The latest issue of the Justice League (not “of America”) features one of the more controversial redesigns of DC Comics’ re-launched universe known as the New Fifty-two. It features the all-new, all-improved and completely different Lobo.
For all those who don’t know who Lobo is. He is the manliest of manly characters, even awarding himself the nickname The Main Man. He’s huge, bulky and muscular, has gnarly markings around the eyes which are blood-red. He’s a savage, a biker and a ruthless killer. And Lobo is very much a child of the 1990s, a satire on all the overly muscular guys that roamed the pages of the funnybooks back then. He exploited every trope, every cliché, didn’t miss a single joke at the period of comics – retroactively dubbed The Dark Age by fans and critics alike – that his own book was set in.
Now, with DC’s New Fifty-Two, the character got a reboot in the pages of Deathstroke, a cancelled book that introduced Lobo as a character that was basically unchanged from his previous incarnation. He was, in addition to a killer and everything else, now also a slaver. That rubbed some people the wrong way, but was generally accepted, because at that point, readers had bigger issues seeing as Rob Liefeld was writing and drawing the book. In the eyes of many, the highly controversial author-slash-artist completely wrecked the book.
This week marks the second week of DC’s company-wide crossover known as Villains Month, where the bad guys get spotlight issue. And in the promotional material for the event, a new Lobo design emerged. He was lean, had blue facial markings instead of black ones, was much smaller and sported the omnipresent costume additions that are known as “Those neon glowy Tron things” by fans. The second the image hit the internet, fans of the Main Man were outraged. They claimed that this was not their Lobo and that the New Fifty-Two already had their Lobo.
Marguerite Bennett, the writer of the book and former student of Batman-scribe Scott Snyder, released a statement a couple of days later that said that this wasn’t the Lobo she was writing. The cover art of Justice League #23.2 showed the old Biker-Lobo. Thus, fans were still hoping that they would get their old Lobo. Their hopes have been smashed today… or have they?
In Justice League #23.3, Ms. Bennett tells the story of the second-to-last Czarnian. He is known as Lobo. He’s slim, has short hair and is basically the guy everyone was so outraged about. He holds the same job as the other Lobo and is generally a scumbag extraordinaire. And that’s what makes this issue. Readers get a good insight into the mind of a moral vacuum that seeks its equal. Lobo is not nice, he’s driven by greed and a thirst for revenge. Revenge against whom, you ask? Against the other Lobo. You see, Slim Lobo thinks that Bulky Lobo is an impostor, using his name and reputation for his own gains. Thus, Slim Lobo has been hunting his namesake to settle the score. And in Slim Lobo’s world, just as in old Lobo’s world, the end justifies the means.
Marguerite Bennett also promised readers a Lobo who could blend in and be a predator in any kind of environment. She did deliver, sort of. In the first few pages, readers get to see Slim Lobo at a posh party. Not much in the way of blending in is seen because within four pages, Lobo beheads a man using a version of Bulky Lobo’s trademark weapon – a meat hook – with laser accents. After seemingly jumping out of the woodwork.
Generally, the issue delivers a nice story about a character we’re not familiar with. Slim Lobo is, controversy about design aside, a very interesting character and this issue is a really nice introduction to him. Readers don’t just see him as a character driven by actions, but artists Ben Oliver and Cliff Richards manage to make him visually appealing as well as tell a lot about the character in their art. Slim Lobo is not a heavy drinker anymore and seems to favour drink containers like they have at fast food restaurants. He does drink at the parties he attends before and after he kills his victim. However, this is one of the places where one of the biggest flaws of the book comes in. Neither Ms. Bennett nor the artists on the book see Slim Lobo as adaptive to his environment despite claiming that this will be one of the character’s biggest edges over Bulky Lobo. This was the reason why fans were still hoping that Slim Lobo might be good. Despite that, they seem to completely neglect that aspect of the character. Slim Lobo does not dress differently even in one panel. At a fancy party, he probably sticks out like a sore thumb. As much of a predator he is, nobody is going to buy that he’s just one of the guests there. Just have him wear a suit in a few panels. Have him cover up his glowing facial tattoos and that would be adapting.
The artwork as well as the writing of this story are, despite everything, solid. It’s an interesting issue and introduces readers to an interesting character who has a good storyline ahead of him. Despite this, Ms. Bennett apparently made a mistake in research. Bulky Lobo does not live on Earth. As of a few months ago, he’s been a returning character on Stormwatch. Still: The question on everyone’s mind, though, doesn’t seem to be the one asking about the quality of the comic book, but the question whether it was worth losing Bulky Lobo for Slim Lobo.
The answer to this question is a bit of a weird one as of right now, because it can’t be given at this point in time. While it’s not worth sacrificing one of the most self-aware comic book characters of days gone by in favour of someone who looks frankly weird, it’s nowhere near conclusively stated outside the early promo material that Slim Lobo actually is the one true Lobo. Chances still are that Bulky Lobo is the real one and Slim Lobo is the impostor, possibly not even being aware of it himself. So only time will tell whether Slim Lobo is the real Lobo or not.
It would be regrettable if Slim Lobo turned out to be the one true Lobo. The new guy’s character design is nowhere near as interesting or visually appealing as that of the long-haired space-biker and the new character’s strength of being an adaptive predator was only hinted at.
All in all, Justice League #23.3 is a good comic book. It features a re-design of a character who didn’t need a re-design at all, but doesn’t explicitly state that this is supposed to be the same character or that Slim Lobo will replace Bulky Lobo. Other than that, the comic book is a good and fun read, showing us a protagonist who is not motivated by either a hero or the hero’s actions or anything other than greed and revenge. And, by the way, this book has absolutely nothing to do with the Justice League. At all.