Over a year ago, DC launched their Talent Development Project, an initiative designed to “find, instruct and nurture new and current DC talent,” according to Bobbie Chase, VP of Talent Development. The result of this initiative is on display in DC’s New Talent Showcase #1, and though the polish in an anthology book like this varies, what can’t be denied is that each creator showcased displays ample talent and promise. If you’re looking for a cohesive narrative, or even hugely engrossing storytelling, this issue may not be the right place to come, and that’s by design. But if you’re looking to get an idea of what the next generation of creators might be bringing to the DCU, this is a fascinating book.
The book is broken up into a series of short stories, with the focus on output from the DC Writers Workshop Pilot Program of 2016, though the end results are more like intellectual exercises designed to herald tone, style and structure over a compelling and complete five to ten page story. Some do manage to serve both purposes, but others are forced out of brevity to settle for capturing a character’s voice and telling a kind of mood piece or character study. Most of the pieces seem to be preludes or prologue to upcoming storylines in different characters’ books, which I’m not sure was the best move. It tends to clog your appreciation of the story if you feel that you’re not getting an actual story but rather a kind of preview. The good news is that while some of the stories feel slight or disposable, none feel devoid of talent, skill or promise.
The first story is a Hellblazer story written by Adam Smith with art by Siya Oum. I’ll probably never be a fan of the all-ages New 52 version of John Constantine DC seems intent on trying to integrate into their wider line. It just seems a waste of an interesting character when you can’t access half of the qualities that made him compelling for decades. However, if you’re going to continue to approach the character this way, then Smith writes him as well as anyone else has, managing to capture his voice pretty effortlessly and economically display a quality that has defined the character since his inception; his innate ability to be a bastard even when he tries to do the right thing. The art has a nice water-colour feel to it without seeming soft or without the edge the character need, though I’m not sure it’s a perfect match to the tone of the character. On other titles, though, Oum’s work would be stellar.
From there we get a pretty good Wonder Woman story, written by Vita Ayala with Khary Randolph on art. I think that Ayala’s version of Wonder Woman is bit off, coming across as bloodthirsty, but it’s possible that that is the point of the story, setting up a change in the character dealing with a growing intensity. Taking the story as is, I thought it handled action really well, and told a brisk, exciting tale in its short page count. The art was especially good, and I’d love to see Randolph tackle Diana again.
Next up is a Kyle Rayner story that to me was one of the weaker in the issue, but only because the story relied so much on knowing the characters and their relationships. The story starts off strong, with a great spooky prologue before focusing on Kyle and Carol Ferris’ relationship. As someone who doesn’t read their book, I found it hard to be invested in any of it, and wonder if a more stand-alone story would have been more satisfying. But nothing bad on the part of the talent involved here, aside from writer Michael Moreci‘s over-reliance on narration. To me, less is more in this area, as there’s fine line between adding atmosphere and context and simply cluttering up panels with stuff you think sounds good. Barnaby Bagenda‘s art is a solid match for a Green Lantern story, though, mixing a sci-fi aesthetic with super-heroics with ease.
Erica Schultz is the writer of the next story, a Hawkgirl tale that sets up what a solo series would look like, and it’s a pretty cool idea well-executed. The idea of Hawkgirl on Earth, working as a Chicago PD Detective is a nice one that has legs. Schultz effectively sets up an interesting supporting character and his relationship with Shayera in the barest minimum of pages, creates a threat that looks both formidable and dire, and gives you a perfect idea of what the tone and style of this series would be, which includes a healthy dash of quirkiness that doesn’t fall all over itself to be noticed. A lot of that is the unconventional and idiosyncratic art of Sonny Liew, which has a unique quality even as it hits all the right serious notes. Really liked this one.
The Deadman story that follows is maybe my favorite one in New Talent Showcase #1. Written by Christopher Sebela with David Messina on art, the story is both a compelling tale that makes maximum use of of its page count while capturing Boston Brand’s personality and even doing a couple things with the Deadman character I’ve rarely seen. Taking a cinematic approach to Deadman’s powers, Sebela scripts a great action scene that sees Boston subdue a gang of hitmen and protect innocent bystanders by jumping from body to body in quick succession. Messina handles the complex sequence really well, and I could really feel the impact of the cutting from panel to panel to tele the story of the sequence. It really was almost like a movie. Though this was centrepiece of the story, the rest of the tale doesn’t forget the character stuff with Boston, adequately establishes his world and its players and rules for new readers while closing with a set up for an overarching mystery. Solid stuff.
From there, the remaining stories worked less well for me. A Wonder Girl story didn’t really do much for me, mostly because I find her current backstory kind of baffling, and I think Hena Khan‘s script tries to pack in too much in the tiny about of pages available. As a result, it all becomes just too much info. Emanuela Lupacchino‘s art is pretty solid, though there’s a few moments of awkward figure work that stand out. Then comes a Catwoman/Wonder Woman team-up story written by Emma Beeby with art by Minkyu Jung that comes off as a little bit slight, but excels when it plays with the juxtapositioning of the noble Diana and the decidedly avaricious Selina. Finally we get a Superman story written by Michael McMillan with art by Juan Ferreyra. It’s by no means a bad story at all, but its content is all about setting up a story that we’ll have to wait to see the payoff for, from a prologue that doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the story to a main plot that is mostly about setting up something to come. However, while other story’s in the issue made this work, this felt just a bit too much about things to come rather than taking a moment to give the reader a latch. McMillan does a great job on his character’s voices, though. Ferreyra come off less well, with two separate depictions of the Joker in the story that don’t match up to each other, as well as a moment or two of stiffness.
But for all the minor flaws, New Talent Showcase #1 succeeds admirably in providing exposure for a new crop of talent. Tiny flaws that all new writers struggle with aside, each of these creators acquit themselves very well, and I’d be interested in seeing what each of them come up with, and a few I’m genuinely excited about hearing more from. On the art side, it’s really great to see such a varied set of styles and approaches on display as well. Not every book has to follow a certain look, and indeed if this kind of variety represents the new art direction for DC, then at the last we’ll be getting some books with individuality.
As an exercise, New Talent Showcase #1 fulfills its mandate very well, and if not every story in the book knocks it out of the park, as a showcase for new talent, the book more than justifies itself. 8/10.