You know how people sometimes laugh uncontrollably at inappropriate moments? And then there's that awkward feeling because they really should be taking things seriously? That's pretty much how I felt about PENANCE: RELENTLESS #1. It's so self-important (the title page proudly announces "From the pages of CIVIL WAR"), so... well, relentless in its dark and faux-meaningful atmosphere, and yet my only response was to giggle like a Japanese schoolgirl.
That reaction largely stems from Paul Jenkins' total lack of self-awareness: you can almost hear the entire Linkin Park discography playing in the background as Robbie Baldwin, nee Speedball, shows off his nipple rings (?), watches Marquis de Sade biographies (?!), writes tortured and cryptic entries in his journal (?!?!) and cuts himself up like a Thanksgiving turkey (!!!). I can actually see someone with a wry sense of humor, like R.K. Milholland or Kyle Baker, turn this into a hysterically funny parody of the emo sub-culture and its stereotypes... but Jenkins is taking this very seriously, and apparently expects us to do the same.
Which isn't an easy task, precisely because - in his desperate attempt to give meaning to an utterly meaningless character revamp (I mean, seriously, who thought it was a good idea to turn Speedball into a hybrid of Dennis Rodman and Gerard Way?), Jenkins isn't actually doing anything beyond invoking various shorthand cliches. He's taking all the shortcuts, without actually going anywhere; it's not enough to just throw out random excerpts from the Emo Handbook for Maladjusted Outcasts, not in an age when "darkening up" the happy-go-lucky crowd is an all-too-common trend. In his effort to stress how different Robbie Baldwin is, how any trace of Speedball has been erased, Jenkins forgets to make us care about this new Penance kid (who, by all indications, is exactly the kind of douche you'd slap in the face after thirty minutes of enduring his whining about his poor, misunderstood life).
AWFUL stuff, and I can't see this interpretation of the character lasting for very long without getting retooled. It's just too much of an obvious joke to everyone but its creators.