Thursday, February 14, 2019

Electric Warriors #4 Review

Out-Thought and Out-Played

Written by: Steve Orlando
Art by: Travel Foreman
Colours by: Hi-Fi
Letters by: Travis Lanham
Published by: DC Comics
Price: $3.99

There are a number of things one can say about Steve Orlando (and I shall be saying some of them later on in this review) but he doesn't really do 'safe'. Last month's issue took the series' central premise of interstellar diplomacy conducted through super-powered gladiatorial combat and lobbed weird alien cannibalism into the mix. The result was genuinely unsettling and pushed the whole series in a direction I wasn't expecting. Where do Orlando and the really quite impressive series artist Travel Foreman take us this issue? Let's find out…

Well, having introduced the idea of rich smug aliens eating the bodies of fallen Electric Warriors, Orlando decides to mine the concept for the kind of body horror I never really expected to find in a sci-fi comic so closely linked to the relatively cozy world of the Legion of Superheroes. Our winged warrior from the last issue, limbless and with a fair amount of his skeleton exposed, hangs suspended while the aforementioned aliens bid over his body as if it were… well, so much meat. Although the dialogue is the usual Orlando mix of awkward plot delivery and (in this case garrulous) melodrama, here it's actually quite effective with aliens throwing mostly incomprehensible jibes at one another which puts the reader quite uncomfortably in the same position as both the doomed and partially-eaten warrior and our hero Ian who's listening in on the gruesome conversation. It's not long before Ian and his small band of would-be rebels decide they've been inside the Monolith (the central structure which houses the headquarters of the Covenant) too long and head back to their own quarters.

The rest of the comic concerns the rebels' attempts to find out the identity of the Preceptor mentioned by the carnivorous aliens, which is a curious choice of focus considering the reader already knows who Preceptor is. There is, I suppose, some mileage in following the rebels' investigation, but it moves so slowly that a less patient reader may end up wondering why they're bothering. It doesn't help that their attempts at finding out Firestorm/Preceptor's identity are interrupted by characters having conversations and, in the case of Ian and Khundian warrior woman Serene, sex in the shower block and our favorite (only) Dominator fighting and winning a battle in the arena. Oh, and Ian and Kana fighting an alien centaur-woman. In fact, having made the original premise of the series mostly irrelevant with last issue's gourmet revelations, Orlando's decision to focus more heavily on bouts in the arena that have little relevance to the main plot is an odd one. To be fair, the fight featuring the Dominator provides an opportunity for some characterization, but he's easily the least interesting character of the core group of fighters. The issue's final fight is central to the plot but, at the issue's end, the rebels aren't that much further along in their quest to find out what's really going on as they were at the beginning. In short, this issue has too much padding and not enough substance.

How you feel about this probably depends on what you want from this comic. If you want a gripping narrative that focuses on our central character of Ian Navarro as he works to find out Covenant's big dirty secret, you're probably going to be disappointed. Writer Steve Orlando has chosen to concentrate mostly on secondary characters and seems content to leave the big revelations for another time. The issue is not entirely without merit, though. Those readers who like their sci-fi colourful, garish and action-packed will find a fair bit to like here. Orlando's more outlandish rhetorical flourishes don't jar as much when they're being uttered by naked Khundian warriors or a giant jet-skinned centaur-thing, and his attempts to flesh out the philosophical and cultural backgrounds of his aliens are, for the most part, successful. For me, however, it's all a bit too scattergun and the sense of impetus being lost is very noticeable.

Foreman's art continues to impress, though. As might be expected from the man who brought us the early issues of the New 52 Animal Man, his eye for the uncanny, the disturbing and, in the case of partially eaten but still conscious winged aliens, genuinely horrific remains undimmed. The fight scenes are kinetic and the shower/sauna scenes have an ethereally beautiful quality that forms an effective tonal contrast with the issue's more violent and/or disturbing moments. Colouring and lettering are excellent too. Whatever else Electric Warriors may or may not be, it is a visually impressive comic.

Bits and Pieces:

This issue's explorations of character relationships and background are diverting but do nothing to advance the plot and the impetus established in the first few issues of this series is consequently lost. Foreman's art is gorgeous, and Orlando's world-building is actually quite decent, but readers wanting the story to follow through on the previous issue's ending with some explanation and development may be frustrated by this one's more leisurely pace.



  1. I've been reading and listening to your EW reviews and thank you for helping me think through this miniseries. I've been away from comics for something like 35 years and arrived to find a catalog of series that might be a touch more adult but really aren't treading any new ground. I'm not feeling challenged by the regular stable of DC books the way that I was during Batman: Year One, Perez's Wonder Woman, Dark Knight Returns, the early direct sales New Teen Titans...and then Alan Moore's books: Swamp Thing, V for Vendetta and Watchmen (although Eclipse's reprints of his Miracleman books deserve a mention), not to mention his one-offs on Superman and Batman. I see some authors swinging for the fences and piling up doubles and triples (Hello, Mr. Johns -- your Flashpoint was quite good...not so sure about Doomsday Clock, though), but no home runs. The characters have calcified. That being the case, I'm largely looking outside of the normal books for interesting content.

    Which brings us to Electric Warriors. I learned of this book watching the "DC Daily" house promotions show on DC Universe when Steve Orlando was interviewed at . They gave him a good 3-5 minutes to talk through the basics of the plot, which helped me immensely and intrigued me enough to pick up the title at my comic shop. You can love or leave the final execution of the book, but there's no denying that Orlando has thought this newly developed section of the DC canon timeline.

    And, most of all, this book is DIFFERENT. It is so different than anything currently coming out of DC. That is fun for us, if a bit challenging. It also demonstrates a level of bravery on the part of DiDio & Co. when we are being blasted with 39 Batman-related titles every month.

    Some thoughts on the book:

    1. I agree that it would have been interesting to see the repercussions of the battles, especially when War Cry's family was given so much expository time in issue 1. It would have been easy to go back to them and see how it's playing back at home.

    2. The ramped up battle scenes in issue 4 apparently play into the fact that Firestorm is onto their espionage and would rather eat our protagonists with some fava beans and a nice Chianti than put up with an insurgency. So he's going to keep throwing them into the arena in the hopes that other warriors will do his meat tenderizing (and perhaps barbequing) for him.

    3. Whereas you read the book in part to see what Firestorm is up to, I read the book and scratch my head every time I see Firestorm. Why is he there? What does he bring to the story beyond being a B-grade marquee name that might attract a couple of readers? I can only hope that the last couple issues of this series give badly needed context.

    4. The small touches really work well. Giving Superman's cape - a relic! - to War Cry as a defensive weapon for the games was a deft move. As was the "You silly, I can't die if you blow my head off!" by Kana. Again, Orlando put some thought into the series.

    5. This is a six-issue miniseries with only two issues left. There is a LOT to tie up, and not much time to do it. I hope that the story won't suffer due to the looming deadline.

    6. The book is indeed pretty and fun to look at. The art, coloring and lettering are all top drawer.

    In conclusion, I have enjoyed and will surely continue to enjoy your views on the book. Thanks for sharing. Let's see how this one ends!

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful and considered response. It's always nice to know that someone appreciates your efforts. :)

      From your comments in your first paragraph, it sounds like you got into comics at roughly the same time as me. Looking back now, it seems fairly obvious to say that the mid to late 80s were a period of narrative innovation and more mature storytelling (in terms of the range of themes addressed and the seriousness with which they were tackled). While I did dip back into comics in the 90s (I still have a nostalgic fondness for the Messner-Loebs Wonder Woman run, Morrison's JLA, and the Alan Moore Image stuff - one of the above doesn't really hold up very well - I'll leave you to guess which), it's only relatively recently that I've returned to comics and that's mainly been through podcasts. First Comic Vine and one or two others and then latterly the nonsense behemoth that is Weird Science. I can't disagree with your assessment of this era's mainstream comics, though. Decompressed storytelling written with more than half an eye on the trade; a fast and loose approach to universe continuity; the seemingly eternal cycle of reboots, relaunches, renumberings, re-castings, crossovers, events and event tie-ins: all have taken their toll on the industry. It's certainly not what it was.

      So, yes, I understand your view of Electric Warriors - because I partly share it. I have, as you've perhaps noticed, a love-hate (well more encouraged-exasperated) relationship with Orlando's work. He's not a cynical writer, which is something I appreciate. In fact, in some senses, he's almost heart-warmingly naive. He clearly *believes* in superhero comics. They mean something to him and I can certainly respect that. He's also determined to push the boundaries in his writing. He *doesn't* play things safe and isn't afraid of getting a bit (or a lot) 'crazy'. In The Unexpected, that manifested as essentially Grant Morrison fanfic, an attempt to recapture something of Morrison's multiversal panache. But Orlando is earnest where Morrison is playful and the series ended up somewhat cruelly exposing Orlando's storytelling weaknesses rather than his strengths. Electric Warriors is different. (Martian Manhunter might be too, but it's a little too soon to tell.)

      Like you, I'm impressed with the thought that's gone into the world building here. There are one or two things that niggle (the animal-tribes presenting a united front against the humans is not implausible, but needs, I think, some explanation), but the character design is generally excellent and things like Superman's cape and the Legion-era races are nice touches.


    2. My problems with the series remain, though. It's a little unfair to concentrate on what a writer *hasn't* done rather than what he has, but the lack of connection between Earth and Ian (and Kana, for that matter) is a problem. It would give the bouts more significance and consequently more emotional weight. I'd like to at least see Oscar's reaction to Ian (forcibly, let's not forget!) replacing him.

      And then there's Firestorm...

      Tbh, my reaction to him here is very similar to yours. I honestly don't understand why he's here and I'm having a hard time recognising him as the character I grew up with in the 80s. The problem is that, despite his relatively low status in the DC pantheon, he's actually a character I have considerable fondness for, having eagerly devoured his series in the 80s from about issue 12 up to the move to Pittsburgh and (about) issue 50. It's hard to get past that emotional connection seeing him here and the writer isn't making much of an effort to help me in that regard.

      That said, the book *is* different and pretty fun. Like you, I'm a little concerned about just how we're going to wrap the series up with only two issues to go. Ironically, it's this series that could perhaps do with being eight issues long and The Unexpected which might have benefited from being trimmed to six issues.

      Ah, well. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts in such a considered way. I hope we're both satisfied with the series' ending. We shall, as always, have to see.

      All the best!