DC’s HBO Max Comic Books Are as Excruciating as That Sounds

Say hello to your HBO heroes. HBO heroes...to the max! (Image: Jim Lee, Amanda Conner, and Jorge Jimenez, DC Comics)
Say hello to your HBO heroes. HBO heroes...to the max! (Image: Jim Lee, Amanda Conner, and Jorge Jimenez, DC Comics)

Contrary to the dialogue in every other panel in these new tie-in comics, DC and HBO’s bizarre team-up does not reach its maximum potential.

With the launch of HBO Max already making the streaming service’s relationship with Warner Bros.’ ownership of DC Comics (and its myriad properties) already pretty weird, everything just got even weirder. The two brands have announced a collaboration between, well, themselves: DC has launched three free digital books celebrating the existence of HBO Max.

How do they do that? Well, with DC’s bread and butter: superheroes.

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Alas, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne aren’t sitting down together to a night of Game of Thrones and some Netflix and chill (HBO Max and relax?). Instead, the books introduce us to three new heroes: Hector, Brian, and Olivia. You see what they did there?

Meet Max, the crux of this bizarre universe. (Image: Hendry Prasetya, Mark Morales, Hi-Fi and Carlos M. Mangual, DC Comics)

It gets worse, somehow! Inexplicably, Hector, Brian, and Olivia begin each of their adventures encountering a dog named Max who appears out of nowhere, lets them read his collar, and then disappears in a woosh of HBO-Max-tinted purple light. Suddenly they all have powers! Hector the teacher becomes a telepathic armoured astronaut hero, Brian enhances his diving career with both enhanced swimming speed and seemingly ice manipulation, and Olivia, a down-and-out impressionist running the casino circuit, becomes a Ms. Marvel-esque stretchy shapeshifter. Sorry. Plastic Man-esque. Gotta keep it all in-house.

Anyway, as quickly as they become heroes — an apparently common thing, as Brian faces some HBO-hero prejudice from a taxi driver, unwilling to take his fair when realising he’s just become a superhero! — the trio spend their comics going on a heroic adventure in which they save the day, learn to believe themselves, yadda yadda yadda. It’s just really formulaic stuff, except every once in a while someone will make an awkward reference to some Quality Premium Content that wow, would you look at that, is available on HBO Max!

Bet that crowd'll be seeing red...a red wedding, that is! (Image: Laura Braga, Hi-Fi, and Carlos M. Mangual, DC Comics)

See? Game of Thrones reference. At least Olivia recognises that it’s a tired one, but that doesn’t excuse it happening in the first place. What makes them so weird is that no one’s actually talking about these shows in the context of Warner’s new streaming service. These comics are just seemingly set in a world where people make nonstop references only to Warner Bros. and HBO-specific media, and that also purple-costumed superheroes are randomly cropping up over the world like it’s no big deal. Also, at the end of Hector’s story, his family are just watching HBO Max. So are Max and the heroes they create tools of a capitalist state entity? Is this secretly The Boys?

I have so many questions. Too many questions for a trio of brand tie-in comic books.

I'm so confused as to how this world exists. (Image: Scot Eaton, Wayne Faucher, Hi-Fi and Carlos M. Mangual, DC Comics)

Look, these comics are always going to be some kind of terrible. It’s brands trying to be cool, and that almost never goes the way they think it’s going to. But DC and HBO could’ve embraced how absolutely hokey the concept of “Let’s say our new streaming service turns into a dog that gives people superpowers” is and rolled with the goofiness. At their best, comics revel in the absurdity unfolding across their pages, sharing in the joy of just how potent yet also incredibly silly superheroic storytelling can be. Hell, that’s exactly what DC itself did when it made that insane multiverse of Colonels Sanders for its KFC tie-ins!

It would’ve been a much better — and more fun — approach than this bland, by-the-numbers corporatist nonsense.

If you want a laugh (or a groan, really), the DC/HBO Max comics are available for free on Comixology, DC Universe, DC Comics’ app, Google Play, Kindle, and more digital storefronts.