There has been a lot of talk about metal in American comics recently, but no new series has captured the feel and fun of the music quite as well as New Lieutenants of Metal. Pulling from the superhero and tokusatsu genres, it brings together an oddball mix of characters whose primary goals are to save the day and rock out while doing so. There is no serious discussion as to what this music means or even a metaphorical exploration of its impact. The emphasis rests entirely on the experience itself, and it delivers a comic that feels like an adolescent cranking the volume on an AC/DC album for the very first time.
Fariñas makes for a surprising fit to this tone. From the original Heavy Metal magazine to modern superhero comics using the same label, a certain aesthetic has always defined this combination of comics and music with gratuitous linework and an absurd style of realism. There is no attempt to make New Lieutenants of Metal feel real or serious. It is an animated affair that makes each of its characters and set pieces feel bigger than life. Every person on the team is defined by at least one exaggerated trait, with a literal talking panda debating his role as a mascot or member. This sets the tone for the adventure perfectly, encouraging readers to leave any pretense behind and enjoy what comes as the big, ridiculous romp that it is.
Big, bold layouts that emphasize the action with plenty of room in each panel maintain a pace that matches this approach. There's never a moment to provide pause or slow the reader in any notable way. Fariñas only trots out his notable ability to toy with form and format when there's a worthwhile gag, and never so often as to be distracting. Inset panels and cutaways build tension and mount rising action as exceptional details within the grander page. There is never a dull moment within New Lieutenants of Metal, a showcase of great storytelling ability.
The story itself is direct as possible, playing up its own tropes including an introduction that is all about getting the band back together. Characters make no qualms about telling one another exactly what they (and readers) need to know. In a comic that applied a critical or self-serious lens, this would be grating, but the very cartoonish nature of each lieutenant makes it a natural component of this style. The plot itself serves primarily as a device to push new ideas forward. There is never any real concern that the city might be destroyed or a character killed, but joy bubbles up in seeing how they save the city and dodge death. It is a vehicle for an enjoyable afternoon or evening read, one that even provides its own soundtrack with three songs that match the pacing of the comic extraordinarily well.
Music critics may disagree, but New Lieutenants of Metal matches perfectly with this comics critic's experience as a young fan of the genre. It is wild and fun, never resisting the urge to jump down any rabbit hole that might appear interesting. The scale of giant robot battles and absurd boy band villains exists without any of the anger or fear that normally accompanies superhero drama. Instead it is a pure release, one that allows readers to laugh and pump their fists, if only for a short portion of an hour. It is pure entertainment and very good at being exactly that.
Published by Image Comics
On July 4, 2018
Written by Joe Casey
Art by Ulises Fariñas
Colors by Melody Often
Letters by Rus Wooton