With The Mantle Volume 1 (collecting comics 1-5), Ed Brisson attempts to subvert superhero conventions and breathe new life into the genre. But the lack of surprises in the ‘twists’, an excess of gore over story, and a one-dimensional plot make the title conversely trite. There’s not a lot of backstory, certainly no character development, and our anti-hero(es) just isn’t interesting enough to be likable.
Story: In the 1950s, a superhero defeats a strange and powerful villain called The Plague but in a fit of morality, refuses to kill him. In response, the plague promptly kills the superhero and then curses the superhero’s power – vowing to follow it through time and murder any person who inherits The Mantle. Cue the modern day where two drug users are tripping under a bridge when one inherits The Mantle. Enter a group of meta-humans who try to help each subsequent Mantle inheritor and ultimate end up failing. Will they do so again with this newest recruit?
Since we have already had the ‘highly flawed anti-hero superhero’ wave as far back as the 1980s (The Watchmen, anyone?), this perspective really needs an interesting angle. Certainly, superhero drug dependency in the form of alcohol has already been covered (often) in the past so having The Mantle descend on mushroom-tripping NEETS isn’t likely to shock. More problematic is that they aren’t particularly interesting and drearily kind of pathetic. One could say that is the point of The Mantle but we should either love or hate them for their ‘mundacity’. Instead, I found I just didn’t care if the Plague got his latest victim or not.
The plot, also, kind of toddled along in its nearsighted impetus. The tension was intended to be caused by whether or not the Plague would find The Mantle – but that can’t be sustained through 4 titles of the main characters’ denial of newfound powers/their situation and then Plague;s gory murders while tracking them down. If readers love seeing heads split open messily and frequently, this is definitely the title for them, though.
The denouement of the story arc is not unexpected – and really it felt that the author wrote himself into a hole from which we couldn’t reasonably hope for any other outcome. As such, when the ending happens, it was almost disappointing to realize there would be no great surprises here.
The art is serviceable and conveys the story fine. There were no surprises there either but certainly I enjoyed the author playing with the various superhero costumes through the different incarnations of The Mantle.
At 140 pages or so, The Mantle is a quick read. It completes the story arc and leaves the door open for more in the future. But honestly, with the initial conceit gone, I’m just not sure if there is anywhere interesting to take the characters.