By: Too many to list—check out the review.
The Story: Everyone needs a lawyer—especially when your judges are master mages.
The Review: I like free stuff as much as the next person. I’m an old hand at waiting for five minutes to get a sample of some Costco microwaveable piece of whatever that you can inhale in three seconds. So of course, Free Comic Book Day has all kinds of appeal for me. But—and I don’t think I’m alone in saying this—I’ve always found the gratuitous offerings less than stellar, either being forgettable fluff pieces or thin teases for upcoming events.
DC’s contribution to comic lovers’ favorite holiday isn’t just a prelude to their next company-wide Big Event; it’s an Event that doesn’t even show up until next year. This kind of move has always struck me as overly confident. Whoever’s in charge must believe that whatever story they have up their sleeve must be big and important enough to keep you intrigued for twelve or more months, and they must be pretty certain they can build up the tension properly until then.
If this issue means to give us a taste of what’s to come, I’m not entirely certain we want the main meal. Throughout its sixteen pages, Geoff Johns labors to craft a gripping prologue of epic proportions, but only manages to offer a functional set-up with a few interesting details. The best thing to come out of the issue is some slight development of Steve Trevor and A.R.G.U.S. (a fairly obvious S.H.I.E.L.D. facsimile), particularly in their various “Rooms,” each containing some of the most potent and dangerous extraterrestrial and supernatural objects in the world.
Aside from that, every other plot element Johns introduces falls flat. The major problem is Johns simply doesn’t have what it takes to write a convincing epic storyline with complex themes. His strength lies in the way of pure action-adventure and superheroics. Add anything with greater depth than that, and Johns will reduce it to the broadest, most simplistic level, the kind of thing you’d expect from an overeager high-schooler trying to imitate literary classics.
By way of example, I offer you Johns’ handling of the Phantom Stranger’s origins—which, to be frank, I consider sacrosanct territory. The appeal of the character is despite his mysterious nature and background, he projects a palpable air of tragedy, a sense of constant regret. Few writers have done more than even hint at where this figure comes from, which perhaps shows wisdom on their part. Johns has apparently decided the time has come to set the Stranger’s story in stone for this new DCU, and it can be summed up thusly: some centuries ago, a young man’s greed “forever darkened the world,” for which a panel of self-appointed mystic judges punished him to “walk the earth as a stranger to man,” turning his hair and eyes white in the process. I must admit: I would never have imagined the Stranger’s origins to play out that way.
The rest of the issue goes much in the same vein. The same mystic panel punishes one defiant sinner to facelessness and namelessness, doomed to “forever question your identity and forver search for answers you will never find.” As for Pandora, it seems she ties into her mythological namesake to some degree (“You opened the box!” “The prison to tragedy and torment and torture!”), and judging by her altered lettering, she may not share the same human origins as her fellow defendants, whom the panel refers to as, with a crack of doom, “the Trinity of Sin.”
At least DC invested as many big-name artists as possible into the venture, with work by Jim Lee, Ivan Reis, Kenneth Rocafort, and Gene Ha all in the mix. Each of them only get so much to do, but despite Lee’s four-page foldout splash, featuring an inflated Justice League fighting amongst themselves, it’s Reis and Ha who make the most of their time. Reis delivers some great character designs for multi-ethnic panel of mystics (all of whom with lightning motifs), and Ha gets to fill a whole room with supernatural artifacts, which include a dragon skeleton, a bone chandelier, and, most intriguingly, a WWII-era tank.
Conclusion: Just as Free Comic Book Day only lasts but twenty-four hours, so will your interest in this issue.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: - Final Crisis ostensibly did away with the Monitors, but some lingering memory of them lives on in the new Multiverse: Cyborg’s dad has access to a “Monitor Machine,” which manages to pick up a signal from Earth-2.