By Jarrod Jones. Let’s be honest with each other: there was never anything wholly original about Lobo. Created by Keith Giffen and Roger Slifer in 1983 as a response to Marvel anti-heroes like The Punisher and Wolverine, Lobo was very much a heightened embodiment of his time. He had Schwarzenegger muscles, a shock of black hair that would make Ronnie James Dio blush, and a leather fetish that would send most doms running for the hills. Needless to say, back in the day, Lobo ruled.

That’s what makes this untimely reboot of the character feel so very off. Ever since DC Comics set their minds to yet again revamp its entire universe, the inevitability of Lobo poking his fraggin’ head about meant that there was only one direction the character could go. But there isn’t much about Lobo #1 that inspires confidence: everything from the crappily-designed logo to the sloppy cover art (from the typically awesome Aaron Kuder) seems hastily thrown together. (Was this supposed to be a wrap-around cover? Sure looks like it from here.) When we consider the fact that DC has been playing around with the idea of re-introducing Lobo for over two years (his first sort-of appearance was in Rob Liefeld’s Deathstroke #9), there’s not much room to justify the present Lobo love, and even less room to convince anyone that we need a Lobo in 2014. This book seems primed to be yet another blight in a long line of the New52’s storied failures.

Lobo #1 begins hamstrung by a complicated endeavor: it aims to please ardent fans while attempting to carve out its own unique place in the New52 paradigm. Visually, the first page is a Lobo fan’s wet dream: writer Cullen Bunn gives penciller Reilly Brown nine panels to awesomely carve out the blood, skin and eye sockets that colorist Pete Pantazis’ reds, whites, and blacks appropriately embellish, but his own woeful trajectory and faux-Alan Grant dialogue immediately inform us that this Lobo ain’t anything special.

Say what you want about the ’90s incarnation of the character, but Lobo was beloved by most who were aware of him, and Bunn’s decision – editorially mandated or otherwise – to off the Main Man himself is a misguided foul-up that only perpetuates the negative shade cast upon the book. Considering that DC bothered to implement the character at all just to be done in by a Dan DiDio-approved avatar only compounds the notion that Lobo exists simply to fill the expanding void of the publisher’s already faltering new world order. This new incarnation isn’t just a pale shadow of his former self, he serves to only mock what the character was originally set out to be.

Hoisting the still-chatty severed head of his predecessor, our new Lobo jettisons his forebear (retconned to be a phony who swiped his name) just in time to pass out (it appears that malicious carnage makes our new anti-hero woozy) and have a romantic, Titanic-esque dream. And even though Bunn makes the added effort to inject bloody zombie imagery into Lobo’s dream-turned-nightmare, it doesn’t eradicate the fact that we’ve become lost in a lousy dream sequence, awash in clunky exposition that paints a rather, um, affectionate picture of Lobo’s past. (There’s an unfortunate pun in that last sentence, by the way.)

It all becomes pointless window dressing. Bunn chooses to drop that unnecessary subplot for the rest of the issue, almost as if he became aware that he was attempting to make a sympathetic character out of fucking Lobo and lost the nerve. (This particular subplot is never alluded to again for the remainder of the issue.) Bunn and Brown get down to brass tacks and quickly set our mercenary on a kill order – y’know, the only reason anyone would read a Lobo comic – and it’s here where the book really picks up.

Reilly Brown’s art is more than serviceable for the job: it’s cartoony enough for even the most easily-offended reader to excuse its otherwise skittish violence, but his consistency is erratic, evoking thoughts of Amanda Conner and Ed McGuinness when it works, and Joe Madureira when it doesn’t. Overall, his pencils, slickly inked by Nelson DeCastro, make Cullen Bunn’s ritalin-deprived story easier to digest.

Bunn works overtime to make this new Lobo as sympathetic as possible. Why? That’s anyone’s guess: what made Lobo such an insufferably popular character in the ’90s was his utter lack of compassion. Where the retrospectively halcyon days of Alan Grant and Simon Bisley featured a mean-ass bastich not above murdering Santa Claus himself, our contemporary merc has a code of honor that prohibits his ultra-violence from killing space-dogs (which, is nice? I guess?). The new Lobo also suffers from our contemporary concepts of masculinity: his musculature is fit and thin, and his pretty, manicured nails betray his purportedly messy bloodlust. (“I got no problem killin’ a fool when he deserves it...” Sure you do, buddy.)

While the Lobo of the 1990s was a character designed to be a blood-soaked meathead that could appeal to fifteen year old boys, the Lobo of 2014 betrays his 20th century antecedent by sporting pretty boy good looks, a panache for portraiture, and an inclination for black fingernail polish. DC Comics has taken rock ‘n’ roll and repackaged it as Top 40 pop.

DC Comics/$2.99

Written by Cullen Bunn.

Art by Reilly Brown and Nelson DeCastro.

Colored by Pete Pantazis.

3 out of 10

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