I do like a good comic book homage, and the first issue of this DC mini-series has not one, but two. The first comes as Metropolis’ protector/dictator reacts to a less than glowing op ed in the Daily Planet.
A nod to Action Comics #1 makes perfect sense as we’re introduced to Ultraman, Earth 3’s version of Superman. We’ve seen dozens of Ultraman stories since the Crime Syndicate debuted at DC in the Sixties, but this is a new version, in the aftermath of Death Metal’s rebuilding of the Multiverse.
The team hasn’t formed in this first chapter of The New Deal, entitled ‘Strange Visitor’, but we do get efficient, entertaining vignettes before a familiar threat looks sets to bring them together.
Ultraman. Superwoman. Emerald Knight. Johnny Quick. Atomica. The World’s Greatest not-Superheroes. But someone is missing.
Owlman, scourge of Gotham City. Unsurprisingly, he has plans…
Writer Andy Schmidt, penciller Kieran McKeown, inker Dexter Vines, colourist Steve Oliff and letterer Rob Leigh partner for an excellent debut issue. It’s more fun than any story starring DC’s most dastardly Justice League has any right to be. Sure, there are cruelly violent moments, but they’re not over-emphasised, think of it as just a different kind of character building. From the opening take on one of the 20th century’s most shocking events to the delightfully daft editor’s notes, this is a terrific DC comic, leaning into the company’s history without being dependent on deep knowledge for reader enjoyment.
Changes to secret identities and backgrounds, and nuggets of Earth 3 information – the political centre of the nation is not Washington, but Arnold, for example – add extra interest and texture.
Irish artist McKeown is a new name to me and I like what I see – elegant layouts, powerful figures, fun facial expressions and, on a couple of extreme close-ups, a dash of Keith Giffen at his most stylised. Dexter Vines is an inker I’m always happy to see on a book, his work is strong without overwhelming the penciller’s contribution. My favourite visual is Superwoman – you can trace it back to previous versions, but her costume is tweaked to represent her new background, and there’s a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
It’s rare to see Steve Oliff colour a book these days, but I’m excited to see such a talented veteran here – every page pops with life. And Rob Leigh shows once again why he’s comics’ most underrated letterer.
I mentioned two homages. The second comes in a four-page back-up strip written by Schmidt and drawn by another illustrator from this side of the pond, Bryan Hitch.
Yep, it’s an Earth 3 universe take on All-Star Superman’s famously economical origin of Superman. That last panel is pitch perfect. In just four pages the creative team – Leigh letters again, but the colourist is Alex Sinclair – produce an absorbing fable showing us what this Clark Kent’s boyhood was like and maybe, just maybe, making me a little bit sympathetic towards the super git.
All credit to editors Marquis Draper and Brian Cunningham – sadly no longer at DC – for keeping the Crime Syndicate in check. And kudos to Kenny Lopez for matching the logo to the Justice League masthead, and Darran Robinson for the new trade dress… that ‘Limited Series’ circle is so cute!
Fan favourite Jim Cheung’s cover will hopefully help sales – this is a comic that many DC fans will enjoy if they give it a go. Former Marvel Comics editor Schmidt, one of the brains behind the recent Generations Shattered and Generations Forged specials, is a real find for DC. And the same can be said for McKeown, I hope to see lots more of his work after this run. Crime Syndicate is planned to have six issues, but already I want an ongoing. So far as quality goes, it’s a steal.