Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Crisis Counselling

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 27th, 2008

DC Universe: Last Will and Testament #1
“Last Will and Testament: Conversions”
Writer: Brad Meltzer
Pencils: Adam Kubert
Inks: John Dell & Joe Kubert
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artists: Adam Kubert & Joe Kubert/Adam Kubert & John Dell
Editors: Eddie Berganza & Dan Didio
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US/CAN

Meltzer delivers more of the same that he’s offered DC readers in the past: solid storytelling that rewards longtime readers but leaves the uninitiated out of the loop. To get the full impact (and understanding) of this story, one has to be familiar with some past DC stories, especially “The Judas Contract” by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, published in Tales of the Teen Titans more than 20 years ago. That’s a pretty distant footnote and a big hurdle for new readers. I’m not one of those new readers, though, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this story. Last Will and Testament, despite lacking the Final Crisis label, is the kind of story DC should have given us in Final Crisis: Requiem. What was lacking from that story is to be found here: a grounded perspective of an Armageddon-like situation from the hero’s point of view, some real emotion and, well, a plot. The art is a bit on the inconsistent side as two inkers are employed to embellish Adam Kubert’s pencils, but when one of those inkers is his father, the legendary Joe Kubert, it’s hard to be dissatisfied with the artwork.

The world’s heroes know they must band together and fight not only for their survival and that of the entire planet, but the crisis isn’t coming until the morning. On the eve of their potential destruction, heroes seek out loved ones and friends — to tell them how they feel, to seek solace and meaning in their tumultuous lives and just to spend some quiet time with one another. One of them — Geo-Force, AKA Prince Brion Markov — is driven to take care of some unfinished business. He’s determined to end the threat of Deathstroke, the man he holds responsible for his sister’s death. But does Geo-Force want to bring the mercenary to justice or does the hatred within him call out for blood?

Adam Kubert’s angular, extreme style is a solid choice for a big super-hero story, even one such as this that focuses on more on emotion than super-strong punches and laser blasts. But thrown in Joe Kubert’s inks for about half of the book on top of his son’s work? Now you’ve got something that really stands out from the standard super-hero fare. One of the best-looking sequences in the book is the Captain Cold page. Joe Kubert’s style is at its most apparent on that page, and it’s a real treat. The sequences inked by John Dell do have more of a standard look to them, but the influence of his father can almost always be seen in Adam Kubert’s pencils, so the shifts between inkers aren’t that jarring.

What did take me out of the main story and various emotional vignettes was the use of past artwork for flashbacks. We see Rags Morales’s work from Identity Crisis and George Perez’s art from “The Judas Contract,” and while I appreciate the sentiment behind that choice, the tributes to past stories and the art that brought them to life don’t serve the storytelling here.

The shorter vignettes of how heroes deal with the stress and burden of the immense, overwhelming conflict ahead of them worked for me. I enjoyed the variety of choices they make when it comes to what may be their last hours on Earth. Conversely, I enjoyed the more optimistic tone that emerges on the final page, as one of the iconic heroes treats the moment as a glorious one. That brief, concluding scene harkens back to a time in the genre when a brighter, more playful tone was the norm.

I found it odd that this comic book isn’t billed as a Final Crisis spinoff comic; it certainly seems to have a stronger connection to the crossover event than last week’s Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds. On the other hand, Meltzer’s script is careful avoid telling the reader what crisis it is that the heroes are about to face. This story could really take place right before just about any DC event. It stands up well on its own, and that seeming independence from Final Crisis is actually refreshing.

Whether or not you enjoy this comic book comes down to whether or not you enjoy the Geo-Force plot at the centre of it all. Meltzer clearly gets these characters and understand what makes this particular C-list hero tick. Of course, to appreciate what Meltzer does with this unlikely central protagonist, one has to be versed in his history. Not only does one have to know of “The Judas Contract” to follow everything in the script, but Identity Crisis and Batman and the Outsiders (both the current 1980s series). Still, while it would certainly help to have that background on the tip of one’s brain, it’s not vital to appreciate the entirety of the story. Meltzer’s take on Prince Brion as something of a military man and so desperately driven to take down Deathstroke at all costs makes seem like much more than the generic super-hero he’s been in the past. The climactic conflict between Geo-Force and Deathstroke is a compelling one, as much a psychological fight as it is a physical one. Meltzer also manages to surprise me, what I thought was going to happen never seemed to come to pass. 7/10