Last issue Superman’s consultation with Doctor Fate was interrupted… by a Lord of Chaos. And not not just any old LoC, but Xanadoth, ‘the one true Lord of all Lords of Chaos’.
Khalid Nassour hasn’t been Doctor Fate for long and isn’t equipped to deal with such an experienced spellcaster, one whose natural might is supplemented by a bunch of stolen magical artefacts. And the Man of Steel has always been vulnerable to magic. How the heck are our heroes going to hang on to the latest mystic maguffin demanded by the demon – the Helmet of Fate itself?
With teamwork, what else? Superman’s vulnerability means he’s not just susceptible to the spells of Xanadoth, but to the enchantments of Dr Fate. And if Khalid doesn’t know how to put Xanadoth back in her box, well, let’s just say that he knows a man who does…
Writer Brian Michael Bendis produces another majorly entertaining script, a big, extra-dimensional fracas in which character is to the fore. Superman continues to be the nicest guy in the superhero firmament without being an easy mark. Sure, he’s willing to listen to the Chaos Lord’s story, but if she’s not going to cooperate, he’ll go in there with fists flying.
And Khalid, while still a novice, is smart enough to listen to the voice of Nabu, his helmet ‘housemate’. This is a proper, old-fashioned team-up, all fight and fun, with no subplots to distract. Think DC Comics Presents – Bendis and letterer Dave Sharpe certainly were when it came to the credits.
How fantastic that Sharpe didn’t simply dig out an old logo, he redid it to match the current DC cover stamp, and gave us the heroes’ mastheads side by side, in true Bronze Age fashion.
Amusingly. We get the logos twice on the credits spread, as Bendis includes the stars’ ‘legends’, with Superman’s recapping what’s been going on with him over the last couple of years. There’s specific information for this two-parter on page one, a proper Old School splash page, and it’s great – no one dipping into this issue will be confused.
Xanadoth is refreshingly non-hysterical for a mystical menace, not too melodramatic, but far from mundane. At one point she shushes her two enemies, like an especially stern librarian, but there’s never any doubt she has the firepower to back up her calm threats.
Once again, artist Kevin Maguire makes Xanadoth look magnificent, and the demon’s pet monsters are great looking (in a bad way) too. Maguire constantly varies perspective, point of view and distance, and angles panels to add dynamism, taking the reader on a rollercoaster of the imagination. And when we come to the moment Superman and Dr Fate really get their act together, the visual is truly eye-popping, with help from the vibrant colours of Alex Sinclair.
For sheer comic book fun, this issue will be hard to beat this week. Superman and Dr Fate make for an entertaining partnership and come out of the fantastic fray with a new friendship. Xanadoth could easily become a welcome recurring villain, while her host, DEO agent Veronica Bissette, has an implied backstory I’d like explored.
Said hints are dropped by Veronica’s boss Mr Bones in a flashback at the start of the issue, in the background of which is Supergirl, fighting an angry extraterrestrial, watched by J’onn J’onzz… it’s very Supergirl TV show and loads of fun as drawn by this issue’s co-artist, John Timms. All the pages involving Veronica Bissette are handled by Timms and look great… mostly. The only point at which the art hits a speed bump is a montage spread with an awful lot of visual elements, and an awful lot of dialogue. Dr Fate winds up buried under words, not all of them magical. Ah well, bless Bendis for aiming to give the reader good value – I’d say he succeeds.
The cover by penciller Ivan Reis, inker Joe Prado and colourist Sinclair is a winner, though I’d have preferred Sinclair not to have made the background tones so similar to last issue’s. OK, it’s the same dark dimension, but still…
Usually I’d be having a wee shrug about an issue that’s basically all fighting, no subplots, but Bendis gives us so much humanity – Super-humanity, even – with the conflict, and the artists make everything so inviting to the eye, that it’s all good. More than good, it’s magical.