I didn’t get the recent Dark Crisis miniseries from DC Comics because, seriously, ANOTHER cosmic mega-crossover with the fate of all existence at stake? However, I did end up picking up a few of the specials that tied in with Dark Crisis because I liked several of the creators who worked on them.
Dark Crisis: The Dark Army is written by Mark Waid, Delilah S. Dawson & Dennis Culver, drawn by Freddie E. Williams II & Jack Herbert, colored by Adriano Lucas, lettered by Troy Peteri and edited by Chris Rosa. I got the variant cover by Werther Dell’Edera.
A massive battle is taking place between Earth’s heroes and the supervillain army under the domination of Pariah. Damian Wayne / Robin devises a desperate plan to sever Pariah’s control of the Dark Army. Unfortunately he can only afford to take a few heroes away from the battle, choosing Sideways, Power Girl and Dr. Light, with newcomer Red Canary tagging along, much to Robin’s annoyance. The quintet begin a jaunt across the multiverse via Sideways’ dimensional portals.
I thought The Dark Army did a fair job with the characters. Robin is arrogant, bossy, headstrong & condescending, just like his father Batman, but we get glimpses that Damian does admire the other heroes for their convictions, and that he does genuinely value his friendship with Jon Kent / Superboy. Probably the highlight of The Dark Army is the back & forth snark between Robin and the equally headstrong, much more experienced Power Girl, who you just know is not going to have much patience for Damian’s know-it-all attitude.
It was also cool to have Dr. Light play a significant role in the story’s resolution. I’ve always though she was an underutilized character. And given that she was first introduced in Crisis on Infinite Earths, it makes sense to have her as a central figure in a story with several callbacks to that classic miniseries.
During the grand tour of the multiverse, it was nice to see, however briefly, versions of Captain Carrot and Mary Marvel… or Mary Shazam, or whatever DC is calling her nowadays. I appreciated that Mary was wearing the white uniform Jerry Ordway gave her in The Power of Shazam, since I feel that always helped give her an identity somewhat distinct from her brother.
I’m not too enthusiastic about DC continuing to use Dino-Cop, though. The character is obviously intended as a cute nod to Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon, but I feel he’s just too similar to Larsen’s creation to be showing up on a regular basis.
Freddie E. Williams II and Jack Herbert both do very solid work on The Dark Army. I’m a fan of Williams, so it’s always good to see his work. He draws a few really dynamic double-page spreads for this story. I’m unfamiliar with Herbert, but he has both a nice, slick polish to his work and a sort of atmospheric inking reminiscent of Mike Deodato.
The two artists have extremely different styles, but it’s not especially jarring going from Williams to Herbert and then back to Williams. The only exception to that is Herbert draws Robin as much taller & older-looking than Williams, to the point where Williams’ Damian almost feels like a different character from Herbert’s version.
The next special was Dark Crisis: War Zone. As with The Dark Army, it was a very character-driven issue, featuring several short vignettes spotlighting different heroes amidst the ginormous battle with Pariah’s army. Rafael Sarmento turns in a very striking cover.
“On Time” co-stars Iris West and Linda Park, and it was definitely a stroke of genius by Jeremy Adams to team up the wives of the second and third Flashes. The artwork by penciler Fernando Pasarin and inker Matt Ryan was solid. I would have enjoyed this one a lot more if it was longer than eight pages, though.
And that’s the weakness in all the segments in War Zone: none of them are really long enough to really give more than a cursory glimpse of the characters. There are five stories in this special, each of them eight pages, and I feel it would have benefited the book greatly to have cut out one of them and given two extra pages to each of the other four features.
The Green Lantern Corps story written by Matthew Rosenberg was another highlight. The interaction between gruff Corps veteran Guy Gardner and newcomer Sojourner “Jo” Mullein was well done. Rosenberg writes one of the better versions of Guy Gardner I’ve ever seen. Yeah, Guy is a gruff, arrogant hothead, but he also has the guts & conviction to back up his attitude, and when he sees that Jo can pull her own weight in a crisis he acknowledges that she has what it takes. Oh, yeah… leave it to Guy to use his ring to conjure up a chainsaw!
The offbeat artwork by George Kambadais and colors by Matt Herms was enjoyable. And I especially liked the distinctive, organic lettering by Troy Peteri.
“Birds of a Feather” follows on from Red Canary’s appearance in The Dark Army. Returning to the massive super-brawl on Earth, Red Canary meets her inspiration, Dinah Lance aka Black Canary. Delilah S. Dawson’s script gets some mileage out of the ever-revolving door of life & death in superhero comic books. Red Canary adopted her identity as a tribute to Black Canary after the later died… and here’s Dinah returned to life already, offering the following pithy explanation:
“Superhero stuff. Long story. But I can assure you it’s me, I’m not an evil twin, and I’m not secretly a zombie.”
Tom Derenick illustrates this meeting of the Canaries. I really enjoy Derenick’s work; he was the primary reason why I bought War Zone. He definitely does a good job on this story. I believe Derenick’s most recent ongoing assignment was the recently-cancelled Teen Titans Academy, and I hope DC gives him another series to draw soon. “Birds of a Feather” was another story that I really wish had been longer.
Rounding out my Dark Crisis purchases is Big Bang, which was far and away my favorite of the three specials. Big Bang is the epilogue to the whole event, establishing that the multiverse has at long last been restored to an infinite number of alternate realities for the first time since the first Crisis series back in 1986.
Well, honestly, I thought the whole “Hypertime” thing already did that in the late 199s, but that never seemed to stick, and for the last decade or so DC’s had the whole “52 alternate Earths” going. So it’s nice for them to (again) remove that limit and give us a literally unlimited number of parallel Earths. Let’s just hope this time they keep it that way and don’t flush it down the toilet again two or three crossovers down the road!
Anyway, Big Bang opens with Barry Allen, the Flash of the Silver Age, declaring “I’m looking for the man who murdered me.” With the multiverse restored, Barry is concerned that the cosmic menace known as the Anti-Monitor, the entity who caused his death back during Crisis on Infinite Earths, is out there, somewhere amidst the myriad alternate realities. Accompanied by Wallace West, the new Kid Flash, Barry begins exploring the multiverse, searching for any sign of the Anti-Monitor.
I got into DC Comics in the early 1990s, so for me Wally West is MY Flash. I didn’t see the point of bringing back Barry because writers such as Mark Waid did a fantastic job establishing Wally as a worthy hero who at long last stepped out from his predecessor’s shadow. Having said that, I feel Waid did a good job on Big Bang writing Barry. I guess no matter who the Flash happens to be, Waid has a really affinity for writing the Fastest Man Alive.
I got Big Bang because it was penciled by Dan Jurgens, whose work I have really enjoyed since he was one of the primary creative forces on the Superman books in the early 1990s. Waid’s story, with Flash and Kid Flash exploring the multiverse, provides Jurgens with the opportunity to draw numerous alternate Earths and their superpowered occupants. That includes Earth-27, with its dinosaur Jurassic League.
Barry and Wallace eventually do locate the Anti-Monitor, who unfortunately attacks them before they can retreat. Barry is left in a desperate struggle to keep off-balance the awesomely-powered being who once took his life. Wallace uses the opportunity to recruit some of the multiverse’s greatest heroes against the Anti-Monitor. Of course Jurgens does a fantastic job illustrating this epic struggle.
It was cool to see the Victorian-era Wonder Woman from the Elseworlds graphic novel Amazonia and the future Superman from the Batman Beyond reality among this gathering of heroes. And even though I’m not especially thrilled with DC continuing the America’s Best Comics characters without Alan Moore, I still liked the cameo by Tesla Strong.
What I really liked about Big Bang is that it demonstrated you can have this sort of monumental cosmic conflict without padding it out across innumerable issues. Waid’s story is one-and-done and is therefore much the stronger for it.
Jurgens is inked on Big Bang by Norm Rapmund. I would have preferred Brett Breeding, Jurgens’ old inking partner from Superman, but Rapmund still does a fair job. (At least we got to see Jurgens and Breeding reunited on the recent The Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special.) Coloring is by Federico Blee, lettering by Troy Peteri, and editing is by Paul Kaminski, Brittany Holzherr & Dave Wielgosz.
Big Bang ends with a two-page text listing of many of the Earths in the restored multiverse. Waid is an absolute master of continuity, so if anyone was going to be able to put this one together it would be him. I had a fun time perusing it, and I was glad to see the Atomic Knights returned to continuity on Earth-17.
The one thing that I did not like about Dark Crisis: Big Bang was the cover. As with every DC release nowadays, Big Bang had several covers. The main one is by Mikel Janín showing Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman from Earth-118 getting smooshed together, or something. You have a story featuring the multiverse’s greatest heroes in an epic battle against the Anti-Monitor and THAT is the cover you come up with? Three editors on this book and none of them thought to have Jurgens, or any artist who specializes in big superhero action scenes, draw the story’s big set piece for the cover?
I feel that’s one of the drawbacks of EVERY issue having variant covers. There’s such a focus on coming up with all the different covers that there isn’t that effort to create that one single dramatic image that’s going to sell the book.
I ended up instead getting the Big Bang variant cover by Ariel Colon. It’s still not all that dramatic, but with the characters from various different realities being featured on it at least it brings across the whole “restored multiverse” theme of the story. Plus it has Dinosaur batman on it. How can you say “no” to Dinosaur Batman?
There was at least another Dark Crisis tie-in, The Deadly Green, that I missed, which I’ll probably try to find, since it features some Justice Society related characters.
For the most part I enjoyed these three specials. Yes, there was room for improvement on each of them, but for tie-ins to a big, overblown crossover they were certainly enjoyable. I just hope that some of the new heroes and alternate realities seen in them get the spotlight in the future.
3 thoughts on “Comic book reviews: Dark Crisis: The Dark Army / War Zone / Big Bang”
Excellent round-up and commentary, Ben. I do think you’ll enjoy The Deadly Green, it was my second favourite.
Re: Hawkgirl, Kendra’s been LatinX for awhile, I think as far back as the Robinson/Goyer Justice Society. Certainly since Rebirth.
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Given how big Crisis was back in 1985-6, the idea that the full multiverse has been restored seems like it really should be having much more of an impact on comic book readers. But I don’t see a lot of people talking about it…
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I imagine a lot of it has to do with reader burnout. How many cosmos-shattering events has DC done since Crisis on Infinite Earths? I’ve lost count.
Also, as I mentioned in my blog, the DC multiverse was originally supposed to return in the late 1990s with Hypertime. Then DC had the whole “52 Earths” thing going for over a decade, so we already had a few dozen parallel universes. So now bringing back the multiverse with an infinite number of Earths doesn’t seem all that much of a big deal.
And I’m sure that a lot of us are also wondering “How soon until DC does *another* mega-crossover and changes everything yet again?”
DC really needs to give the Crisis thing a rest.