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Rogues (review) —”Who can possibly lead these beasts?”

Writer: Joshua Williamson

Artists: Leomacs, Matheus Lopes, Jason Wordie

DC Comics Black Label, March – October 2022

BALD-HEADED BAD GUYS can have a sensitive charm alongside that slithery sneer that gives them away. You may know some of the characters gathered in ROGUES, now up to Issue 3, written by Joshua Williamson, infesting a universe I do not usually visit. Captain Cold is up front, a balding bad guy trying to live a reformed life outside prison, going to work, shit on by his Justice officer and asshole employer in a city under construction or looking like it should be, living in a dump. Well, that last bit he must have made that way, but today he gets out, making plans. With enough dough, he can get others to clean up after him, someplace nice.

A silent spread puts the plan in action. We already feel the frustration. At this point, crime looks like a reasonable career alternative, when that happens to be what you do best.

Stealing other people’s stuff outside your kin group has been a respectable occupation for millennia, including many early American grandees who started out as pirates. In this case, the target is a different species, looking to steal the gold treasure of super-intelligent, telepathic, and very frightening Gorilla Grodd sequestered at Gorilla City, hidden in the jungle. Targeting a different species may be why the bad guys feel they can call themselves Rogues, one step up from black-hearted villains, though they may not deserve the promotion, as we come to see.

The story embraces from the start. The art thralls. Drawings by Leomacs are washed in watercolors by Matheus Lopes, and Jason Wordie in later issues, making everything including the reader hum along together. Panels circle around a scene like a drone spiraling inward to focus on details where the action lies, then back out and around in pulsing rotations as the scenes proceed.

The oversize album format in this series is a delight. With art like this, bigger is definitely better. Lay it on your lap and let it swallow you; each page is bigger than your head.

Issue 1 gathers together a misfit gang of over-the-hill supervillains; Issue 2 scouts the target; and Issue 3 unravels a mad assault on Gorilla City, fitting a super-heist template that palls not all for being predictable, because the diverse characters, including a number of gorillas much more charismatic than any of the Rogues, have quirky personalities and personal challenges, including Gorilla Grodd himself, who is recently blessed with a family, a wife and infant son, and is working maybe not too hard to be more patient, less murderous when his gorilla subordinates are too stupid to bear.

The title and notion of a rogue persisted with me from the start, and I wanted to cut these crooks some slack as one does with a rascal, or a rogue, someone naughty who could be on the edge of being saved and redeemed. Differences in the moral turpitude of each of the players individually becomes a main theme in the third issue, and the serialized twists of conscience glued me to the page.

At last, the sinister sneer of the bald-headed bad guy stands out and overcomes any charm. If he does score in the final chapter, he may have difficulty finding friends, or servants to clean up after him. From here on, I switch my allegiance to the gorillas.

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