REVIEW: The Immortal Men #1 – “Isn’t 3rd Person Dead?”

The Immortal Men #1

THE IMMORTAL MEN #1 / Writer: James Tynion IV / Artists: Jim Lee & Ryan Benjamin / Inkers: Scott Williams & Richard Friend / Colorists: Jeremiah Skipper & Alex Sinclair / Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual / Released: AApril 11, 2018 / Publisher: DC

The Immortal Men #1 cover

Jim Lee. James Tynion IV. The Immortal Men #1 should, thusly, be epic! It should be top notch art meets deep character drama. That was certainly what I thought going in. I hate thinking wrong.

The Immortal Men rests on a concept that isn’t foreign to the DC universe but which has never (or at least not recently) been explored as the centerpiece of an ongoing series: chosen heroes locked in a perpetual war against demonic-ish forces with the fate of the universe hanging in the balance. The first seven pages of The Immortal Men #1 focuses on main character Caden Park, a teenage boy who, on a visit to Metropolis, saw Superman and has ever since longed for powers and a way to help people. Recently though, he’s started having dreams of being powered and participating in some kind of arcane battle. Caden’s parents and therapist disregard Caden’s suggestion that any of this is more than wishful desire on his part. After these seven pages the issue changes tone. Villains from the hellish landscape Caden saw in his dreams are after him. And back on Earth the last of the Immortal Men, the apparent heroes in that fight, have teleported into a New York subway with instructions to save Caden.

James Tynion IV has written two almost separate stories in The Immortal Men #1. The first features Caden Parks on a journey of self-discovery as he struggles through the dawning of what he is certain are new abilities. Caden has friends. He has a life. He has parents with honest to God personalities (his father even his a sense of humor). The B story focuses on the existing Immortal Men, their enemies, and a cameo by some characters from the recent Metal DC event. It’s this B story that sets up the final conflict and cliffhanger. But despite confirming Caden’s beliefs and effectively validating the A story’s existence the B story lands like a lead balloon.

The Immortal Men #1

The chief problem is that the main device used to link the stories before they intersect is a standoffish third person narrator. This works perfectly well for Caden’s scenes where the reader sees him interact with other characters—characters he has longstanding relationships with—for several pages. Caden’s character development via these relationships goes far beyond anything the narration provides. By contrast, the Immortal Men and the villains have virtually no interactivity with other characters—even their own ranks. This puts a lot of pressure on the narration to build a bridge between the characters and the readers, and unfortunately it isn’t up to it.

 

On top of being third person and therefore having no direct connecting to the characters, the narration itself is overwritten and impersonal, which further distances the reader.  Compounding these unfortunate choice from Tynion IV, is Carlos M. Mangual’s decision to choose the most basic lettering and box design for the narration. Of no additional help to the supernatural part of the issue is the cameo of Metal villains; if the reader hasn’t read Metal it’s potentially confusing and if they have it comes off, at least for now, as stunt casting.

Before getting too concerned by the writing, though, it’s important to remember that art can more than save a book. And this is a Jim Lee book, after all. Unfortunately the art in The Immortal Men #1 is no less cumbersome than the writing. My expectation from a Jim Lee book is art that is detailed, clean, and precise. This issue is not those three things. Not entirely. Part of this is almost certainly the result of second artist Ryan Benjamin. The credits don’t specify which artist is responsible for what pages, but the issue has the feel of alternating blocks of pages done by the different artists. Much of this is the result of Caden’s somewhat inconsistent appearance panel to panel. Sometimes Caden’s face is rounder; sometimes more angular. His eyes more narrow but sometimes much wider. His face generically masculine but sometimes softly feminine. His lips nonexistent but sometimes very full.

The Immortal Men #1

And the inconsistency is not limited to Caden unfortunately. His mother’s first close-up reminds me of an elderly “Asian” Aunt May only to look younger and considerably different two panels later on the next page. It’s one thing for an established book to have mid-issue shifts in art—while undesirable the characters in question are usually established as is the audience. The Immortal Men #1 features all new characters that are drawn not just inconsistently, but in transition page to page. Were this solely a Jim Lee book I’d almost be scandalized by the imprecision at work. But since this isn’t a Jim Lee book (indeed, though he is a co-creator, he has no art credit on the next two issues) I can only chalk it up to the problems caused by an issue having more than one artist and that duo executing poorly.

For parts of The Immortal Men #1 I was reminded of the first issue of Sideways—a new series released under the “New Age of Heroes” banner that excelled at characterization via relationships as depicted both through dialogue and art. Unfortunately this is a vastly less even issue with a story whose writing never creates three dimensional characters and whose art can’t decide what its main character looks like. I found myself caring in only the most superficial sense—as though I were reading an unfinished first issue.

Verdict: 2 out of 5 Inconsistently Drawn Protagonists

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Theron Couch is a collection of 1000 monkeys on 1000 typewriters trying to produce Hamlet. From time to time he accidentally types comic book reviews. Theron’s first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon and he's published assorted short stories. Theron maintains a blog with additional comic and book reviews as well as posts on his personal struggle with mental health.

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