Publisher: Heavy Metal
Writer(s): Donny Cates & Eliot Rahal
Artwork: Geoff Shaw, Dee Cunniffe
Release Date: 13th July, 2016
Imagine you really loved something. You think it’s totes amazing, and when you first discover it, you find yourself wondering where the hell it’s been all your life. Sounds great, right? You lovingly cherish this thing, telling everyone you know how amazing it is and urging them to check it out themselves. But then – gasp! – imagine this thing is cruelly ripped away from you, leaving you with an aching wound in your soul that you think may never heal. Yeah, that’s pretty much my relationship with the Paybacks. However, in an act of divine glory, Heavy Metal have snatched the series from the brink of oblivion, and I am absolutely thrilled to be able to say… it’s PAYBACK TIME AGAIN! WOOOO!!
Okay, so for those of you who didn’t pick up the initial four-issue series released by Dark Horse back in 2015 – aside from the fact that I’m afraid you and I are never going to be friends as a result – allow me to fill you in a little on the basic premise and the “story so far”…
The eponymous Paybacks are a collection of C and D-list superheroes who have defaulted on loans that they took out with the mysterious Mr. Pierce. Hey, arc reactors and invisible jets ain’t cheap, y’know. As a condition of the small print, they now find themselves forced to work for Pierce as debt collectors, hunting down other heroes who have defaulted on their own loans, all the while being lovingly strapped with explosive wristbands in case they decide to get a little creative or make a break for it. Genius, right?
In the first volume, we were introduced to one particular team of Paybacks, made up of wonderful analogues of well-established heroes such as “Night Knight”, a snooty British Batman and “Bloodpouch”, a wonderfully Liefeldian creation ripped straight out of the early 90s. The team continually had their attempts to collect debts thwarted, which led to a gradually unraveling conspiracy, a mole in the team, and – tragically – the death of a particularly well-loved character in the final issue. And that’s about all I’m going to tell you, because you really need to go out and buy the trade paperback of the first volume for yourself. Seriously.
Thankfully, this new series flows perfectly as a continuation of the original one, with almost the entire creative team – co-writers Donny Cates and Eliot Rahal, along with artist Geoff Shaw – coming along for the ride. The story flows well too, with a different dynamic within the team as Bloodpouch tries to come to terms with the loss of his “bro” and new addition El Matador works through the induction process. Things also expand into the larger world as some nefarious machinations find the Paybacks being pitted against elite superhero squad “The Command” (essentially this Universe’s Justice League), in what should likely be a fairly brutal showdown to say the least.
I always loved the way the original series managed to provide humorous moments and instantly quotable banter alongside some genuinely intriguing storytelling and significant emotional heft. Thankfully, that trend continues here, albeit with a far more serious tone for the most part. Hey, we are in mourning after all. There are still some great gags along the way though, and just like the very first issue had that one awesome and unexpectedly hilarious moment (Knight Night bidding a fond farewell to his equine companion), we have another one of those here as High Guard – this universe’s Superman, if Superman was a dick – reacts to super-villain Shoxxx obtaining his secret identity and showing up to confront him. Seriously, folks. Tears of laughter.
Shaw and colourist Dee Cunniffe (stepping in ably for the talented Lauren Affe) combine beautifully on the visual side of the book, with detailed, kinetic panels aplenty and some truly inspired character design – particularly during the stunning double-page splash near the end. Cunniffe’s colours are refreshingly subtle for a quote-unquote “superhero comic”, and Shaw continues to pack a surprising amount of emotion into his characters while also displaying some brilliant comic timing along the way.
Honestly, I can’t recommend this series highly enough. The potential that this premise has for hilarity, drama and air-punching awesomeness simply cannot be understated, and with a noticeably more structured plot this time around, I can only hope that The Paybacks finally receives the commercial success it truly deserves. I’ll be sticking with this team every step of the way, that’s for damn sure.
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