The Victories, Vol. 2: Transhuman by Michael Avon Oeming is a superhero thriller graphic novel (available December 24, 2013).
Michael Avon Oeming builds on the success of his first solo volume of superhero comics, Touched, with the even better Transhuman. In Volume 2 of the on-going series, Faustus has mostly come to terms with the events of Touched. The Jackal however is still on his mission of terror, targeting the dystopian future’s infrastructure and plunging everyday civilians into chaos and penury, even as the ultra rich and well-connected hide in their enclaves. Everyone, super-powered or otherwise, seeks solace where they can, with some finding comfort in the messages extolled by street preachers.
One unlikely prophet is the former-hero turned recovering drug addict known as The Strike. The worldwide energy shortage has given him the courage to leave the hospital he’s been committed to and start spreading his truth instead:
“The dark opened my soul to a quietness within my heart and mind… a peaceful understanding. I lay there near death listening to the doctors as they talked about my body and mind like it was a machine programmed by nature, broken by drugs. If such and such chemical was no longer working in my brain, then I was brain dead. That is how science sees our minds—some kind of chemical equation. I realized I am the experience of consciousness, not the biology that makes my brain work. My mind is not a machine—it wasn’t broken or dead, but the doctors spoke about me as if I were. I am my consciousness—not a brain, not a machine… and now I am free of my body/mind prison.”
Others have escaped more literal prisons, including a villain named Tarcus whose powers seem to have grown exponentially with his madness. When The Victories confront him, their leader, Metatron, uncovers the strange link between Tarcus and himself, a bond that could jeopardize the group just as surely as the outside forces conspiring to take down not only them but every other super-powered hero on the planet, as well… if the mundane forces of capitalism aren’t the ones to disband the team first. As he speeds to meet the team’s new owners for the first time, Metatron reflects on the necessary compromises he’s made in order to finance his vision of a superhero group:
“Every civilian team of champions has to have income. Most take on endorsement and private security contracts. Maybe it’s my age, but I long ago accepted backing of The Victories through good old capitalism. We were owned by a bank. I looked out for their interests, and they looked out for ours. But banks have a habit of changing hands. Now they’ve sold us, and I don’t know to whom. The consortium backed my vision of The Victories for nearly two generations. But now that generation gap has led the new backers to degrade my vision into pure numbers. It was only a matter of time before The Victories would be seen as a financial liability. I’m expecting cutbacks at the very least… possible relocation. At worst, they could shut us down.”
The genius of Michael Avon Oeming’s second story arc for his superheroes lies in his ability to layer and navigate so many different concerns in much the same way the reader has to in his or her everyday life. Oeming presents a society governed by surveillance that worries as much about its bank accounts as it does its spiritual salvation, in a world still conflicted over the issues of drugs and celebrity. On a more individual level, he gives us the attention- and thrill-seeking superheroine DD Mau, whose struggles with her body image and her distant, difficult mother ground this book further in the everyday.
I enjoyed this book even more than the first volume because it feels like Oeming has settled into a storytelling sweet spot, not just with his words but also with his art. I feel that he’s refined his craft since Touched, though perhaps “refined” isn’t the best word to use given the amount of gore splattered across the pages. It’s difficult to describe the clarity and excellent pacing otherwise. Another treat is the bonus material included at the end, with illuminating notes from the creator himself.
In fact, my only complaint about this book is that it ends on a cliffhanger that had me gasping with impatience to read more. I might have to break my years-long moratorium on reading single issue comics in order to take up the story again as soon as I can, which is about the highest praise I can presently give any comic book series.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
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