The Terrifics Part 1
Reviewing stories found in The Terrifics #1-14
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Ivan Reis, Jose Luis, Joe Bennett, Evan ‘Doc” Shaner, Dale Eaglesham, Viktor Bogdanovic, Jonathan Glapion, Jordi Tarragona, Dexter Vines, and Scott Hanna
In 2017, DC Comics introduced the concept of the Dark Multiverse to its wide array of alternate realities. It was the creation of writer Scott Snyder who was coming to the end of a large story cycle he’d been developing since New 52 started in 2011. The Dark Multiverse is a collection of realities that mirror the standard Multiverse most readers knew about. In the aftermath of Dark Knights: Metal, the crossover event that introduced all of this, a group of titles was spun-off under the banner of The New Age of DC Heroes, aka the Dark Matter line. By 2020, all eight books were canceled, and this subset of the DC Universe has essentially been forgotten already.
Some books featured familiar DC concepts like Challengers of the Unknown or used familiar titles like Damage or Brimstone. Others were entirely new, like Sideways or The Silencer. However, it seemed clear to most fans that the books were cribbing from popular Marvel characters. For example, sideways was a Spider-Man type, while The Silencer was essentially a Black female Punisher. Jeff Lemire would pen The Terrifics, an unabashed knockoff of The Fantastic Four in the DCU. His team would be led by Mr. Terrific (Mike Holt), the third smartest man in the DCU after Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne. Terrific would be called to the headquarters of business tycoon Simon Stagg. Stagg has encountered a problem after sending his son-in-law, the superhero Metamorpho, into the Dark Multiverse.
Terrific has brought along Plastic Man…well, not how you likely expect him. In the pages of Metal, it was revealed that Plastic Man was in a dormant egg shape, held by Batman in the Batcave. At some point, off-panel, Plas was sent into the Dark Multiverse as a probe by Batman due to the stretchy hero’s unique molecular composition. When they got him back, he was this egg thing, as mentioned above. As Terrific and Metamorpho pass into the Dark Multiverse, Plas awakens and is filled in. The final member of this team is found on the body of a dead Promethean Giant floating in this hazy cosmic murk. It’s Linya Wazzo, a Bgtzl-ian stranded after her family encountered an anomaly. She becomes the new Phantom Girl, a reference to the futuristic heroine of the same name in the Legion of Super-Heroes. So we have a brilliant guy, a large, gruff elemental guy, a stretchy cocky guy, and an invisible female. It’s blatantly clear Lemire is doing his own riff on the Fantastic Four.
To make things even wilder, the final issue delivers a cameo from Tom Strong. Strong was a creation of Alan Moore for his America’s Best Comics line (ABC), published by Wildstorm in the late 1990s. Wildstorm was acquired by DC in the mid-2000s, and because of the contracts, they got the ABC characters. However, not until recently have any of them appeared in the DCU books. First, Promethea was used by Steve Orlando in his Justice League of America run, and now this use of Tom Strong by Lemire. It would be a few issues before we see Strong again, but in the meantime, Lemire introduces another conceit, the four characters are imbued with Dark Multiversal energy which means they cannot be apart for long, or they die. What a way to form a team.
Each character has their own thing going on with Metamorpho in a complicated relationship with Sapphire Stagg, the daughter of his boss/arch-enemy Simon. Mr. Terrific has baggage from the death of his wife. Plastic Man is revealed to have an ex-wife and son he’s lost touch with, a reboot of a concept that’s been tried with the character numerous times. Early into the series, the team journeys to Bgtzl to help Linya see her family, only to discover that thirty-two years passed outside the Dark Multiverse while she was inside it. Lemire plays around with the mythos of Metamorpho and his source of power, the Orb of Ra.
Eventually, Lemire takes the Fantastic Four similarities and introduces Dr. Dread, a metallic masked menace for the team. This is where Tom Strong is brought back into the storyline. We find out Dread has attacked Strong in his universe, harming his wife as well. The Terrifics team up with Tom Strong and travel across realities to find where his loved ones have been hidden away. Swamp Thing is briefly brought into the narrative when Terrific and Strong search through Slaughter Swamp.
Lemire keeps harping on the Dr. Dread thing by introducing The Dreadfuls, a team of dark versions of Metamorpho, Phantom Girl, and Plastic Man. It’s fun if you’re a fan of the Multiverse, and the variations writers often show off of established characters. Unfortunately, there’s not much depth to the stories; I never felt like anything happening had actual weight outside this title. I fully expect we’ll see these characters show up on their own through other DC books and will never get a mention of this team.
The artwork through much of the book is fantastic, though. I’m a huge fan of Ivan Reis’ work on the opening issues, and the best next to him is Doc Shaner. Shaner’s simple cartoonish style works with the light stories Lemire is writing. It gives The Terrifics a more classic archetypal feel which is probably why this book lasted the longest out of all the Dark Matter line. By the end of Lemire’s run, he introduced Ms. Terrific, Paula Holt of Earth-11, where genders are swapped. She provides some closure for Mr. Terrific’s grief over his dead wife. At the same time, Plastic Man’s son, who has the same powers as his pop, adopts the identity of Offspring. Phantom Girl even gets a pet in the form of Element Dog.
Lemire is throwing many ideas out in the pages of The Terrifics, but I wouldn’t say he goes anywhere too interesting with them. So much of the book follows the Fantastic Four model that it failed to make an identity for itself. I wonder if Lemire stepped away to focus on other work but if he also felt he didn’t have much to say about these characters beyond the years and a half he spent on the title. The Terrifics continued with writer Gene Luen Yang which we’ll talk about in our second part.