Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I have a confession to make. I'm not a huge fan of Jim Lee's art. I'm not even a sort of fan. I don't hate it or anything, it just doesn't excite me at all. Maybe because it still smacks of the excesses of the 90s that drew me away from comics in the first place - cross hatches and pouches and pockets and lots of busy, fiddly detail. He's no Rob Liefeld, true, but I find his figures a bit overmuscled and expressions bordering on constipation.

And what's up with the whole "armor lines" deal on the new DC costume designs? Ungh. Batman, I get. Flash, though? Maybe... Superman? I'd accept the whole "these represent Kryptonian battle armor" line if Supergirl's corresponding outfit did not have glaring thigh-gaps.

Anyways, this is a long way of getting around to one of the elements missing from the Drewniverse - Jim's Kidz, aka the Wildstorm Comics refugees. I never read those comics, have no idea who the characters are, and so don't feel quite right trying to reboot them. I look at the names of some of these characters (Team 7, which includes Cole Cash, star of Grifter) and am instantly lost amongst generic names (Topkick, Backlash, Slaphammer, Adjectivenoun, Verbverb, ASSEMBLE!!!) and vague powers. So that means I'm out Stormwatch, Grifter, and Voodoo.

Obviously, the only way to fill the gap left by some creator-owned characters is to create a few of my own.

Meet Michael Janos. He's a nice, well meaning boy who grew up in the tired but proud row houses of Opal City. Ever since he was born, Michael has never been sick. This suited his mom fine, as after multiple miscarriages, she prayed and prayed and prayed for a healthy son. Someone must have been listening.

Mike's dad worked the docks, just like his dad before him (we're all agreed that Opal City is essentially Baltimore, right?). Totally salt of the earth type, honest and hard working. He picked up extra shifts in order to make sure the Janos family could stay in their home and Mike had a shot a college, never letting his age get the better of his duty to his family. One day, when Mike was sixteen or so, there was an accident and his dad fell, hurting his back. There was lots of worry that the family was ruined. With a bad back, how could his dad work? The doctors, who were not the best of what a cut-rate HMO system had to offer in the first place, were no help. Maybe Mike's dad would get better and could go back to work, maybe not. Insurance and disability funds could only go so far.

It was at a tearful family meeting, sitting around the kitchen table, that Mike first realized his power. Mike had never seen his father cry before, but as his dad tearfully admitted that the chances of Mike going to college were getting slim, that he felt like he failed as a father, his son reached out to him in comfort. Father and son both felt the warmth spread from Mike's hand. His father's pain disappeared. A later visit to the doctor revealed a miracle.

He was healed.

That night, Mike couldn't sleep, his thoughts racing. True, he had never been sick before, not even when the chicken pox swept through his school. Heck, his mom and dad never seemed to get sick either. Sure, they might get a sniffle, but that'd pass real quick. The next day, Mike, who felt fully rested even though he did not sleep a wink, sneaked a peek at his teacher's attendance records. The students who sat near Mike? Far fewer absences than those who sat farther away. Something was up.

Looking for confirmation, Mike faked illness and took a trip to the school nurse's office. There he found a girl who had "accidentally" cut herself and was also waiting for the nurse. Holly Robinson was slightly older than Mike, a grade ahead and a new transplant from Gotham. She didn't think much about the boy who offered to take a look at her cut, but when he laid his hands on it and the warmth flowed and the cut healed up like it was never there, she took notice. "You have to do something with this," she said, eyes wide, "People need you."

So Mike became a quiet, unknown hero. Holly would drag him to the emergency rooms of local hospitals, clinics, and even the subway to use his power. When there was an outbreak of the bird flu, Holly practically threw Mike into the breech, sending him bumping up against pretty much anyone they saw cough so that he could accidentally touch them and heal them. Every time Mike used his power, he got a little bit stronger. It didn't take long for his folks to catch wise to what he and his now girlfriend were doing. Mike's dad knew plenty of people at the docks who only worked part-time and therefore lacked health insurance. He got in on the act as well, arranging for Mike to meet his coworkers, shake their hands, heal their woes.

But where does it stop? A year later and Mike was being brought to meet the families of his father's coworkers. Holly was dragging him down to the sketchy parts of town where sad faced women sold themselves to johns. Mike's schoolwork suffered - how could you justify math homework when there's a sick kid that needs you? College was looking more and more improbable. Mike began to worry about his future. How could he make a living without college? He could get a job on the docks, sure, but with an ability like his, shouldn't his time be spent helping others rather than unloading shipping containers?

It was Holly that came up with the solution. There are people, she reasoned, who could afford to pay for Mike's services, people who had money, people who didn't want to go to a doctor. How she knew these people, Mike was not clear on, but he followed her lead. She let some of those women on the street know that if someone got hurt and needed to be patched up to give her a call - no questions asked, cash only. By night, Mike became a backstreet doctor, operating anonymously, patching up the wounds of thugs and criminals. By day, he walked the streets of Opal City, quietly healing those he met.

The money was good and it let Mike treat his family and girlfriend to things they might not have otherwise had. A new (used) car for mom, a nice TV for dad. Presents for Holly - jewelry and the like (which he'd pretty much have to do, considering that every time they had sex, no matter how much protection he wore, Holly became a virgin again - think about it). The rest he squirreled away for a rainy day.

But no good deed goes unpunished. It wasn't long before some local crime lord, a rising star named Roman Sionis, decided that having a personal wonder doc all his own would be beneficial for his criminal enterprise. He wanted to put Mike on an exclusive retainer. The money would be even better than what he was making ad hoc, but he'd only be allow to heal who Roman wanted, when Roman wanted. Deny access to the Healer to his rivals, Roman figured, and they would eventually dwindle, meanwhile his own troops could be more brazen with their acts, always assured that any harm done to them would be washed away soon after.

Mike refused. Roman punched him in the face, but that didn't do much. "I can take the pain," Mike said, and Roman tried to make him a liar. With knives. Hammers. Fire. Mike did not know how long he was left in that warehouse dungeon, but he took the pain, his body healing itself as fast as it was hurt. He did not really need to sleep or eat, his ability seemed to take care of that. When Roman changed tactics and threatened Mike's family, though, he knew he had to escape. It was a grizzly affair. Mike did not know if his hand would reattach itself after he cut it off. It didn't, but a new one grew back by the time he stole his way out of the building.

Getting to his family was a close run thing. He barely made it there in time. Giving his mom and dad all the money he had squirreled away, he begged them to run for it, seek help, start a new life. He even held off some of Roman's thugs as they burst their way into the little row house. Do you know how hard it is to fight someone if your very punch leaves them better off than before you took a swing at them?

It is with Mike's defense of his family that we pick up with Issue #1 of Healer (#29/52). His goal is simple: find Holly and get the hell out of Opal City. But where is she? Why was it so easy for her to set up that underground medical operation? How did Roman's thugs find Mike's house so easily? He never said who he was when he was held in that warehouse. The first arc will cover Mike's escape from Opal City, the possible betrayal of Holly, and eventual confrontation with Roman Sionis. It all ends poorly for the crime boss and he is forced to flee Opal City and head north to Gotham, scars hidden by a black mask.

Healer will serve the same role as the Wildstorm refugee Voodoo - a new point of view character through which readers can be introduced to the Drewniverse. He'll be traveling America looking for Holly (alternately missing her, suspecting her, then missing her again), helping out where he can. I envision some tense moments as he encounters other heroes and villains. Black Mask still wants him and has a bounty on his head ("I realize I approached you the wrong way last time, kid. I don't need your permission to use your gift. We'll just keep you chained up in a dark, dark cage and will only drag you out into the light when we need you. I wonder how long your forever will be?"). Other villains and even some government agencies see the advantages in having a miraculous healer on hand too. Hell, even some superhero teams want to get him on board.

All the while, Mike's ability continues to grow. What happens when one of Black Mask's bounty hunters gets a little too overzealous and puts a bullet between Mike's eyes? Will anything let Mike escape the curse and obligation of his gift?

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