Lobo has always been one of DC’s most interesting characters. Starting his life as a generic space bounty hunter in Giffen and Slifer’s Omega Men #3 way back in 1983, but did not stay that way for very long. Over time, the character got more humorous, more over the top and more outrageous. Lobo as most people know him came into form with Bisley and Grant’s ‘Lobo: The Last Czarnian’ miniseries, solidifying his backstory and placing him firmly as the premier parody character of the 1990s. Brash, rude and ultraviolent, Lobo was meant to be a parody of the dark excesses of 90s comics, drawing from the likes of Wolverine, Cable and the Punisher as influences. Over time, Lobo became a popular character in his own right, appealing to both fans of the parody and fans of the characters he was designed to parody. He existed within the DC Universe, but was a true wildcard, allowed to do pretty much whatever the writers wanted him to do for the sake of a laugh. Lobo destroyed his home planet for fun, has been kicked out of both heaven and hell, eaten a different planet, gone toe-to-toe with Superman, killed Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny and been declared Pope of the Space Dolphins.
He was not a character to be taken seriously, is what I’m saying, and that is just the way people liked him. When DC rebooted their entire line with the New 52, Lobo was left mostly intact. He appeared in Rob Liefeld’s Deathstroke series bearing a toned down version of his signature look and behaving a little more down to earth than normal, but (surprisingly for a man guilty of the worst excesses of the 1990s), that is just Rob Liefeld’s way now. He was then retooled a little and brought into the newest version of DC’s Stormwatch series. There, Lobo was pretty much back to the ridiculous standard he had become in the 1990s, an anomaly so powerful the Stormwatch needed to stop him from causing mayhem across the universe.
That Lobo appears again in this issue, 2014’s Lobo #1. For three pages. After which point he is killed, seemingly for good. Who is the hero of this comic then? That’s going to take a little more explaining.
In DC’s 2013 Villains Month event, DC announced that as of that point, classic Lobo was not the real Lobo. The classic Lobo was instead an impostor who had stolen the real Lobo’s identity. The new, real Lobo was more svelte, with quiffed hair, glowing blue facepaint, and with a mission to get rid of his doppelgänger. He appeared in a special one-shot issue written by Marguerite Bennet, and then again in minor villain appearances in the Supergirl and Justice League United series. From what I saw of these appearances, he might not have been as over the top as he used to be, but he was still sassy, violent and fun. When a solo series was announced, I was ready to see what direction the writers would take with a nigh-immortal space bounty hunter, set on killing his parodic, beer guzzling interloper.
First things first, have a guess at how long it takes New-Lobo to track down and take out Old-Lobo? I’ll give you some options, is it:
- Set up as the direction for the first arc, not finishing the job until issue 6?
- The bulk of the first issue, with the rest of the series set up as a final cliffhanger?
- Three pages?
The answer is 3. Three pages. If you guessed option 1 or 2, then you assume this comic is better written than it actually is. Old-Lobo is in a sum total of three pages of this 20 page comic, a comic that opens after the final showdown between the Lobos. An off-page fight so intense that New-Lobo faints after landing the killing blow.
I get the idea behind getting the fight out of the way at the beginning of the series, it was set up by a different writer, and it gives time for the new team to tell their story. It also places the the New-Lobo as being physically superior than the old one, appealing to all the people who need to know who would win in a fight between x character and y character. As it is though, it leaves the reader wishing they had been able to see that fight, rather than just the aftermath. These three pages are the last hurrah for a character that the rest of the issue will spend comparing its protagonist to, so it would have possibly been nice for new readers to know a little more about the character this new guy is meant to be oh-so-much-better than.
With those three pages out of the way, the writers can get on with the story they want to tell. So what is that story? The rest of the story deals with Lobo being sprung from being imprisoned for the fight we don’t see, on the condition that he accept a contract to kill eight of the other most notorious bounty killers in the universe before they can complete their own contracts. All eight happen to have the same contract, sending them to kill someone on (wait for it) the DCU Earth!
I am actually, getting ahead of myself. Before getting to the meat of the issue, we are treated to a look into the New-Lobo’s backstory, via a post-fight dream sequence. Lobo is shown on Czarnia before it was destroyed, as the King’s bodyguard, having a secret tryst with the Princess. He wears a flappy white shirt, unbuttoned to the navel, and paints the Princesses portrait. Then Czarnia burns before his eyes as he remembers what he did to the planet. This rose tinted, soft-focus dream sequence just comes across as hackneyed and tired. I get that Lobo’s cheeky nature is meant to mitigate this, but the soft focus, the paintings, the frilly shirt, its all too overused and cliché to ignore. Its not even trying to make fun of moments like this, as comics featuring Old-Lobo may have. The moment is played completely bafflingly straight.
Lobo’s claim that he cauterises his brain-stem regular to stop him having dreams like this is actually a very interesting concept. Czarnian’s healing powers make them functionally immortal, so showing the ways that someone unable to die deals with living forever is a cool road to go down. The problem is, in the opening pages, New-Lobo wants to take credit for the destruction of Czarnia and is killing Old-Lobo largely for taking the glory. When he wakes, it is the memories of that destruction he seems to want to erase. Comics are filled with characters who the last of their species, and mourn the loss of their world. Superman, the most iconic superhero in the world, fits this exact description. Comics have even had characters cause the destruction of their homeworld before, and then struggle to live with that. New-Lobo’s backstory here is nothing new, and is as overused as the soft filter it was told through. I am sorry to return to the Old-Lobo, but the comic seems to exist to draw comparisons with him. Part of the joy of the Old-Lobo wasn’t just that he had destroyed his homeworld, but that he enjoyed it and did it for fun. It was a change of pace and existed to contrast with all the other lasts of their kind. New-Lobo does nothing but join the ranks.
Some of the designs for the alien bounty hunters are quite fun, they are a diverse and colourful mix that should make for good monsters-of-the-month going forward. The only issue is that, for what is mostly a strictly sci-fi atmosphere in the rest of the issue, it seems odd that these galactic assassins include a witch, complete with sparkly black robes and pointy hat, as well as someone dressed in an old-timey diving suit. The most interesting of the remaining more sci-fi bounty hunters seems to be a blend between 2014 movie version of Marvel’s Nebula and Capcom’s Mega Man, but overall the assassins seem to be fun, if generic.
Sending Lobo to Earth is a fun conceit, because it allows him to crossover with pretty much DC character and for hijinks to ensue. Crossing paths with Supergirl, or members of the JLU again could be fun, as well as seeing New-Lobo across from characters he hasn’t met yet like Superman could create some interesting moments. The mystery of who the target is could also be fun, because you really do expect it to be some sort of established character. No hints are left as to the identity of the target, other than its someone Lobo would be happy to kill for free. This seems to be an interesting revelation, but readers know so little of this New-Lobo that it could literally be anyone in the DCU.
Lobo is at his most fun in this issue when he is cutting his way through waves of goons, wisecracking along the way. Gone is the headcrushing brute of the old days, but he’s replaced with more of a charming rougue figure, still with a talent of a little bit of the old ultraviolence. Then it goes and spoils it all by having him ramble about how his blades are meant to be purely ceremonial. Old-Lobo’s hover motorcycle is replaced with a generically sci-fi looking mono wheeled bike that he sits in the centre of. New-Lobo still has an aversion to killing dogs, but this is a strange thing to keep when, unlike Dog owning Old-Lobo, readers are shown no reason why New-Lobo would make the distinction between their lives and any others. Like many things in this comic, it seems to exist purely to remind readers of Old-Lobo while simultaneously hoping readers like any changes that have been made.
It might sound like it, but New-Lobo is not actually the problem with this issue. Going into this, I was totally ready to see a new take on the ‘Main Man’. I wanted to see what a version of the character created for 2014 would look like, and what direction they would go with it. The problem is of all the options, the writers chose the most boring direction available to them. New-Lobo is a brooding, sci-fi mercenary, hitting all the points expected of that sort of character within the 20 pages offered by this issue. I can easily think of two directions this comic could have gone with the character and the story and come out with something worth reading.
One way is to make him a parody, but not in the same way as Old-Lobo. Just as Old-Lobo was a parody of the violent, gritted teeth heroes of the 1990s, New-Lobo could have turned its parodic gaze on to the dark, tortured, brooding heroes popular right now. If they wanted to follow Lobo’s popularity as an anti-hero, and make him into a new character in his own right, then there is another direction that would work. Dedicate the first arc of the comic to New-Lobo’s hunt for his Old-Lobo doppelganger. Take the time to show the reader why Old-Lobo is irrelevant, or a menace, or just plain unlikable. Make the readers want to see Old-Lobo get his comeuppance, and you will have them on your side.
Lobo #1 features a Lobo that takes himself far too seriously for 17 pages, and kills off a Lobo with much more character in 3. Lobo’s opportunities as a parody character have been lost to Harley Quinn and Deadpool, and Batman is the king of brooding badasses. New-Lobo doesn’t really have a place in the world, and this issue does nothing to help the fact.
Oh, and ‘Sorry, not sorry’ is a terrible catchphrase.
Lobo #1 is written by Cullen Bunn, with pencils by Reilly Brown, inks by Nelson Decastro, colours by Pete Pantazis and lettering by Travis Lanham.
If you want to try it for yourself, Lobo #1 is available on Comixology