Writer: Alan Davis
Artist: Paul Renaud
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Covers: Paul Renaud; Alan Davis & Morry Hollowell; David Nakayama
Release Date: January 1st, 2020
Some mystical mumbo jumbo is afoot, and it’ll take both the Defenders and Avengers to set things right! Let’s see what the future holds for these heroes in TARO #1 by Alan Davis!
The issue kicks off in France, 1944, with Captain America, Namor, and Human Torch surveying the carnage of a Nazi ambush on some Allied troops. The troubling part is there are no signs of weapon fire, so the three superheroes surmise the Nazis may have a new secret weapon of some sort. It’s a good start to a story, throwing the heroes right into the thick of it against a tried and true evil enemy. Paul Renaud’s art, particularly the character work, stands out immediately.
The head Nazi baddie (for this story anyways) is Oberfuhrer Okkulte, who apparently runs the “Mystical Research Division.” To say the name is a little on the nose would be putting it mildly. Unfortunately, this is the first hint at the underwhelming writing to follow in the rest of the issue. Alan Davis has an interesting enough tale to tell, but the execution is lacking. The exposition-heavy and remedial dialogue is mostly to blame. Also, most characters don’t have a distinct voice, which is disappointing considering the terrific lineup of heroes Davis has to play with here. Other than the odd Asgardian “thy” or rare Hulk first-person dialogue, the heroes feel interchangeable.
As far as the story goes, Okkulte proceeds to use magic to bring surrounding statues to life, sporting green, arcane, glowing symbols. The statues attack Cap, Namor, and Torch, at the command of the Oberfuhrer. Out of nowhere Cap “Hulks out,” destroying the statues containing him. But before we can find out what that was all about, there’s a time jump “decades later” to Arizona.
Here the Defenders are dealing with a horde of zombified people with glowing symbols that match what Okkulte’s statues looked like. Under the direction of Doctor Strange, the heroes keep the mindless horde at bay, while Strange battles Cyrus Black, the cause of the magical outbreak. The good Doctor strips Black of the source of his power, the “Infernal Ichor of Ish’izog” (try saying that ten times fast), sealing it away in a box with some other unpronounceable name. But apparently there’s still some “sticky Ichy” floating around in the world, and Strange traces it back to Avengers Mansion of all places.
The Defenders show up at the mansion, break up a fight between Vision and the Avengers, and do some repair work. The heroes pretty much pair off at this point like in a bad horror movie, and readers can discover the resulting cliffhanger and third villain of the book on their own.
On the surface, TARO #1 has some good things going for it. There is the mystery linking a Nazi weapon from the past to strange happenings in the present. There are the abundance of top tier heroes in play. And there is Paul Renaud’s solid art throughout. But scratching beneath the surface reveals the inadequacies of Alan Davis’ dialogue, which keep the issue from being better.