Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | The Movement is subversive all over

I thought the movement you needed was on your shoulder...?

I thought the movement you needed was on your shoulder…?

In the very first panel of The Movement #1 there’s a blonde in black leather and fishnets. Her strong resemblance to old-school Black Canary seems designed deliberately to remind readers of writer Gail Simone’s previous DC Comics work. However, there’s nothing straightforward — at least not yet — about this new series. Simone’s script is a maze of upended expectations, and Freddie Williams’ art likewise seems made up of unsettled lines. The overall effect is disorienting, which might not be the best way to begin a from-scratch series like this one. But The Movement #1 works well as the first chapter of what will hopefully be a long run.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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The issue is built around three main sequences: The first has a pair of corrupt patrolmen accosting a pair of teenagers, before being chased off by a Movement group; the second (previewed online) involves another troubled super-powered youth and a well-meaning clergyman; the resulting standoff leads into the third, as the main cast shows up to resolve the situation. The issue ends with a speech reminiscent of Batman’s “none of you are safe” soliloquy from “Batman: Year One,” and a coda showing the range of the Movement’s influence.

In fact, the opening sequence reminded me immediately of Frank Miller’s hypothesis (and here I am paraphrasing) that Batman works best when society’s institutions have broken down. Miller’s original Dark Knight miniseries made corrupt cops a staple of the Bat-mythology, but Miller emphasized further that superheroes were “outlaws” practically by definition. While The Movement doesn’t mythologize or otherwise elevate its superhumans like Miller did, these first few pages still tread some very familiar ground. One cop even hints at raping a 16-year-old, echoing the threat that got the Amethyst relaunch in trouble.

What distinguishes The Movement happens on Page 2, when a blank-masked Movement member* reveals he’s been recording the encounter with a smartphone. Page 3 then pulls back to show several more Movementeers, each with the same featureless silver mask, and identical “i.c.u.” recording screens on their phones and tablets. It’s the kind of shock usually associated with horror-movie cults (or the Court of Owls, for that matter), and it demonstrates efficiently the Movement’s place in its fictionopolis of Coral City. Specifically, the Movementeers appear to be enemies only to those who abuse their power; which, of course, is another Batman-style vigilante trope.

Along those lines, The Movement’s Captain Meers may turn out to be the series’ Commissioner Gordon. His job takes him away from his marriage, and union rules prevent him from suspending the dirty patrolmen. In short, he looks like the Last Honest Cop, but the balance of Issue 1 makes me think there’s more to him.

This brings me to the first issue’s pivotal character. He’s called Burden because that’s what his parents called him. He’s a clean-cut kid who can’t stay on the streets, but who can’t go in a church because “bad things happen.” Naturally, when the bad things do happen, Williams’ art practically boils over, giving Burden’s metamorphosis the majority of a page and shoving the other panels out of alignment to accommodate it. Williams’ art contorts Burden’s face and fingers, elongating his nails and practically unhinging his cheekbones. It’s the first really dynamic moment in an issue which to this point has been doing a slow burn, and it underscores the scary component of superpowers.

See, The Movement doesn’t seem that enamored of superpowers. Burden’s eyes glow with fire, he can turn his head around 180 degrees, and he can hover dramatically, all while talking like he’s possessed. He’s supposed to be menacing, but some of the Movement aren’t much better. The pale, buff Mouse makes his entrance by bursting through the church’s floor, borne on an army of rats. When the Movementeer called Katharsis catches up with one of the bad patrolmen, she throws him around contemptuously, knocking out his teeth and strangling him with her legs in a series of jagged panels which mirror her brutality.

In isolation it might all seem very x-treme, but if there’s a 1990s vibe to the issue, I think it’s closer to Milestone than Image. By making it clear that its super-folk have an obvious, and perhaps overwhelming, advantage over the Coral City authorities, the issue goes out of its way to present a non-traditional superhero setup. As Movement leader Virtue explains to Meers, “if we want it? Your whole world is over.” It’s as if the X-Men watched the V For Vendetta movie a few dozen times too many, and decided to take over Gotham City by making themselves into a secret society. The revelation about Burden’s true nature is handled pretty well (despite the “All Access” preview giving a big hint about his future), but it too plays into the series’ question-everything mentality.

All this means there’s a lot to unpack in The Movement #1, but much of that raises some intriguing questions about the whole “power and responsibility” axiom. In the New 52, the governments of the world see the main Justice League as so far removed from the rest of humanity, they’ve recruited two different teams (first the JLI, now the JLA) as potential counterbalances. Contrast that top-down approach with The Movement, which suggests that otherwise-ordinary people will choose to use their powers to solve more local concerns.** Both Justice League and The Movement acknowledge that your average police force won’t be that effective against a nominally-powerful super-group, but where the Leaguers want to work with the system as much as possible, the members of the Movement just cut to the chase. The area of Coral City called “the Tweens” is theirs, because for all intents and purposes the police have abandoned it. The Movement is set in the New-52 DC universe (Katharsis first appeared in Simone’s Batgirl), and you have to think it won’t be long before some of the big names show up.

The question is, how long does The Movement have? As I mentioned in Monday’s “Cheat Sheet,” it comes with a decent set of expectations. Simone has a dedicated fanbase, but she and Williams are pretty much introducing a new cast with no immediate connection to the rest of the superhero line. A setup which recalls the “Occupy” protests might also turn off conservative readers (although I wonder how many conservative fans Simone has). The Movement has been marketed on the strengths of its creators and its subject matter, not its “importance” to the New-52; and if it does poorly, it could discourage DC from taking similar chances.

I’d like to think that The Movement would run long enough for Simone and Williams to explore these characters more fully, but part of that comes from this issue raising so many questions. That may also be a nice way of saying that the characterizations in this issue aren’t all that deep. Burden gets the most attention in this regard, and his big revelation comes in a line of dialogue that Virtue literally tosses over her shoulder. It’s such a critical part of Virtue’s (and by extension the Movement’s) motivation that it can afford to be treated as a plot point. However, The Movement can’t go very far on plot twists and attitude. I expect Simone to flesh out the cast appreciably in the next couple of issues, because she’s raised a host of complex issues and she can’t explore them adequately with strawmen.

The Movement #1 succeeds by playing with familiar superhero tropes. It doesn’t aim to be polished, and often its super-people are so dominant as to be unsympathetic. The issue is concerned primarily with world-building, perhaps to the characters’ detriment. Nevertheless, Gail Simone’s script is an entertaining standalone story, and Freddie Williams’ art (augmented nicely by Chris Sotomayor’s colors) establishes a suitably gritty mood.

On general principles I would like The Movement to succeed, and thereby establish a viable audience for eclectic superhero storytelling. Indeed, it would have been easy for Simone and Williams to present their characters as heroic underdogs, struggling bravely against the machinations of an almost-cruelly-indifferent ruling class. Instead, despite its flaws, I appreciate Simone and Williams going in a slightly different direction, and making the world of The Movement a little less clear-cut. This issue is certainly intriguing enough to warrant coming back for more. If it can become truly compelling, exploring not just the need to question authority but also the burdens of true authority — and particularly if its focus could expand to the larger DCU — The Movement could be something special. Here’s hoping it gets that chance.

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* [Dialogue refers to the Movement as a “hacker group” called “Channel M,” but for simplicity’s sake I’m sticking with “the Movement.”]

** [Ironically, the cast looking down at the reader on the cover of Issue 1 inverts the old JLI cover-theme of the team looking up.]

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Comments

24 Comments

Simon DelMonte

May 3, 2013 at 6:59 am

So I wasn’t sure what to make of the first issue. I surely didn’t think it was as bad as the regular CBR critic did. But I don’t quite share Tom’s optimism, either. The premise is interesting, but there was a lot laid out for us without any clear sense of what’s really going on. If the objective of a first issue is to hook us fast, Gail and Freddie came up short. If the goal is to tantalize us, they succeeded.

I will add that if this were a first issue by a lesser known writer, I might not come back. Gail, however, usually gets a second chance with me. She has a good skill with creating characters and with going places others don’t – see Secret Six and Welcome to Tranquility. So she gets time to hook me that others wouldn’t.

But the competition for my dollar is fierce. I am adding three other books – Larfleeze, KBAC and SnyderSupes – soon, and want to drop something. ATM, though, nothing I am reading is on my cull-list. So unless this comic tightens up fast (or unless DC cancels Demon Knights or Dial H too soon), I can’t move The Movement to the front of the line.

In addition to the points mentioned, I think a clearer marketing strategy would also help. Although that cover art is gorgeous, it doesn’t tell me / sell me anything about what the subject matter is. I’m just looking up at a group of the Scooby Gang in colourful superhero outfits from the viewpoint of someone who just woke up on a surgical table with a weird digital blob in the background, like some kind of high tech gun thats about to zap me. I don’t get it.

I haven’t read this comic yet but this write up makes me want to. I don’t really like superheroes and my favorite superhero comics have always had an element of subversion present, most typically written by Brits and most commonly published by Vertigo or WildStorm or one of the indies, where the norms of superhero fiction and its innate fascistic undercurrents are challenged rather than celebrated. I like superhero books that buck the trends and confront the status quo, instead of emboldening it because, let’s face it, superheroes are a pretty disgusting paradigm that would never, ever come close to working in any real-world scenario. This seems like one of the very few DC comics that remembers back to that sensibility that was so prevalent in the late 80′s through the early 00′s but seems to have died off recently. I look forward to it!

And as far as development goes, there’s no reason NOT to trust Gail Simone for strong characterization in the long-term but, like you said, here’s hoping she gets that opportunity. Even if the first issue doesn’t feel absolutely solid, it could strengthen over time.

Eh, there was already something to express rebellion against the corrupt establishment–the song “Big Shot” by Billy Joel.

It wasn’t that bad compared to pretty much all of the titles that have started beyond the initial 52. It’s hard to judge from issue #1 alone, but there’s a huge range of issues it could touch upon; I hope it goes deep into problems of relative wealth distribution and so on rather than just a simplified ‘occupy movement’ or a slightly skewed super-hero story. I have a feeling that this won’t last long though…

Didn’t like it. Messy art with poor POVs throughout and the story gave me virtually nothing to care about. Your analogy to Gotham and Gordon are spot on and the varying reactions to the Captain was about the only interesting thing in this issue. None of the main characters resonated with me nor do I feel that the true group is realized on page.

The Movement lacked one essential element making it a true embrace of the Occupy phenomenon, and thereby left me not needing more.

All of Simone’s strengths were present, but what it lacked was age diversity. Occupy SF was a semi-permanent village comprised of a true cross-section of California: young, old and middle-aged with serious complaints about a system that undermined all our interests. Agreeing with the analysis or not, you couldn’t help but recognize yourself in the crowd.

The Movement isn’t me. It’s one more supergroup of fantastic looking young supers with an axe to grind. They are X-Men/Youngblood/Forever People/Legion/Teen Titans/ElfQuest/Morning Glories redux, and thereby for a supposedly inconoclastic comic, it is a warmed over treatment of the same old comics trope we’ve been dealing with since the 1960s.

Show me a genuine movement, comprised of me, my parents and neighbors, not just our kids and you may have something with bite that can last. As it stands, the Movement is a political fashion plate, nothing more.

Why does the blonde woman look like Mockingbird and the woman above her look like Photon? MOCKINGbird even has Mockingbird’s glasses!

I think the thing that bugged me is that the Movement are supposed to be underdogs, but they’re overwhelming powerful compared to the police. Not just their superpowers, but that they seem to have the entire city on their side. It feels like they should’ve easily crushed the corrupt cops before the series even started, and that doesn’t make for a compelling story about the resistance.

Speaking as a fan of Simone who also happens to be conservative, I thought the first issue of The Movement was a little disjointed in the dialog and, as others have said, presented the super-kids as difficult to sympathize with. In the real world, it’s often difficult to fight “the system,” but The Movement presents it as easy as pie (so long as you’re willing to break bones and have the super powers to do so).

Simone has bitten off quite a bit here, since this is a team book with all new characters. It’s difficult to developer even well-known characters in team books, much less to develop an entire team of new ones. I trust Simone’s ability to do this in the long run, but it’s near impossible to make much progress in the first issue alone. As such, it’d be unfair to judge too harshly at this point.

On the subject of politics, Simone herself seems to have an obvious political leaning. However, she flat out stated that this book isn’t supposed to be about Left/Right politics. In this first book, we see that she shows a common fault of labor unions: they often protect poor, and even corrupt, employees. That is a conservative argument coming from a popular progressive author, so I think she’s definitely trying to treat things fairly. If she wants to use this book as an MSNBC-like platform to bash conservatives, then it won’t succeed. However, I think Gail is better than that, both in attitude and in talent.

I don’t boycott or blacklist authors just because I disagree with their political views. Simone’s a good writer, and I’ll be back for issue 2 because of it.

Gail may have bitten off more than she can chew, but I’d like to reward ambition over safe.

Another thing that hasnt been brought up is the perhaps ubiquitous use of cell phones to record corruption. That’s something that could resonate with readers because that’s something that actually occurs in the real world (except that a lot of the time, police will harass the video-takers…hm, maybe the super-powered folks run interference for that….).

Sir, I am a conservative, and a fan of Gail’s. I will not be reading this book. Conservatives get the short stick all the time. We are smeared and lied about on a daily (if not hourly) basis. If you really want your feelings hurt, try being a republican for one day.

I don’t need a comic book to mock what I hold dear.

I wish DC the best. And a good start will be canceling this and “Green Team”.

That said, neither book will make it past a year!

“If you really want your feelings hurt, try being a Republican for one day.”
Words fail me. Conservatives are truly the whiniest people on earth.

Paul Houston

May 4, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Maybe if this came out when people still cared about the Occupy Movement, it would resonate more. But the silly superhero jumps in logic and those silly silver face masks were unbearable. This whole comic seems like it was written by a woman who is trying too hard to seem hip. Thus it falls flat. If you’re trying to be edgy you got to do better than this.

I’ll give the second issue a shot as I generally prefer to with most series. I find the whole “pilot formula” that most first issues/episodes of a series have to use is generally limiting in what can be done with it (especially when having to introduce an entirely new cast of unknowns). First issues establish the starting position, but you need to see the next step to determine the direction it goes from there.

Matt Halteman

May 4, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Aww, poor widdle Wepublicans getting their feewings hurt. You’re right, you get made fun of so much more than black people and gay people and women and Muslims and Asians and Hispanics and Europeans and, well, everyone. How in the world do you stand being a right-wing white man without crumbling from all the abuse and discrimination?

Is there no space on the ‘net unsullied by the pathetic mewling of republicans, unable to digest that much of the world disagrees with them? Preposterous.

They own the bulk of the media, legislature and of course, the money and still find a way to claim being ‘little miss spat-upons?’ It’s a lie and they know it but damn, they’ll keep on pushing until all acknowledge their wisdom. Wankers!

I clicked on this page to read about a comic book story set in the DC Universe. Not to read utter bollocks from FoxNews-washed redneck assholes.

Go back to your NRA sponsored boards if that’s what rocks your boat but please, please, when you’re here, give it a rest.

No, Rob, try being one of the many people Republicans hate and bully.

Try being the gay, bi or trans person who grows up being told by their family that they are unnatural and they will go to Hell.

Try being the non white person who is always pulled aside at airports and called racist slurs in the street. Try being a poor person.

Try being a rape victim who is told that their rape isn’t legitimate because they got pregnant. Hell, try being a rape victim at all: you shouldn’t have been wearing that, you shouldn’t have been drinking, you shouldn’t have been there, you must have done something to deserve it, you must be bad because good girls don’t get raped.

“No, Rob, try being one of the many people Republicans hate and bully”

And not just you but the others who mocked the Republican guy.

Why dont we agree that both republicans and their political opposites are douche bags? As people of both flavours have been ones on this page already.

Wow. You’ve all even gone so far as to find a guy’s personal Facebook page, and you still don’t see how you’re completely bullying a guy who you don’t even know? About how he doesn’t know what bullying or being picked on is?

The irony. It burns.

Please, just think about what you’re doing. You don’t know this guy. You only know his politics. But you’ve decided that means he’s fair game to demonize, criticize, and stalk.

That actually shows his original point is completely true.

Holy shit, are comic book fans capable of doing ANYTHING without acting like a bunch of clowns. Jesus god you people are awful.

Just a little reminder of how famous conservatives/Republicans end up marginalizing themselves with their _own_ bullying. I’m sure you can find an instance of a left-winger doing it (Ed Schultz from MSNBC made some seriously horrible sexist comments not long ago)….but Republicans being the most bullied group? Not likely.

That’d be women, teenagers and gays.

http://www.eonline.com/news/298662/sandra-fluke-fallout-patricia-heaton-returns-to-twitter-apologizes-for-bashing-georgetown-student

Also, from Gail Simone’s own tumblr page…

“People think the book is purely from a liberal perspective, but we will see that’s not entirely the case. It’s going to be challenging at times, which I love.”

So painting this in purely left/right terms is proof that you’re all missing the point.

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