By: James Robinson (story), Yildiray Cinar (pencils), Ryan Winn & Ruy José (inks), Alex Sinclair (colors)

The Story: Keep your friends close, your enemies closer, and your frenemies dead.

The Review: All writers, even the very best, have their weaknesses.  Half of what Grant Morrison writes is just plain confusing; Geoff Johns rarely strives for intelligence in his work; and Brian Michael Bendis tends to forget that he’s not being paid by the number of each character’s lines.  Robinson has issues focus; looking at his body of work, you’ll notice he struggles with dispersing attention equally and keeping on point—or getting to it altogether.

That’s probably why he leans towards solo adventures and two-person scenes (maxing out at three, on the condition that the third character only interjects once in a while), where he excels.  This might also explain why his work on ensemble titles (see Justice League of America and Cry for Justice) were so terribly underwhelming.  He just doesn’t have much of a knack giving each character their due all at once.

Even when he can focus his story to just a few characters, we have downsides.  Generally, the smaller your cast, the more of a burden they have to take on to keep the story moving and lively, always tough if they lack the right chemistry.  Such is the case with Steppenwolf and his host, King Marov of Dherain, former allies in the war between Earth and Apokolips.  Neither has a particularly interesting or defined personality you can latch onto, and neither has much in the way of motivation except conquest for its own sake.

It doesn’t help either that Robinson falls prey to some old, bad habits: talking way too much.  A lot of writers do land in this trap frequently; our love of words sometimes makes us forget how actual people talk.  But consider this conversation between two Dherain guards, one who asks the other if he’s scared, the other replying, “I’m never scared.  I die or the enemy dies.  Simple.  Keep it simple and fear goes away.  And besides, I’m an officer.”

The first guard replies, “Obviously, we both are…  The Dherain Elite Sword.  But this isn’t some shivering kid from the World Army, barely knows how to fire his weapon.  This is Steppenwolf—powerhouse of energy, grand commander of the armies of Apokolips.  He fought the Earth to a standstill and—no—no, in my opinion he was winning until Batman brought down all the Parademons and changed the tide.”

This is pure ego talking, but I wish I could be Robinson’s editor.  I’d tell him that it’s usually not very effective to get all your exposition through dialogue, especially when the characters, in context, don’t need to actually talk about it, like Steppenwolf seemingly reminding King Marov of the terms of his own treaty:

“Oh, and let me applaud your skill at international law.  However it came about, this treaty your country orchestrated allowing you to merely close your borders at the end of the war instead of facing the World Courts for your role in aiding my invasion—quite the coup.”

Between Winn and José’s inks and Sinclair’s colors, Cinar has never produced such polished and slick work.  But even with a first-class paint job, you can still tell that you’re dealing with a second-tier product underneath.  Somehow, I always get a feeling that Cinar is just ever so slightly lacking that oomph to deliver a truly dynamic image; his blocking and choreography look blocked and choreographed.  Seeing Fury* flip around with her whip or Steppenwolf decapitating a Dherain soldier just doesn’t produce the thrill you’d expect.

Conclusion: For a whole issue dedicated to an infamous villain from an infamous dimension, the story is sadly forgettable.  A couple more outings like this, and I’ll have no choice but to Drop the thing altogether.

Grade: C

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I don’t talk a lot about the daughter of Wonder Woman because there’s nothing to say.  Mindless devotion to Steppenwolf leaves her no better than a glorified henchman.

– Thank God Nicola Scott is coming back next month.  At least you know you’ll get a fantastic looking issue, even if the story leaves much to be desired.