The world is moving backwards. Literally. That’s the fundamental premise at the heart of Gene Yang and Stephen Segovia’s Terrifics #21. The world is regressing back, trying to fit right back into the familiar mold of the old. Nostalgia has taken over. And thus we arrive here. The last issue saw the smart phones morph back into blackberries and then flip phones, followed by the heroes being transformed into 90’s Liefeldian figures, clad in massive shoulder pads and a whole array of pouches. And from all the excess and oddness of the 90’s, skateboarding and all, the issue culminated in the 80’s. So here we are, with a Terrific Mega-Zord/Voltron, a straight out 80’s mecha pulled out for our protagonists.
And the usage of familiar and popular iconography and imagery is purposeful. The entire plot in play is the antagonists using the power of nostalgia to trap and defeat the heroes. And so encased in familiar set ups, which feel increasingly appealing, the heroes must discard them and face reality. They must face the future. For what is Mister Terrific if not a futurist?
What’s really fascinating is Yang and Segovia, teamed with colorist Protobunker, inkers Matt Santorelli and Scott Hanna and letterer Tom Napolitano, take the idea and framework and use it both to dissect the respective characters but also culture at large. The premise of ‘the world is regressing backwards’ when placed in the context of Bizarro turning back time is wacky to be sure, but it’s also incredibly purposeful and real. It’s funny and fun and it makes you laugh but at the heart of it, there’s a critique of culture, where in everything is a reboot, remake, relaunch, where in everything is a sequel and spin-off, as ‘the familiar’ is considered good and comfortable and the new is avoided. It’s an idea built on the age old premise of ‘the good ol’ days’, ‘back in my day, things weren’t like this’, yada yada. You know it, you’ve heard it a billion times. The past was better, it was so much nicer. This literalizes that ‘yesterday was better’ notion to the absolute impossible extreme and sees what happens.
The structure is like this: Each issue is a specific decade, so the last was The 90’s and this is The 80’s. And each issue is built around a specific character and their relationship the past, the things they’re nostalgic to. And through that struggle, as they’re faced with their dark counterpart in the form of Bizarro’s gang of The Terribles (yes, this is a silly book), they must make a choice. Future or Failure. And much like the previous installment, which saw Phantom Girl make the choice, facing Figment Girl, this issue sees Plastic Man go through the same, up against his opposite, Disposable Man.
The power of familiar iconography and nostalgia is weaponized to the fullest extent here, as the creative team pulls in another 80’s staple, but from the comics this time- The Rocked Reds. And in doing so, Yang and Segovia expose the flaws in the design. The past is looked upon fondly. It’s comforting. It’s nice. But if you try to just recreate it, it doesn’t work. It’s only the way it was in your memory. In actuality, upon closer inspection, the past is full of stereotypes, problematic choices and things that cannot, do not and should not fly today. The past was only especially kinder to a certain majority of individuals with privilege and if you don’t belong to said majority, well, tough luck.
Yang is no stranger to digging into the past in such fashion, having explored problematic elements of it in various forms, from his own creator owned work to superheroic work like New Super-Man, which dug into the highly problematic and troublesome yellow peril figures from the beginning of Detective Comics, DC’s inception, to really tackle things head on. And so Terrifics continues to be an exploration of those ideas, looking at how we mythologize our past and tend to have an idealized view of it, but in truth, it’s neither as beautiful or as inclusive or nice as we might hope. And if we get caught in the chase for yesterday, we’ll miss the train for tomorrow. Tomorrow must live. It must arrive. Progress must happen. Progress needs to happen and no amount of recycling patterns, iconography and reveling in nostalgia should get in the way of that.
But of course, as we live in a world that is heavily reliant on nostalgia and superhero comics are effectively built on them, with changes constantly undone, with the ideas of decades past superseding all else, it isn’t how things tend to play out. But being based in and around the DC Universe, the book gets to contend with and meditate on those ideas for a while and have fun while doing it. Napolitano and Yang’s works never preach at you, they instead pull you into a fun ride full of a storm of ideas, an absolute riot full of fun.
The only real weak link, on the whole, is the segment with Boyzarro, Bizarro’s son, as that can be a bit of a headache to read and in general doesn’t pop the way the rest of the issue does.
The Terrifics #21 continues Gene Yang’s dynamic revamp of the book alongside Stephen Segovia and Protobunker, where in a hurricane of ideas continue to shake up the title, with each installment offering something fun and exciting. And coming up next? The 70’s. Get ready, because the 70’s costumes and van are here. This whole thing’s about to get weirder.