What Are You Reading? | A ‘Dark Crisis’ comes calling

See what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately.

Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately. Today’s reviews include the first issue of Dark Crisis, the Marvel/Fortnite crossover, The Very Last Final Girls and more.

Let us know what you’ve been reading lately in the comments or on social media.

Tom Bondurant

This week brought Dark Crisis #1, written by Joshua Williamson, drawn by Daniel Sampere, and colored by Alejandro Sanchez. It was fine, but it lacked the creeping dread which had accompanied the first issues of just about every other recent Big DC Event. The two Metal miniseries were billed as over-the-top extravaganzas where things went from awful to awesome. Before that, Final Crisis and Infinite Crisis each answered the quintessential question, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

I mean, Dark Crisis isn’t bad at all. It’s told largely from the perspective of Jon “Superman” Kent, and since he’s trying to hold things together after most of the Justice League has (apparently) died, it’s fairly optimistic. Jon isn’t the kind of character who’s either going to be overwhelmed or go hardcore drill-sergeant on his colleagues. Accordingly, when he puts together an interim Justice League, first in line to criticize is Black Adam, who sneers that they’re not “capable protectors.” Adam does suggest that Nightwing lead the team, which takes us to Titans’ Tower and the issue’s cliffhanger.

Lack of dread aside, this was a good survey of the current DC Universe. Jon’s recruiting introduces us to newer characters like the current Wonder Girl, and it also lets him get advice from folks who know a little about legacies, like Hal Jordan and Wally West. Sampere and Sanchez keep things light, open, and engaging, which – again – runs a little counter to Black Adam’s doomsday mutterings. One presumes that the tension will ratchet up appropriately with issue #2, so maybe I should just be happy to have a first issue that’s not as grim as I expected?

All of my selections this week have something to do with past Big Events, and next up is Flashpoint Beyond issue #2. Not only does it revisit the apocalyptic Flashpoint timeline, it ties into Doomsday Clock. Geoff Johns wrote both those events, but here he’s joined by Tim Sheridan and Jeremy Adams. Xermanico drew most of the issue (colored by Romulo Fajardo Jr.), with a two-page sequence from Mikel Janin (colored by Jordie Bellaire). This issue is about the Thomas Wayne Batman -– who knows that the Flashpoint timeline shouldn’t exist -– trying to figure out what’s going on. To that end he’s investigating the deaths of various time-travelers, from the Lord of Time to Barry Allen. This leads him to the Psycho-Pirate, the one person who remembers all of the Multiverse’s various changes, who’s just been dropped off at Arkham Asylum. I didn’t especially care for Flashpoint or the Thomas Wayne Batman, but for the most part I liked the journey that this issue took me on. It does seem to be building to a decent-sized multiversal mystery, and that will always get my attention. Xermanico makes some nice storytelling choices, especially in the way he uses character closeups during Batman’s encounter with an Arkham inmate; and Fajardo’s palette is a good blend of washed-out browns and yellows contrasting with deeper blues and reds. They get to show off on a classic “Batman beats up muggers” scene, even if the scene itself goes a little grim. Overall, though, Johns and company have gotten me on board.

Finally, I read Multiversity: Teen Justice #1, written by Ivan Cohen and Danny Lore, drawn by Marco Failla, and colored by Enrica Eren Angiolini. If you had forgotten that Earth-11 was the gender-swapped universe (Superwoman, Batwoman, etc.), this book eases you into the setup. Most of it is an action sequence which serves to introduce the characters and the point-of-view character which sets up the larger plot. The fun of these multiversal stories is often in the nods to vanilla continuity, and this has some of that; but really, these characters are appealing on their own. The art is energetic and expressive, and the whole issue is pretty fun. There’s no miniseries notation on the cover, so if this is an ongoing series, it’s a good start.

Carla Hoffman

Marketing! It’s why we read the books: someone convinced us they were cool before we even looked inside. Comic book publishers, who shell out the money for this marketing, always want a clear line to the ever elusive “new reader.” No one wants to be left behind, so the Big Two love to make sure that John and Jane Q. Public remain a target audience; no comic should be too dense with lore or self-referential that the average MCU fan can’t enjoy their heroes in this “strange other medium” that they were originally taken from. Yep, as much as die-hards may hate to admit it, comics are indeed for everyone, even those who have never read a comic before.

So, what are some ways we can entice new readers into the tangled web we’ve weaved around these decades-old characters? This week, I want to take a lot at two methods and judge how successful they are at their job: Dark Crisis #1 and Fortnite x Marvel: Zero War #1.

Dark Crisis? Don’t mind if I do! Nothing says “let’s grab everybody’s attention” like a summer event book! And with the word ‘Crisis’ in the title, it clues old readers into thinking that this is going to (once again) drastically change the DC Universe and no one wants to be left out of that. The cover is full of superheroes from the newer generation and the legacy heroes they came from; this all points to a multi-hero, time spanning, ‘dump out your toy box and play hard’ kind of book. And, for the most part, it is. Sure, the premise is kind of hokey (the Justice League is dead! Let’s make a new one! Also there is a great darkness out to destroy everything!), but if you’re luring in new readers, that’s a hokey premise is fine. What should be shining here is individual characters to create curiosity about solo titles and other books, and a simple plot gives the creative team the freedom to explore our heroes and villains personally. This, being the first issue, is a lot of table setting: our premise, our main protagonists, the driving force of the plot, maybe a villain tease here and there. All of that gets done pretty quickly and succinctly.

Maybe that’s the problem, though. Characters are shuffled on and off panel in rapid succession with nary a name plate or establishing shot outside of a location, just given their lines and it’s off to somewhere else. Luckily, I work at a comic shop and am a huge nerd, so I recognize things like the D.E.O. and Killer Frost, but I don’t think a little text box telling new readers who they are would be all that distracting. I also have no idea about the last page reveal, which means it’s a terrible last page reveal! Some guy wants to destroy the multiverse? That’s like seeing a sky beam in a Marvel movie; you know it’s a threat but it’s nothing we haven’t all seen before. I can’t say this issue is a must read (yet); the checklist of Dark Crisis in the back of the issue highlights solo specials for each of the Justice League members who have ‘died’, a second series about the Next Generation Justice League and a through-line running through The Flash’s regular series (ha ha), meaning this Summer Event is going to be rather easy to collect. Long time readers may skip this one as a blurb in Previews or this very review could catch you up on all you need to know, but for new fans, this might actually be a great stepping stone into the world of DC Comics and following a bigger series.

Meanwhile, back at Marvel: I don’t play Fortnite, but I do understand its hold on a generation of popular culture. I may be out of touch with the kids and their Tickety-Toks but I do know a phenomenon when I see one and what better way to attract new readers than to ride those coattails? And don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad thing or a cheap pop: we know that Batman or Spider-Man teaming up with the PGA Tour could potentially slip some new eyeballs into a local comic shop, that’s just the fear of missing out, collector’s creep and other viable marketing tricks. What I’m curious about is the execution of it all; does this comic do its job and lure new readers to the Marvel Universe?

It’s not great. Most of the issue is just recap and setup for the plot of what I assume is the Fortnite game and why the Marvel Heroes get caught up in things; the deep lore could be neat for fans to have as a reference or recap in the same way that movie adaptations are a thing, but as far as the Marvel Universe side of things go, however, very little attention is paid to it. This could have been any other property slotted into the Fortnite universe with very little change; do the NBA All Stars have a wise-cracking player to take the place of Spider-Man? The art by Sergio Dávila reminds me a lot of Mark Bagley, with a very glossy finish from inker and colorist Sean Parsons and Edgar Delgado respectively, which doesn’t exactly match the very smooth toned art from the game which might be jarring to Fortnite fans. Now, I totally understand that most people buying this comic are looking for the In Game Code that gives them a cool Spider-Man costume, but for those looking to read the book wrapped around that code, I don’t think anyone’s going to be too impressed with the contents therein.

JK Parkin

I also read Dark Crisis #1 this week, but I’m not sure I have much to add beyond what Tom and Carla have already said — except that the set-up reminded me a lot of Infinite Crisis, which, as you may recall, also involved a bunch of villains causing a bunch of trouble at the same time that someone from the first Crisis on Infinite Earths who we thought was a good guy was doing some really bad stuff. Superboy, have you met Pariah? And hey, DC superheroes, after this is all over, let’s get some eyes on Harbinger before she breaks bad next.

Something I will talk about, though, is The Very Final Last Girls #1, a new comic from Darby Pop that popped up for free on Comixology this past week. Despite how hard Comixology has made it to read comics on their app these days (ahem) I still downloaded and suffered through the annoyances. And I’m glad I did.

The Very Final Last Girls is a new horror comic from Josh Eiserike, Z. Crockett, Andres Barrero and Michael Woods. It will actually be released later this month in print as a 160+ graphic novel, and this free download appears to have the first 26 pages. It’s a set-up telling you what the story’s about, but the creators had some fun here with the intro. They start out by focusing on Megan Williams and her sister, Reese, who are trapped in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. It’s very Walking Dead; they’re in an old cabin somewhere in the Rockies, mom and dad are “gone” and Reese is looking very worse for wear, to the point that you suspect she’s about to turn into a zombie herself (which is driven home in a heartbreaking scene where Megan almost shoots her).

Then … things happen. I didn’t know much about the story when I downloaded it, so I assumed at first this was another zombies survival book, but it’s not that. The creative team has a lot of fun playing with horror movie tropes here, and I won’t spoil where the book is actually going (although the descriptions you’ll find at Amazon, etc. will give you an idea of what the book is actually about. But hey, don’t read those — do what I did, and go in without knowing anything. It’s more fun that way, esp. given it’s a free preview.

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