By: James Robinson (story), Nicola Scott (pencils), Trevor Scott (inks), Alex Sinclair & Pete Pantazis (colors)
The Story: Wotan reveals his gender identity problems.
The Review: When I used to teach high-schoolers on the virtues of showing rather than telling in a story, by way of example I’d point out the difference between writing, “He was sad,” and, “He went to the window and stared outside, his gazed fixed on nothing in particular. He spotted a robin off in the distance, flying towards the horizon until it was just a speck then disappeared altogether. He felt a choking in his throat and swallowed it down. He left the window.”*
In a visual medium like comics, you can do away with all that wordiness altogether, which is a huge luxury in storytelling. Imagine not having to go through the slog of actually writing all that information and allowing the artist to just show it in one or two panels. In comics, the writer has the advantage of only having to use those words necessary to capture ideas that visuals alone cannot. Unfortunately, Robinson seems either oblivious to this or too stubborn to recognize it.
The opening pages before the title splash exemplify much of where Robinson goes awry in writing this series. Using Mrs. Garrick purely as a cipher to draw out exposition from Wotan is not only a demeaning use of the character, it’s just a poor way to get across information in a story—what I liked to call Q&A in my creative writing workshops. That’s essentially what these pages come down to: a series of questions posed by Mrs. Garrick (“Wotan—what—are you saying—lifetimes?”), which Wotan then dutifully and windily answers (“I began life, Mrs. Garrick, as a female witch and seer living among a tribe of northmen, long ago—centuries before the term Viking was ever coined.”). This is more talk radio than comics.
Those pages display a lack of subtlety and craft that seems to infect nearly all parts of the script, especially the dialogue. Sometimes you’ll read an exchange and wonder if Robinson ever bothered to spoke them out loud before committing them to paper. They are cringingly cheesy, direct to the point of parody. When Khalid worries that Jay doesn’t have the power to take down the Great Beast alone, the speedster replies, “It doesn’t mean I’m not going to try my best even if that’s the last thing I ever do. Worst case, at least it’ll buy you the time to find Nabu’s helmet.”
“God, man, you are so brave,” Khalid says in wonder. Call me cynical, but it’s positively gag-worthy.
Once you start scrutinizing the writing with this kind of disdain, it’s hard to stop, and you only grow less tolerant as the issue goes on. By the time Khalid insists on adding the title of “Doctor” to his other persona, explaining, “I am one, after all—a doctor of archaeology—and at least picking a part of the name allows me the illusion that I have a choice in all this,” you just think to yourself, Well, it’s not a very good illusion if you already know it’s one, is it?
Instead of these hopelessly lame exchanges, Robinson would be better off using the time to develop and explore more fertile material. By the time Dr. Fate inevitably shows up at the end of the issue, you feel like you’ve barely seen the least of the supernatural sights and sounds within the Tower of Fate. And what’s the point of giving us a gatefold reveal of Mr. Miracle (which, I won’t lie, excited me to no end) if within the issue Robinson does nothing more with it except reconfirm with another single-page reveal that in fact Mr. Miracle (and Big Barda) do exist in this universe?
Poor, poor Scott. So much talent lavished on an issue with so little textual merit. By this point, her impressive visuals are pretty much the only reason to stick with the title, for they give substance to the story that Robinson’s writing almost entirely lacks. She makes the most of what she gets, filling settings with details far more interesting than those in the script. I particularly like the giant ape and crab duking it out in the ruins of Gotham as Miracle and Barda flee the scene on their hover-discs. Speaking of whom, both New Gods have all the presence and glow of divinities as Sinclair and Pantazis give Scott’s figures the rich, loving colors they deserve.
Conclusion: In execution, Robinson seems to stumble at every step, turning what should be a fairly solid issue into an eye-rolling slog of a read, barely saved by Scott’s artistic efforts.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Obviously, this is a terrible bit of writing, which explains why my career as a hit author never took off, but it makes my point, no?
– Honestly, Nabu is so full of himself (“You think yourself so gifted and guileful you might best me? That yours is greater than the power of Nabu!”) that I probably wouldn’t have cared if Wotan triumped. One arrogant jag is no worse than another, I say.