By: Jeff Lemire (story), Rafael Albuquerque (art), Dave McCaig (colors)

The Story: You’re always at the top of the Totem pole if you’re the only one left.

The Review: Having recently pointed out Wonder Woman as one of the original New 52 titles to maintain the energy it started out with, I now draw your attention to this series as one that has failed to do so.  The Rotworld arc, instead of being the supernatural Big Event it promised to be, ended up sapping the title of much of its momentum and even its spirit.  What’s left is a husk of a title, trudging along in a desperate attempt to regain its footing.

The blame doesn’t lie entirely with one ill-conceived arc, however.  Reading through the last few issues makes it clear that Lemire has lost the clarity of his vision for this title, which makes it even harder for him to course-correct any missteps taken during Rotworld.  Even worse, this issue seems doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past since Lemire borrows some very familiar elements from prior storylines to build the plot.

You don’t have so much of a problem with the premise of a Totem betraying his brethren to further a more warlike agenda for the Red.  This is merely in keeping with earlier points about how the Rot, the Green, and the Red cyclically attempt to dominate each other for control of the planet.  The real flaw of this development is that it feels a little too similar to the origins of the Hunters Three and their plot to corrupt the Red for their own purposes. Rotworld already burned you out of watching natural forces at war; you can’t muster interest in a story that’s even distantly about the same thing.

After all the damage the Red has already suffered, now seems the time for renewal and exploration, not further destruction.  Wasn’t that the whole point of sending Maxine through the realms of the Red on a quest to retrieve her brother?  Unfortunately, with most of the land we perceive as the Red tied up in the Totems, and the Totems now eliminated save one, it makes you question how much longer the place will be around.

No doubt Maxine and Buddy will find some way to prevail against the odds and set the Red back to rights again.  It’s just exhausting to have to wade through the nonsense of a traitor Totem (“King of Limbs”), Brother Blood, and the Splinterfolk first.  Lemire has never established Blood as a particularly nuanced or well-motivated villain, and his enabler, if anything, is even worse.  There are moments when the King is downright hysterical in ranting against his brethren.  When one of his former comrades cries that they’re one, the King shrieks, “All lies! There is no communion between us!  My voice has never been heard!  When you all wanted the little Baker as our new avatar, I told you it was a mistake!”

Only the Splinterfolk ever posed much interest as antagonists, mostly because their more scientific origins pushed the title away from the esoteric material which dominated the first two-and-a-half years of its run.  Their mad experimentation upon themselves held a lot of potential for psychological exploration, but once Lemire attached them to Brother Blood and let the King of Limbs have his way with them, they come across as little more than your garden-variety cultists with generically hellish appearances.

At least Albuqurque provides a major step up in the art, though there’s really nothing he can do except keep your eyes entertained while your brain dozes.  For anyone who ever questioned why I never seemed all that enthused with Steve Pugh’s work on this title, take a look at this issue and you’ll see the one thing Pugh always lacked: energy.  His lines are less stilted and controlled than Pugh’s, and that’s exactly what gives the art its punch.  Unfortunately, we lose Lovern Kindzierski’s colors in the process, but Major makes just as effective an impact with bolder, more striking hues.

Conclusion: Much as I appreciate the title’s new duds via Albuquerque, the story feels too redundant and one-dimensional to make continuing on worth it.  Dropped.

Grade: C+

-Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Glad to see Ellen and Buddy making up.  Scratch what I said in my review of Batwoman #24 about Aquaman and Mera being DC’s last committed couple.