Wednesday, 22 July 2015

D.P.7 Classic volume 1

D.P.7 Classic volume 1 reprints issues #1 to #9. Everything is written by Mark Gruenwald and drawn by Paul Ryan. That's an incredibly consistent pair of credits compared to everything else in the early days of the New Universe.

The concept behind the series is one of a group of ordinary people suddenly gaining powers for reasons they don't understand and looking for help and hope but instead finding fear and exploitation. At the outset of the series a number of so-called "paranormals" are brought together at a clinic in Wisconsin to come to terms with the changes in their bodies and hopefully find a cure. But it soon becomes clear that the Institute for Paranormal Research serves a much more sinister purpose and upon discovering their predicament a group of seven "paranormal" people flee the clinic. This volume covers their escape and attempts to live out a life on the road in a trailer, having to deal with their powers that have often made it difficult to fit into normal society, awkward relations with their families and pursuit by the clinic.

The Displaced Paranormals (the acronym is spelt out on each issue's title page) present a very human take on what is clearly a terrifying situation for each of them. This is one of the few New Universe titles that actually does conform to the idea of the ordinary world with one single injection of powers and it works all the better for it. There's a clear aim to offer something much more than an X-Men clone with variable ages. Instead this is a tale of the personal and small scale, with each of the seven characters bringing their own diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

With only nine issues here, some characters get more development than others at this stage. Charly Beck is one of the lesser developed. A dance student who has gained the power to change friction levels, making things either sticky or slippery, she embodies optimism about the future tempered by the mess around here. One such mess comes from Dennis Cuzinski who prefers the nickname "Scuzz". A cocky fifteen-year old school drop out he now finds his entire body emits a corrosive substance that can eat through anything. A loner alienated from his parents even before he gained his powers, he now finds himself ever more isolated and angry with the rest of the group, to the point of going it alone. The worst moment comes when a woman befriends him and they kiss - only for her mouth to end up burning from the acid. Scuzz's realisation of just how alone he is makes for a very chilling moment as he sets out to take revenge on a motorbike gang in the hope of committing suicide on an exploding bike only for a surge in his power to fizzle out.

Lenore Fenzl is perhaps the most mysterious of all the seven. A retired Latin teacher whose body has developed a strange grey covering, her skin now emits a strange ray that temporarily paralyses all those who see it. Consequently she has to cover her entire body from head to toe, including a mask and wig. The power seems to be growing in strength and exciting her, a development that both excites and horrifies her. Also experiencing a growth in her power levels is Stephanie Harrington, a young housewife and mother who finds herself now carrying a great deal of energy that strengthens her and can be transmitted to others by physical contact, revitalising and often healing them. But with this has come a strange glowing effect that becomes ever harder to hide. Her husband is horrified by these changes and bundles her off to the clinic; when she returns he calls the clinic. Meanwhile Stephanie's mother-in-law is looking after her three children - and poisoning their minds against their mother.

David Landers has a better relationship with the one member of his family whom we meet, his uncle who trades in Dave's two year old but much rusted by Scuzz trailer for a separate camper van, allowing the group more flexibility of travel. David is a worker in a cheese factory who suddenly finds his body and muscles growing at an incredible rate, turning him into a lumbering giant with initial huge pain from his muscles. A solid dependable everyman he becomes the groups' foundation, also supply the transport by which they get around. If there's a leader to the group it's Randy O'Brien, but he rapidly shows just how little authority he has with wildly varying priorities and ethics amongst the seven. A doctor in the late stages of training, his instinct is to help others, preserve life and avoid stealing but these values aren't always compatible with the situations the group finds themselves in. Contained within his body is a strange "anti-body", a dark, silent intangible figure that emerges from his body to travel at long distances, spy and impart information to others. It's a strange being that appears to have a life of its own and by the end of the volume its prolonged absence leaves Randy feeling notably weakened and empty.

Finally Jeff Walters is a fast food manager whose body has developed incredible speed but it's no fancy speedster power. Instead he finds himself literally unable to stay still for a second, with only Lenore's power working to slow him down, and his metabolism develops to the point where he has to consume an incredible amount every day just to survive, and thus often has to steal to get the food he needs. A wily prankster, his humour can grate at times yet often he's able to see a way through a close situation. He tries to maintain contact with his family and at one stage takes the rest of the group to his hometown in the hope that an exorcist can cure them.

The volume covers the groups' escape from the clinic and attempts to evade recapture, along with their travails as they try to survive on the road and handle relations with their families. The clinic sends multiple agents after them, including a few paranormals with abilities such as projecting psycho plasm or being able to reverse and object's motion, along with more generic bounty hunters. Elsewhere there are problems with various local pests such as a motorcycle gang or a bizarre killing club of youths that are slaughtering livestock and collecting organs. Attempts to reunite with family members don't always go well, with a lot of trouble stemming from Stephanie's husband. There are also tensions within the group themselves as they squabble over what to do but also growing bonds such as David's crush on Stephanie and Charly's on Randy. Repeatedly this is a world where actions have nasty consequences, especially when David or Jeff hit out and cause very brutal injuries. This is a title that never once forgets that it is about ordinary people in an ordinary world that have suddenly had extraordinariness thrust upon them.

This volume only contains the first nine issues and so the tale of the group's escape and evasion from the clinic is only partially told with more clearly to come. But what has been shown is a series with a strong concept and character base that offers lots of strong possibilities for development as well as showing a very different take on a tale of people suddenly gaining incredible powers. The stability of the creative team helps as the book manages to stick to a consistent course and not veer off all over the place. It's a series that works well in living up to the overall vision of the New Universe.

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