by Michael Hutchison
I initially passed Chase by, as I wasn't too thrilled with her initial appearance in Batman #550. "An X-Files clone," I thought, "she looks somewhat like Gillian Anderson, she's got the grumpy skepticism of Dana Scully and she works for a government agency. How transparent can you get?" And so I passed it by as a title that would disappear after the hype wore off. Hearing that one of my favorite teams, the Suicide Squad, appeared in Chase #2, I purchased it and then hustled back to The Source of Comics and Games to grab a copy of #1!
This title is a continuity-loving DC Universe fanboy's dream! Johnson, Williams and Berganza have obviously immersed themselves in many of the titles I grew up with and now brings the reader into this complete universe, seen through the eyes of main character Cameron Chase. The "superheroes in a real world" has been done in Kingdom Come, Watchmen, Marvels and Astro City, but here we have a government insider's POV. Chase works for the Department of Extranormal Operations, a somewhat shady branch of the government which attempts to contain and then train those who demonstrate metahuman abilities. The unexplored legalities of superheroes, supercriminals and the paranormal in the DCU are obviously going to be seen in future stories, as hinted at in issue #1 when Chase tells her boyfriend, "You don't know what the rules are for people with talent. I won't live like that!"
For you see, Chase is beginning to demonstrate a metahuman ability. This bothers her, and it's not just because of some vague anti-metahuman laws; clues are being dropped that Chase's father was a superhero or supervillain.
If your interest isn't piqued yet, let me tell you my biggest reason for loving Chase: since the main character isn't a superhero herself, and co-plotters Johnson and Williams can't use big-name guest stars in the book without the endless approval process from one or more editors, he must instead dip into the rich history of DC Comics. Witness his plans to use Firehawk (a long-neglected favorite of mine) as a supporting character, and his re-introduction of the Suicide Squad. He also brings back the Rocket Reds, now obviously suffering from budget cuts and in the hands of the ex-KGB Russian mafia, and he even makes mention of Dmitri Pushkin of Justice League Europe fame (Gosh, I love little touches like that!). Booster Gold and the Teen Titans are also up for issue #4.
Johnson's fondness for the past doesn't mean he isn't willing to make some workable changes. The Construct, not seen since JLI #11 over a decade ago, and not really given a proper showcase since Red Tornado's miniseries in 1985, is now re-designed as a Geigeresque monster. The Construct has always been laughable, with his Brand X Giant Robot appearance; now, he talks in actual computer-speak and looks like a living machine. However, I do wish that someone (i.e., Dan) would explain how the Construct went from his almost god-like abilty to manifest his consciousness in any machine, such as wristwatches or even human beings, to needing access in order to spread. (I know it's much more logical and realistic, and story-wise, I like it but I'm a bugger for consistency!)
Characterization is at a premium here. I've never met Sledge (one of the Suicide Squad) before, yet only a few lines are needed to make me like him. Similarly, Bolt, Killer Frost and Cobra are well-developed in only a limited number of pages.
Another highlight is the character profiles in the back of the book (and the collector cards). Very well-written and well-researched. Almost makes me sorry that letters are going to be coming in their place!
J.H. Williams' artwork sets the perfect tone for the book, even making use of the spaces which other artists would leave blank. Notice the finery in issue #2-3, as he fills the little areas surrounding the panels with circuit diagrams (because the Construct is in the book) and South American jungle images (because they're in Peru). Subtle, yet greatly adding to the mood of the reader.
I do wish that Chase wasn't going to set me back half of $5 every month (it's even more for all of my Canadian friends), but I'm still happy to add this to my must-have list. It's not too late to grab the first few issues, and I highly recommend that you do. Chase is going to be either a collector's item (relatively speaking, since the term has lost all meaning in an age where almost all comics made go into plastic bags) as the buzz makes this sleeper more and more popular, or it may go the Black Lightning route as a highly-acclaimed yet under-appreciated comic canceled before its time. I seriously hope that it is the former.
I want to like Chronos. It's got an intriguing premise, it dabbles in time travel (which the DCU has largely avoided over the last 15 years; see this month's Retconvention for details) and it's a character-heavy book like my other fave Archie Goodwin-edited title, Starman.
Like Starman, the protagonist is a somewhat amoral and unlikeable slacker; unfortunately, unlike Starman, we haven't been shown a lot to balance this out. Gabriel Walker, or Chronos II, has formed a friendship with the original Chronos and inherited a lot of his gear now that Mr. Clinton's retired. Gabriel uses his special suit to freeze time so that he can steal scientific items for a man named Konstantin Vyronis. However, during one of his thefts, a Linear Man intervenes and is killed by Vyronis. In the ensuing chaos, Walker is transported back to the old west, where he takes a job with the Clark family in Smallville. There, he meets some time-traveling gypsies, as well as another Linear Man who mistakenly tries to bring him in for the murder. And Konstantin Vyronis is also a time-traveler, building a device called the Time-Masher. Why isn't exactly clear.
So far, Walker has robbed several people of their lives' works, evaded a lawman, intended to alter time by introducing inventions decades earlier and assisted Vyronis in activating his Time-Masher, all for his own selfish pursuits of acquiring money and getting back to his own time. Never mind that his mistrust of lawmen must be blinding him to the fact that the Linear Men would give him a fair trial and return him to his own time.
I keep waiting for Gabriel Walker to do something redeeming. So far, the only step in that direction is when he didn't rob a poor farming family of their life's savings. What a guy.
I'll admit, there are indications that Chronos #4 will be a turning point for Gabriel Walker, perhaps giving a true indication of the direction in which this title will go. And I must concede that it took a lot more than four issues for me to even begin to like Jack Knight (and he still isn't someone I'd ever want as a friend in real life). I guess I'm just grouchy that I have to spend $10 on a series before beginning to know whether I'm going to like it or not.
So, is this title another Starman, where the writer intentionally makes the main character somewhat unlikeable and that's part of the twist to the series? Is it a story of redemption, where Walker has no intentions of being one of the good guys, but is forced to due to the events surrounding him? Or is it just another hero-deconstructionist comic book where the writer doesn't necessarily believe in right and wrong, either, and feels no need to cast his main character in that light?
This one's on the edge, folks. If you're not as big on ethics and morals in your comic books as I am (and somebody's buying all those Garth Ennis books!), or if you have a bottomless source of income, then you'll probably enjoy this a lot more than I am. The art is crisp and the dialogue is pretty decent, although the time-hopping gives the plot a bit of a meandering pace. Me, I'm spending $2.50 more on issue #4 and it had better be a REALLY good issue for me to keep buying Chronos.
My vote: 5 out of 10