Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately — including comics from the past, present and future.
Let us know what you read this week in the comments or on social media.
This week I want to talk about Dark Nights: Death Metal #3 and Final Crisis. Three issues into Death Metal I feel like its preliminaries are over and the second act is about to start. Granted, this is officially a seven-issue miniseries and a big chunk of that second act will probably take place in all those tie-ins DC has announced. That’s fine; superhero readers know by now that you kind of sign up for that when you (literally) buy into one of these events.
Anyway, this particular issue – written by Scott Snyder, pencilled by Greg Capullo, inked by Jonathan Glapion and colored by FCO Plascencia – sees our heroes start to put their plans in motion. It’s well done, as usual. Zombie Jonah Hex gets in a couple of good lines, I wasn’t expecting a Batman/Silver Surfer mashup, and all three of the major Flashes are reunited for the first time since at least the New 52 took over. Wonder Woman does have some exposition which amounts to an advertisement for those tie-ins; but she also wraps up the issue with a speech that is both inspirational and metatextual. Essentially she says this is our problem and we can fix it, which to me spoke to DC’s various attempts to wrangle its hodgepodge of continuity into something approaching a coherent setting (if not a coherent narrative). Death Metal does have a significant downside, which involves – appropriately enough, considering that it’s about wrong choices and worst-case scenarios – combining DC’s vast storehouse of goofball trivia with its perceived propensity for “going dark.” This is personified in all the various Bat-mashups (Atom! Flash! Car! Dinosaur! City!) and the extent to which Snyder and company want to convey the decades of DC history. I think they can thread this needle successfully, but I’m a DC lifer.
All that said, a lot of DM #3’s opening sequence (and a bit with the Flashes) reminded me heavily of 2008-09’s blockbuster DC event, Final Crisis (written by Grant Morrison and drawn by J.G. Jones, Doug Mahnke and others). I re-read FC this week in a couple of big chunks because I pretty much couldn’t put it down. Morrison and Jones front-load the miniseries with so many ominous signs and portents that you get sucked in immediately. The plot is essentially Earth’s superheroes reacting to Darkseid’s near-instantaneous takeover of the Earth, so there are many crowded (but well-staged) fight scenes and a lot of initial losses. Darkseid has corrupted everything from the Marvel Family to the Green Lantern Corps. However, FC is also about the power of stories, and Superman in particular as the personification of undying hope. The Final Crisis collection I have includes the two-part Superman Beyond tie-in where Supes joins a group of his multiversal counterparts and fights a cosmic vampire, all in a desperate attempt to save Lois’ life. The solution involves bringing back an elixir that only Superman could carry.
Likewise, Final Crisis leans heavily into the old “vibrational frequency” model of the Multiverse as an expression of “the music of the spheres,” so Superman ends up singing Darkseid out of existence. Parts of it are very clunky, like a romantic subplot involving a couple of the Monitors; and parts of it I remember as very off-putting (particularly the evil Mary Marvel, taken over by DeSaad). However, its climactic rah-rah moment brings together the army of Supermen, the Green Lantern Corps, the heavenly host of the Pax Dei, and Captain Carrot’s Zoo Crew, to kill the aforementioned cosmic vampire once and for all. Again, Final Crisis excels at creating the sort of creeping dread that makes you both afraid to turn the page and excited to see how the superheroes will respond. Death Metal isn’t as terrifying, but it could be as inspirational.
This week I’ve really been digging deep into late ’80s Spider-Man, particularly his battle with the Kingpin and Richard Fisk, Kingpin’s son, The Rose. This is the era I came into Spider-Man and I really find it immensely interesting. You see these comics, particularly Gang War, are really as much about Kingpin’s slide into obsession than anything else. He was obsessed with Daredevil so much and Daredevil was obsessed so much with him, that they didn’t care who’s lives it spilled over into and affected. Kingpin ignored his son because of his obsession and it hurt him, leading to his son killing a man and eventually working for him. Meanwhile Spider-Man is used by both Daredevil and Kingpin both to end the gang war as Kingpin turns in his whole organization so he is protected from prosecution and is able to protect his wife, Vanessa. All this is going on while Nuke is blowing up New York in Daredevil, and Kingpin is setting up the ending to “Born Again.” It’s such a fascinating time in comics as all these books had a cohesion that hasn’t really been matched since.
The other thing that these books really outline is the line these heroes are willing to cross. Spider-Man is a good vs. evil guy. Things are black and white for him, which is appropriate since he’s in the black and white costume here. Daredevil is all about the greater good, no matter the consequences and the dirt, but it has to still be legal. And then there’s Punisher, who will just straight up kill a guy if he thinks he’s bad. Together they’re a full spectrum of vigilantism, and I think that’s why I keep coming back to this era again and again over the years.
These guys, together with the Kingpin, faced each other over and over during the ’80s, and it grounded them all in New York, making them feel more real and with it, the stories in between these issues that deal with space gods like the Beyonder.
I was hoping that Empyre would recover from last week’s seemingly out of sequence reveals and right the ship of this summer mega event; the way that when you trip, you put your hand out to catch yourself to keep from falling. A pacing issue that made the narrative get clunky is easily fixed in the grand scheme of six issues, right?
Billy continues to explain the concept of a quickie Vegas wedding before Teddy goes into space to become king with a few pages of really lovely artwork to show how happy they were in the spur of the moment, but then there’s about two panels to explain that Wiccan found the real Hulking imprisoned Man in the Iron Mask style, learns how he was ambushed and an imposter was put in his place on the throne and then teleported to confront the bad guys. This grand reveal feels like it has nothing to do with the Cotati invasion of Earth, where Black Panther tries to make a last stand only to be stabbed with a sword by an off panel assailant; either Quoi or the veggie Swordsman has apparently killed the King of Wakanda and that, my friends, deserved an epic splash page of dire importance. It just feels like the story is getting improperly paced as we head into the home stretch here, where it’s not the content that is bothering me as a reader so much as how much of that content I’m getting. There’s only one issue left of the main series before we pick up the pieces in three aftermath issues, one of which is for Venom who I don’t think has been seen in the main story?
At least Empyre #5 ends with Reed Richards in a custom Iron Man armor so… that’s cool.
Pacing doesn’t seem to be a problem with Immortal Hulk #36 (forced segway!), where Al Ewing continues to bring the creeping horror dread of man and monster. By now, the story has evolved into something bigger and more menacing than it started, much like the Hulk himself. I can’t say it’s as new-reader-friendly as by #36 there are wheels in motion that have been set since the new series started and even before that, but I can say that it’s worth diving into for fans of existentialist horror and psychological drama. Odd to say about a character more commonly known for his HULK SMASH! approach and a far cry from Mark Ruffallo’s mo-cap action figures, so maybe grab a trade collection of Immortal Hulk or some of the earlier done-in-one issues to get a new skin crawling sensation from the man and the monster within.