By: James Robinson (story), Nicola Scott (pencils), Trevor Scott (inks), Barbara Ciardo & Pete Pantazis (colors)
The Story: Up in the sky! It’s a bird—it’s a plane—it’s—a green man in a fur-collared robe!
The Review: If you ever get into this reviewing business, you’re going to learn in a hurry that calling something “good” or “bad” just won’t cut it. Like almost any other quality in the world, “good” and “bad” come in all kinds of different shades, each with its own unique effect on the person experiencing it. The hardest part of this gig is trying to figure out how to describe those effects as accurately as possible. That’s where experience comes in.
In my experience, I’ve read a lot of bad writing (quite as much and even more good writing as well, but that, unfortunately, is not relevant here), so over time, I’ve come to recognize some of the most common types. Now, I’ve had plenty of complaints about Robinson’s work on this series before, but this issue really takes the cake as it possesses nearly every kind of bad writing I’ve ever run into.
Robinson has shown a real weakness for exposition on this particular title, and this issue is no exception, leading off with what essentially boils down to a recap page. Now, delivering information is a necessary evil in any kind of story, but it’s only necessary when it’s new. Here, we get almost the same talking points we’ve had every other issue (i.e., the original Wonders, the Apokolips invasion, the new Wonders, etc.), as if Robinson’s still catering to new readers. He needs to realize that at this point, he probably has all the readers he’ll ever get, and we don’t need to hear all this stuff again.
There are bits of writing so blunt and clumsy that it makes me go through pangs of sympathy squeamishness (which I described in Justice League #19) for Robinson. When Jay asks Khalid to repair his torn costume for him, the new mage tells him he can repair it himself. “The suit comes from your own subconscious,” Khalid explains.
Instantly, the costume comes out like new. “Huh,” Jay comments. “You’re right.” As if Khalid had just told him to use a bit of water to rub a food stain out of his white t-shirt.
Other parts of the issue just feel lazy, written in to save Robinson the bother of having to do extra work. The story turns back to Alan just in time to catch him congratulating Kendra: “We’ve only been in China a few hours and you’ve already uncovered more than all the detectives Sam’s father hired could dig up.”
Kendra brushes off the comment. “There are no rules, Alan. Sometimes it’s who you ask and sometimes it’s what you say.” Of course, we never get to see any of this get done. It’s valuable in the sense that it lets Robinson escape from having to write an actual investigation involving real detective work, but it’s also a blatant display of cutting corners in the narrative.
Another occasion for sympathy squeamishness is when Robinson indulges in some melodramatic cheese, going so big with the emotion that it’s almost embarrassing to read. The scene that comes to mind is when Alan’s ring compels him to fly back to America to confront the threat of Wotan there. As Kendra protests the sudden departure, he says helplessly, “I have to, Kendra—the need I me to go where I’m bid—it’s—I can’t resist it. I have no control! It’s maddening!” In terms of pushing, Alan went over the top somewhere around “I have to, Kendra”.
I wish I can adjust my vision so that I could selectively take in all of Scott’s beautiful art while keeping out the actual text. No matter how weak the writing, Scott’s art, glossy from Trevor Scott’s inks and burnished by Ciada-Pantazis’ colors, always shines through. The magical battle between Wotan and Dr. Fate is every bit the spectacle it should be, and the characters, even when they’re spouting out the most ridiculous lines, look serious and committed to the script.
Conclusion: In terms of writing, this is something of a low point for the series, saved from complete scorn by Scott’s artwork, but even that won’t stave off your dissatisfaction for long.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – If the powers of Horus and Menhit are that effective in a battle, what’s to stop Dr. Fate from speed-casting them every time?