Monday, February 20, 2012

Black Superheroes: Mister Terrific II

See? Look at that jacket. Cool as ice!
Name: Michel Holt

First Appearance: Spectre #54 (1997)

History: Michael Holt was brilliant at everything he’s ever done. A genius with a mind bogglingly aptitude for damn near everything Michael had a working understanding of such concepts as theoretical physics before the age of ten. He breezed through school earning no less than 14 Ph.Ds. He became a self-made millionaire through this company Cyberware. He earned a Gold Medal in the Olympics. He was also lucky in love, at least until the day that his wife Paula and their unborn child were killed in an accident. Devastated Holt decided to end his own life but was stopped by The Spectre (Of all people) who informed him of the story of Terry Sloane, the Golden Age hero Mister Terrific. Sloane’s background was remarkably similarly to Holt’s (Though Sloan was going to kill himself because he was bored rather than because he lost someone). Inspired by the tale Michael decided to use his own near perfect skills to help the world as the new Mister Terrific. With his scientific genius at his disposal he created the T-Mask, which makes him invisible to technology, and the T-Sphere’s, which had an assortment of uses. Also his badass leather jacket. Mister Terrific would go on to become a members of the revived Justice Society of America, where he eventually became chairman, and Checkmate as the White King.

Beta Says: Okay, so the reason I’m doing this one on Mister Terrific despite the fact that I’ve written on him just a few months ago is two-fold: I love the character and it gives me a chance to talk about the now failed new series.

More after the jump.

And here he's less cool.  DON'T DENY THE POWER OF JACKET!!!
When I say that I love Mister Terrific you have to understand that I love the idea of the character more than the result. Now I still believe, even here in 2012, that Holt has the potential to be one of the top characters in superhero comics…but I’m not sure DC Comics actually know what to do with him. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Created by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake Mister Terrific II is one of the best creations of the 90s. And while you may have noticed over the last two years that I despise comic books from the 90s (aka the Dark Age of Comics) the closer we got to the year 2000 the less painful things became overall so a lot of cool concepts that I don’t hate came to fruition during that point.

 Despite how much I like him MT is hindered by two specific things that he’s famous for. First is the fact that he is constantly referred to as the "third smartest man in the world". I talked about how stupid this was in my Mister Terrific #1 review but to reiterate it’s just a clunky title that no real person would brag about. “One of the smartest men alive” sounds less condescending than “third smartest man alive” (Plus seeing how much Star Trek-level pseudo-science Holt creates it’s insane to think what the two smarter guys might whip up). The second thing is, of course, his atheism. Now Mister Terrific is a unrepentant atheist; it’s one of the reason I like him. Most comic characters are fairly God fearing folk. Hell even Superman is more Christian than not despite the fact that he’s a goddamn alien (And the focus of a few religions himself). Being a guy who says “Sorry bro, there is no God” automatically puts him in a unique light among his peers. The problem is that his being an atheist should be played as being part of his character NOT HIS WHOLE CHARACTER. Writers have played this up waaaaay too much, to the point that changing his name to Atheist Man would almost be appropriate.

Look guys, just because he doesn’t believe in God doesn’t mean that every three sentences we have to be reminded of that fact. It’s like how during the miniseries Identity Crisis there was a retcon that involved the villainous Doctor Light raping Sue Dibny (Which is a whole other bag of shit for another day) years ago and after the revelation the character suddenly changed his motif from “Dude Who Controls Light” into “I’M GONNA RAPE YA!!!!!!” It’s not a good idea to take one aspect of a character and try to turn it into a defining trait as it can lead to a lot awkwardness and ridiculousness.

Fair Play, goddamn it!!
I should also point out that this is another example of “Minority Replacement”, as seen with Iron Man II and Doctor Midnight II, but this is a successful version of the trope. Partly because of the wide gap between the adventures of Terry Sloane and his modern counterpart and partly because Michael Holt is just so damn cool I think it’s safe to say that the current holder of the Terrific mantle is the most associated with that role and probably doesn’t have to worry too much about being replaced. It’s not all good news though. I’ve been saying for years that Holt should be given a solo title and last year I finally got my wish. The annoyingly unnecessary DC Reboot had few bright lights going into it but Mister Terrific solo title was one of the most exciting news posts.

Unfortunately DC has canceled the book which will be ending with issue eight. And the worst part is I don’t blame DC for the decision. For the most part anyway. In my review I was hard on the book but I did imply I would continue reading it. Well ultimately I got to issue three before dropping it. The reason behind its demise is simple: DC canceled its six lowest selling titles. That’s fine. The question is why such a cool character failed to click with the comic readers as a whole. I’m not an expert on this sort of thing so I can’t say for certain why no was buying the book but I do have a few thoughts on what may have contributed:

-The fact is that it’s not a well-written book. I hate to say it but when it comes down to it the book wasn’t a good one. The dialogue was clunky and at times ridiculous, the characters are one note and uninteresting, and the book is filled with enough technobabble that it would make Star Trek: Voyager blush.

 -The art isn’t exactly what you’d call “good” but technically that’s not too important. Sadly casual fans put a lot of stock into artwork and may have been turned off by it. This may be doubly true with the covers which look kind of freaky. Plus the costume design of the main character is pretty lame. I bet if he had his leather jacket on those early covers more issues would have been sold (And didn’t have that dumb red tint on his mask that made him look like he’s wearing lipstick). 

-Technically the Mister Terrific that stars in this book is not the same Michael Holt who was been active in comics since 1997, due to the reboot. So, when you think about, without the years of character development from the pages of JSA there might be little incentive for longtime fans of the character to be invested in this new world version of him (A common problem with of the reboot characters). As there also isn’t much incentive for new fans to pick up the book it probably was doomed from the beginning. 

-With 52 new titles launching at once it’s hard to be invested in all of them. This is another problem with the reboot; I, and likely most people, can’t justify shelling out money for a book that’s clearly mediocre when there’s a ton of other titles I just started reading coming out every week. I gave up on MT because I was buying more comics per week than I have since I was in middle school and something had to give, and it goddamn for sure wasn’t going to be Batwoman. If it were a more enjoyable read more people may have stuck with it; I know I would have. 

 To put it in perspective Aquaman, a character who has been thought of as a joke in pop cultural for decades and really is a lot less cool than Holt, is selling very well. This is because it’s a great book with a talented creative team. I hope that the book didn’t work out due to lack of appeal but who knows? All I can say is that Mister Terrific is still a great character, even if that tittle wasn’t the best book, and I still think he can be a hit. I guess now is just not the time.

Goodbye, Mister Terrific.  We'll see you again...someday!
 Anyway next time we’ll look at a character that has a solid argument for being the most popular black character in history. However for more on Mister Terrific click here

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