Paybacks (#1 – 4, 2016, Heavy Metal) – Donny Cates, Eliot Rahal

3 out of 5

Fun, but overkill.

I really liked the first go at The Paybacks.  And so I was excited for this second go.  That it shifted over to publisher Heavy Metal (from Dark Horse) was interesting, but nothing that had me worried in regards to tone.  The book was already pretty loosey-goosey at DH, so I didn’t imagine Cates and Rahal were going to alter the formula significantly for the change.

And they didn’t.  Paybacks is still a lot a ramshackle team of repo agents, once-superheroes or villains conscripted to serve the shadowy Mr. Pierce to pay off their debts by… collecting other people’s debts.  Volume one kicked us around various jobs while evolving a conspiracy in the background, which was a tricky story-balancing act handled masterfully by our writers.

For volume two, I get it: You can’t just repeat what came before.  And so the focus immediately shifts to that conspiracy plot, which comes to a head when some info procured is used to convince the world’s heavy hitters – JLA proxy The Command – that Mr. Pierce’s Paybacks are all kill-worthy baddies.  This in turn prompts Pierce to promise freedom to anyone who kills a Command member.

…Why?  Why do the heroes jump right to frenzy, and how does it benefit Mr. Pierce to up the ante?  And from there on out the series continues to escalate, with little reasoning beyond that the ball is rolling in that direction.  The balancing act and character work are gone, and we get a double-sized final issue that massively jumps the shark on the comic book references.  Plus – semi-spoiler – Mr. Pierce’s identity is revealed, but as this volume gives us zero stakes for the characters and there’ve only been four issues prior to the Heavy Metal ones… how can a reveal like this make much impact?  Hint: Not easily and Actual Spoiler: It doesn’t.

This sounds like a horrible review.  The story is disappointing, but Cates and Rahal are still funny dudes, and Geoff Shaw’s art is insanely energetic.  So it’s a good time flipping pages, with wildly inventive stuff and chuckly interactions happening at frequent intervals, I just wish the creative team hadn’t decided to throw everything into this series – presumably because its the final outing – as it completely sacrificed the humble character work that was such a smart juxtaposition to the action in volume 1.