill - As for your third paragraph in your second response (starts with "I mean Dynamo 5"), sure Captain Dynamo and Maddie are based on the Superman/Lois dynamic, but it isn't part of the story that Faerber is telling, and is only a minor point that, so I don't really care about. And, to my knowledge, Lois has never a secret agent.

Also, while Dynamo 5 may share power with various X-Men characters, their personalities are pretty different and even if some of them do overlap, their powers don't so it isn't an issue to me.

Daniel Woburn said...

I'd just like to add, Marvel and DC riff on each other all the time. No one's above it. At Marvel you've got the classic Squadron Supreme, which was the Justice League through and through. For some reason which I cannot fathom, I decided to read an arc of Loeb's run on Superman/Batman, the one where The Joker and Mr. Mxyzptlk (who knows how you type that) start manipulating Superman and Batman - it's very tongue-in-cheek, but a team pops up called The Maximums. There's a Cap, a Thor, a Wasp, a Giant-Man, a Spider-Man pops up, a Vision and a Beast. heck, even a ghostly Hawkeye ("Bowman") appears and references being betrayed by someone on the team. I know it was meant to be a fun poke at The Avengers, but come on. It just felt like Loeb was writing his own DC/Marvel crossover without actually using Marvel characters. He goes on to say within the story that these "Maximums" were created out of elements of Superman and Batman - their strength, their intelligence, etc. That was a real slap in the face, as a Marvel fan. (On another note, Bizarro-speak annoys the hell out of me.)
All this "copying" or "influence" (whatever you want to call it) happens all the time, in every comic book publishing company. Because on top of the Marvel and DC publishing history, there are also the independents which have been running for a while, too. Do licensed properties (Buffy, Star Wars, what have you) also copy other comics?

Bill said...

(Invincible spoilers for the first or second trade ahead) The range of things you can't do at DC or Marvel is pretty significant though. You can't really have Superman go crazy and kill everyone else in the Justice League to prepare Earth for a Kryptonian attack. Plus even beyond that, there are things that you "could" do, but that the editors wouldn't go for for whatever reason. So you do them at Image or something with a stand-in. If it's good, I don't care how it got there.

Eric Rupe said...

Daniel - Marvel and DC have been copying each other since before I was born so I really don't care about them doing. Plus, I don't actually expect to do anything truly original anymore either.

Bill - I agree, if its good then I'm okay with it but most of the time, Indie superhero books that do ape Marvel and DC are not good or the fail to follow through on their premise. In fact, some of the best Indie superhero books I've read are the ones that do something new with characters and concepts, not something new or different with Marvel and DC characters and concepts.

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