The Silencer: a hero worthy of DC’s New Age
We’re living in the New Age of DC Heroes, and so far, none of them hold a candle to Honor Guest, former assassin for the Daughter of the Demon. After a strong debut filled with all of the action, intrigue, and character work a person could ask for, The Silencer #2 arrives this week to give us the next chapter in the story of an extraordinary woman desperate to live an ordinary life.
Meet the New Age, same as the old age
DC’s so-called New Age has been something of a mixed bag up to this point. The press releases and advertisements leading up to the launch of the initiative implied an artist-driven approach—or at least one in which artists were treated as vital creators instead of disposable contractors. These new books certainly have excellent artwork, but the writing hasn’t been keeping pace. And that’s to say nothing of some of the strange Marvel-aping in the aesthetics of these new heroes.
These new books aren’t bad, but they are just okay—and I don’t think okay is going to be enough to sustain interest in brand new characters. If the primary element meant to attract readers is familiar aesthetics inspired by the House of Ideas, then I don’t expect many readers to take the bait.
The cream of the crop
Enter The Silencer. If Honor Guest resembles any prominent characters in the history of comics, then they aren’t characters with enough exposure that I’m aware of them. That’s not to say that she or her experiences are wholly original, but that DC does not appear to be making an attempt to cash in on superficial resemblances to popular properties, the way that they are with Damage, Sideways, and The Terrifics. And whereas Damage and Sideways spend a lot of time showing off their titular heroes’ special abilities, The Silencer relegates these powers to points of detail. This book is about Honor and her desire to leave her old life behind, not the fleeting sizzle of her cool power.
It certainly helps that writer Dan Abnett is doing some of his best work here. Because the story is about so much more than superhuman feats, there’s no need to spend a bunch of time talking about them. Honor’s power is also brilliantly simple—shh to activate a zone of silence, snap to deactivate—so readers aren’t stuck wondering what the rules are.
So what does Abnett fill his book with? We spend almost as much time with Honor’s new life as we do with the old, so we get to observe her interacting with her family, and we come to comprehend what she stands to lose and why she protects it so fiercely. When the battles and super-secret-shadow-society stuff come, we already have investment in Honor as a character, and those elements have greater significance for it. She isn’t just a bad mama-jama or an international super-assassin—she’s a wife and mother who refuses to let the old life ruin the new.
The artwork is vital here, as well. DC touts an artist-first approach for this initiative, and they have backed it up—and not just by putting artists’ name first on the cover. Romita’s aesthetic works for The Silencer in ways that it doesn’t—and perhaps can’t—with more established characters. I realize that some readers will still find his work just too stylized, but for me, he’s perfect for this. His imaginative designs for Honor’s would-be killers, interesting panel framing, and energetic layouts combine to produce a book with more visual excitement and life than so much of what gets published by the big two. And since Romita is the first artist to bring Honor and her world to life, his signature aesthetics define The Silencer such that his departure from the book after issue #3 will be incredibly jarring.
A recipe for success in the New Age
The Silencer is an outstanding new series. Its appeal springs not from flashy powers nor larcenous homage to DC’s chief rival, but rather from compelling, relatable characters, layered, engaging mystery, and the unique aesthetics of its veteran artist. It avoids cheap crossover appeal for the sake of immediate sales (I’m looking at you, Damage), and instead makes its case on the basis of its own merits. This is how all of our favorite heroes became the icons we know today. This is how it should be. I hope DC recognizes this, that they give this book time to take root in readers' minds, and that The Silencer becomes the great success that it deserves to be.