This article was originally published at DC Infinite on March 26, 2014.
Problems can stem from a variety of origins when creators work with pre-existing intellectual properties. Sometimes a concept lacks any interesting conceit or thesis for a creator to work with. Sometimes creators miss everything about an idea that makes it interesting. Oftentimes the diagnosis lies somewhere between those two extremes. In the case of Amanda Waller #1, it’s hard to tell what the root cause of its troubles are, but it seems the latter possibility is more likely.
The comic provides almost nothing of interest. The events of the issue are so standard that the ending is telegraphed from the first ten pages. Questions of who lives, who dies, and how that will come to be are easily guessed. This leaves the remaining thirty pages to deliver inevitable outcomes in the most obvious manner possible. That’s not to say that cliché stories cannot be made interesting or more readable due to interesting twists or simply through excellent craftsmanship. However, neither of those exceptions appears in these pages.
Although there are five characters to start with, two are named only in captions marking them clearly as red shirts. They have zero defining characteristics (unless being in uniform counts as characterization), which leaves them with one less than the other three characters. Dr. Issen and Sheryl Elton both make it repeatedly clear that they are scared and unprepared. The only differences between the two are a beard, and that Dr. Issen’s cowardice is portrayed more negatively. This leaves Amanda Waller, the stereotype in disguise.
“I’m holding on by my fingernails… a voice of reason in a world gone mad.”
“In my quietest moments their deaths haunt me.”
“Where does it end?”
These are all things that Amanda Waller says in Amanda Waller #1. They are also things you have most likely heard in a film featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 or in an ironic detective novel. There is no hint of irony in Amanda Waller #1, though. Waller is continually defined by an inner monologue that runs parallel to the action. It asserts that she is a tough leader who will make the hard decisions, no matter how much they haunt her. She is exactly ten thousand characters that have come before her and ten thousand that will come after her. She is a cliché with nothing to differentiate her from every character like her.
This is where the question of fault begins to arise. Amanda Waller has been characterized in this manner since she was rebooted at the beginning of the New 52. Jim Zub writes her the same way she has been written in comics like Suicide Squad and Justice League of America. His treatment of her, if nothing else, is consistent. However, her treatment up until this point has been firmly two-dimensional and uninteresting. So in this instance, is Zub at fault for not writing a better character or is he simply a victim of the poor creative choices of others?
That question extends far beyond the scope of this review, but whatever the answer may be the result is the same. The protagonist of Amanda Waller #1 is unsympathetic and uninteresting. Without even a single character to engage with, it’s inevitable that the comic will be dull. The few ideas that might challenge readers to think or characterize Amanda Waller as something more than a stereotype are quickly brushed aside in favor of melodramatic statements and rote action. Dr. Issen’s protection poses a clear moral dilemma to Waller. He is a man accused of conducting horrific medical experiments on kidnapped human beings, who is now being brought to work for the United States of government. There are more layers to the moral questions in that scenario than in an onion. None of them are addressed in a more than superficial manner.
Andre Coelho‘s pencils are emblematic of DC’s house style. Given a typical panel from Amanda Waller and the three Justice League titles, many readers would be unable to discern a significant difference. The backgrounds and scenery are generic in nature. The interior of a plane could just as easily have been called a warehouse or military installation. Dull, grey, and without defining features, there is nothing to hold the reader’s eye. This again begs the question of whether Coelho is at fault, or if he’s just being tasked with imitating a designated style. Either way, inconsistencies and poor geography are clearly the artist’s responsibility. Snow covered in debris is replaced with a blank white canvas when an explosion detonates. Waller is positioned downhill from the antagonist in one panel, and then appears in a position to tackle him without any indication of how she arrived there. Problems like these are constant throughout Amanda Waller #1.
Amanda Waller #1 is not an offensive comic. It will not upset readers. It won’t make them feel much of anything at all. Instead, it is something entirely forgettable. If comics were created on an assembly line while being micro managed to ensure minimums of action and internal strife were met, this would be the result. It was made to hit on the most standard tropes seen throughout the most standard of superhero comics, as if its audience would be too undiscerning to care. When you think about it like that, Amanda Waller #1 is actually pretty offensive.