One-Star Squadron, from Mark Russell, Steve Lieber, and Dave Stewart, introduces readers to Heroz4U, a service that pairs ordinary citizens with bonafide superheroes who are just looking for a paying gig. Although that is an amusing concept — “How do superheroes make it in the gig economy?” — and there are genuinely funny moments throughout this first issue, this series is also tackling some serious topics, touching on the ways in which society treats veterans and other folks with nowhere to go.
In the case of One-Star Squadron, it’s clear that the hero business chews people up and spits them out. Without a regular gig and insurance, the ordinary citizens of the world will pawn these former adventurers off on the next available person. The version of Gangbuster seen here is very much suffering from PTSD and some vague head injury, and now he’s been literally dumped on Red Tornado’s doorstep. Although the issue begins to set up some possibilities for this character’s future, it’s clear that this won’t be an easy path.
But it’s not all existential horror in the modern day; the book occasionally flashes back to a simpler time, a brighter era when all of the heroes worked together and felt a sense of accomplishment. It’s during one of these flashbacks where we see a very interesting take on Red Tornado’s search for humanity, where he’s come to a striking question: If all he’s doing is saving awful people from themselves, is the hero gig even worth it?
Whether he realizes it or not, he’s traded in that gig for a similar one, attempting to shepherd these wayward heroes from one job to another. It’s enough to make an android cry — if anyone will allow him the time to really think about it.
These scenes are particularly sold by Lieber’s excellent command of body language and facial expressions. These all feel like people who are unsure of themselves, even when they’re doing their best to rise to their calling of hero-dom. Lieber is the right artist for the job of bringing to life the more outlandish concepts in Russell’s script, and a montage of Heroz4U’s offerings leads to some truly bananas imagery, like Black Condor recording a Cameo message and G.I. Robot telling horrific war stories at a children’s birthday party. Every page brings a delightful visual surprise, and it has me curious to see more of the day in the life of a Heroz4U employee.
Russell and Lieber also sprinkle several interesting breadcrumbs throughout this first issue, with a particular book recommendation standing out as a point of interest. One can only assume that the author of this book will be making an appearance in the course of the story, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be held responsible for the rut in which these characters have found themselves. These questions and the overall bizarre energy of this first issue have me chomping at the bit to explore more of this take on the more downtrodden heroes of the DC Universe.
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