Given the events inside this penultimate issue, Gary Frank’s intense cover at first seems an odd choice. There are cataclysmic moments aplenty, but here’s new heroine Dr Multiverse in accusatory mode.
As it turns out, it’s the first panel of the story, as Dr Multiverse – newly imbued with cosmic awareness – tells her Justice League Incarnate teammates the secret history of the DC Multiverse. For Dr Multiverse, read Captain Exposition. The original Crisis on Infinite Earths, and those that followed, are reframed as part of an ongoing struggle between The Great Darkness that existed before anything else, and the Light that followed the Big Bang.
The compromise brokered by the Swamp Thing didn’t hold, as a dark god watched from the sidelines.
If you’ve been reading this five-issue mini-series, you’ll have seen Dr Multiverse betray the JLI’s mission, insisting that she has to help Darkseid win his battle against The Great Darkness. After ten pages taking us from the Big Bang through Crisis on Infinite Earths and right up through the recent Metal nonsense, I see her point. The Flash, Superman, Captain Carrot and Batman, though, aren’t convinced.
And so the stage is set for the action-packed second half of the issue, as we move from past to present and hope that there’s a future. Not that I minded the knitting together of decades worth of DC events, I’m a sucker for deep continuity cuts, and writers Joshua Williamson and Dennis Culver make a convincing case that superhero comics really are the Never-Ending Battle, with the Multiverse a body at war with itself, and superheroes as antibodies.
Yeah, it’s big, daft nonsense, but a lot of thought has gone into it, and it’s fun. Plus, we get to see my least-favourite character blasted to smithereens by Darkseid… well, that’s what we’re meant to believe, but it’s already been announced that they’re starring in an upcoming mini-series. The character dynamics are nicely played out, with Superman commanding, the Flash steadfast and Captain Carrot inspirational.
Penciller Mike Norton’s Captain Carrot is the best-looking since he started being used away from Earth C about a decade ago. Too many times he’s looked freakish, horrifying, think Donnie Darko’s pal in a union suit. Norton, though, gives him enough weight so as not to look out of place while retaining his fundamental simplicity, his cartoon charm. The other heroes also look great, but the standout figure is Darkseid, with Norton showing him in one of his two most famous poses (the other is sitting in an armchair…).
Norton draws the middle third of the issue, with the opening super-recap coming from Chris Burnham and the climax handled by Andrei Bressan. The episodic nature of the story – exposition, reaction, FIIIGHT! – lends itself to different hands, and both Burnham and Bressan deliver dramatic, powerful visuals. Burnham is always a massive treat, I love his grainy style, but it’s Bressan who provides my favourite scene, a spread featuring Apokolips’ worst vs the Gentry from Grant Morrison’s Multiversity project.
The pages positively glow, thanks to the colouring talents of Hi-Fi – there’s so much going on in terms of characters and backgrounds, but the clarity is superb. The Earth-7 scenes are especially eye-popping.
Letterer Tom Napolitano brings out the blacks for the dialogue of both Darkseid and the Gentry, but the treatments are refreshingly different. The lettering throughout is excellent. And kudos to editors Chris Rosa and Paul Kaminski for being the empty hands holding everything together.
I think I can safely declare Justice League Incarnate a sleeper blockbuster – it started off as a fun mini-series focusing on a parallel League and has built into a story with massive reach and the potential to remake the multiverse (again). And I love it.