[6 June 2011]
The making of a true superhero often involves tough choices, sacrifice, and determination. Many of Stan Lee’s classic character origin stories involve some sort of inner conflict, some sort of trial period in which they must overcome that conflict to become the hero they were meant to be. Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man. There is a reason these characters have been around for as long as they have. Lee was able to add dimension to them, make them more relatable by giving them real problems and insecurities – alcoholism, girl problems, anger issues. His newest creation, Soldier Zero, is trying really hard to walk among these giants.
Picking up immediately after the events of issue #7, Stan Lee’s Soldier Zero #8 concludes the ‘Handling the Truth’ storyline with lots of action. Stewart Trautmann struggles to gain control of the alien biosyte hardware while being chased by U.S. Government agents that want the newfound tech for “testing” all while being led by a shape-shifting man named Application Nine, whom Trautmann still doesn’t know if he can trust yet.
So yeah, the action is on. Here’s the thing: it all feels a little bit familiar.
We all know that comic books, like other forms of mass media, recycle plots, characters, and ideas. Some of them are successful. Many others are not. Creators borrow elements from other comics and incorporate them into their own. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby did it with Captain America. Captain Marvel is more than coincidentally similar to Superman. It seems, at least with this issue, Writers Lanning and Abnett are trying a bit too hard.
There’s a scene where Trautmann is racing to escape from the government agents or Clowns, as they are called in the story, with Kaylee – the friend of Lily, with whom our hero is in love – in tow. They blast through the hospital wall and escape temporarily. Kaylee asks “What do I call you?” And Trautmann responds, “Soldier Zero”. She then says “What are we going to do, Soldier Zero?” and he says, “We’re going to get the hell out of here”.
It reminds me of the scene in Star Wars where Luke is rescuing Princess Lea and she says, “Who are you?” and he says “I’m Luke Skywalker and I’m here to rescue you”. Yes, I’m sure plenty of people thought that line was cheesy. I’m sure some even called it cliché. In my opinion, though, Lucas pulled it off. Why? Because he intended for it to be a nod to the old action movie serials he watched as a kid.
Except in his version, the knights, princesses and cowboys all existed in a fictional galaxy, an idea that had never been done before. (Okay, Gene Roddenberry did something similar in Star Trek a few years prior but still, the idea was pretty fresh). It’s as if the writers pulled it from a template and inserted the characters’ names. In fact, the whole scenario in this issue seems like an action movie/comic book template that’s been done over and over again.
It’s not the idea of Soldier Zero that’s the problem. It’s a good concept and has a lot of potential. Javier Pina’s artwork is flashy and fun, creating a thrill ride for the eyes. If only the writing was as strong.
Soldier Zero #8 is about controlling one’s destiny. It’s something that Trautmann is forced to deal with. Will he or will he not be strong enough to overcome the power of the suit, to obtain that control so he can finally find balance in his life to become the hero he needs and wants to be. The problem is that it’s not done in a particularly fresh way. To be more specific, the dialogue is cliché and wooden, which leaves the characters – especially Trautmann – with no real emotional depth to them. It’s difficult to care about the hero’s journey if the reader doesn’t buy into the struggle in the first place.
As history has proven, we all want that emotional connection with our heroes. Will Soldier Zero become a classic comic book character ranking up there with Lee’s mightiest heroes? It’s going to take more than alien biosyte armor and a man with an arsenal of cell phones apps to know for sure.