Thursday, February 21, 2013

Vibe #1: A Review

Well, well, well.

Vibe #1.  Who would've thought? 

On the whole, this set-up issue is clear and goes down the checklist of Things To Accomplish To Put This Character Back On Track. Geoff Johns has stacks of those checklists lying around the house, I bet.

This version of Vibe is given some comfortable distance from his still-toxic pre-Crisis version by giving him a different version of his name: Cisco Ramon.  The new name "Cisco" and the original one "Paco" are both nicknames for "Francisco".  If a new Dick Grayson were being 52ed today, I'm sure they'd call him "Rich" instead.

Vibe is given a relative-killing origin; that's nearly a sine qua non for a Johns revamp.  Not a criticism; just stating a fact.  He introduced parent-killing backstories for Hal and Barry when he brought them back as Green Lantern and the Flash.  Most analyst think that's 'modern-style bloodthirst' on Johns' part. I disagree; I think it's the opposite: it's Golden Age bloodthirst.  I have no doubt it was to make them feel a bit more like Golden Age characters Batman and Superman than fluffy Silver Age reduxes. 

The same applies to Johns' having given a parent-killing origin to Aquaman. Although Aquaman actually has a Golden Age pedigree, almost no one has read any of those stories (where he punched holes in Nazi submarines), and popular perceptions of him come almost entirely from the Silver Age stories (where he set up fish hospitals).

[By the way, Johns isn't the only one operating in this mode; Azzarello offed Wonder Woman's mother pretty quickly as part of her re-branding as a demigod.]

Johns ties Vibe in extremely directly with Darkseid's attack that sparked the formation of the Justice League.  This is so smart (classic, Johns-smart) that it almost hurts.  The connection with Darkseid, the comic source of his power, and the fact that his power is completely unique immediately mark him as a major player, one that cannot be dismissed as a lightweight.  Gee, a power that even the Martian Manhunter doesn't have; won't JJ be jealous! 

It also marks him, as it did Cyborg, as 'natural' Justice League timber; just like the League, Vibe and Cyborg were 'created' by Darkseid's invasion.  No wonder Darkseid's little outings never seem to get anywhere; he generates his own antidotes.

Cisco Ramon neither chooses the name "Vibe" nor his costume; both are imposed upon him by his handlers at DC's current leading Shadowy Agency That Deals With Superheroes, A.R.G.U.S.  So, if you don't like either of those, Johns renders Cisco himself blameless.

Gone is the original's backstory as a gangmember. This Vibe is squeaky clean, cooks for his father (note the single-parent family), is trying to save money to go to college, and is trying to keep his own little brother on track. 

Gone is the original's foolhardy bravado.  This Vibe -- even though his, well, earth-shattering power is pretty clear and gets clearer through the issue -- is surprised that anyone would seem him as a potential superhero.  The original Vibe thrust himself upon the Justice League Detroit and this one has to be recruited and coerced into joining the JLA.

Gone is the original's joie de vivre and breakdancing ebulliance.  This is Vibe is sober and down-to-earth, thanks to a very different origin.  Cisco Ramon is perhaps the least flashy Puerto Rican in the continental U.S. 

Brushing aside the specifics of why, Paco Ramon had two main problems as a character: people didn't take him seriously and people didn't like him.

So it's clear what John's is doing: it's imperative that he make Cisco Ramon someone who (a) must be taken seriously and (b) is likeable. And everything in issue #1 is planned to do exactly that.

Has something been lost in the process? Certainly.  Whatever else one might say of Paco Ramon, he was... colorful.  Vibrant.  Cisco Ramon is as bland as possible.

But that's not because Johns' can't do colorful.  It's because he's trying to remake Vibe as an essentially DC-type character, rather than a Marvel-type character. 

Let's see: a sassy, street-wise, chip-on-the-shoulder, former criminal turned good-guy-with-an-edge, who's an ethnic stereotype with accented English, with a single in-born superpower from which his codename (a single noun) comes, heavily glossed with some pop culture phenomenon.   That's got Marvel written all over it.  Start writing a list of Marvel mutant characters who fit somewhere in that description and let me know when you get tired.

As much as people (including me) wouldn't want to see it or admit it, the original Vibe failed for one main reason: he was a Marvel character in the DC universe.  And, over time, the DCU, like an organism fighting off viruses, rejects such characters or remakes them in its own style.  Johns is trying to make darned sure that this version of Vibe is organic to the DCU, a natural and necessary part of it, rather than part of some outside invasion of from Earth-616. 

As much as I miss "Paco" Ramon, if doing that helps this version of Vibe survive and possibly flourish, then Cisco Ramon has my blessing.

Although I still like to see him dance at some point.  Boy's got to be able to dance.


SallyP said...

The original Vibe was a Marvel character in a DC universe? My God!

He was a male Dazzler! I never NOTICED that before.

I do have to say that I did buy and read the new Vibe book, and it wasn't bad. At least I am interested in where it is going.

And it had Dale Gunn in it!

Scipio said...

It did indeed. Although Dale Gunn is the palest shadow of original. DESPITE being a secret agent, LOL. I mean-- not a SINGLE person tried to have sex with him in the entire issue!

thegameiam said...

Admittedly, I'm a nerd, but my first thought on seeing his new name was "he's a router guy?". I had no idea that was a common nickname: I need to get out more...

Marcos said...

SallyP - our host disagrees.

Nathan Hall said...

He didn't get much more love in JLA #1. That had him doing more free-lance vigilante work, although he showed heart by paying for a stolen candy bar.

I'll give it a chance, but unless he puts some pep in his step I'm stepping off.

Anonymous said...

"Azzarello offed Wonder Woman's mother pretty quickly as part of her re-branding as a demigod."

Azzarello does offer some hope that the Amazons' current condition can be reversed; we will see.

I think the "parental tragedy" angle is mostly a way to assure readers that the hero can endure hardships with grace and maturity. A kid who has to grow up fast becomes an adult who could step up to superheroing.

ronald said...

As usual, the gratuitous slam against Marvel ruined for me what had until then been a reasonably interesting read. Oh well. It's not as if I'm paying for this. ;-)

Scipio said...


It's the heart of why Vibe didn't work the first time and of what Johns is trying to correct.

That doesn't seem gratuitous to me.

ronald said...

Your assertion that the traits that "didn't work" are "Marvel traits" struck me as gratuitous. Outlining the corrections didn't require you to claim that Johns is changing Vibe from a "Marvel character" to a "DC character," but you did so anyway (as you obviously have every right to do, this being your site and all). Hence "gratuitous." I doubt that's how Johns perceives what he's doing.

Hey, you asked.

Heck, I didn't necessarily think that Vibe "didn't work" the first time. A good enough writer could make Vibe "work" without changing anything about him whatsoever. Johns (a good writer) simply hasn't chosen to take that route, and that's his prerogative. Shrug.

Scipio said...

Do you not think that that description of the original Vibe is accurate?

Do you not think that that description is appropriate to many more Marvel characters than DC characters?

I do.

Furthermore... I reject the often-used objection that "a good writer can make any character work". Yes, they often do; usually by changing the character.

Martin Gray said...

That’s a really interesting point, about Vibe being a Marvel character in a DC world – hey, if he’d had his new powers back then he could’ve crossed over into a certain swamp.

And I saw no slams against Marvel, just sharp observations.

Bryan L said...

I am impressed with Vibe's revised powers/origin, too. I think his status as "interdimensional border patrol" opens up a LOT of possibilities. I hope he's not always dealing with Darkseid's incursions -- it would be interesting to see him jaunt through the multiverse from time to time. I'm also intrigued by Waller's references to him being on the team to deal with the Flash should he ever go bad. And finally, I'm rather hoping that some of the other characters seen in ARGUS will also get revised/redeemed.

Jacob T. Levy said...

I thought it was conventional wisdom that the JL Detroit was a misguided attempt to X-Men-ify the Justice League, since the X-Men were the sales juggernaut (so to speak) of the mid-80s.

Notwithstanding Scipio's old post, Vixen = Wolverine + Storm, Vibe= Dazzler + Claremontian ethnic stereotyping and dialect, Gypsy= Shadowcat minus the spunk, and Steel = Colossus + any random cursed-mutant's (e.g. Cyclops') angst. And they were led by a bald telepath.

Scipio said...

Quite right, Jacob; exactly so.

Bryan L said...

Took me a second to figure out what bald telepath led the JLDetroit, Jacob. I still remember them being led by Aquaman, and his brief and now ignored ability to telepathically influence humans. So I thought, "Wait, Aquaman has hair." Then I went to "Dale Gunn didn't have telepathy." Finally I got to J'onn.

Steve Mitchell said...

So if 80s Marvel is the thesis, and 80s DC is the antithesis, does that make the New 52 the synthesis?

Siskoid said...

DC was definitely trying to tap the Marvel vein in the early-to-mid 80s, not only with JLDetroit, but New Teen Titans, Firestorm, etc. as well.

The new Vibe is less Marvel, but that's because he's not really anything quite yet. You used the word "bland" and I can't disagree with it. Johns took him too far off-type where he might as well have been a totally different character called Vibe. I mean, would be it really have killed him to make Cisco a bit of a hip-hop dancer/breaker? Personally, I would have shown his So You Think You Can Dance audition ("doing it for my moms") which ends catastrophically because he can't be filmed.

Instead, just more government conspiracy. Time for the U.S. gov to clean up its act, I think, because art reflects the times and I'm getting bored with the times! ;)

Scipio said...

""Dale Gunn didn't have telepathy.""

Actually, he had gynotelepathy, which is how he held all the ladies in his sway.