by Paul Cornell (writer), Pete Woods (art), Brad Anderson (color), and Rob Leigh (letters)
The Story: Lex meets Death and tries to worm his way back into the world of the living.
What’s Good: If it wasn’t clear before, it sure is now: Paul Cornell gets Lex Luthor. Even clearer is the fact that this may very well be the smartest, and sharpest, comic DC is currently putting out.
Cornell masterfully handles the collision of comic universes here, bringing them together in a delightful manner. This could have been a disaster, but through his witty, intelligent dialogue, Cornell pulls everything off perfectly. He does so by making Death, and the Endless by extension, truly above and beyond the events of the DCU. It’s really rather hilarious to see Death treat Blackest Night as a non-event, a tiny blip on the radar. Death’s explaining DC’s constant superhero resurrections is also gleefully non-chalant.
Beyond this, Death herself is written very well, retaining all the optimistic, bubbly charm that made her such a hit in Sandman. Her casual nature and her friendliness have never been more pleasant to read and, as you’d expect, these qualities bounce wonderfully off of Luthor. The resulting back and forth, between the non-plussed and unflappably cheerful Death and the frustrated Luthor is a joy to read and a testament to Cornell’s strengths. There’s also a good amount of comedy, with Death’s basically having “seen it all,” or her lightly condescending, unimpressed take on Luthor’s life. There’s also a hilarious sequence where she goes over possible iterations of Heaven with Luthor that simply must be read.
But surprisingly, Death isn’t the strongest part of this issue. Rather, Luthor is. Much like the fantastic and similarly funny issue with Mister Mind, this trip into the surreal allows for a wonderful meditation on who Lex Luthor is. There is so much to be learned about the character’s psychology this month, as Cornell fully encapsulates what makes the character so compelling.
We witness his constant need to strive, aspire, and struggle. We see his bold, almost heroic, refusal to bow to any greater power, regardless of how huge or cosmic that power may be. There’s also a sense of vulnerability, as we see, more clearly than ever, that Lex will never be content or happy; his intellect, aspiring nature, and cynicism prevent it. Then there’s Luthor’s strident non-conformity, his refusal to be “typical.” It’s fascinating to see him grow increasingly angry as he finds himself locked into the “stages of grief” and Death’s “process.” Sprinkle this with Lex’s dedication to science and the human race and his unwavering confidence in his ability to think his way out of things, which he persistently attempts to do here, and this is one of the best takes on Luthor I have ever read. There’s even a great twist at the end!
Pete Woods’ art also continues to improve by leaps and bounds. Even in an issue that’s almost exclusively conversation, the artwork is still polished and gorgeous. Woods’ facial expressions, crucial in an issue like this, are perfectly emotive, as he fully captures Lex and Death’s personalities. His Death in particular is magnificent, her almost maternal expressions making it impossible not to like her.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, Nick Spencer’s back-up, from a story and art perspective, is nothing but a bundle of pure, unadulterated fun. Spencer’s storytelling is also particularly wacky, providing comedy and an ability to cram an impressive amount of content into just a few pages.
What’s Not So Good: Nothing.
Conclusion: This is truly one of the best character studies I’ve ever read in a comic. This is the sort of comic that you’ll instantly want to re-read and revisit for years to come.