Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #157 by Drew Barth
I remember cubicles and commission checks and a constant striving to snag the biggest commission out of everyone, a grinding frustration even as I made enough to populate my desk with Pop figures. Intersecting this feeling with superheroes is where we have one of the most disconcerting superhero stories out in recent years: One-Star Squadron from Mark Russell, Steve Lieber, Dave Stewart, and Dave Sharpe.
The DC Universe is resplendent with hundreds of heroes without even cracking into the Legion of Superheroes. Not everyone can be in the Justice League. Or Justice League International. Or Teen Titans. Sometimes their skill sets are somewhat limited. This is where HEROZ4U comes in: a superhero temp agency that specializes in call center work, security, parties, and whatever else people might need. You still have recognizable heroes like Red Tornado and Power Girl running these offices, but then they’re managing more obscure characters like Minuteman, Heckler, and GI Robot. Everyone has bills to pay.
One-Star Squadron is a comedy series, but it’s one that lures you into a false sense of comedic security before bricking you in the back of the head with sudden humanity. There is the inter-office drama you would expect when enough cubicles are stacked together, but then there’s Gangbuster. Without his memory, Jose Delgado is dumped on the steps of the HEROZ4U office and left to Red Tornado to piece the life of Gangbuster back together. There’s not much there. He was an 80s hero who could fight well and cleaned out some Metropolis gangs, but who is he now but an old man who can’t remember where he lives? That becomes the essential humanity of the series at its beginning: there’s dignity in every single person in the HEROZ4U office, but they’ve been relegated to these odd jobs because there just isn’t a place for them in the Universe anymore.
Russell, Lieber, Stewart, and Sharpe have created a new portion of the DC Universe that still slots right in with all of the other crises or cosmic catastrophes. HEROZ4U feels grounded in reality somehow. It could be the economic anxieties or the feeling of office competition or even the need to just be recognized as someone who matters. One-Star Squadron follows with much of Russell’s previous work in finding that dignity in people in more outrageous situations. The book provides a counterpoint to the more gritty realism some stories lean into to link their work to the real world. But they don’t need that grit; they just need to smile through the tears.
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Drew Barth (Episode 331 & 485) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.