Funnybook Babylon

May 1, 2008

DC Universe #0

Filed under: Reviews — David Uzumeri @ 3:27 am

Well, it’s out, and at least it was only fifty cents.

DC Universe #0Somewhere in the Illustrated Dictionary of Idioms, this issue’s cover is next to “The whole is less than the sum of its parts.” It’s cowritten by Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns, two industry juggernauts whose talents should perfectly patch over each others’ faults. It’s got art by a laundry list of the best talents not on exclusive contract to Marvel Comics. It’s got a clear mandate and a fresh start, and should be an ideal introduction into the current status quo of the DC Universe mythology for new readers, while also acting as an informative and enthusing tease for the next year or so for existing readers. This was what they sold the book as, and what we got was impenetrable to the former camp and redundant to the latter.

That said, a lot of people might have some questions about it, so inspired by the inimitable Douglas Wolk I’m going to try to go through this page-by-page and outline the notable aspects and creative forces behind each segment through the lens of examining the major Manichaean theme behind the issue.

Pg. 1: “This is everything. This is ME.” In the New York Comic Con preview copy, this was a larger text box that said “I am… EVERYTHING.” This could be interpreted as a last-minute creative change, but I find it more likely it was to cover up the yellow lightning bolt between the two text boxes in the finished copy. The NYCC promo version also lacked the gradient in the narration boxes that goes from black to red over the course of the issue. The spacefield seems to be the work of George Perez.

Pg. 2: A standard “iconic” shot of the Justice League mainstays, with the traditional “Big Seven” (possibly the characters on the “iconic” character covers of Final Crisis?) on top separated from the rest of the League’s most traditional members (Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Zatanna) on the bottom. The art is distinctively Justice League of America regular artist Ed Benes.

Pg. 3: Earths blow up. This is also likely George Perez, although he really just drew a bunch of circles with a compass and had Tom Smith photoshop in some Earth textures. This and…

Pg. 4: Are just recap of the two previous Crises. This page has the cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 by George Perez on top, with the full-body shot of Superboyman-Prime in the middle from Infinite Crisis #5 by Phil Jimenez. The last panel, of Darkseid’s eyes, is presumably from Final Crisis and drawn by that series’s artist J.G. Jones.

Pg. 5-7: A Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds teaser, with art by George Perez, Scott Koblish and Tom Smith. The first page consists of Superman fighting traditional Legion villain Tyr, with a tease of the existence of the Prime-led Legion of Super-Villains that will plague the heroes in LO3W. The next two pages are a double-page spread of Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes fighting Qwardian shadow demons from Crisis on Infinite Earths. These entities were last seen under the control of Darkseid in Death of the New Gods #3. This sequence doesn’t really do very much to sell the concept of the Legion, or the oncoming threat; hell, it doesn’t even explain who Superman Prime is. Truth be told, this week’s Action Comics #864 had to be really damn good (and it was) to offset the taste in my mouth after this preview. I understand that Johns (and I guess Morrison) didn’t have a lot of pages to work with for each of these little teasers, but two out of these three pages are just another George Perez gotta-catch-’em-all fight scene. If this is really the “new reader magnet” it’s sold as, surely more of that space could be used to set up and explain the 31st century’s situation. And if it’s for existing readers, you could tease more than “Legion and Superman vs. Shadow Demons”? Either way, this continues plot threads from the 2007 JLA/JSA crossover “The Lightning Saga” (Justice League of America #8-10, Justice Society of America #5-6) and the Action Comics arc “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” (AC #858-863).

Pg. 8-10: A “Batman R.I.P.” teaser, with art by Tony S. Daniel and Alex Sinclair. The first page is a stark black-and-red division of the forces of good (Batman, red) and forces of evil (Joker, black). The colors red and black have been playing a major role in Morrison’s Batman run as far back as the prose issue (Batman#663) where the Joker murdered many of his former minions via black and red toxic roses that only activated on contact with each other. There’s also the black and red of the Black Glove’s mysterious roulette wheel in the “Club of Heroes” arc from #667-669. These colors also bear particular significance to this issue, as demonstrated by the narration boxes (this will be discussed at the end of this analysis). In these pages, Batman discusses the existence and possible motivation of his new archenemy the Black Glove with his former archenemy the Joker. Joker is playing a “dead man’s hand”, aces and eights, with a kicker of – you guys are never going to believe this one – a joker. It’s a solid three-page sequence that will read well when collected with Batman RIP as a whole, but as a section of this issue, and as an introduction to Batman’s status quo for new readers, I can’t imagine this being anywhere other than somewhere between mystifying and impenetrable. It’s a technically fantastic scene, with crisp dialogue and a nice panel trick on the final of three pages relating to the Joker’s scheme as well as Harley Quinn’s costume design, but I’m not sure what it adds to “Batman R.I.P.”, this issue or any new reader’s potential experience. If you’ve been keeping up with Batman, this is just a crystallization of what’s already known – the Black Glove is racin’ after Batman’s ass with a plan built to thoroughly break Bruce Wayne as a human being. If this is your first exposure, it’s an unbelievably cryptic conversation between two bizarre versions of familiar icons. As with the rest of this comic, I’m struck by the question: who’s the audience? This is following plot threads from Grant Morrison’s Batman run: issues #655-658, #663-669 and #672-675 (so far). #670-671 are part of the seemingly-so-far-unrelated (and not collected with the rest of Morrison’s run) “Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” crossover arc with Nightwing, Robin and Detective Comics.

Pg. 11-13: A Wonder Woman: Gail Simone and Dan Didio Are Still Arguing About This Name teaser, with art by Aaron Lopresti, Matt Ryan and Alex Sinclair. Like the last segment, it seems at best shoehorned in, especially given that this story bears no creative or editorial links to Final Crisis or the other stories in this… preview… clip show… thing. Anyway, Wonder Woman fights a minotaur, and then what seems to be a bunch of scientists pick up remains from mass graves/stages for genocide in hopes that this will lead to a way to kill Wonder Woman. Also, the Greek Gods are looking on like Alexander Luthor and Superboy-Prime in Infinite Crisis (for a second I actually thought that was ’90s Mullet Superman watching stuff from the IC Crystal Funhouse and comics fandom was about to get pranked by Geoff Johns again). And then the cast of extras from 300 appear, ready to replace the Amazons. It feels – and is – utterly disconnected from the rest of the narrative, and only cements this issue’s vibe as a slightly better-written version of 2006’s $1 80-page debacle DCU: Brave New World. This follows up plot threads from Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman run, issues #14-19 (so far).

Pg. 14-16: A Green Lantern: Blackest Night prelude, with art by Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert and Alex Sinclair. On the first page, Hal and John investigate a murder scene on Earth, with the culprit seemingly the Black Hand; the next two-page spread consists of Black Hand walking on the barren death planet from the end of Green Lantern #25, interspersed with scenes detailing the status quos of all eight light corps. The Red Lanterns’s Atrocitus (introduced GL #28) beats the shit out of people in the name of the “Massacre of Sector 666” that Johns has promised will be explained in GL‘s current “Secret Origins” arc. The Orange/Avarice Lanterns have an alien figure, presumably Johns’s “Agent Orange”, acting, well, greedy. The Yellow Lanterns/Sinestro Corps seem to have Mongul as their figurehead. Black Hand is still vomiting. Hal Jordan is still figuring out how to identify a body. Ganthet and Sayd, renegade hippie free-love Guardians, are about to bestow the first Blue/Hope Lantern Ring. Some alien lady is starting up some weird Compassion/Indigo Corps with wizard staves. The Violet/Star Sapphire/Love Lantern rings are being sent out by the Zamarons. Black Hand is all like, “Yo Black Lantern, wassup?” This all follows up on plot threads set out in Geoff Johns’s entire Green Lantern run, from 2004’s 6-issue Green Lantern: Rebirth to now.

Pg. 17-19: A Final Crisis: Revelations teaser, with art by George Perez, Scott Koblish & Tom Smith (for the first two pages) and Philip Tan, Jeff de los Santos and David Baron (for the last one). This section ruminates on the current situation of the Spectre, an embodiment of the Wrath of God. Since former Gotham detective Crispus Allen ascended to the role in Infinite Crisis (set up in the final arc of Gotham Central, a unique and lamented series by Revelations‘s Greg Rucka), the Wrath of God has been used by writers to avenge nothing but petty street crimes. It seems that Final Crisis, with the help of Crispus’s creator, aims to change this situation; considering Rucka’s involvement this should be a very interesting story. It’s picking up story beats involving Crispus Allen from Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre and the end of Gotham Central, while there’s also been promised a decent amount of Renee Montoya involvement, whose tale has been told by Rucka across several books, from GC to 52 to last year’s criminally underselling Crime Bible: The Five Lessons of Blood. Speaking of which…

Pg. 20-23: A Final Crisis teaser with art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy and Alex Sinclair. The first page seemingly portrays Darkseid’s fall from the ‘higher plane’ of the Fourth World to Earth; this contrasts pretty starkly with the end of Countdown, where Darkseid died *on Earth*. This makes no goddamned sense, but it might be best to ignore the particular circumstances of his death considering Countdown‘s reception. The visual trick used to show this fall greatly resembles Zatanna’s travels through the dimensions in Morrison’s Seven Soldiers: Zatanna. The next three pages show Libra making his pitch to the supervillains of the DC Universe, again showing (like the Joker’s appearance earlier) that this story must take place after the villains’ return to Earth at the end of Salvation Run. Luthor’s absence certainly implies he’s left behind. Libra’s only previous appearance is in Justice League of America v1 #111, by Len Wein and Dick Dillin; I discuss it in the third chapter of Hits off the Source here. In that story, Libra, as evidenced by his scales motif, is obsessed with the “balance” between good and evil; these pages’ gray background (as opposed to the stark white or black of the rest of the book) cement that outlook. Everything else here is pretty straightforward; Darkseid reconstitutes himself while Libra does his Steve Martin in Leap of Faith impression to get a bunch of feared villains and the Pringles guy in a ‘crime suit’ to serve him in the name of Darkseid. The book on the table is, of course, the Crime Bible from last year’s miniseries, presumably the third missing copy Renee was unable to track down. Much has been made of the last few panels of this sequence, especially as Libra stares into the camera with blue eyes and the the narrator, now clearly the blue-eyed Barry Allen, says “this is ME”. Libra’s eyes were covered with white in JLA #111, so there’s no comparison point there. It could be Libra’s consciousness merged with Barry Allen’s, since they both apparently became one with the universe (Libra at the end of JLA #111, Barry in the first Crisis); Barry could be masquerading as Libra, or they could be two totally separate people.

Pg. 24: The money shot, as the Flash symbol is recreated over the moon with what a seedy strip club, presumably Libra’s meeting place, in the background. This page seems to be by J.G. Jones and Alex Sinclair. The credits indicate there is also work by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino; anybody who could tell me where I missed this would be greatly appreciated, since I can’t see his signature style anywhere (unless he’s responsible for drawing a bunch of circles on the first few pages). By now, the black-and-red dialogue box trick’s purpose is blatant, as Flash returns from the ‘dead’ or ‘void’ as his narrative boxes move from black to red; additionally, the link to the black-and-red snakeskin obsession of the Joker’s in the Batman R.I.P. segment.

Why the return of a superhero whose secret identity never much permeated into pop culture, and has been dead for over twenty years, is apparently worthy of mainstream media coverage is utterly beyond me. The hero, and the reveal, aren’t even explained – you have to have a fairly extensive knowledge of the DCU to get it. For a layman, this means almost nothing.

And that’s where this entire thing goes cold. What’s the purpose of this? If you’ve been following the DC Universe’s major storylines over the past few years, none of this is going to be a major surprise. Crispus has a series coming up; Libra is DC’s equivalent of the Hood; Kal-El’s childhood Legion is back; the Black Glove is coming for Batman. For the longterm reader, this really may as well have been a Post-It note stuck in the back of Action Comics or something that says “PS Barry’s comin back C U soon”. If you haven’t been following the DCU, well…

I lent a copy to my buddy Addison Godel. He’s not a random guy from outside of the target comics-reading audience; while he hasn’t been keeping up with DC, he’s reading current Marvel titles, All Star Superman, some Vertigo stuff, he even read “Reign of the Supermen” back in the ’90s – in theory, this is the kind of reader, the superhero-literate DCU prodigal, that this book was formulated to ensnare. He called it “completely impenetrable.” I understand completely. His major complaint was that, after reading it, he had no idea what the hell it was even about – it was just a bunch of quick three-page snippets of stories, with cryptic ads following. There’s almost no opportunity for proper character identification; each little segment is basically two pages of catch-up and then a slight “OH SHIT” moment to keep current readers satiated. At the end of the day, this is just a really nicely drawn, extended “Rip Hunter’s Time Board” for readers to dissect and analyze. As a loss-leader book that leads into a bunch of different titles, it lacks the singular narrative viewpoint and clear story arc of 2005’s Countdown to Infinite Crisis. As a collaborative effort, it lacks the thematic unity and sense of direction of 2006’s 52. As a teaser for upcoming projects directed at existing fans, it provides precious little new information. It’s not a story, it’s not an ad, it’s a bizarre information dump peppered with obscure clues. It’s like one of those “Catch up on LOST in 8 1/2 minutes!” YouTube videos that presuppose audience interest in the explanation. It doesn’t show and it doesn’t sell, it just sits there, a stake in the ground begging the reader to forget about Countdown to Final Crisis because God knows the writers did. Morrison and Johns may be top-flight storytellers, but at least in this instance they aren’t very good promoters.

Come on, guys. This was supposed to be a new game. Why does the scoreboard say inning ten?

19 Comments »

  1. […] so a lot of people are giving it a chance. If you don’t want to, other people (like our ownDavid) have broken it all down for […]

    Pingback by Funnybook Babylon · Archives · Pull List Analysis/Reviews for April 30, 2008 — May 1, 2008 @ 7:16 am

  2. David,

    Wow. This is the most accurate review I’ve read yet! I’m much like your friend Addison Godel. I used to read some DC comics as a kid, the only DC book I currently read is Shooter’s Legion, and I’m planning to read both Marvel and DC’s big event comics this year for fun to see what’s going on with the superhero status quo. I also found this book impenetrable.

    My thoughts were: “Why is Superman hanging out in the future and who is this Legion, because they’re not the one in the Legion comic?” “Why is Batman worried about dying when this comic is going to reveal Barry Allen on the last page?” “So, Wonder Woman is going to cross over with 300?” “Where was Barry Allen???”

    My biggest gripe is I love Barry Allen. As a kid, I bought almost the entire run of his comic and I read Flash until sometime during Mark Waid’s run when I got bored with superheroes. This book was promoted as bringing Barry back – where was he???

    I plan on reading your page by page breakdown later so I can hopefully understand what the Hell happened in the comic. I’m just kinda upset I have to read a long page by page examination to understand a 50 cent comic made for promoting DC comics to lapsed readers.

    Comment by Kenny — May 1, 2008 @ 7:38 am

  3. I read your page by page breakdown.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought Wonder Woman was fighting the Spartans from 300.

    I’m also mystified as to how Barry Allen clearly appeared anywhere in the book. I got the lightening over the moon thing, but that was all. Everything else = if you say so.

    The Batman pages also cement my opinion that Morrison has great ideas with horrific execution. There’s no way any of that subtext you discussed was going to be found by someone not reading Morrison’s Batman run. It’s like Arkham Asylum all over again, if you don’t already know everything about the characters going in, then you’re going to be *really* lost.

    Comment by Kenny — May 1, 2008 @ 9:30 am

  4. Honestly, for 50 cents I should not be upset that I essentially paid for an ad.

    but…

    Didn’t Didio say something in the DC panel about how they were going to make this Countdown 0, but then, he didn’t have the heart and so they made it DC Universe 0 and dropped the price to 50 cents? That made me think I was getting a real comic for a low price. Instead, I got a hodgepodge of nonsense. It was hard to tell the content pages and house ads apart.

    I mean, I at least expected original art, not stuff pulled from other books.

    Then, I guess this does stand up to most of Countdown. At least Countdown 29, which was the last one I bought.

    Comment by Michael Craven — May 1, 2008 @ 10:09 am

  5. Having given up on COUNTDOWN early in it’s run (I smelled the writing on the wall, if I may mix my metaphors), I was hoping this book would get me jazzed about FINAL CRISIS, though the opposite was achieved. If my curiosity in seeing what Grant and JG can collectively conjure for the mainstream DCU wasn’t so overpowering, I’d have absolutely no desire to continue with any of this Crisis hoohah.

    Are DC’s editors and higher-ups so far up their own asses that they have become oblivious to the readability and cohesiveness of their “most important” books? To see and recognize COUNTDOWN’s colossal failures, and then produce this as a follow-up/coda/bridge is unforgivable. This was, I agree, impenetrable nonsense. Low cover price be damned, I feel robbed!

    Comment by Pop-Monkey — May 1, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

  6. After reading this, my only response is: fuck you, Geoff Johns.

    Comment by Dan Coyle — May 1, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

  7. Right, because everything that made DCU0 a bad comic is entirely the fault of Geoff Johns, and Grant Morrison was sitting off in the corner chained to a desk trying to get his quality pieces of script in while being crushed under Johns and Didio’s heels. Or, you know, maybe everyone involved had the best of intentions and what resulted didn’t work. “Fuck you, Geoff Johns” is a reductionist approach that doesn’t really explain why this didn’t work.

    Comment by David Uzumeri — May 1, 2008 @ 2:10 pm

  8. What if one were to add, “Oh yeah, Fuck you, too, Grant Morrison, Dan Didio, and Paul Levitz?” Would that fix it?

    It seems to me the problem is the editing at DC has just gone off the rails. Editing should be in place to force writers to make their work more coherrent. I’m not saying it has to be like the 60’s and every book should read like it’s someone’s first ever comic book, but comics also shouldn’t read like, “Who are these people and what the Hell are they doing???”

    If the book is nothing more than a collection of teasers, the book should serve to instill interest in people who otherwise wouldn’t buy the comics being advertised. Which really is the problem with DC and Marvel and why Viz and TokyoPop are beating them so soundly – they’re not trying to appeal to anyone outside the already established fanbase.

    Comment by Kenny — May 1, 2008 @ 3:10 pm

  9. Sorry, David. I shouldn’t have posted that.

    To wit: the sequences with the heroes themselves read to me like the sort of things Johns would write and has written for the past decade. Scenes suggesting the heroes have come up short, they deserve what they get, the stakes be high, the world’s getting dark and they’re just not good enough. Not only does this stomp on what other writers have done with the characters there’s just something so very odd about a man writing story after story featuring dismemberment, evil acts occuring solely to be avenged later, familial disconnection and loneliness, even having a baby shot point blank on panel in one of his stories, to have the God of the universe complain that the world is too dark and the heroes haven’t done enough, they’re ashamed, they’re tired, no matter what they do, their victories are always phyrric.

    Everyone hurts.

    Nothing gets better.

    Who wants to read that?

    Comment by Dan Coyle — May 1, 2008 @ 6:01 pm

  10. Geoff Johns shot a baby? That’s pretty fucking dark, but even with that and a whole lot more I think it’s unfair to categorize his work as unrelentingly morose. There’s always an undercurrent of hope. Granted I can’t for the life of me recall where that happened so maybe I’m talking out my ass.

    However, even if that’s the case, it’s only natural. Johns is riding shotgun for Final Crisis, the event to end all events wherein Evil wins and a dark god descends to Earth. It makes perfect sense to be setting the heroes up with a growing sense of being unable to win or feeling left out of the big picture. The test for his writing is whether they really make it past this and score a big win. Something to show that progress is being made.

    Comment by HitTheTargets — May 1, 2008 @ 10:52 pm

  11. I love morrison and usually enjoy Johns but I do agree this endeavor was pretty pointless. This is essentially a variation on all those goofy teasers we were shown prior to Countdown, only this time with 3 pages of loose context to go with them. It does little to offer current readers incentive to keep reading beyond the storylines in the books they’re already getting and it’s otherwise impenetrable to an audience even a little outside the loop.

    As an aside I went to high-school with your buddy Addison Godel. It’s kind of surreal reading about some guy you knew from anime club and science olympiad getting name dropped in a comics article 8 years on.

    Comment by Scott Dryman — May 2, 2008 @ 3:51 am

  12. I reread it last night and not only is this book bad as an incomprehensible whole, the dialog is awful too. Even the Batman bit (BTW, after reading that bit I feel like characters in the DCU treat ‘dying’ like going on vacation).

    Comment by Michael Craven — May 2, 2008 @ 9:06 am

  13. I’m not sure if we were all reading the same book. I read the $.50 DC Universe #0 special and I absolutely loved it. Wonder Woman going to war against the Patriarchy? AWESOME!!! Batman RIP?? Are you kidding me? This is going to rock something fierce – Morrison been building this bad boy for years. Never been a Legion fan – but I know there are a bunch out there, so I won’t begrudge the Superman and the Legion of 3 Worlds teaser; comics aren’t just for me, after all. And what a great mystery at the end…is Libra really Barry Allen? Wonder where they will be going with this. Either way, promises to be a hell of a ride for the next year! I’m aboard and strapped in.

    Comment by Dan Bizzle — May 2, 2008 @ 2:48 pm

  14. Dan B., I think you misinterpreted me a bit. First of all, Wonder Woman isn’t fighting the patriarchy, the patriarchy is fighting Wonder Woman. Secondly, I’m still excited for basically every comic in DC Universe #0, I just felt it was an amazingly poor sales tool. As someone who’s been keeping up with everything, yeah, I guess this was pretty cool, but I was going to buy everything anyway. I was hoping this would be the comic – like Johns and Didio have explicitly promised – I could use to show friends why the DCU is so damn cool, and it is just not it.

    Comment by David Uzumeri — May 2, 2008 @ 3:43 pm

  15. So I guess the Flash is the Universe, or at least the Bleed? That makes Grant Morrison sense.

    Comment by John R. — May 3, 2008 @ 3:31 am

  16. Dan Coyle, while all that stuff did go down in Geoff Johns stories (although I admit I have no recollection of the point-blank infanticide), I’d argue that the rate of improvement in his writing is faster than anyone else out there – the stuff he’s doing right now, both in terms of subject matter and technical skill, is miles beyond the work of Geoff Johns 2005. Yeah, he’s told some pretty bleak stories, but all his recent work on the Superman books, Justice Society, Booster Gold, etc., while sometimes filled with over-the-top “evil” villains, have generally been pretty optimistic, “the good will always shine through” kind of stuff. I can understand that opinion based on his work circa Infinite Crisis, but I really don’t think that’s a criticism that applies anymore.

    Comment by David Uzumeri — May 5, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

  17. “Pringles guy in a ‘crime suit’” looks to be the Human Flame.

    Comment by Dan Brown — May 6, 2008 @ 1:56 pm

  18. Oh, it’s def the Human Flame, I was just trying to get perhaps unnecessarily creative with my prose. Apologies. (the original Martian Manhunter ‘tec backup where he debuted had him going YO, BRO! I just spent cash on a CRIME SUIT!)

    Comment by David Uzumeri — May 6, 2008 @ 3:24 pm

  19. pages 15 and 16 were drawn (where we rainbow colage of lanterns and black hand) is drawn by carlos pachecho and jesus merino. the last page with the lightning bolt is also drawn by pacheco and merino. (the type of shading that pacheco uses on the building are very recognizable.)

    Comment by avin harr — May 16, 2008 @ 6:43 pm

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