As cynicism about superhero stories (rightfully) continues to grow among people who enjoy reading good comics, The Paybacks #1 seizes onto some of the things that make superhero books dumb and forces the reader to have a great time. Bruce Wayne is a dickbag. He is the Richard Nixon of superheroes: paranoid, too powerful for his own good, and his achievements only get defended by people with little or no imagination. I can, however, think of people doing far worse things with that kind of money. So, at least in that sense (however vacuous it might be), it's probably slightly okay that Bruce was the one to hit the dead parents jackpot.
The Paybacks takes us to a world where any ol' petulant child with a warped sense of justice and mommy & daddy issues can take out a loan to fight crime. The first issue features one such Bruce Wayne proxy with a unicorn obsession and, I have to say that the hero in question, "Night Knight," wins in terms of style points in a showdown with Gotham's Drab Knight.
Okay, okay, so, I obviously think this is a fantastic premise: money gets loaned out in order for people to be superheroes and, when they can't keep up with their payments, they are conscripted into being part of a super-repo team which collects on other delinquent heroes. What makes the premise particularly fantastic is that it lends a very particular charm to all of its character arcs from the get-go.
I'm being intentionally hard on Batman-like figures since Night Knight is such an obvious play on his type of obnoxious hero; but, not every hero that's been conscripted is necessarily a narcissistic freak. That makes the reader, with enough time to think, very curious about the backgrounds of these characters. In a world where we have been pelted with clichéd origin stories left and right, this book is giving readers a free pass to be curious about these heroes: it's an origin story waiting to be told about why these people decided to go get a bank loan. That's hilarious, but also kind of cool.
None of this even speaks to the fantastic character designs, well-executed first issue, or the not-cheap cliffhanger that made me want to come back: I really just want you to go check out the content for yourself. But the art? Oh, shit. I hope it's not a stretch for me to say that Geoff Shaw will have job offers rolling in after this, and you should hire colorist Lauren Affe right now.
I'll be covering this series for at least a little while longer, so there will be plenty of time for me to rant about Shaw's stellar line work. First, let me tell you what blows me away about Affe's colors. A lot of up-and-coming colorists think you need to have bright, varied palettes, and instead end up assaulting the senses. Affe's palettes are often very bright and colorful, but it always seems like she's in control of the impact just enough to make the page stand out. It's one of those things that's hard to put your finger on, but while you're reading, really pay attention to how bright this series is even on pages where the palette is uniformly dark. Maintaining a sense of visual cohesion while keeping the page's colors interesting and unique in their flavor requires a lot of skill.
Ultimately, if the premise of a never-ending cycle of de facto indentured super-repo-heroes doesn't appeal to you and you'd rather read a house-art style book about Bruce Wayne stocking tinker toys in a kindergarten or some shit, it’s your loss. It remains to be seen if this series really has anywhere to go, but it made a great first step in delivering on a hum-dinging elevator pitch of a premise, and damn is it pretty to look at.