Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Trevor Hairsine, Stefano Gaudiano and Rain Beredo
Lettering by Saida Temofonte
Published by DC
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Despite the dour tone of films like Man of Steel or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (or even perennial bestsellers like The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and The Killing Joke), when you look at the history of the DC Universe, I think it’s easy to see an optimistic streak throughout the publisher’s history. Looking at the Silver Age to the Super-Friends all the way to All-Star Superman, there’s something joyous and aspirational about the DCU. Because of the godlike power and resilient metaphors behind their characters, the DCU stands tall because no matter how dire the circumstances, a happy ending always seems just around the corner.
But I’ll admit, it’s hard to see the silver lining in a book like DCeased, which makes writer Tom Taylor and artist Trevor Hairsine’s bleak zombie apocalypse feel all the more oppressive and affecting. In this fourth issue in particular, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of hope left in the DC Universe. There’s a sense of scale to this even that makes it easy to feel shaken, since the Anti-Life Equation has begun to systematically corrupt everyone from the Atom to Captain Atom — and while their physics-breaking abilities used to be a comfort to readers, seeing them as bloodthirsty killers makes DCeased a particularly gruesome look at the paragons of the DCU.
During his glory days on JLA, Grant Morrison posited what might happen if superheroes were caught up in a Starro invasion, as time and space themselves would fall prey to the superhuman abilities of those more powerful than a locomotive and those who can leap tall buildings in a single bound. But who’s going to be worried about a starfish when you could see characters ripping their own faces and attacking everyone around them? Tom Taylor, no stranger to dystopias thanks to his work on Injustice, cranks things up a notch, showing that if you thought human zombies were scary, wait till you see mindless Anti-Life drones blowing up the Eastern seaboard with their own out-of-control nuclear abilities, or a gigantic homicidal Giganta storming towards the Daily Planet.
It’s these big moments that really make DCeased feel impactful, especially with the return of one of the original plague carriers, who brings some foreboding information to the group. But while they aren’t quite as frequent as in previous issues, there are also some small moments that really bring home the poignancy of this zombie apocalypse, particularly when we see the unending optimism of Superman start to be tarnished by all the bloodshed — specifically, the revelation that he’s been solely using X-ray vision since the dawn of the outbreak is a bit of a heartbreaker. That said, some of the subplots here can’t help but feel a little like marking time — there’s a lot of pages devoted to bringing new superheroes to the frontlines (presumably to be slaughtered), while an action sequence with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy feels so drawn-out from last issue that it’ll likely appeal just to diehard fans of the characters.
Additionally, the artwork on this series is a bit hit or miss. Artist Trevor Hairsine, working with inker Stefano Gaudiano, has a bit of a sketchy quality that brings the grittiness to the not-quite-undead apocalypse, but at the cost of consistency amongst the still-living characters. Some of this also comes from his overreliance on six-tiered letterbox panels, which occasionally makes certain pages feel a little cramped, especially with so many characters involved. That said, Hairsine does deliver on the horror beats — Giganta in particular is an unsettling image, as is the grisly way she’s dispatched by a returned Justice Leaguer. And I will say that Hairsine ends the issue on a superb note, with he and Taylor delivering one of the stronger cliffhangers I’ve seen in recent memory.
While the DC Universe has occasionally flirted with dark, “mature reader” sensibilities, I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite as bleak as DCeased. However, I think that’s not a bug, but an intended feature — it’s hard to imagine seeing the Justice League get knocked on their heels quite as irrevocably as we’ve seen in this series, and the ways that Tom Taylor and Trevor Hairsine turns the screws on these typically unbeatable heroes leaves for some pretty horrifying twists. With two more issues to go, it’s unclear whether or not this creative team will stick the landing, but it’s undeniable that the journey along the way won’t leave some unsettling landmarks.