Well, that wasn’t as bad as the leaked design art made it look. Then again, it couldn’t possibly have been.
There was a lot of Internet nerd rage over Kenneth Rocafort’s new design of Lobo, and a lot of that rage included the terms, “Twilight,” “metrosexual,” and “Bieber only more effeminate and probably white due to liberal application of semen.” And I’m guessing that that was based on the fact that the dude is named “Lobo.” The world is full of wuss-looking swordsmen who fluidly chop apart all comers before moving on to woo the maidens fair. After all, Orlando Bloom doesn’t get more ‘tang than an astronaut because he is a credible-looking medieval warrior. If it takes you more than five seconds to realize that Genghis Khan could kill Orlando Bloom just by thinking about it really hard (if Khan wasn’t busy thinking about whether to make Bloom his woman), then you don’t need fantasy literature because you clearly are living in one.
The problem has been that name. If you’re gonna call that mincing pretty boy Lobo, you’re gonna piss off anyone who is a fan of The Main Man, even though writer Marguerite Bennett has tried to make it clear that this character is a completely different guy than the Lobo that we all know and love, and that that design was not a redesign of the traditional Lobo. But that is an easy thing to forget or to put aside when all you have is a drawing, labelled “Lobo”, of a dude who looks like he’s a sword away from being a regular at Tower of Power night at the Manhole Club.
Well, the story is now here, in Justice League #23.2, and having the whole package in front of you makes it clear that this dude is not Lobo. He’s got the same name, and he is gunning for Lobo, but it’s a different guy. And that went a long way toward taking some of the sting out of my initial reaction to that concept art.
What took a lot of the rest of that reaction out was the fact that Rocafort didn’t draw this issue. Which means that the “new” Lobo looks a lot less like a clown and leather fetishist’s fantasy about who’s on the other side of the glory hole.
And all things being equal, it’s actually not all that bad.
We meet the other Lobo, who also goes by “The Main Man,” via a hired assassination, where he uses that well-known Czarnian stealth and craftiness to cut the guy into three pieces on a stage in front of a crowd. We learn that Other Lobo has been working steadily as a gun for hire – working somewhat humorlessly, but working – for a crime boss’s middleman for quite some time, and well enough that the crime boss is willing to tell Other Lobo where to find someone Other Lobo’s been hunting for for quite a while… in exchange for the fabled and storied One Last Job. That job is a cargo run across Grave Space (think Reaver Space, for you Firefly fans), where, predictably, he is intercepted and shot down by pirates. Once on dry land, Other Lobo gets a chance to show of his swordsmanship against the pirates trying to seize his cargo – a pretty rotten and terrible cargo, we soon learn. Other Lobo, however, doesn’t give a hoot in hell what he’s carrying, so long as he gets what he wants, and what he wants is the location of Lobo. Not himself, our Lobo.
So the most important thing here is that this guy is named Lobo, but he is a completely different character than the Lobo with whom we are familiar. He is just as deadly and flamboyant (you don’t kill a singer in the middle of a concert unless you’re not afraid of publicity or it’s Justin Bieber), but there is a marked lack of a sense of humor here, both in the character and in the writing. Other than Other Lobo’s use of his victim’s head as a hood ornament on his ship, which is only “funny ha-ha” if you have a collection of Fangoria Magazine with the pages stuck together, there aren’t a lot of larfs to be had in this issue.
Arguably, that is a good thing, in that it helps Bennett paint Other Lobo as a credible and legitimate threat. Bennett has a pretty monumental task here – some of it of her own making, some not – she has 21 pages to not only create a character with the same name as a much beloved existing one, but to make him a credible threat to that existing character, who has been presented as so badass that he killed Santa Claus and battled God himself. And she has to do it in the middle of a fanboy shitstorm, where half the comic reading world has already decided they hate the concept. And generally she succeeds; between the public murder, the swordplay with the pirates, and the coldblooded way Other Lobo deals with the harsh realities of his cargo, Bennett gives us a fairly credible dangerous guy here.
Bennett also puts us into Other Lobo’s head using narrative captions, which gives ample opportunity to hear his voice. And Bennett sprinkles Other Lobo’s speech and thoughts with some familiar stuff: colloquial phonetic spellings like “fer” and “’cause”, weird, almost pet names for his weapons, and odd curses like, “backbirth” and “gut-rotten.” It’s close enough to how Lobo speaks to give readers the sense that Other Lobo is from the same place as Lobo, and yet Bennett is wise enough to keep phrases and words like “bastich” and “Feetal’s Gizz!” out of Other Lobo’s mouth to keep him distinct from Lobo, and to keep a million Lobo fans from making Marguerite Bennett voodoo dolls.
The art by Ben Oliver and Cliff Richards is vital here… unfortunately, it’s vital because it needs to accomplish only one thing: not be Kenneth Rocafort. I opened this issue expecting Rocafort’s pouting pretty boy, but was pleasantly surprised to see a more abstract, sketched style, with a medium lines, a ton of sketchy lines keeping things a bit rough. I really believe that half the trouble that the Other Lobo concept art release is that Rocafort draws one hell of a cheesecake picture… and the last thing you want is cheesecake when it comes to Lobo. But Oliver and Richards deliver a more traditional style of art, which takes a lot of that initial sting from the initial design art. It’s decent-looking stuff, and does as much, if not more, to redeem the initial reaction to Other Lobo than anything else in the story.
As to the story, well, there’s not a lot here, but there wasn’t supposed to be. All these Villain’s Month issues are, after all, pretty much just one-and-done character studies. And the creative team does a decent job here of setting up Other Lobo as an eventual credible threat for Lobo, and of making it abundantly clear that, despite the initial gut reactions, this is just a different guy named Lobo. Did Bennett really need to court trouble by having another Czarnian named Lobo? Probably not. But as an introduction, this is better than all the original indications led me to believe it to be. It’s probably not essential reading, but it does what it needs to do, and it does it better than you would originally think.