by Bill Willingham (writer), Jesus Merino (art)

The Story: Mr. Terrific and his band of imprisoned heroes make a daring attempt to stop the Darkness Engine…

What’s Good: Of all the JSA characters, Willingham has by far the best handle of Mr. Terrific.  Thus, the fact that this issue is heavily narrated by him is definitely a strength.  Hearing Mr. Terrific outline his tactics, strategy, and team composition is pretty cool and adds a sense of desperation.

Also, I’m really glad that most of this issue was spent in action sequences, what with the entire book’s focusing on the execution of the heroes’ big escape plan.  It makes the book feel a lot more fluid and organic, steering clear of the stilted dialogue and empty depression that this arc has often been rife with.  The action keeps the book rolling and makes it far more palatable, if only because it’s a breezier read.  Essentially, it’s harder to screw up.  That said, there is fun to be had here:  Green Arrow’s last stand, Slade Wilson’s heroic self-sacrifice, Superman’s commandeering a battle suit are all fairly cool highlights.

Jesus Merino does a good job capturing all of the mayhem.  He clearly has a lot of fun illustrating more aged versions of famous DCU characters and his battle suits look great.  There’s a good, old school feel throughout, but Merino also keeps things quite literally explosive for all 22 pages.

What’s Not So Good: I could have done without the book’s first six pages.  Why is Willingham still world-building and detailing the Fourth Reich’s takeover of the world in the second to last issue of what will surely be the only story arc featuring them, or this world?  It’s a bizarre stylistic choice.  Worst still, it includes the wholesale slaughter of the Green Lantern Corps in a manner that actually reminded me of a scene from Garth Ennis’ Crossed.  When JSA reminds me of the legendary excesses of violence found in that stomach-turning series, something has gone horribly wrong.  It’s also rendered in a manner that’s so catastrophic that it’s almost comedic, which isn’t good, considering that it’s meant to be deadly serious.

Like many writers before him, Willingham seems to use an alternate universe story as an excuse to gleefully kill off major DC characters, knowing that there won’t be any consequence.  It’s frustrating to watch, seeing characters killed merely as a way to get a rise or convince that this is “serious,” when I know that none of these deaths will last past this story arc.  There’s way too much fun and abandon on Willingham’s part.

Fundamentally problematic as well is the issue’s ending, which is the key difficulty to any story arc that focuses on a disastrous future.  That is, the only way to resolve things is to make it so that none of this ever happened.  It’s hard not to be pissed off knowing that after next month’s issue, our characters will just have woken up from a bad dream.  For the most part, I can’t help but fear that this arc will have no lasting consequences whatsoever.  It’ll be like it never even happened, leading to my wondering what the hell was the point.

From there, there are the little issues:  how does Black Canary survive getting impaled by a bayonet?  More importantly, why does she change hair colour midway through the issue?  Then there’s Willingham’s dialogue which, while not as tone-deaf it often has been in JSA, still has a couple of cringe inducing stinkers (Black Canary mentions “the Valhalla of these Nazis’ Nordic wet dreams.”  Good Lord.).

Conclusion: Better than last month’s dire affair, I guess.

Grade: C –

-Alex Evans