DV8, the characters and the comic, was originally created in the 1990s by Wildstorm Comics, which was then under the Image Comics umbrella. The idea behind the characters was a dark take on the same concept behind Marvel’s X-Men. Kids are born with powers (or the potential for them), but instead of being gathered and trained by a kindly professor, DV8 explored what it would be like if those kids were essentially bought by a menacing commercial interest and trained as mercenaries.
The characters and the book got shelved during DC Comics’ eventual acquisition of Wildstorm, but resurfaced recently in an eight issue mini-series written by Brian Wood, a Brooklyn comic writer with a known track record at writing realistic teenagers with powers. (Demo, New York Five, DMZ)
I was only vaguely aware of the previous series of DV8 but I was still able to enjoy this series without the need for background research. Each of the characters, their powers and relationship to one another, are introduced in such a way that it can be read independently of any other comic.
As Gods and Monsters begins, the eight maladjusted members of DV8 find themselves freed from their glorified indentured servitude on Earth and dropped onto an alien world in the middle of its Stone Age. With their superhuman abilities the local tribes view them as gods walking among them. After years of being ordered around by other people the Deviants find they are the highest authority. The only thing stopping them from doing whatever they want is each other.
At its heart, the story is a fascinating look at power, morality, and how the former can corrupt the latter. Wood brings a new angle to these characters, and one I’ve not seen before on superheroes. Drop a superhero into this situation and you would expect them act in a responsible way. Superman embodies this exactly. In fact, the only thing stopping him from trying to rule our planet are his principles.
As the mini-series plays out, the members of DV8 prove that they are not that kind of superhero. They’ve been abused and experimented on by devious people and now they are the ones in charge. The rush of power and the ability to do whatever they want without any repercussions is intoxicating and some of them fall a long way.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Gem Antonelli, one of the DV8, who arrives on the planet a short time after everyone else. Like the other seven, she falls from the sky, compounding the local’s belief that they are gods from the heavens.
Unfortunately, by the time Gem arrives the situation has gone from bad to worse. Each member of DV8 has set themselves up as a leader on this world and none of them are in a rush to figure out how to get back home. Not after a lifetime’s worth of being used as weapons by other people.
I should mention that none of the superpowers of the members of DV8 are typical abilities, such as flight or super strength. They are more subtle and, subsequently, a lot more terrifying. DV8 members Bliss has the ability to control emotions and she ends up leading a death and sex cult of warrior women who serve at her pleasure. Powerhaus can’t cope with everything they’ve done in the past and sinks into an endless cycle of doping himself with local narcotics. The only member of DV8 who wants to help the locals, and the one who is probably the most well adjusted, is Freestyle. Instead of teaching them how to fight she tries to improve their way of life with aqueducts and other modern technology.
The real problems start when the tribes, who were already in conflict before DV8 arrived, ask that their gods lead them to ultimate victory against their enemies. All of DV8 are damaged individuals in some ways and I have the impression they were never a happy team. Now there is no one around to tell them to get along with their teammates and they can take out all of their anger and frustration about what has been done to them on one another with an army of locals at their back.
Each of the characters is given an opportunity on this new world to move on and forget about the past, to become someone new and perhaps better themselves. The problem is there are eight different interpretations of what the alien world has to offer.
DV8: Gods and Monsters is a thought provoking story about power and how it corrupts and it offers a new and interesting insight into superheroes and mythology. An excellent and well told story with fantastic artwork from Rebekah Isaacs.