Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

War Correspondence

Posted by Don MacPherson on April 20th, 2007

In the latter part of its run, DC’s 52 has proven to be a solidly entertaining read, with some solid super-hero action, melodrama and imaginative use of obscure characters, so I was looking forward to this spinoff event. I’m at a loss as to why DC would release all the episodes of a five-issue story in the same week. The publisher clearly expects potential readers to pick up all the issues, so why not release it as a special, graphic-novel sized issue of 52? I thought that would prove to be the most frustrating and puzzling aspect of 52/WW III, but I was quickly proved wrong. The plot is limited to just one of these five comic books. The rest of them seem to serve only to address a number of minor points of continuity and little more. I don’t mind DC sorting out its continuity, but it shouldn’t have come at the cost of storytelling and characterization, which should be priorities, not afterthoughts.

52/WW III Part One: A Call to Arms #1
by Keith Champagne, Pat Olliffe & Drew Geraci
52/WW III Part Two: The Valiant #1
by Keith Champagne, Andy Smith & Ray Snyder
52/WW III Part Three: Hell Is For Heroes #1
by John Ostrander, Tom Derenick & Norm Rapmund
52/WW III Part Four: United We Stand #1
by John Ostrander, Jack Jadson & Rodney Ramos
52 Week 50
by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen, Justiniano & Walden Wong
Editors: Peter Tomasi & Michael Siglain
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.50 US/$2.99 CAN per issue

The good news about 52/WW III Part One: A Call to Arms #1 is that it’s illustrated by Pat Olliffe. I really like the clean, traditional look of his super-hero artwork, and he always seems quite at home within the genre. The softer leanings in his style tends to bring out the humanity in the god-like characters, the colors by Hi-Fi are bright, bringing out the heroes’ and villain’s powers vividly. However, the overall tone of this event is a dark, ugly one. This is about genocide and war, so Olliffe’s style may not be the best choice. Then again, if DC just wants people to perceive this as a super-hero action story, then the visual bluff may be intended.

What also becomes apparent in this first episode of the one-week event is that it’s not just about Black Adam’s global, revenge-driven tantrum. This issue opens with an emphasis on the Martian Manhunter and how distant he feels from humanity, and that is a notion that’s often revisited in other episodes in the line. There’s also a strong sequence featuring Firestorm and Firehawk that’s entertaining. Mostly, this issue consists of a series of Black Adam’s shows of strength, interspersed with glimpses of other characters as they transition into their “One Year Later” phases by the end of the series. Also frustrating is the fact that Black Adam’s motives aren’t entirely clear. He blames certain nations — Bialya and China — for the death of his “family” and his country, but we seen rampage across the entire planet, spouting such tired phrases as “an eye for an eye.” I get the notion of unfocused rage, but not for this long and to this degree. I get that we’re supposed to get a chill from seeing so much power running rampant, but I found the premise a bit difficult to swallow. 5/10

A lot happens in 52/WW III Part Two: The Valiant #1. We see Donna Troy adopt the mantle of Wonder Woman (though we’ve seen little of it in the Amazon Princess’s own title). We see Aquaman transform into a new form as he arranges for Sub Diego to be restored to San Diego once more. We see Supergirl return from the 31st century, and much more. But it seems as though all of these little plot points are in service to DC’s “One Year Later” brand and bridging the continuity gaps between 52 continuity and the events of “One Year Later.” The problem is that those latter events unfolded a year ago, and curiosity about the gap faded months ago.

Andy Smith is better known in the industry as an inker, but he’s not a stranger to pencilling chores either. Still, his work here never really rises above the status of merely ordinary. The confusing story structure — with fragments of different scenes interspersed amid the main action — doesn’t make it easy on the artist to make things look attractive. Despite the snippets of action with which the reader is bombarded, there aren’t any visuals that really grabbed me here, and I found the backgrounds to be lacking at times.

One irksome element in Keith Champagne’s script is the lack of exposition. It’s fair to expect that this book will attract mainly readers of 52, who will be up to speed on the events of that series. But the writer fails to include background information on the non-52 elements. Example, he doesn’t explain the submerged California city and Aquaman’s efforts to save its populace. The sea gods who appear to Aquaman aren’t even named here. I read a lot of DC’s comics, and I was still at loss at several points in this supposed “story.” 3/10

One of the subplots explored in 52/WW III Part Three: Hell Is For Heroes #1 is how Amanda Waller managed to plant the seeds for a new Suicide Squad while also serving as the White Queen of Checkmate. Never mind that it was no great mystery in the Checkmate title itself, but it contributes nothing to the story here, in 52 or any “One Year Later” story. We also get up to speed on how Kate Spencer, AKA Manhunter, went from being a prosecutor to a defence attorney and DEO agent. Again, why we needed this information, I don’t know.

The main action here features Black Adam making his way through the ranks of the Teen Titans from the “lost year.” I like the Titans, and the wide variety of spinoff characters that made up the team’s ranks in the lost year brought a smile to my face when I first saw it in an issue of 52. But several of those characters serve simply as cannon fodder here. They’re not developed or explored in any way. It’s a shame, a waste, because it seems as though these characters carried with them the potential for some fun stories.

Derenick’s art is clear and capable, and at times, his work here reminds me of the style of Tom (Zemo – Born Better) Grummett. Still, the line work looks loose on occasion, making for a sketchy, rushed look to the art. Furthermore, the overall tone of the art is a bright one, and once again, that conflict with the grave nature of the plot. 4/10

52/WW III Part Four: United We Stand #1 features a legion of super-heroes tackling Black Adam all at once, but the narration, again in J’Onn J’Onzz’s voice, and earlier plot points focus on the Martian Manhunter’s own inner conflict. It’s actually some interesting characterization, but the problem is that it leads to a place we’ve already been: the beginning of the now-concluded Martian Manhunter limited series. J’Onn’s “story,” therefore, is completely anti-climactic. Furthermore, the Martian’s new attack on Black Adam is just like his first, only this time it has the opposite effect. It’s all too convenient and makes for a repetitive, boring moment at a point in the story when tensions should be at their peak.

Again, the pencilling duties on this book are handled by an artist who normally serves as an inker. Frequent Joe Bennett collaborator Jack Jadson helms the art chores on this issue, and he manages to tap into a slightly darker, more mature atmosphere that’s in keeping with the critical nature of the plot. One can detect a Rags (Identity Crisis) Morales influence at play in Jadson’s linework here, and I’m also put in mind of James (The Liberty Project) Fry’s art. Again, some of the crowd scenes strike me looking a bit loose and rushed, but overall, the art is much cleaner and tighter here. 5/10

It also merits note that the cover design for the above four comics is flat and uninteresting. All four covers are far too similar, and with a casual glance, one really can’t distinguish among them. Employing different dominant colors rather than just red would have been advised. Furthermore, since he’s limited to three narrow columns, Ethan Van Sciver’s art fails to grab the eye or say anything at all about the story.

52 Week 50 is probably the strongest of the five episodes of “World War III,” but it’s nevertheless frustrating. The most aggravating aspect of the book is the blurb on the cover, announcing the event “begins here.” When I saw that, I understandably began with this issue, and the super-hero action, though typical, was diverting. When I started reading A Call to Arms, I realized that cover blurb was completely wrong. The opposite held true; the story ends in 52 Week 50. And with that realization came annoyance.

The plotting and dialogue in this book are much clearer than any of the WW III books, but that makes sense since the main Black Adam plot has been one of the main storylines of this series. The ultimate resolution to the Black Adam story is a predictable one, and it takes the heroes far too long to arrive at such an obvious gambit. I did appreciate the strong spotlight on China’s the Great Ten; these unusual heroes not only serve as symbols of a culture I know little about, but they are really beginning to seem like fleshed-out, interesting characters.

Justiniano’s artwork boasts an appropriately dark and edgy feel that’s in keeping with the ugly events of this story. His exaggerated style also suits the intense nature of the action and the larger-than-life qualities of the multitude of colorful characters in this story. J.G. Jones’s cover art also conveys the immensity that we’re meant to see in these events, and I like that Black Adam actually looks a bit majestic as he faces down the world in a final battle. 5/10

The plotting, pacing, scripting and flow of “World War III” certainly could have been much stronger overall, but the event was also hindered by the harshness of the premise. The catalyst for this story is Black Adam’s eradication of a country’s entire populace, from the guilty to the innocent. We never really see it, but we hear it. I could never really escape that element as I read what seems to be intended to be a big, colorful super-hero battle royale. The ugliness of the villain’s actions haunts this story rather than contribute to it. There’s so much genocide and senseless, bloody murder in the world already; DC has provided too much of the same in what is meant to be escapist entertainment.

13 Responses to “War Correspondence”

  1. BnG Says:

    After reading the reviews of these titles on the Savage Critic site, I steered clear of the mini series and just picked up 52 and based on your reviews, it seems like I made the right choice.

  2. frankskee Says:

    The submerged California city was Sub Diego, which started with Aquaman #16? and was a story-arc that attracted a lot of readers to Aquaman and brought some old school fans back. Unfortunately, they decided not to con’t that storyline and explore the socio-political implications of having San Diego become an underwater community. I still don’t understand, however, where the new, current aquaman came from.

  3. Nick Piers Says:

    Before it came out, I was very excited to pick up the WW III books.

    I also read 52 first before the rest of the books. I got to the end and thought, “Oh…huh. I thought WW III was with Black Adam. Is the rest with Evil Skeets? COOL!”

    And of course, I start reading the WW III, at ease that the Black Adam arc was finished…and it’s not.

    Honestly, it’s that bit annoyance that’s starting to turn into anger. Here is this major “event within an event” that was supposed to do what 52 was originally supposed to do: show us what happened to key characters that brought them to where they were One Year Later. Instead, we get barely one-page mentions of said major characters and Black Adam just cutting a swath through everyone. Whoop-dee-do.

    If it was just the issue of 52, I think it would’ve been just fine. Because honestly, those four extra issues served absolutely no purpose.

    Am I the only one getting sick of all these events and crossovers?

  4. Hellhound Says:

    I think DC is really abusing the good will of it’s readers by pulling stunts like this.

    I personally had a hard time buying that Black Adam could be this big of a threat. Sure he’s powerful, but isn’t Captain Marvel alone on the same power level as him? And if Black Adam was fighting to kill in the final battle, why aren’t most of the lower powered heroes that went up against him dead?

  5. Don MacPherson Says:

    Frank, thanks for the explanation of what happened to San Diego (I was aware), but the point is that the information really should have been included in the WW III book.

    Nick wrote:
    Am I the only one getting sick of all these events and crossovers?

    No, you’re not alone. But as long as the sales numbers for these stunts are strong (and they’ve been very strong), we can expect more and more.

  6. John Foley Says:

    This was a series that absolutely cried out for some great, detailded, impressive art. I like Pat Oliffe, but not for something epic like this. The scene of Black Adam picking up the aircraft carrier and throwing it? That should have been a mindblowing 2-page spread, and instead you just have to kind of guess what’s happening, and let the narration tell you what’s up. Imagine if someone like Phil Jimenez or Bryan Hitch had handled the art chores. Granted, it would have taken 2 years for the series to come out. But it would have looked great. As it is now, the art was merely serviceable and the plot was cliched and listless.
    And don’t get me started on the mischaracterization of Black Adam. Having a character kill millions of people for shock value is just lazy writing. It seems like every time DC wants to *wow* you with something, their answer is to just wipe out a country or a city. Enough already! This is not good writing.

    Coast City
    San Diego

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it.

  7. JohnnyZito Says:

    I always like that the big gambit in the DCU is that you could wake up one morning and you’re city’s been wiped out.

    That’s why the NW disaster in Civil War didn’t work for me. All those super-powers running around the death toll is bound to be huge.

  8. Palladin Says:

    I guess what I sensed before my retreat Friday holds true, I am one of the few people that liked this. I read 52 first. I almost stopped but realized it was not that big a concern. The WWIII books were meant to be extra looks around the same time. Maybe it is Lost, Prison Break, and the rest of the time bouncing stuff I read, but I was fine with it.

    Sometimes I wonder if we just analyze too much? I just read and enjoyed. I did not worry about how long it took to get to China. In fact, I thought maybe Adam was wiping out the smaller people involved as he worked his way to the Chinese Government. I liked the way Martian Manhunter was used to connect the books in a way besides Adam.

    So, I enjoyed it and really am looking forward to seeing 52 wrap up and Countdown begin. I am placing money aside each pay day to stock pile the $3 needed to pay for this “event”. And what about the new Joker Countdown ad?

  9. Don MacPherson Says:

    Palladin wrote:
    I liked the way Martian Manhunter was used to connect the books in a way besides Adam.

    Using J’Onn as a running thread tying the issues together was a good move, I agree, and the emphasis on the character helped to reinforce the notion that he’s a key player in the DC Universe. Overall, though, my view of 52/WW III is still thumbs-down.

    And what about the new Joker Countdown ad?

    I think that relates to the promised “Jimmy Olsen Must Die” plotline.

  10. Cove West Says:

    I agree, and the emphasis on the character helped to reinforce the notion that he’s a key player in the DC Universe.

    Yeah, but at the same time it introduced the notions that J’onn is an idiot, mentally weak, and nowhere near Black Adam’s power level, all of which is horribly false. The guy has basically run the JLA for years, maintained dozens of full-time identities, and was the Superman of the Southern Hemisphere! He witnessed the destruction of Montevideo firsthand yet didn’t freak out and led the Big 6-less JLA against both Solaris and Vandal Savage. And only last year he once again led the JLA reserves against the worldwide assault of every villain on the planet! It was bad enough J’onn decided to take a vacation during a Year Without Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the JLA, but I’d rather he keep sculpting statues than be the Lead Cannon Fodder of DC’s plot-induced-stupidity extravaganza.

    Which was my biggest beef with WW3: We’ve seen the DCU face crises without the JLA before (DC1M and the IC VILLAINS UNITED SPECIAL, most prominently), and those times the response was led by Oracle and J’onn, as one would naturally expect. This time, rather than figuring out a creative way to disrupt this well-oiled machine, the writers just had J’onn stupidly take on a stronger opponent by himself so they could exile him off-planet due to something they even acknowledged he had already witnessed a thousand-fold already, and Oracle was simply ignored altogether. Then two issues of the JSA taking what appeared to be a sightseeing tour of Black Adam’s wake and the “oh no, it’s Brother Blood!” Teen Titans literally being ripped to shreds (because, hey, it was Beast Boy’s turn in the rotation to defend the helpless from a pissed-off Magic Superman), topped off by J’onn doing the SAME EXACT THING he did in the first issue (and with a similar result). Of course they couldn’t stop Black Adam–they couldn’t have stopped Black Mask!

    Not that I’m bitter… 🙂 But geez, who thought it was a good idea that the Teen Titans OYL explanation be “because they were the ones the JSA and two GLs sent to stop Black Adam”?

  11. Dave T. Game Says:

    I completely agree with you about WW3, though I enjoyed 52 #50. It actually had a story, and several of the preceding issues had built up to it. (I still have no idea what the big deal is with China’s superteam, however.)

    It seemed to me that the point of 52 was to fill in all those OYL holes, which they got farther and farther away from doing. My guess is that they got to a point where they had too much story to tell by itself (which is also when 52 started to get better) and said that they needed to fill in those holes somehow, so they re-purposed WW3 to do just that.

    However, I think they could have just done an oversized “One Year Later Secret Files and Origins” and it would have worked much better.

  12. Don MacPherson Says:

    Dave wrote:
    However, I think they could have just done an oversized “One Year Later Secret Files and Origins” and it would have worked much better.

    You make an excellent point, but I wonder… is DC still publishing those Secret Files & Origins books?

  13. Dave T. Game Says:

    Good point. They did one for Infinite Crisis, and that’s the last one I remember seeing. Action Comics Annual could easily have worked as a SF&O, so maybe that points to moving away from that format. It’s odd because Marvel is still doing their equivalent, on even more obscure topics.