Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day of Vengeance (comics)

Writers: Bill Willingham, Judd Winick
Artists: Justiniano, Ian Churchill, Ron Wagner
Collects: Action Comics #826, Adventures of Superman #639, Superman #216, Day of Vengeance #1-6

Like most of the lead-ins to Infinite Crisis, the stakes are very high. All of them seem to encompass a different facet, or genre, of the DC Universe. Villains United, for example, focused largely on the villains. With Day of Vengeance, we focus on the magic sect of DC, witnessing the trials and tribulations they face as crisis looms large. Also like the other lead-ins, this mini is just as much a stage setter for a future ongoing; in this case, Day of Vengeance aptly sets up the future Shadowpact series.

Right from jump street, things are already very bad. The Spectre - Spirit of Vengeance - is without a human host, which means that he is without the tether of humanity that helps inform his judgment. As he slowly slips into madness and loses reason, Eclipso, the original Spirit of Vengeance, looses his silver tongue upon the Spectre. Convincing the confused entity that magic is the root of all evil, Eclipso manipulates the Spectre into a crusade to destroy magic.

Being as The Spectre is one of the single most powerful magic beings going, his crusade quickly turns into a slaughterhouse. The heavy hitters of the magic superheroes - Phantom Stranger, Madame Xanadu, Doctor Fate and so on - are caught by surprise and disabled. The rest of the magic based hero community, understandably panicked, holes up in the inter-dimensional Oblivion Bar. As things get ever bleaker, six of them team together to go on a suicide mission against the Spectre. Their only hope of succeeding lies in Captain Marvel and a young teenage girl named Black Alice.

Now, speaking based on personal preference, I've never found the magic based books terribly interesting. This goes for DC or Marvel. Too often, only the most powerful have a shot at an ongoing or story in general and some of them are little more than Deus Ex Machinas masquerading as a character, largely from a lack of definition to what they can and cannot do. This is one of those rare times I ended up buying a comic trade solely on the branding; I was at a comic convention, it was in a five dollar box of trades, had that "Countdown to Infinite Crisis" banner and I'd already gotten a couple of the other lead in mini's in trade. So I figured "what the hell" and nabbed it when I otherwise might not have.

I'm glad I did.

In magic based comics, it isn't always easy to get across suitable threats for the heroes. But Bill Willingham wisely set this mini up properly. The team that is central to the book are mostly mid list magic heroes that did not have a home anyway and the Spectre's misguided rampage provides a suitable threat, seeing as he's one of the most powerful characters in the DCU. The threat feels very real when he surprise attacks the heavy hitters of DC's magic scene and takes them down quickly. On top of which, Eclipso is in the mix. The Shadowpact - the name of their team - certainly have their hands full.

The writing is generally good. Bill Willingham is probably best known for his creator owned work - see Fables - and a lot of his superhero work leaves much to be desired. But here it's almost as if he's more at home. The "voices" of each character feels relatively distinct and spot on. There's also some strategy written in on the Shadowpact's part; they aren't always in the thick of the fight and they're horribly outmatched anyway, so they tend to support guys like Captain Marvel or lay traps. After all, taking the Spectre head on with their mid list power is, as they would put it, a suicide mission.

Also included is an arc from the Superman books by Judd Winick. This also feels like one of his better days in comic writing. It's mostly a Captain Marvel and Superman team-up against Eclipso that sets the stage for Day of Vengeance. It does a pretty decent job of it, as well, and reminds me that Judd can write a pretty decent Superman and Captain Marvel. It's enough to make a guy think that Judd should stick to writing the A listers, because it sometimes feels like that's where he does his best work.

Another point in this stories favor is that it feels more self contained. Whereas Villains United required a little prior knowledge, everything you need to know is included in here. Right down to the Superman prologue story. There are much fewer "wha" moments for anyone who might not be reading a lot of other Infinite Crisis era books as a result and this isn't something that should be understated. Obviously it's still an Infinite Crisis lead-in, but you don't feel like you actually need to read any other books to understand what's going on at a particular moment.

As you can probably tell by now, the trade contains a generous amount of comics, especially for a suggested retail price of thirteen dollars (yeah, I paid five for it, but roll with me here). There's a full three issue Superman story that acts as a prologue plus the six issue "Day of Vengeance" mini proper. That's nine comics for thirteen bucks; pretty meaty for the price, honestly. A good thing too, as I imagine it inspires some folks to pick up things they normally might not.

The art's not bad either. Ian Churchill does the Superman arc and I don't know if it's this general story inspiring better work or what, but he does pretty decent as well. He generally resists the urge to tart every female in the story up - though one character does not escape this - and his figure composition is better than usual. Granted, it still needs work - I do not know what is up with the chicken legs the doctor has in one panel late in that story - but I've seen worse from him.

Justiniano, on the other hand, is just damn good. I'm mostly familiar with him from his work with Geoff Johns on the Beast Boy mini - collected in the "Beast Boys and Girls" Teen Titans trade - so I already knew he does some great work. Not much has changed since then. If there's a mis-step in this department, it's with the lettering; there's occasionally a goof or two that sticks out. I think the one that was most noticeable was a word balloon with the backwards speak of Zatanna pointing at Black Alice with Doctor Fates powers instead of Black Alice with Zatannas. Doesn't happen often, but when it does it's a smidge distracting.

The Score: 8 out of 10

I'm not usually big on comics with magic central to it, but I suppose this makes the case that I jut haven't read the right ones. It's a good story that flows well and feels high stakes on it's own, even if it didn't have a crisis looming on the horizon. I'd recommend it, even if you're not big on magic or mystical based comics. You might find you enjoy it too.

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