The Pretty Good Escape: Talon #0 Reviewon September 27, 2012 at 12:01 am
There are good and bad things to say about Talon #0, written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV and drawn by Guillem March, but in the final analysis, there’s only one thing about the issue that really, truly matters. And that is that there’s a panel of a child being chained up and straitjacketed by a clown that, no matter March’s intentions in drawing it, will make you wake up screaming like a woman.
But for now, let’s put that horrific image aside and focus on the comic itself, which gives itself an uphill battle to fight right out of the gate. Talon #0 not only has to introduce a character we’ve never seen before, but it has to do it within the DC issue 0 conceit of telling us backstory about the character… about whom we know nothing about to start with. So on one level, the book has kind of a strange feel to it, like meeting a stranger at a party and having him tell you about some childhood trauma. Perhaps the time he was savaged by a clown.
However, the book generally overcomes the obstacles that it sets itself, introducing a pretty entertaining character who gets a couple of good, funny lines, with a dark past I wouldn’t mind learning a bit more about, some hints about his upcoming supporting cast… even while it ties itself inexorably to an escape artist’s conceit that might be difficult to maintain over the long term, and tries like hell to get us to feel positively about a character not only trained as a killer, but who has at least one dead fella under his belt.
Plus, there’s a creepy menacing clown chaining up a child.
Talon #0 introduces Calvin Rose (a name that is doomed, every time I read it, to remind me of Matt Wagner’s Grendel): a Talon of the Court of Owls who has left their service and is now working maintenance on the Trigate Bridge in Gotham when he is captured by another Talon, stripped naked and chucked in the trunk of a car. Must be Tuesday. Anyway, as he struggles to escape the death trap, we flash back to Rose’s past, from being locked in a kennel to starve as a child, to training with Haly’s Circus as an escape artist, to training as a Talon, to his final mission for the Court of Owls and his decision to go on the run. So it’s a relatable story for almost anyone who was raised by the family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
On the positive side, Rose is a reasonably compelling character, albeit one with a few conflicting traits, sometimes displayed just within a few panels. We have a guy who is clearly conflicted about committing his first murder as a Talon… and yet just a few panels earlier, he was taunting the poor son of a bitch. We see Rose affected by that first killing, but when afforded a chance to escape when no one thought he was able, he goes to the Owls secret meeting place to impress them. Now, it’s easy to point out these differing motivations and see them as fatal flaws – and with some of the timing, it’s possible that flaws are what they are. However, Snyder and Tynion go out of their way to show us a character who has been abused almost from the day he’s born. Our first look at Rose is in childhood, escaping that kennel, with no explanation as to why he’s there other than the fact that his father locked him there. From there, he’s raised successively by carnies (and just typing that, all I can think of is that line from Four Weddings And A Funeral: “They buggered me senseless. Taught me a thing or two about life.”) and then by The Court of Owls. I am willing to accept a character raised that way simultaneously wanting to please his parental figures, while being conflicted over what acts that entails. However, the fact that I need to make the conscious decision to look at the differing actions that way means that it’s not quite all there on the page.
Interestingly, some of the best parts of the book are also not on the page. Snyder and Tynion do a good job teasing future developments and revelations by giving just tidbits of information about certain areas of Rose’s background. We know his father locked him in that kennel to die, but why? Who was the escape artist at the circus who trained Rose in escape? We hear that Rose and his last target have conversations after he punts the job, are they working together now? Did that clown who chained Rose up ejaculate inappropriately? The writers give just enough information to make me want to know more, and they further understate one detail that really hammers home just how potentially formidable Rose actually is: he escaped the Owls’ labyrinth in one night, when six months ago, we saw Batman flail around the place for pretty much all of issue #7. These are all little, subtle details and hints, but they serve to make the issue at the very least an effective entry point to make people interested in learning more about the character.
However, I am concerned about the whole escape artist gimmick around the character. In a self-contained origin story, it’s a good hook to the character to help you understand him on a basic level pretty quickly, but how long can you keep that up? Sure, it’s cool to see Rose escape from the trunk of that car, but how many times can you stick the dude in a deathtrap and watch him use those skills? Based on the Batman TV show, I’m guessing three seasons… but I think Tynion (who will take over all the writing on the regular series) needs to take care not to become too bogged down in the escapist aspect of the character. Rose has been set up as being potentially more formidable than Batman; I don’t want to see an Escape Of The Month from this book. Besides, if we do, we will inevitably see Mr. Miracle somewhere in the DC Universe, muttering, “What am I, some kind of a low-rent douchebag or something?”
Guillem March’s art, after spending the last year seeing it in Catwoman, presented in the interest of showing me as many tits and as much ass as humanly possible, is actually kind of a revelation. Unlike the brokebacked, finely-detailed T-N-A cheesecake of Catwoman, March’s work here is much rougher-looking. Everything is generally in a more medium line than I remember from his earlier work, with shadow work done in big, thick lines and what sometimes appears to be brushwork. His figures here are idealized, but not twisted into knots – even when Rose is chained up in the trunk of a car, March keeps him from looking like he’s trying to suck his own dick. All in all, this is good-looking, edgy stuff. I liked the art here quite a bit.
This book, in a lot of ways, made things harder for itself than your average origin story normally has to. It told a story about a guy we didn’t know in pretty much exclusive flashback, and yet it still was generally pretty interesting and compelling. Talon #0 sets up a formidable protagonist with a dark past, surrounded with enough mystery to make it worth coming back for more… provided that what we come back for isn’t the deathtrap of the month. In and of itself, it’s a pretty solid origin issue if you can deal with the “hero” swinging from a victim fighting for his life to a taunting trained killer. It’s not perfect, but it’s interesting, and worth giving a day in court.
Just make sure you’re not afraid of clowns.