Hero Squared, Vol. 2: Another Fine Mess
by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Joe Abraham (Boom!, 2008)

Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis are best known for their "bwa-ha-ha" superhero-meets-comedy take on the Justice League in the latter part of the mid-1980s (or "Post-Crisis JLI," for those in-the-know). And while that take was refreshing (especially given the prevalence of grim 'n' gritty storytelling thanks to The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen), comedy in superhero comics has been rather hit and miss since that title. While Hero Squared, Vol. 2: Another Fine Mess has a well-told story, it is unfortunately a bit of a miss.

Even though this is a second volume, the reader does not have to have read Vol. 1 to understand it. So, kudos to Giffen and DeMatteis for that. However, the story setup (Captain Valor and arch-enemy Caliginous are the only survivors of a parallel comic universe, come to the "real" world and encounter their parallel counterparts Milo and Stephie, respectively) is repeated so much/ad nauseum that some editing should have occurred. Folks won't forget the setup if they're reading the story on a monthly/periodic basis; gathered together in a trade format, this repetition gets downright tedious.

And speaking of tedious, the humor wears very thin, very quickly. It either speaks well of the writers' deep development of the characters (they have successfully created distinctly annoying personalities) or they're trying too hard to use humor to offset the story's serious qualities. Honestly, it's got to be the former situation. It seems like Giffen and DeMatteis have split an irritating personality into three aspects, with Milo as the ego, Captain Valor as the superego (no pun intended) and Caliginous as the id. Stephie is the only relatively normal character, and one has to wonder why she didn't dump the loser Milo ages ago. And then, of course, there's the chubby best friend Blaine that might as well have a t-shirt saying, "I represent what the writer thinks of the reading audience."

As for the story itself, Another Fine Mess is really an interpersonal drama exploring the dynamics of relationships in early adulthood. Artist Joe Abraham does an excellent job with facial features (a requirement for any Giffen and DeMatteis story, it seems). The downside to this story is its inconsistencies. From the smallest detail (storing clothes in a cape pouch will make them VERY wrinkled) to a most catastrophic event (resultant casualties and damage from a superhuman brawl), the writers went to such lengths to display the different set of rules for the "comic book" world of Captain Valor and Caliginous versus the "real" world of Milo and Stephie.

Hero Squared sounds like it should be an interesting tale. Create an amalgam of Captain Marvel, Superman and Spider-Man; make his girlfriend his archenemy; and insert those characters in a real-world setting to interact with their doppelgangers. The story could succeed if it weren't for the humor and the characters. The humor tries too hard at times, shoehorning junior-high humor one moment and sophisticated nuances of adult relationships the next. Also, the focal characters can really grate your desire to continue to read about them. For all its potential, Another Fine Mess misses the mark.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

15 November 2008

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