Popculture has been dissecting and deconstructing superheroes for a long time now, several decades actually. Roger Mayer’s 1977 satirical novel “Superfolks” comes to mind, particular for its huge influence on Alan Moore and Kurt Busiek in their superhero deconstructions Watchmen and Astro City. Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood ‘s 1953 “Superduperman” also comes to mind, but like “Superfolks” it was a satire drenched with comedy. Today’s deconstruction of superheroes is much more…brutal and violent.
Kickass, Powers, The Authority, of recent deconstruction stories, the list is very long. All of which seem to have taken a page from Moore’ s Watchmen, arguably the standard bearer of the genre subset. Case in point is Michael Avon Oeming’s The Victories, which has too much and not enough in common with Watchmen, adds to the list of comic titles that examines the nature of costumed vigilantes.
Why do we hate our heroes? We must to be constantly taking them apart. Is it existentialism, cynicism or jealousy? Or is it curiosity? Inquisitiveness about the nature of good and evil is a strong possibility. It could also be the perceived frivolousness of the superhero genre leading to an apathy manifested in the comics mentioned previously. Perhaps superheroes deserve it, being all heroic and moral and other noble things.
Oeming’s The Victories opens with a narration that is both poetic and over-the-top, but it sets the tone and theme surprisingly well. While the rest of the book shrinks where it should expand; the opening and a portion of the middle work to establish an identity crisis and existential catharsis for lead character Faustus. The “deal with the devil” motif notwithstanding, the character is an amalgamation of various superheroes published over the last 70 years. That he might expand beyond the clichés of his influences – and not too heavily embrace the dramatics of his namesake – leaves a bit of promise for the mini-series going forward.
But who are The Victories?
Briefly mentioned, The Victories are a superhero team that gives this book far too much in common with previous works…and they haven’t been introduced yet.
But concentrating on Faustus, we have a hero playing a part. “I kept in character,” he says, indicating a protagonist not at all comfortable with his station. This is followed by, “Tomorrow I’ll do better,” which under different circumstances has a ring of Kurt Vonnegut’s “So it goes,” the obvious juxtaposition of changing topics when death and mortality are the subject. However, Faustus doesn’t change topics, dwelling on excusing his failings with “I’m only human.” In some ways, the entire page these lines appear on feels like the simultaneous acceptance and dismissal of everything, like Vonnegut’s famous refrain does.
Acceptance and dismissal are loosely keys to understanding what Oeming is attempting with The Victories. We accept the world is a dark, brutal and corrupt place. We accept that heroes are not perfect. But do we dismiss the morality issues at play? Is the wall separating good and evil so porous? These questions have been asked over and over and over again. They will be debated for time eternal with no answer. That Oeming is tackling this subject is not a problem for this book, no matter how many titles have done this previously.
The problem with The Victories lies directly with the storytelling. There is a definite mood to the narrative and a strong point of view from the artwork. Yet the book lacks the cohesion story and art need to be a whole comic. The composition of some panels are a bit confusing, it isn’t until the next few panels that you understand what happened. And even then you must go back to double check if one panel leads to the next three. The negative space in many of the panels compromises the immediate story in this issue. That it’s one part of a five part whole is its only saving grace. Taken individually without context, The Victories’ panels are beautiful. But beauty doesn’t always tell a story.
Telling a compelling story is the most important piece for The Victories. The themes it proposes to explore, namely the deconstruction of superheroes and to a lesser extend the nature of good and evil, are fairly common amongst works of graphic literature. Have they been explored better? Too early to tell. But perhaps our cultural malaise towards superheroes will help The Victories along for its five issue set.