Tony witnesses the downfall of El Vengador.
You know how when you’re walking alone at night, and the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, it’s a signal of your body processing fear cues quicker than your brain?
There’s a sense of hairs standing up about issue #4 of Heroes Vengeance, a sense of things coming to a head, and soon, that would be there even if we didn’t know it was issue #4 of five of the prelude to the Heroes Reborn TV show.
The Gutierrez brothers finally get to talk in the here and now, Carlos having returned from the army a hero, and Oscar, the ‘mild-mannered mechanic’ who’s currently roaming the streets at night as El Vengador the vigilante declaring that he wants his brother back by his side in the garage, in the old neighbourhood. The two part again on acrimonious terms when Carlos seems to fly off the handle, a story-hook nerve well and truly prodded. Where issue #3 took the story significantly forward, Oscar and Father Mauricio, local priest and himself an EVO, setting up an underground railway for the gang-trafficked EVOs who are the latest commodity to make the gangs of East LA rich, Issue #4 more or less boils the plot, applying heat to the situation till there are bubbles everywhere – giving that sense of a situation coming well and truly to a head. In the sudden absence of Carlos, Oscar beats the bejesus out of gang leader Pelon, giving him a final warning to get off the streets. As we say, things seem to be coming to a rolling boil in modern East LA, and we wonder about Oscar’s future, given that in the TV series, it’s Carlos, not Oscar, who is El Vengador. We’re almost instructed by the events of issue #4, like the hairs standing up on the back of our neck, to expect horror, death and bloodshed before very much longer.
Of equal relevance – and yes, the stories are more evenly divided in this issue than in the previous one – we learn the exact circumstances of the retirement of the original El Vengador, Oscar and Carlos’ Abuelo, or grandfather. Pressured by the gangs to lose a fight against his arch-ring-rival, El Diablo (a significant, not to say satirical name in these circumstances, Vengeance and The Devil battling for supremacy), El Vengador almost throws his life away by the need to win, the need to stand for his own supremacy and not be dictated to. And there’s a glorious, heartbreaking moment in this issue where artist Rubine delivers the fluctuating future in a panel – will El Vengador triumph, and the man behind the mask, and his family suffer horribly at the hands of the gangs who really run the world? You see the pride, the passion and the potential of the man crumble, as he realises he must do the unthinkable, the unpalatable to protect his family. He must do as the gangs demand, and lose, face a public unmasking and the retirement of his persona in disgrace, all to save his family.
It’s a moment that connects and makes some sense of Oscar’s personal journey through the first four issues of this comic-book, doing what he needs to do to keep his family safe, and doing it as El Vengador, but evolving his grandfather’s persona, not being a sporting hero, while allowing the gangs to rule the real world, but taking the fight to them in that world, their world, and reclaiming the streets for the ordinary (and indeed extraordinary) people they terrorise.
Meanwhile, the young Carlos, seeing his grandfather’s defeat and what it symbolised – the willingness even of the great El Vengador to cower to the gangs – calls his grandfather a cheater and runs away. The difference between the boys is clearly marked – Oscar understanding the need to look after those he loves, Carlos more purist, more black and white in his thinking about heroes and villains (perhaps, a little satirically, the perfect mindset to go and fight in the army). The three incarnations of El Vengador are very strongly delineated, perhaps moreso here than at any time in the previous three issues, with the Carlos incarnation in particular (arguably the reason for the comic-book’s existence) coming more and more strongly to the fore. Seamus Kevin Fahey and Zach Craley fill the thirty pages of this issue with detail and textural richness in terms of the development of the character dynamics and delivering that sense of ‘Stuff’s about to get real,’ without overshooting the mark in terms of pushing the plot onward, leaving us practically slavering to find out what happens in the final issue. As in the very first issue, that lets the art and colourwork by Rubine and Ester Salguero respectively, come more strongly to the fore, which is no bad thing here – while the story gives us jitters of nervousness for what might be coming, the artwork is bold, precise and genuinely exciting – these two especially excel at rendering the world of the wrestling mat, which could be stultifying if done without a sense of fluidity and movement, vital and meaningful. As mentioned, the fall of the original El Vengador is delivered there where the character lived and inspired the people, and it’s positively Shakesperean in its drama, the hope, the pride, the need to protect, the inevitable fall, all takes place either in the ring or in its environs, with Jim Campbell on lettering adding palpably to the sense of scale of the fall, with the chants of the crowd rendered as a palpable presence, a soundtrack of hope and failure, the crowd as unforgiving participants, a theme that goes back at least to the Biblical account of the freeing of Barabbas, and is equally at play in today’s tabloids.
Heroes Vengeance has been an involving tale of family, pride, and the quest to make a difference in a world run by the corrupt. But perhaps its themes have never been quite so clearly delineated as they are in issue #4, which is as much of a reason as you need to go and get it from your friendly neighbourhood comic-book dealer.
We await issue #5 with hair standing on end, and more than a small frog in our throats.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk