Soldier Zero #5
US: May 2011
Previously, I examined the first issue of Solider Zero by Paul Cornell and found the experience to be pleasantly surprising. Strong character work and evocative dialogue overrode an otherwise common pitch and serviceable plot. However, Cornell’s stint at the head of the franchise has come to an end.
Enter DnA. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been tapped to take over the title for the foreseeable future. The writing duo has a prestigious pedigree when it comes to helming cosmic concepts. Previous suitably cosmic efforts include a prolonged stint on the post-Zero Hour Legion of Super-Heroes. However, the duo really cut their teeth reinventing and revitalizing Marvel’s cast of spaceborne characters in the wake of 2005’s Annihilation. With all of this experience under their belt, it would seem to be a no brainer that they would be a natural fit for any cosmic endeavor.
Sadly, Solider Zero #5 doesn’t live up to DnA’s reputation. This issue examines the fallout from Cornell’s first arc that saw a living alien warsuit crash to Earth and bond with the paraplegic Stewart Trautmann and the resulting clash with hostile forces. A new villain also comes to the fore with a ridiculous gag centered on smart phone applications.
Apparently, Application Nine utilizes an all powerful mobile device that grants him whatever power he currently needs to suit the plot. Said villain is currently on a rampage throughout a hospital trying to track down the titular protagonist and abscond with his suit for an unknown power. This also allows the reader to check in with various characters and gauge their reactions to the big fireworks from the past several issues.
Focusing on a character who demonstrates the novelty of smart phone apps struck me as somewhat shortsighted, especially for a book that’s still in its infancy. Timeliness in comics is always a double edged sword. In the moment, it provides a highly relevant storytelling device that readers can easily relate to. Furthermore, writers who use timely narrative devices can tap into the cultural zeitgeist by exploring topical issues and contemporary events.
This approach often produces fresh and lively comics. However, try reading those same comics years later. Feels a bit dated, right? It’s akin to reading old Avengers stories and seeing Jimmy Carter, his peanut farm drawl in full glory, calling up the team in an emergency. Books that rely on topical issues often become products of their time and remain glued in a particular era.
Serialized storytelling often cannot afford the luxury of being timely; especially the type that only releases a new edition once a month. Sure, mobile applications may be all the rage right now, but who knows what the field will look like in a few years. Basing a villain on such a gimmick screams potential retcons and revisions down the road. BOOM! Studio’s efforts to craft a shared superhero universe of their own depend on embracing a long form centric approach. If this project is to have any chance of succeeding alongside the Big Two then it needs to elevate itself above gimmickry. I’ve spoken before about how timelessness is a key fundamental in comic books because of its serialized nature. Comics can’t cash in on the short term because they’ll hurt their prospects in the long run. The medium, by and large, always needs to look ahead to the next issue because with comics as a whole their always is another issue on the horizon.
It may sound like I’m making a big deal out of DnA’s decision to focus on an app wielding villain but I had very high expectations for the pair. I was expecting to read something on par with their usual level of creativity and inventiveness. Not only is Application Nine a milquetoast but the issue has loads of clunky exposition, despite an occasional flare of emotionally satisfying dialogue, and relies on the most overused form of plot dump in all of comics, the news cast. I understand this issue was billed as new reader friendly, but it could be accomplished in far better ways.
Abnett and Lanning are better than that.
Unfortunately, their first foray into the world of Solider Zero caters too much to the moment. An issue like this should be full of world building to hook new readers and playing up the title’s overarching themes and tone. None of that is present in this installment.