52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #1
Writer: Keith Giffen
Pencils: Pat Olliffe
Inks: John Stanisci
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Cover artist: Ethan Van Sciver
Editor: Michael Siglain
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65 CAN
I really didn’t care all that much for the pseudo-nouveau Fourth World villains from 52, the Four Horsemen. Visually, the characters were a mess, and I felt they were built up so much that their quick demise made for an anti-climactic moment. Still, I’ve been a fan of Keith Giffen’s recent writing for Marvel (such as Drax the Destroyer and Annihilation: Conquest – Star-Lord), and I don’t think Pat Olliffe’s art has ever disappointed me. So I figured I’d give The Four Horsemen a chance. There’s some potential in the premise as it’s presented here, but ultimately, it’s hindered by an inaccessible script and what seems like a missed opportunity when it comes to marketing the book.
In retribution for the murders of his family, Black Adam destroyed the Four Horsemen of Apokalips, hideous creations of a collective of mad scientists, as well as an entire nation: Bialya. Now, as that Middle Eastern nation tries to rebuild in the face of impossible circumstances and deep-rooted corruption, the evil essences of the Four Horsemen have sought out and found new hosts. Meanwhile, investigative journalist Clark Kent investigates the state of affairs in Bialya while benevolent billionaire Bruce Wayne spearheads an effort to bolster aid to the region. Elsewhere, Wonder Woman meets with an old enemy, Dr. Veronica Cale, one of the creators of the Four Horsemen and how the leader of Oolong Island and its Science Squad.
Pat Olliffe’s style, which boasts a pleasing old-school look, seems like a good choice for a story featuring Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, especially since Keith Giffen’s plot and script seems to embrace a more traditional, softer approach to those characters. However, there’s a dark and politically relevant side to the script that calls for a grittier, even more realistic look. Still, I think Olliffe’s work holds up pretty well, thanks in part to John Stanisci’s inks. They bring an ever-so-slightly more refined, mature look to Olliffe’s pencil art. The penciller’s work usually looks a little sketchy (albeit not in an unprofessional way), but there’s a slicker, polished quality in the linework we’re presented with here. The colors are vibrant, but they don’t infringe on the harsher tone that prevalent throughout the issue. I also enjoyed how Olliffe plays around with perspective to keep a sense of movement and energy going in this dialogue-driven issue.
The Four Horsemen is a limited series spinning out of a best-selling title from last year and features the three most iconic super-hero characters in history. Even with event stories such as Countdown, World War Hulk and “The Sinestro Corps War” unfolding in super-hero titles right now, this could have and should have been a super-hero title that genre fans talked about. This should have been a potential big seller for DC, but I suspect that won’t prove to be the case. Look on the cover: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are the smallest figures, and their names aren’t even mentioned. Promotional efforts for this title are next to non-existent. It feels as though the creators have been set up to fail.
The interplay between Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne is a real treat. While we’re not presented with the vision of the two heroes as the best of buds, there’s definitely more of a friendship and familiarity vibe at play in their exchanges. Gone is the “begrudging respect” that characterized their relationship through the late 1980s and 1990s, replaced with a stronger, more pleasant partnership. Wonder Woman doesn’t interact with the boys yet, but I hope we see more of this camaraderie among DC’s holy trinity in future issues. Giffen’s choice to set the story in the wartorn streets of a Middle Eastern country is a smart one, as it brings relevance to the super-hero yarn and gives the reader something grounded and familiar (at least from news coverage) to recognize.
Unfortunately, the promise in the premise is lost in a script that’s heavy on exposition but light on clarity. I read every issue of 52 and World War III (which led up to this story), and I still had trouble following the plot. I have no idea what’s going on with Oolong Island. While I appreciated the guilt that serves as one driving force in Dr. Cale’s life, her other motives aren’t clear at all. Giffen tells us little of her background. I was also disappointed that other residents of the island weren’t more clearly identified, and more background on some of the other characters in the plot would have been appreciated as well. The Four Horsemen is burdened by the continuity that spawned it. Even diehard DC readers are going to find this book to be somewhat inaccessible. 5/10