The New Age of DC Heroes titles have offered creative and compelling perspectives that stand out from so many of the other titles in the larger DC Universe. So far, they’ve all been really exciting, and spinning directly out of DARK NIGHTS: METAL, they’re tailor made for recent readers of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s heroes-and-headbanging event who are looking for what’s next. (At least, until Snyder’s NO JUSTICE hits stands.) But don’t worry if you skipped Metal or are waiting for the trade. These are all origin stories that present great jumping on points for new readers. In the case of THE IMMORTAL MEN #1, the connections to Metal run a bit deeper than they do in some of the others, but by now, even the most casual superhero comic readers know who the evil Batmen are.
All of which is to say that this is a pretty great comic for all types of readers. Metal fans will be thrilled to see that it features the Batman Who Laughs, while readers unfamiliar with the Snyder/Capullo series will finally realize why we ABSOLUTELY NEED action figures of its scary, flesh-eating Robins that I adore beyond all reason.
In this eagerly anticipated debut chapter, the creative team of Jim Lee, Ryan Benjamin and James Tynion IV introduce a badass new team of characters in the eponymous Immortal Men, but surprisingly it was our point-of-view protagonist, Caden Park, who turned out to be my absolute favorite thing that came out of this issue.
Caden is just taking his first steps on a classic hero’s journey that I feel confident will culminate in him becoming a real, grown-up, costume-clad superhero. Caden is an Asian-American character, and in the masterful hands of Lee and Benjamin (who are sharing art duties in this issue), as well as inkers Scott Williams and Richard Friend and colorists Jeremiah Skipper and Alex Sinclair, that Asian heritage is clear from your very first glimpse. The character brings some diversity to the universe wrapped up in a mystery.
The beginning to Immortal Men hinges on whether or not you actually believe any of the claims of metahuman powers and enhanced abilities that Caden makes to his therapist. The comic does an exceptional job at cutting to different scenes rapidly and only revealing a certain amount of information so, as a reader, there is certainly room for doubts about these claims.
I found it a compelling idea that not everyone around Caden—from his friends, to his therapist, to his parents—instantly believes that he has superpowers. This subverts traditional comic book origin tropes, in which it seems like anyone the new superhero tells about their powers is an immediate supporter and believer. I really dig that in a world with Superman (not to mention a slough of other characters that have existed for years and years and years), metahuman powers are still often viewed through a lens of doubt. It helps that Caden’s powerset is largely based in the mental realm. His powers—at least so far—are not as visually identifiable as the powers possessed by more well-known heroes in the universe like, say, the Flash.
This pays off later on in the issue as Caden rockets closer and closer to his encounter with the original characters who make up this new team, including Ghost Fist, Reload, Timber, Immortal Man and hopefully others in upcoming issues. As the chapter continues, readers get a better sense of exactly what Caden can do. While some of the other characters that are introduced in this issue, presumably destined to become his teammates, have flashier, more exciting powers, Caden possesses a power and subtlety in his gift that seems likely to set him on a powerful pedestal. The implication that a child could pose a threat on this level immediately sets up the question of what Caden might become when he reaches adulthood. I think Lee, Benjamin and Tynion have laid some amazing groundwork here for a story that could span out across Caden’s lifetime and pay off in a very powerful way as he continues to mature.
When he does finally come across the titular Immortal Men, it’s not immediately clear if a potential team-up is going to be in Caden’s best interest. Obviously, the Metal characters I mentioned earlier are not the kind of people Caden’s going to want to throw his lot in with either, but while the Immortal Men are fascinating, they don’t strike me as wholly moral. Again, we can’t help but feel that Lee, Benjamin and Tynion are having fun subverting classic comic book expectations. When emerging heroes encounter a team of metahumans, they are usually welcomed into their folds like a new family member. This team is presented as a saving grace who will lift the confused protagonist out from whatever peril they find themselves in.
I love that Immortal Men isn’t giving me what I expected from it. I love that it is playing with what I think I’m going to get from a superhero comic book—from a DC comic book—and I love that Caden could possibly turn out to be so much more than he appears in these introductory pages. To be fair, I’m a fan of what we’ve been presented with of Caden so far, but it’s the mystery laid out in this first issue that’s really hooked me. As immortal characters, the assumption is that these heroes and villains have been around since the start of the DCU, keeping largely to the shadows and out of the public eye. Let’s hope they stick around for at least that long.