Best Shots Reviews: DCEASED #1, WAR OF THE REALMS STRIKEFORCE - DARK ELF REALM #1

War of the Realms Strikeforce: The Dark Elf Realm #1
Credit: Kim Jacinto (Marvel Comics)
Credit: DC

DCeased #1
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Trevor Hairsine, Stefano Guadiano, James Harren and Rain Beredo
Lettering by Saida Temofonte
Published by DC Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

For a melding of the DC Universe with zombie horror, DCeased #1 is an oddly scattered amalgamation of ideas with mixed quality throughout. Its plot doesn’t withstand scrutiny well, and the inconsistencies with the art make it hard to appreciate when most people are going to default to indifference to the premise. It isn’t all bad, as writer Tom Taylor crafts some memorable moments in the comic’s story, while the art team of artists Trevor Hairsine, Stefano Gaudiano, James Harren and colorist Rain Beredo do manage to make some scenes visually exciting. It’s just that, for an opening issue, it really doesn’t give readers a lot to latch on to.

The comic opens with the Justice League defeating Darkseid as Superman breaks his jaw. Under the influence of Wonder Woman’s lasso, Darkseid is telling the truth when he ominously says he’s already got what he came for. We quickly learn that he is right. Because Cyborg - often an overlooked utility player in the Justice League roster - has not only been kidnapped, but we soon discover is the key to the New God’s most depraved schemes. Because Darkseid’s greatest weapon - the Anti-Life Equation - has been inside Cyborg all along.

But it’s here where one of the major flaws of DCeased #1 makes itself known. Tom Taylor is by all metrics a fantastic writer, but when trying to create a reason for zombies to exist in this universe, there seems to be an insecurity in the execution. To a degree this makes sense, it’s 2019 and the zombie bubble has burst. There’s likely an impulse from the creative team and editorial team to differentiate the series. The downside is that a lot gets thrown at the wall conceptually, and it ends up feeling more bloated and confusing than it should. Why is Cyborg the key to the Anti-Life Equation? Why did Darkseid become a zombie but his lieutenant Desaad did not? One panel shows those who see Cyborg taking out their phones with blank stares as the text informs us that those who witness the Anti-Life Equation mindlessly share it, but a few panels later we are told the infected gnash at their own heads and seem to immediately go into a mad feral state. Batman learns that the infection can transmit via social media or bodily fluid, so this is somehow both a Stephen King’s Cell situation and a typical zombie deal.

The inconsistency hurts the story most from a theme standpoint. In one of the comic book’s strongest transitions, Superman destroys all the screens in his home to prevent his family from being infected, telling them simply “No screens.” The story then immediately cuts to Batman looking at his vast array of screens in the Batcave. The implications from the exposition where the rules of zombification were explained, combined with the prior hint that Batman’s surveillance tendencies are a flaw, and made nearly certain by the set-up from the previous scene with Superman all points to this being the being culminating moment where Batman turns into a zombie. And then he just doesn’t. The most important part of a story like this is how the use of the zombie plot can comment on the state of the DC Universe or its characters. The issue sets up for a really powerful moment and then backs off, opting instead for Dick Grayson to be infected elsewhere in the Wayne house and for him to bite Bruce.

The art of the reveal of infected Nightwing is the best single panel in an issue that boasts an alternating art team of Trevor Hairsine and Stefano Gaudiano on the majority of the first and third act, with James Harren tackling everything in the middle. Colorist Rain Beredo smooths over the differences in the styles well and utilizes the colors to create something cohesive out of what could have otherwise been disjointed. The art is at its best in the closing moments, but there are some awkward panels leading up to it, with the opening fight with Darkseid being particularly off-putting. The faces are where the art seemed to struggle most in this book.

For its faults, there is still a strong creative team behind DCeased, and the technology angle to the zombie story is interesting, so hopefully that’s the route the rest of the series pursues. The subgenre is tired, so this story is in desperate need of something else for readers to latch onto. There needs to be something really special to make a series like this work, and so far this debut issue struggles to deliver on that front.

Credit: Leinil Francis Yu (Marvel Comics)

War of the Realms Strikeforce: The Dark Elf Realm #1
Written by Bryan Edward Hill
Art by Leinil Francis Yu and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

While people might overlook this tie-in due to its counterintuitive lineup and its unwieldy title, if you gave War of the Realms Strikeforce: The Dark Elf Realm #1 a shot, you’d discover the best book Marvel put out last week. With Malekith and the Dark Elves tearing through Earth, the Asgardian Lady Freyja must put together a team of heavy rollers from the Marvel Universe - and thanks to writer Bryan Edward Hill’s sterling dialogue and some choice artwork from Leinil Francis Yu, this unlikely superhero team winds up soaring.

“Even gods have to own what they are.” Who’d have thought that Frank Castle would be so insightful? Clearly Bryan Edward Hill, who sets a high bar for himself with a team of cast-offs that surprisingly comes together with a chemistry that rivals the ‘90s Fantastic Four. Leading a team consisting of She-Hulk, Blade and Ghost Rider, Freyja and the Punisher play off each other exquisitely - Freyja being an immortal who sees twists and turns like breathing, whereas Frank is a blunt object, a man who doesn’t shy away from hard truths or harder choices.

Thanks to having an expanded page count, Hill is able to make his characters really pop off the page, with focused characterization and deliberate dialogue that feels unlike anything we’re seeing elsewhere at the Big Two. And moreover, Hill is able to use this prime real estate to shift gears as needed, whether it’s a sequence of bringing their team together, or watching the Strikeforce battle their own inner demons, or watching Freyja and Frank slowly earn each other’s respect. It all feels particularly meaty for an event tie-in book, but I think that helps justify this side detour.

And I will say, it’s great seeing Hill get paired with an artistic heavyweight like Leinil Francis Yu. You can sense that Yu is really enjoying himself with this script -whereas oftentimes he is thrown action-heavy crowd shots that wind up sapping a lot of energy out of his linework, here Yu is able to soak up every bit of drama as these characters size each other up. It says a lot about Yu’s flexibility that he’s able to take designs as varied as the Punisher, She-Hulk, Ghost Rider and more, and to make them have a sense of cohesiveness on the page. Sometimes, though he winds up finding more commonality among contrast, with the pages of Frank and Freyja feeling particularly compelling. And speaking of compelling, colorist Matt Hollingsworth proves to be the perfect counterpoint for his artwork, adding depth but never overpowering the page, even with crazy cosmic energies - while I know Sunny Gho is often Yu’s colorist, there is a stirring case to be made to have Hollingsworth tap in again in the future.

There’s a line in War of the Realms Strikeforce: The Dark Elf Realm #1 about Freyja being able to divine the future the same way that we would be able to smell a rose. But I’ll be honest, I don’t need my nose to tell me what the future looks like, when I have my own two eyes in front of me — Bryan Hill is a writer who’s been working his way up the ladder for a long time, and between work like this, Killmonger, Detective Comics and Michael Cray, if he hasn’t hit critical mass yet, he definitely deserves to. Most tie-in books feel like grist for the mill, but War of the Realms Strikeforce: The Dark Elf Realm #1 winds up being a surprisingly potent showcase for both Hill and Yu, and makes me want to see them team up again sooner rather than later.

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