In this comic, there is not one, but two dramatic reveals where someone who was previously thought beaten had really planned it all along. You know, because Batman does that sort of thing all the time, so here it’s two characters doing it, so this is like having TWO BATMANS… er, Batmen.
Or is it?
Breaking down Savage Hawkman #11 revealed that Rob Liefeld (who oversees both these titles along with Deathstroke) and his team had subtly made a comic about mental illness and narcissism, where every character seemed to operate in their own little bubbles, oblivious to reality. Grifter #12 is a slight alteration to that formula, detailing the benign macho posturing between Grifter (an anti-hero who kills aliens with guns and some vague energy power) and Lord Helspont (an alien overlord, who naturally wants to avoid being killed) as they brag about who is really the more awesome of the two while neither accomplishes much of anything. Grifter reminds Helspont (and the readers) that his name is synonymous with “con man,” and that he intended to be captured by the bad guys so he could beat them up all the better. So he and his buddy Deathblow (oh, Wildstorm) then proceed to whoop their captors and blow up their ship. But wait, turns out Helspont was using this opportunity to… size up his opponent! So he was conning the con man! Hoho, such cleverness!
However, what has this accomplished? By issue’s end, both sides are back to square one, with nothing of substance having been done. Grifter and Deathblow blew stuff up, but didn’t even seriously wound the villains, while Helspont still has this guy running around who can spoil his plans. It’s like the readers have been grifted into reading about the never-ending redundancy of the ongoing superhero comic: Nothing ever accomplished! Status quo is god! Progress is static! Liefeld, co-writer Frank Tieri, and artist Scott Clark even jab at their cliched script when Grifter, replying to Deathblow’s question of whether he’ll know a signal, says “Oh, you’ll know it al–” then gets slapped in the head by an alien and told to shut up. As opposed to the slanted and odd angles employed in Hawkman to suggest “skewed reality,” Clark has straightforward layouts and lots and lots of posing to accentuate the banality at work here. His figures pose because that’s all it is; every action is little more than a light show where the characters kid themselves and each other that their actions matter; such handling of the arbitrariness of action and plot is like Quentin Dupieux’s killer tire movie Rubber, breaking all things down to “no reason,” but with the added benefit of lacking any inspired madness (like a tire with the psychic power to blow stuff up) and of not being French. Like Avengers Vs. X-Men, this is sighing as it goes through the motions, with no one – character or creator – convinced anything of any lasting impact will happen in its pages before the universe sweeps us all away.
Where it falls short of Hawkman’s greatness is its competence. There’s less of the broken links between narration and action and little to no goofiness. Maybe if they dropped in a random love interest partway through it – and clearly the setup was there for Deathblow and Helspont-flunky Niko to make out, though Liefeld, Tieri and Clark cut away from them and clearly forget they were fighting- this would have been another clear winner for DC’s New 52. As is, we have another satisfying piece of existentialist self-camp in the grand tradition of every corporate comic.