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Last Sons Twice Removed

June 25th, 2006 by | Tags: , ,

Several months ago, I brought myself to read through James Robinson’s brilliant Starman series. With its great supporting cast, the character Mikaal Tomas stuck out to me. One of the many superheroes to once call himself Starman, Mikaal turned against his conquering alien race and sided with Earth. Eventually, this led to the extermination of his kind and the truth that Mikaal was the last of his people. This made me realize how overused this idea was. So many aliens in the DC Universe were the last of their kind. Other than Mikaal, we have Superman, Martian Manhunter, Lobo and even Kilowag.

I got the feeling that these guys need their own story based on this. When I came across DC Universe: Last Sons at the local Barnes and Noble and saw that this was essentially what I was asking for, I realized I had to read it. Even without Mikaal and Kilowag there, I was still interested. Besides, it was about time I read a book that didn’t have pictures in it.

By the way, this is filled with spoilers. If you want a review that doesn’t tell you that Xemtex’s robot friend dies, go here. If you take that guy’s word for it, continue.

It didn’t take me long at all to realize that this story was really a retread of the two-parter from Superman: The Animated Series called “The Main Man”. In it, Lobo was hired to take in Superman and hand him over to an alien collecting the last of various races. With Lobo being the last Czarnian, he too was captured, leading to him and Superman teaming up in order to escape. Rival bounty hunters got involved, but in the end, Superman and Lobo beat the big alien villain and went their separate ways. Solid episode.

As Last Sons begins, Lobo takes on his latest bounty: a gang of outlaws led by the reptilian Xemtex. Once finished with them, Lobo is told by his agent Tartan Quarantino about a million cred bounty specifically chosen for Lobo. The criminal in question? An Earthling everyman named John Jones. As any comic reader knows, John Jones is the low-profile alter-ego of J’onn J’onz, the Martian Manhunter. So the secret identity of a superhero is wanted for unnamed crimes from part of the galaxy that he had never encountered and Lobo has been hand-picked and overpaid to take him in. It’s a set-up if there ever was one, but the Main Man refuses to notice. Not only is he playing into the hands of the mysterious Alpha being, but there are other threats. For one, the remainder of Xemtex’s gang is out there, looking for revenge and a group of bounty hunters led by a guy named Angel Eyes is interested in stealing Lobo’s bounty.

Now that the basic story is out of the way, let’s cover the main strength of this book: the characters.

Superman: You may have noticed a lack of his mention in the above paragraph. That might surprise you, considering he gets top billing. Sorry to say, Superman’s appearance in this is a borderline cameo. Most of his actions in the story involve either getting his teeth kicked in, being worthless or having angsty flashbacks to Krypton blowing up. The only scene of note with him takes place in a bounty hunter bar, where one of the thugs there puts his leg out to trip Superman. Instead, Superman walks through it, calmly snapping the leg in two and then half-heartedly apologizing.

Martian Manhunter: As Alan Grant wrote this book, he seems to have forgotten that Martian Manhunter can phase through objects, especially when the moment calls for it. As John Jones, he has a brief subplot involving a drug lord and his mother, but that takes the backseat once Lobo shows up. During the obligatory J’onn vs. Lobo fight, J’onn paralyzes Lobo with his mind powers, which should have probably ended the fight. Instead of writing a way out of it, Grant tip-toes away by just cutting away and later saying that Manhunter and Lobo are brawling once Superman shows up. Lame.

Since Lobo’s warrant for arrest is legit, J’onn goes willingly so he can find out what he’s being charged with and can defend himself via trial. For the rest of the story, he plays it pretty deadpan, unless horrified and disgusted by Lobo. You’d think an expert on Lobo’s background like Grant would have remembered that he and Manhunter had known each other before this, but this story says otherwise. Then again, their meeting in Justice League International was far too one-sided.

Lobo: Let’s not kid ourselves. This is just a Lobo story featuring Martian Manhunter with special appearance by Superman. Cameos like Jonas Glim and Taran Quarantino come from Lobo’s old on-going series, while the supporting cast of the other two “main characters” are absent with a mention or two here or there. By default, I’m not into Lobo due to his one-dimensional characteristics. That’s not to say that there aren’t some takes of the character I’ve enjoyed thoroughly. The Diniverse Lobo (as voiced by Brad Garrett) for one, was great, especially in there “Hereafter” episode of Justice League. Peter David, a guy who went and called Lobo DC’s worst character, gave him an entertaining run in Young Justice. Lobo’s multiple appearances in Justice League International were good fun. Hell, I’m interested in seeing what Grant Morrison has in store for him in 52.

Thinking back, the moment I realized I didn’t like Lobo was when I read A Contract on Gawd. Only in this late hour do I realize that the story was written by one Alan Grant. I really walked into that one, didn’t I, folks.

The point is, if you plan on reading Last Sons, be prepared to read more Lobo than you can possibly stomach.

Xemtex: Xemtex is an original character introduced into the story who I rather liked. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I wouldn’t mind seeing him in regular continuity. This is a good thing, since he gets the most page-time after Lobo.

We’re given his life story, but the short of it is that he’s a reptilian alien criminal with the power to cause explosions with his mind. During a battle between his gang and Lobo, they damage the computer brain of Lobo’s newly-stolen Spazz-Frag 5000 Space Hawg (or in English, his space-bike). Lobo knocks Xemtex out and ends up removing the brain and implementing it into the Spazz-Frag. Now Xemtex is confined to being a space-bike under Lobo’s orders. About halfway into the story, Xemtex realizes that he can still create explosions with his mind, despite his new appearance. From there, he bides his time, hoping to later blow up Lobo and live on his own as the universe’s only sentient motorcycle outlaw. There’s a certain Morrison charm to it.

Considering how much build-up the character gets throughout the story, I was annoyed when the epilogue more or less states, “Xemtex died in a really pointless way.” Thanks for that.

The Alpha: The main villain. The Alpha is an AI being in the form of a ten-foot-tall crystal statue. His plan is to wipe out all life in the universe while holding onto the last sons of each world for his own personal use. As the story went further, I began to get into the character more and more. Some chapters would begin with what turned out to be the Alpha mentally conversing with himself, which we wouldn’t understand until later in the story. The reasoning for his actions, as well as his process in destroying worlds, is pretty sound, though mainly after we’re given his origin. The flaw is that we don’t get the lowdown on what he is and why he’s doing what he’s doing until long after he’s defeated.

Still, I did dig his fate at the end of the book.

Darlene: I had to look it up, but it seems Darlene is yet another supporting character from the Loboverse. She works as a waitress at a space diner whose very being is one of the few redeeming factors of Lobo’s existence as a person. Even Manhunter notes that Lobo’s infatuation with her shows hope that he isn’t entirely vile. Darlene is really nothing more than a na├»ve damsel in distress throughout the story. She is also a major part of the book’s biggest flaw, which I’ll get to later.

Angel Eyes: Angel Eyes is one of Lobo’s top rivals in the bounty hunting department. After hearing about how much Lobo is getting paid to bring in this John Jones guy, as well as the involvement of Superman (which stresses how this is a big deal), Angel Eyes gets involved. Upon finding out about The Alpha and his plans, Angel Eyes decides to sit back, let Alpha cause some destruction and then take him in for the bounty. The way he’s physically described as well as his described style as a killer work enough to make him an interesting enough villain. His gang is made up of three others. Two of them are barbaric brothers who like to beat the crap out of each other. They aren’t important in the least. But the other one is definitely worth talking about…

K’Baal the Acturan: K’Baal is Angel Eyes’ advisor and partner. From a planet that specializes in magic, K’Baal is a 5-foot-tall insect-looking creature wearing a cloak to cover his facial features. He’s written successfully as a creepy x-factor in Angel Eyes’ scenes, usually appearingcasually from the shadows to freak out others. He too is a character I wouldn’t mind seeing in regular continuity, despite the fact that he gets killed off. At one point he does insist to K’Baal that he is more than powerful enough to stop Superman, Martian Manhunter and Lobo at the same time, but sadly, we don’t get that fight.

The Vrkns: The Vrkns work as a plot device throughout the story. For the most part, they work under The Alpha and do his bidding. The Alpha has taken away the remainder of their will and all they do is create structures or pilot ships for him. The way they’re described makes me think of Moleman’s creatures from Fantastic Four.

Plenty of good setup with those characters.

Another strength of the book is the fight scenes. Alan Grant can indeed write some pretty damn good fights. Characters we don’t know like The Alpha, Xemtex and Angel Eyes are written in ways that we can easily picture them taking on the guys we recognize. Lobo’s brawls with The Alpha are probably the highlights. The three protagonists taking on a Vrkn fleet is also a well-done action sequence.

One of the problems with the action is that The Alpha is contradicted in Grant’s writing. At one point we see him kill an entire room full of people with little more than a glance, yet when he’s met with Manhunter or Lobo, he resorts to mere brawling. At least with Superman, he fires kryptonite at him the first chance he gets. The Alpha being able to shoot kryptonite out of his eyes is a bit contrived, but I guess I can accept it.

Still, Grant does contradict himself several times in the story. He makes a big deal about how Lobo’s bike was just stolen (which is a plot point), only to later mention that Lobo’s been maintaining the bike for years. Or there’s a woman from a planet Gallioz that The Alpha kidnapped to be one of his last sons (er, daughter in this case). In the epilogue, she’s mentioned as being the last daughter of the planet, which is all well and good, if you’re forgetting one important thing: Superman, Manhunter and Lobo saved her goddamn planet! Hell, Superman and Manhunter even stuck around for a week to help push it back to the status quo! Did Grant write a completely different story, change it, and then forget to fix the ending? Did he get his own created planets mixed up when writing this mess? What?

One of the sillier mistakes comes from a conversation between Lobo and Xemtex. Read with me.

“But if nine out of every ten objects in space are dark matter,” Lobo went on, “it stands to reason we’d be trippin’ over nine of them when we tried to get to the one object that wasn’t dark matter. Right?”

“You’re giving me a headache, Einstein,” Xemtex complained.

He called him Einstein. The alien called the other alien Einstein. Why did the alien call the other alien Einstein? Honestly, now!

If the rest of the book was good, I could forgive all that easy. The thing that cripples the story is the horrible, horrible structure. We have this big plot about the three title characters taking on this great evil. Then we have these characters like Xemtex and Angel Eyes, meant for side-story action. This is handled in what may be the absolute worst way.

On page 250, The Alpha is defeated. Not by Superman. Not by Martian Manhunter. Not by Lobo. Not even by the three of them working together. No, after defeating each one of them one-on-one, The Alpha is finally taken down by Xemtex. Xemtex beats him in a really cheap deus ex machine. Honestly, it’s almost as if somebody just walked up to The Alpha and flicked an off switch. Someone competent could have used this as set-up for The Alpha to break free and then take on Superman, Martian Manhunter and Lobo at the same time at the end of the book, but not Alan Grant. The Alpha was done.

In fact, so were Superman and Martian Manhunter. Like I said, The Alpha fell on page 250. The book is 322 pages long. That means we get 72 pages that are mainly about Lobo going after Angel Eyes while Superman and Manhunter were more or less gone from the story completely. I kept waiting for it to lead to something until I noticed how few pages were on the right side of the book and how I was on the chapter entitled “Epilogue”.

In the end, what we have is a promising concept with promising characters that builds itself up until about three quarters in, when the writer decides to scrap the story and fills the rest of the white space with Lobo masturbation. Superman and Martian Manhunter are nothing more than lures so that Alan Grant can try and convince us how extreme and badass Lobo really is.

Times like this make me glad I voted for Wolverine a decade ago.

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