Thursday, July 26, 2012

Three-in-One: some thoughts about Trio#1-3

John Byrne was the first comic book artist I could identify by name when I was a child. Why? It helped that his Fantastic Four was among the first comic books I read, but I became truly fired up about him when he was working on Superman. I haven't followed him to every project since then, but I like to check in now and then. In recent years, he's pitched his tent at IDW and I've sampled his work on Star Trek and Angel, plus served as a regular reader on Next Men and Cold War.

I wasn't certain about Trio when I first heard of it. Byrne writing & drawing a super hero comic about people named Rock, Paper & Scissors? What is it, a parody comic? I was further confused by the advertisement IDW ran in their titles (above). Take special note of the bottom text box: "Fans of Byrne's Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight especially, this is for you!" I wondered if anyone at IDW let Byrne see the advertisement, considering he's expressed some resignation about being identified with Alpha Flight; not that he dislikes his work on the series, just that he doesn't consider it one of his best assignments. I happen to love Byrne's Alpha Flight, but Byrne himself doesn't like to spend much time discussing his own past resume, preferring to look to the future. So, is Trio a step backward?

Three issues in, I'm still not certain.

Who are Rock, Paper & Scissors? Well, each one has powers which reflect the attributes of the popular game; Rock is made of stone, Paper stretches herself thin and Scissors turns his hands into razor-sharp blades. Where did their powers come from? Unknown. How did they come to be a team of super heroes? Also unknown. There are hints to some sort of shared origin behind the characters. They've been set up with an advanced headquarters manned by tiny robot drones ("widgets"), with said drones controlled by an unseen presence. We also learn Rock's transformation from human to stone and back again is painful, plus he can only maintain the transformation to stone for so much time. Perhaps the most interesting thing about these heroes is between the three of them you have an Asian-American, African-American, Arab-American and homosexual; no mainstream super hero book would have attempted this 30 years ago.

There's a strange sense of deja vu surrounding Trio. First, the team is attacked by Nautilus, an amphibious humanoid who commands a giant sea monster and wants revenge on the surface world. While he's an obvious stand-in for Namor the Sub-Mariner, the cover of issue #2 plants him in the place of a different Fantastic Four antagonist: Gladiator (himself a Superman substitute), as depicted on the cover of Fantastic Four#249:

...And homaged by Byrne again on the cover of Superman#8, with Superman in place of Gladiator and certain members of the Legion of Super-Heroes replacing near-matches from the Fantastic Four:

Just gaze at the debris in the background. Who draws better debris than Byrne? That's a rhetorical question, son.

The battle with Nautilus and his sea monster causes a massive loss of life, but before the threat can be dealt with, another villain enters the scene: Kosmos, a massive alien giant who collects water from other planets. Obviously, we're meant to think of the Fantastic Four's Galactus, but I'm also reminded of Terminus from Byrne's Fantastic Four run. In Byrne's Terminus story, Terminus was directed to Earth by an alien he'd forced to serve him, but the alien actually hoped Eath's heroes would destroy Terminus. While the alien seemed tiny next to Terminus, he was actually quite a bit larger than humans. Likewise, Kosmos has a stowaway aboard his ship, an alien who survived Kosmos' assault on his world. This alien seems tiny next to Kosmos, but is massive next to the human cast.

Before the threat of Kosmos can be resolved, the Nazi criminal Golgotha is brought to Earth from a parallel world. Green cape, armour... is he meant to be Doctor Doom?

I do find it interesting to note how ineffective the Trio are at battling their enemies and how these problems just continue to mount with each issue... like, it's as if Rock, Paper & Scissors are perpetually 22 pages behind the menace and never catch up. Byrne plays this series so earnestly I can't help but wonder if it's all a trick. I suspect he has some sort of twist in mind before the series ends; maybe the Trio will continue to muck things up until the Earth is destroyed. Perhaps it's all a fantasy going on inside the head of a Next Men cast member. Maybe he's having a laugh at his fans who have asked him to tell another Fantastic Four-like story, but intentionally sabotaged it. Then again, Byrne may just be having a grand old time telling a straight forward super hero adventure. My curiosity lingers on as I await the rest of Trio.


Anonymous said...

So Byrne is bringing in characters from his Danger Unlimited series with Nazi supervillain Golgotha? Interesting!

Michael Hoskin said...

Say, you're right - Golgotha must be from Danger Unlimited, which was itself a very Fantastic Four-esque comic.