Welcome to the return of Eye on Comics‘ New 52 Review Project, as we turn our attention to the reinvention of a classic DC property and its reintroduction to its revamped continuity.
DC Universe Presents #6
Writers: Dan DiDio & Jerry Ordway
Pencils: Jerry Ordway
Inks: Ray McCarthy, Andy Lanning & Marlo Alquiza
Colors: Tony Avina
Letters: Travis Lanham
Cover artist: Ryan Sook
Editor: Wil Moss
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
I thought the Deadman story arc that launched this title, featuring rotating creative teams and spotlighted heroes, was one of the best things to come out of DC’s New 52 relaunch. Furthermore, I’m thoroughly enjoying O.M.A.C. as well, which is co-written by Dan DiDio. So when it was announced the second arc on DC Universe Presents would be penned by DiDio, featuring characters closely associated with the late Jack Kirby as well, I looked forward to what was in store. My anticipation dissipated after just a few pages, though. DiDio’s plot and scripting for this new spin on the Challengers of the Unknown is a scattered mess. His attempt to connect the premise with reality TV is clumsy, unclear and ultimately pointless. Furthermore, there’s an unnecessarily harsh tone in some of the plotting that makes the story a poor fit for the bright, clean style of artist Jerry Ordway. This was a poor choice to follow up the strong work writer Paul Jenkins and artist Bernard Chang did on the Deadman arc, and I anticipate it’ll adversely affect the book’s already soft sales.
Producer June Robbins leads a group of semi-famous contestants and overachieving professionals to the Himalayas to shoot the latest season of her reality-TV show Challengers when some turbulence and an impossible phenomenon bring the plane down. But instead of awakening in the wreckage, Robbins and the other survivors find themselves in a spiritual haven known as Nanda Parbat, but missing from their numbers is June’s boyfriend and pilot Ace. The impossible quickly seems to become routine, as June has a vision of Ace as a twisted killer and the survivors find themselves in peril on a snowy mountaintop — threatened not only by the elements but a monstrous creature that shouldn’t exist.
I’ve been a fan of Jerry Ordway’s art since I first saw it on All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc. in the early 1980s. That he’s still active in mainstream comics today comes as no surprise, given the crisp, bright qualities of his work. But not every story calls for brightness and crispness. There are bizarre and harsh elements in this story that don’t play to the strengths in Ordway’s art style. The goriness of June’s murder vision is overly gratuitous and off-putting, but it looks even more wrong presented in Ordway’s clean style. What’s outstanding about this comic book in terms of the art is the cover image provided by Ryan Sook. Sadly, there’s really nothing all that comparable to that striking cover image to be found inside the comic.
One of the things I did appreciate about this new spin on the Challengers was how it focuses on a female protagonist. June Robbins was a later addition to the original incarnation of the Challengers, so putting her front and centre in this reimagined version of the group helps to set it apart and reinforces a more diverse approach to the concept, rather than a feeble attempt at tokenism. As a longtime DC fan, I also appreciated the unofficial link between the previous Deadman story arc and this new take on the Challengers. The mystical realm of Nanda Parbat has long been a staple of Deadman stories in past decades, and it was kind of interesting to see it turn up in connection with a different property.
One of my biggest beefs with DiDio’s script is his failure to really set the stage for this story. What brings this group of professionals and adventurers together is a reality-TV show, but the premise of the show and why these well-to-do and busy people would bother with it are never spelled out for the reader. It’s also odd the original Challengers seem to take a back seat to some new and rather unlikable new (or at least new to me) characters. The number of cast members for such a short story arc seems a bit unwieldy as well. The Spiral talisman plot element is a rather clunky one as well, and not the most visually impressive or interesting thing either. Ordway and DiDio don’t seem to pay as much attention to the notion these people are living on borrowed time (though the notion is mentioned), shifting the property’s focus to some kind of destined role in a mystical conflict. It seems like it limits the property rather than adding to it.
DC has tinkered and overhauled the Challengers of the Unknown concept time and time again in the past couple of decades, and nothing seems to really stick. In that respect, revisiting the characters and concept for only a three-part story arc in this series was probably the right way to go. It doesn’t seem as though the Challengers can really sustain an ongoing title anymore, and I definitely don’t see this latest attempt as being worthy of it anyway. 3/10
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