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True Believers #2

Posted: Tuesday, August 19, 2008
By: Mark J. Hayman

Cary Bates
Paul Gulacy, Rainier Beredo (colours)
Marvel Comics
Editor's Note: True Believers #2 arrives in stores tomorrow, August 20.

"Payback Is A Bitch, Part 2 - Daddy Issues"

In these days of multi-part stories and crossover insanity (it's crass-over is what!), this book is breath of fresh air. Try to imagine a slightly sordid, wholly self-contained story told within a broader framework (this is still a mini-series), uniquely deploying both major and obscure characters from Marvel continuity, that provides insight into a central character (while remaining slightly coy) and ends on a frankly bizarre cliffhanger - that's illustrated by Paul freaking Gulacy. Before licking your lips in anticipation, to paraphrase Mark "Deepthroat" Felt, "get out your ChapStick, there's more..."

Evidently our heroine, Mavis "Payback" Trent, isn't quite so clever as she thinks she is. After using the still mysterious resources at her disposal to dislodge an NYPD cover-up concerning a Reed Richards DUI charge (Fantasti-tanked in the Fantasticar!), her day job as a S.H.I.E.L.D. intel operative reveals that there's more happening than simple bad judgement on Reed's part. Unfortunately, she's already exposed the apparent misdeed to the world via the infamous True Believers website. Amends must be made. Thus Payback breaks into the Baxter Building intent on sharing her latest revelation only to be nearly stomped flat by a more than usually teed-off Thing. Not so clever, Mavis. Reed intercedes at the appropriate juncture, saving her physically then trodding on her spirit of good will. The FF are not only aware that Reed had been set-up, they know who did it and why. As a superhero, an investigator, and a force for Truth, Mavis is proving a big disappointment. Until she devises a cunning plan, that is. Reed and family are intrigued...

To be fair, Mavis does have other things on her mind. Or in it. A session with Dr. Cornelius Worth, better known as the Sentry's therapist, weaves further mystery into the story. Tales of a recently murdered father who'd demonstrated post-human (if not quite "super") tendencies now speaking to her from the great beyond has Worth scribbling busily in his notebook. It's comforting to have a super-hero shrink who appreciates doctor-patient confidentialty and isn't planning world domination, that we know of, as a supporting character (I'm talking to you, Faustus!). The good doctor should have been a little less strict in his enforcement of appointment times, however, as Mavis has a last secret to reveal before she leaves. I take it as a matter of course that super-hero psychiatrists keep a change of trousers on hand, or at least have a special arrangement with the nearest dry-cleaner.

Cary Bates has his hands full keeping all of these plates spinning; some of them in opposite directions. Time does seem to be running out for the three True Believers who aren't Payback. We're treated to their names and mugshots on the splashpage, but the rest of the gang are relegated to a couple of panels of face-time and no further clues as to who they are or why they've hitched their wagons to Payback's compulsive taddling.

There isn't a lot to say about Paul Gulacy's illustration that hasn't been said hundreds of times before. A master storyteller, a slave to detail, and he loves to draw the beautiful women (and we love him for it). From sweeping skylines and grimy streets to Worth's plush yet understated office, from things going Boom! to a Mr. Fantastic who I can only describe as "gooey," and a Thing who really looks like a monster, the way the King intended. When his characters move, you move with them; when they're still, the pages seep tension. I'm prepared to ratchet up my praise for Rain Beredo's colours, too. Scenes are perfectly lit, and his pallette captures the technical anodyne of the inner sanctums of the Baxter Building and Helicarrier, the blazing Manhattan nights and brilliant afternoons, and the near claustrophobic warmth of Worth's chamber.

Even with Marvel's preview blurbs for the third and fourth issues, it's difficult to imagine exactly where things are headed. Since this is a Cary Bates book, you'll be able to jump on at any point without feeling abysmally lost, but go ahead and pick up any issues you've missed, if only for Gulacy and Beredo. If you're at all curious as to why I'm not giving this chapter every available bullet, it's mostly due to a certain detachment from the principal character. In fact, I find her somewhat irritating. But that's me, perhaps you'll be smitten.







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