By: Geoff Johns (story), David Finch (pencils), Richard Friend (inks), Sonia Oback (colors)

The Story: With the world near the end, now’s exactly the time to discuss romantic futures.

The Review: We’ve come to the dreaded Big Fat Middle of Forever Evil, and with Johns at the helm, the middle is even bigger and fatter than usual.  By now, Johns has become notorious for his decompressed style, which is sometimes just a fancy term for dilly-dallying.  To spot the difference, just ask yourself whether the scene is giving you anything new about the plot or characters, or if it’s just regurgitating the same stuff you’ve been given before.

You’ll notice a lot of this issue falls into that latter category—not everything, obviously, but I’d say, in my completely unscientific way, about half: the consequences of Dick’s identity being exposed, Luthor’s perceptions of himself, Ultraman’s weaknesses, Superwoman’s pregnancy, Power Ring’s freakouts, etc.  The players occasionally change, but the content being exchanged stays pretty much the same, allowing the story to move forward only inches at a time.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that this is mostly a talking-heads issue, with only a short burst of action towards the very end.  Some of the talking feels like pure repetition, of course, and some of it simply seems poorly constructed, as if wedged into the gaps of the story instead of forming an integral part of it.  Catwoman’s ceaseless attempts to get Batman to talk about their relationship comes to mind.  Given the gravity of the current situation on Earth, it just feels awkward to see her grasp for the romance in it all: “We’re as close as the last man and woman on Earth as we can get and you still won’t talk to me about anything except ‘The Plan.’”*

Still, there are interesting bits and pieces that escape from what is generally business-as-usual.  A few details, mentioned a little too pointedly in passing, hint at events to come, like how Power Ring can render Grid blind by connecting to Grid’s systems, or Deathstorm being tasked with leveraging Firestorm’s transmutation abilities to generate kryptonite for the hungering Ultraman.  Even rarer are actual character developments, which are limited to Cold’s street-smarts and Superwoman’s unreadability, and little else.

With such a dearth of new material, the one moment of true originality stands out even more.  Unlike Batman and Catwoman, the relationship between Bizarro and Luthor comes across as the one dynamic that’s capable of generating material you haven’t seen before.  More than just the comedic potential of the genius Luthor striving to put the mindless Bizarro to work, Johns reveals a surprising degree of heart between them, too.  Luthor’s attempt to coax Bizarro into the dark, which the monster fears, has an intensely paternalistic tone, and when he actually succeeds in getting Bizarro to “try,” you can tell by his expression there’s a storm of emotions going on in that computer-like head.

That effectiveness of that scene also speaks to the improvements in Finch’s range of expressions, which still tends to be a very tight-jawed sort of stoicism.  But to your amazement, he also manages to capture a natural-looking sense of shame and anxiety in Bizarro’s face when he stops short at the darker part of the sewers.  In that moment, a little of Bizarro’s source material glimmers through, just as a little of Luthor’s humanity shows itself in his reaction to Bizarro’s understanding.  Oback’s dark, cool colors have never seemed so at home than in this world where evil and darkness has won; too bad it can’t last.

Conclusion: A mostly digestible issue of DC’s biggest Big Event, if mostly safe and bland throughout.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Not to mention the fact that this is an incredibly arrogant assertion.  Those 7 billion other men and women on the planet are just downtrodden, Catwoman—not non-existent.