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DC Universe Presents #18 – Review

DC UNIVERSE PRESENTS #18

By: Joe Keatinge (story), Federico Dallocchio (art), Allen Passalaqua (colors)

The Story: A village threatened by oppression—and one lone outlaw comes to save the day.

The Review: Two things you ought to know about me: first impressions count a long way with me (probably more than they should, come to think of it), but to make for that fact, I tend to bend over backwards giving folks the benefit of the doubt—even if the red flags are waving that they are, in fact, crazy people.  I think this comes across in my reviews.  I’ve forgiven and shown loyalty to many a writer based on one good showing.

Joe Keatinge really impressed me with his deft handling of Arsenal in last month’s DC Universe Presents, so I was quite eager to see what he could do with the archer’s alien bombshell of a teammate.  Starfire is such an obvious piece of cheesecake, especially nowadays, with her ever-revealing outfit, that it’s hard to take her seriously.  You can call her warrior princess and give her all the powers you want, but she’ll seem like Beyoncé with flaming hair and orange skin.

As a disclaimer, I should say that I have no idea what Scott Lobdell has done with Starfire over on Red Hood and the Outlaws, but Keatinge’s portrayal of her here once again shows that he has a natural instinct for these characters and the qualities that make them “outlaws.”  Under his pen, Koriand’r has all the passion and fury we associate with her.  “Are you mad?!” screams a slaver when she kills the starship’s pilot.

“That’s relatively accurate,” she replies as she blasts him out of the ship in midflight.

At the same time, she’s also perceptive, calculating, and disciplined.  You can really see this in her confrontation with one Dasimm, who challenges her leadership.  She does not fly off the handle at such arrogance, as you might expect, but remains utterly calm even when he forces her to fight.  This is indeed the warrior princess of Tamaran, dismissively informing her opponent that “I only even use this sword to respect your people’s custom.”

So what’s all the fighting about, then?  Well, that’s where Keatinge fares less well.  Last month’s feature on Arsenal worked very well because of its straightforward plot and theme.  Here, we have a far more complicated conflict at stake: the question of what’s preferable—enduring the security of the status quo or risking everything for freedom?  We Americans have to check our gut-instinct to reply the latter; Dasimm indicates that through a combination of prudence and care, his people have avoided attracting their slavers’ attention for two generations.  This in contrast to Starfire’s arrival, which causes not only the natural uproar within Dasimm’s society, but also disruption of the peace they’ve taken such pains to cultivate.

Ultimately, this story requires more than one issue to have a proper resolution, though Keatinge does an admirable job with highly efficient use of exposition and pacing (seriously—this is the most outstanding use of time captions I’ve seen in a while).  As unsettling as the end of the story feels, it doesn’t have nearly the force and weight it should.  In our eyes, Kori establishes then removes herself from Dasimm’s village in a flash, losing a lot of dramatic nuance in the process.

Then, too, Keatinge ends on something of a cliffhanger, featuring a character seen in #17, indicating a bigger arc to this story than what we get here.  But when and how exactly are we going to see the rest of that arc?  We don’t have to read Red Hood for that, do we?  Because that’s probably not going to happen unless there’s some assurance Keatinge will write it himself.

I don’t know how Keatinge did it, but he once again got another eminently appropriate artist to support him on this issue.  Dallocchio already showed his gritty, espionage chops on Suicide Squad, and here he shows that sci-fi is well within his range as well.  With Passalaqua’s deep colors giving body to the figures, Dallocchio is able to convey both high-stakes action and convincing emotion at the same time.  Best of all, his Starfire wears actual clothes.  I could easily get onboard an ongoing Starfire series with art like this.

Conclusion: This is a case where the title’s format sort of defeats the talent of its creators, but the end product is strong enough to impress anyway.

Grade: B

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: - “Make it so.”  Love the Star Trek reference.  And that’s about the classiest way to affirm an order ever.

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