Once again, I find myself deferring to the way James put this, as I basically feel the same way: there are a lot of writers I follow, and that means my collection is thick with books I’ve bought purely to see a specific writer’s take on something or someone. I own plenty of comics that would be considered among the best in the field, but more often than not, the reason I will have bought them is less their status, and simply the fact that they’re another comic by a favourite writer such as Gaiman, Morrison, Bendis or Moore. Nevertheless, a good example of a comic I probably wouldn’t even have heard of, let alone paid any attention to, were it not for the writer – or in this case, writers – involved arrives in the shape of Hero Squared.
I don’t need to repeat just how much of a fan I am of Keith Giffen and J.M. deMatteis – they’re decent enough individually (well, Giffen has written some dross in his time as well as the good, but deMatteis is responsible for one of the best ever Spider-Man stories, for one thing) but as a team, with Giffen plotting and deMatteis filling in the dialogue, they’re almost untouchable. So I was naturally excited to read about Hero Squared, a series that they launched initially with a one-shot at Atomeka Press in 2004, before moving over to BOOM! Studios the following year for a succession of miniseries. The series is the story of Milo, a film-nerd loser slacker who is one day confronted with the reality of what he could have made of his life when a superhero named Captain Valor drops into his world – and turns out to be another version of himself, from an alternate dimension. There’s a shade (in fact, more than a shade) of Ace Rimmer about the whole idea, but it’s such a strong concept that I’m astonished it hasn’t been optioned for a film, particularly in these superhero-friendly times.
The concept was the icing on the cake, however, as I’d no doubt have bought “a new comic by the JLI guys” no matter what it was about. They’re a perfect fit for it, though – one of the things they write best are conflicting characters thrown into forced proximity and the ensuing bickering that occurs, and so it proves with the relationship between Milo and Valor – and, just to make things that bit more confusing, the pair’s relationships with Milo’s girlfriend Stephie and her alternate-universe counterpart, the evil Caliginous. It’s not just about the humour either, though – it’s a pretty strong character drama, and unflinching in its treatment of its leads – they are both flawed, quite significantly so, and there are times when you’re clearly not meant to be rooting for Milo or supporting his actions even though he’s the lead character.
Due to its status as a smaller-publisher book, Hero Squared was a difficult series to keep caught up with (especially in the UK, where anything outside the Big Five doesn’t necessarily show up in the same week as in the States). I got the initial one-shot special and a couple of issues of the first mini, and enjoyed them; and have since picked up the TPB that collects those and the one I was missing. I’d like to get hold of the rest of it, too – it was an interesting little book, and it is a shame it didn’t run for longer or attract a higher-profile. It sort of got caught up in being one of BOOM!’s earlier titles, when the company was in its less successful, pre-Mark Waid days; and since the Waid era began it’s been treated pretty much as an afterthought. A spinoff series, Planetary Brigade, was also mildly entertaining; but in setting itself around a group of superhero characters from Valor’s world, felt like little more than JLI-lite and didn’t have the more interesting character dynamic that lay at the centre of its parent series.
It’s a shame, though, that Giffen and deMatteis seem to have largely given up on the property – although I haven’t read the final Love and Death mini, so I don’t know whether the story came to a definitive end, but from what I have read it felt like there was a lot more mileage in the concept and characters. Nevertheless, the book did serve as proof that sometimes following a favoured creator to something new and unfamiliar really can pay off. Certainly, every time these writers (as a pair) launch something new, it’s pretty much a given that I’ll be there for issue #1.