THIS WEEK: in DCEASED #1, the world ends. Again.
DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as Young Animal (redux!), Wildstorm, Jinxworld, Wonder Comics, Black Label, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what our team is here to help with, every Wednesday, with the DC Round-Up!
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artists: Trevor Hairsine & Stefano Gaudiano, James Harren
Colorist: Rain Beredo
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
To DCeased #1’s credit, its opening sequence is very cool. Artists Trevor Hairsine and Stefano Gaudiano (James Harren covers a middle section of the book) take us in on a closeup of Darkseid’s glowing red eyes, lovingly rendered by Rain Beredo. We get a suitably lofty series of anecdotal captions, written by Tom Taylor. We cut to a black panel with nothing but a loud KOOOM sound effect from Saida Temofonte. Cut back to Darkseid, grimacing. Cut back to the KOOOM. DCeased #1‘s narrator leads us away from our initial suspicion– this isn’t a Boom Tube from the fourth world– this is the “sound of Superman breaking the jaw of a God.”
So begins the latest DC non-Crisis-branded crisis. A story that threatens to end the world. In DCeased, we see Darkseid aim to assemble the Anti-Life Equation– a system of control over all sentient life– as he has many times before. But this time, he does it. He holds one half and finds the other in Cyborg, whom he has taken prisoner on Apokolips. To merge the two halves without killing Cyborg, however, Darkseid is forced to summon death itself, in the form of the Black Racer, and merge all three parts. But in that unholy union comes a corruption– the equation is assembled but changed. It destroys Apokolips. It kills Darkseid. Cyborg is sent away to Earth, where his systems infect the world via social media, transforming humanity not into subservient vessels, but violent and animalistic monsters who aim to attack all those around them.
If DC has proven anything over the last forty years, it’s proven that we are a species dead set on dying. Off the top of my head: Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, Blackest Night, Dark Knights: Metal, and Darkseid War all threaten the existence of Earth and the universe writ large. And this isn’t even going into the many other events where our heroes and a countless number of innocents are placed in mortal peril, even if the stakes aren’t the planet itself. And so, surrounded by all these calamities and apocalypses, how does a story like DCeased stand out?
Stories about the apocalypse have served a myriad of functions over the years. There are religious tales of divine judgment and plans beyond our comprehension. There are stories about pandemics and zombies that speak to either our inability to control what we cannot see or deal with how hard it is for us to cooperate in the face of a shared threat. There’s the Game of Thrones‘ White Walkers, which are…something, I guess. And there are a myriad of stories that speak to contemporary anxieties like the collapse of technology or climate change. DCeased #1 features zombies of a sort, but it conceptually deals with the way in which social media, and our smartphones in general, hold such powerful sway over our lives. As soon as the Anti-Life Equation makes its way from Cyborg’s body to the digital world, it’s seen and retweeted by countless people who proceed to go mad and attack themselves and one another. It’s a bit like the BOOM! Studios comic Memetic in that way– the Anti-Life Equation, both figuratively and literally– goes viral.
And we see the gravity of our phones’ pull emphasized in the scene that follows Superman’s initial discovery of people tearing each other apart in the city streets. We see Lois, upturning her couch because she heard her phone buzz. We’re drawn to these devices. We want to see what the world outside– inside our screens– has to offer us. Superman busting through the Kent family’s Metropolis apartment window, distingrating Lois’ phone as he screams “don’t look at the screen” to Jon, who’s reaching for it, is a great return to dad Superman, aka my favorite Superman.
In a lot of simple ways, DCeased #1 is quite fun. The book is a breezy read and hits all the beats you’d expect a story like this to in its first issue. Establish the conflict. Introduce the major players– Cyborg, Superman, and Batman take the lion’s share of page time here. Give us a hint of what’s to come. And what’s to come seems to be action– a lot of it, given that the final image we get in this book is an Anti-Life Equation-infected Nightwing tearing into Batman’s neck with long and fanged teeth. Hairsine, Gaudiano, Harren, and Beredo all do a great job of making the story feel sufficiently dramatic and full of gravitas, even if Harren’s art style clashes a bit with Hairsine’s and Gaudiano’s shared pages.
Still though, I can’t help but feel like DCeased #1 was a little bit empty. Like last weekend’s “The Long Night” episode of Game of Thrones, DCeased #1 gives us a lot of spectacle without enough of a central thesis to lend the action real weight. There are a number of compelling and creative sequences like Batman EMPing his own manor. There’s the hint of a central conceit– this idea of social media as a disease– that, as saturated as it is in our discourse right now, still feels like fertile ground for fictional stories. But that’s just it– hints. The scenes in DCeased #1 feel like they’re more concerned with our leads surviving this apocalypse– and hopefully solving it– rather than with advancing the central metaphor of the story. And of course, it’s the first issue– there’s time for that. But the thing is, at the end of the day, we know our heroes will survive a book like this one. And even if they don’t, it’ll probably be undone eventually or they’ll come back to life at some point down the road. So what compels me about a book like DCeased is more the metaphor than the stakes, and I wish the the book veered more heavily in the former direction than the latter.
All this to say that if you’re looking for your next big action story– if you missed Marvel Zombies or are aching for fun in the apocalypse– DCeased #1 is going to be up your alley. If you’re more curious about the idea behind the violence– well, I might give it another issue or two to see what happens.
- Batman #70 shows the Dark Knight finally free from his long nightmare. As formally interesting as the Knightmares arc was, it went on for so long that it started to feel like filler. We left Batman at the end of last calendar year in a dire state, with Bane and Bruce’s father, Thomas, working together to break the Bat. That conflict is so compelling and has been building for so long throughout Tom King’s run that every issue where they’re not actively facing each other down just feels like biding time to some extent. And that’s what this issue, which sees Batman fighting his way out of Arkham, also felt like. We got a bunch of cameos from the Rogue’s Gallery and some hints at what’s to come– there’s a war brewing, and both sides are assembling armies– but once again, we have to wait for the war. With the “Year of the Villain” one-shot that dropped this week only teasing at the “City of Bane” storyline, it seems we’ll have to wait yet another several months for this Batman story to hit a climax. Boy am I anxious for it to.
- Speaking of the “Year of the Villain” one-shot, there’s quite a bit of neat stuff going on in it. Most of the issue deals with the multiversal war building in the pages of Justice League— we meet the mother of the multiverse, Perpetua, and she seems quite sinster– but I’m most compelled by what’s going on with Batgirl here. We see her paired with Green Arrow at the start of her chapter– a surprisingly fun and effective combination– before they’re separated and Batgirl is offered the chance to basically rewrite her life and the world– again. It’s interesting how Batgirl’s place in the DC Universe now seems to revolve around how hard it has been to find a steady place for her– from Oracle to Birds of Prey to the Justice League to Burnside to now, Barbara has proven to be, basically unintentionally, one of DC’s most versatile characters. I’m curious about what her next role will be.
- It’s a good week for DC (and for you to go to your local comics shop). A bunch of other series I’m enjoying are getting releases this week too: Female Furies #4, The Dreaming #9, The Green Lantern #7, and Young Justice #5 are all out today.
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