Beek's Books - an ongoing collection of comic book reviews
 Troublemakers (Acclaim/Valiant)
by Fabian Nicieza (writer), Kenny Martinez (penciler), Anibal Rodriguez (inker), Dave Lanphear (letterer)
b&w preview of #1
Rating: good, Content: [super]

 This is the first totally new book from Acclaim's relaunch of the Valiant imprint, one that isn't based on characters from the defunct superhero universe launched several years ago (some of whom were themselves revamps).

 The Troublemakers are something of a modern cliché: a group of kids with a variety of genetically engineered powers. But as another modern cliché says: It's what you do with it that counts. And Nicieza, Martinez, & co. do it good.

 Back in "the good old days" the cliché would have been to distinguish them from each other by having different hair colors (the red-head being the hot-tempered one, the blond being more fun-loving, etc.), and maybe one of them would be a girl. These days, it's more convenient (and a bit more interesting) for them to have different skin colors and features (Northern European, African, and Vietnamese), be split 50/50 between male and female, and to avoid such trite typecasting.

 The Troublemakers who get the most development are the sister and brother: XL (whose power amounts to "anything you can do, I (or you) can do better") and Death-Boing (just kidding... his code name is really Rebound). The fact that they have each other (as well as Blur, a guy with electromagnetic control powers) to, um, bounce off of helps with this. The Troublemaker with the least development is Calamity (a girl with "chaos" powers), who is off in solitary confinement for safety reasons during this story; I assume we'll meet her in Troublemakers #2.

 This issue uses the narrative device of excerpts from a hand-written letter as captions commenting (often indirectly) on the action in the panels themselves. It's an effective means of introducing readers to the characters and setting, but it also brings up one of my pet peeves about computer lettering. Computers usually work OK for standard mechanical text (the kind that comics publishers have long wanted to look like typesetting, but not here. The "handwriting" font used is a fairly good one, but the way every "n" and every "y" looks exactly like every other "n" or "y" spoils the effect. If you want it to look like handwriting, then write it by hand, for gosh sake!

 The story carefully balances the "good clean fun" angle that this series seems to be aiming at, with a touching storyline involving the kids' "uncle", an older maintenance worker at the lab where they were created. It's clear from the beginning that he there was some unmentioned event in his past that led to his current perpetual sadness. While the uncovering of this secret and its nature weren't really much of a surprise, the way the kids "fixed" it was unexpected. With great power comes great irresponsibility, in this case, but these "troublemakers" are also good-hearted people, who'll break the rules for good reasons.

 Kenny Martinez' art compliments this tone as well. It's a little bit more cartoony than most superhero art these days, which is fine by me. But it's more realistic than, say, Humberto Ramos' work in Impulse (which I also like).

 My comparison to Impulse is deliberate, because that's the recent superhero series that this book most reminds me of. The Troublemakers are clearly more thoughtful and mature than Bart Allen, but still have the refreshing fun-loving attitude that has made that series so appealing. If you like (or liked) Impulse, this is worth checking out.

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