By: James Robinson (story), Bernard Chang (art)

The Story: This is one woman with daddy issues no jag in a bar should ever mess with.

The Review: You know, it’s pretty amazing how my opinion of Robinson has changed in the past years (not that he cares, but nonetheless…). The Shade has really redeemed his status as a top-class writer in my eyes, to the point where his name attached to a project can nudge me towards giving it a shot.  So it goes with this latest installment of DC Universe Presents.  I had my doubts about picking up this series again, but seeing Robinson on board made me take a leap.

The problem with this book is that thus far, it hasn’t worked out very well as a showcase for the rich population of DC characters.  The Deadman arc dragged on for too long, got overly windy, and did nothing to break him out of his rut as a grade C hero.  The Challengers of the Unknown, which were a hard sell to begin with, made an even more underwhelming showing, if anything.  Two for two, this title hasn’t succeeded in achieving its overarching objective.

Here, however, the circumstances seem more favorable towards a stronger outcome.  Besides having a big name like Robinson on board (as opposed to, say, the illustrious Dan Didio), this arc features a more compelling star.  Vandal Savage, in more ways than one, has been around a long time in the DCU, but for all that, we don’t have a good handle on what makes him tick.  Maybe we’re not meant to; as an immortal, he’s had a lot of time (and will have plenty more, if things go well) to evolve his motives and personality with the passing eras.

Then again, Savage has always remained consistently true to his name.  He has, at best, a flippant attitude toward mortal lives, and although his reasons for doling out death may vary, his propensity for murder never changes.  Robinson adds an interesting spin to Savage’s savagery by having him explain that his killings are a way to “honor the gods…the creators of all things, who in their wisdom blessed me with immortality.”  A charming excuse, but a suspicious one; Savage hardly seems the type to not outgrow pagan habits after so many millennia.

So daughter Kassidy Savage (now Kassidy Sage) has good reason to remain distrustful of her old man, even without a traumatic childhood experience.  The tension between them throughout their conversation is almost visceral, though each has a gift for civility even under pressure.  Though obviously displeased by how much her father has found out about her, Kass merely says: “I’ll stop you when you get something wrong.”  In response to his daughter’s dry insult, Vandal tells her, “Listen carefully, daughter—you don’t have to believe me, but you will not disrespect me.”

Though Vandal is the big name here, Kass is clearly the star.  She may have chosen a career of tracking down serial killers (a choice Vandal accurately describes as something “Freud might also have something to say about”), but she’s also inherited a killer’s instinct from her father that makes her so successful in that vocation.  In facing an escaped convict, she dispatches him with remarkable efficiency, and her reaction is tellingly cool: “Over.  Done.  The end.”

Chang’s hyper-angular approach to figures can be a mixed bag at times, but he’s definitely refined his work here to look the most sophisticated it’s ever had.  There’s a manga-ish style to his action sequences, from the way the POV leaps from panel to panel to give you the most dynamic and crucial moment possible at any given moment.  Kass’ battle with Red Death is thrilling to watch, made even more so by Chang’s velvety and glossy mixture of colors.

Conclusion: If this issue had launched this series, it would be in a much better position today than it is.  If this series can at least continue to deliver issues of this caliber, it might still make itself worthwhile.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I have really come to admire Robinson for his “writerly” style of writing, meaning an obvious love for the sound, rhythm, and variety of words.  Vandal’s description of his killing methods: “Body parts facing certain stars or points of the compass.  The patterns I made with the ladies’ entrails.  Etcetera.”