Justice League: Road to Dark Crisis #1 review

There’s a Crisis coming.

Isn’t there always? ‘Dark Crisis’ sounds like we’re going deep into DC self-parody territory, but let’s withhold judgment until it kicks off. This one-off is the pre-match team talk, as participants gather, knowing there’s a challenge ahead but not knowing if they’ll win or lose.

The cover by artist Daniel Sampere and colourist Alejandro Sanchez is technically well done, but doesn’t leave a big impression, what with the biggest character being a void.

The anthology opens with a ‘Team-Up’ between new Superman Jon Kent and Nightwing Dick Grayson. Well, it’s more of a brunch really, with the meat of the tale being our heroes’ discussion around whether or not the supposedly dead Justice League are gone for good

Dick’s been around a long while. He’s seen his mentors die, he’s seen them come back. He’s not giving up hope.

Or he’s in denial. Decide for yourself by reading this smart short from writer Josh Williamson, penciller Dan Jurgens, inker Norm Rapmund, colourist Hi-Fi and letterer Josh Reed, whIch features a poster-worthy splash of Jon making his entrance.

Next up, Flash Wally West helps Kid Flash Wallace West see that when you’re a good guy and the world is scared, your job is to get out there and show people they still have heroes and hope.

Plus, catching every villain you can distracts you from worrying about problems closer to home, in this case the disappearance of senior Flash Barry Allen and Flash of China Avery Ho. Jeremy Adams continues the great job he’s doing in the regular Flash series; as well as the expected excellent characterisation he treats us to a visit with Iris West Allen and name-drops one of DC’s most obscure cities. Mind, he loses a point for assuming that where Wallace doesn’t know what the game of Whack-a-Mole is, the reader does. I was somewhat bamboozled by a full page of the speedsters beating up Giganta at numbered points. The art by Rosi Kämpe has lots of energy, that page a few lines back isn’t representative of the look of ‘Life of Purpose’ – try this.

Fun, wot? Colours by Matt Herms, mighty lettering by that man Reed again – he handles the whole book.

In ‘Survivors’, a space beastie being chased by Green Lantern Hal Jordan comes down in Atlantis. Aquaman being dead, trainee Aquaman Jackson Hyde helps out. And that’s as much as I can tell you, Chuck Brown’s story being pretty confusing in terms of what becomes of the extraterrestrial menace.

The creature at the start of the story is very different at the end, in appearance and nature, and it’s not at all clear why. And Hal Jordan is terribly brusque with young Jackson, whose head of worms belies his competence. I’ve no problems with the art of illustrator Fico Ossio and colourist Sebastian Cheng, which is enjoyably bombastic – the initial monster looks very scary.

Pariah is a character I’ve never enjoyed. It’s not his fault, he was created to witness the death of worlds, so all he ever gets to do is wail about suffering, making him less than fun company. In ‘The Pariah’ he suffers some more… but this is my favourite story in the issue.

That’s some superbly expressive lettering from Josh Reed

Meet the family. Pariah is being haunted – hunted? – by the ghosts of his wife and kids, and Mrs P, Sondra, is terrifying, a ghoul who whispers one minute, screams the next. It’s fine writing from Action Comics mastermind Phillip Kennedy Johnson, while the art by Leila Del Duca, coloured by Jordie Bellaire, is delightfully expressive. Sondra’s face, with the permanent black trail of tears, is reminiscent of a chilling China doll; it’s unnerving. And Pariah has great hair (these things matter).

Finally, Batgirl Stephanie Brown has an encounter with Gotham ghoul Nocturna. What begins as a traditional hero vs villain confrontation turns into something more subtle, a heart to heart.

Writer Stephanie Phillips does a terrific job of reclaiming the Nocturna of the recent Suicide Squad series as the pre-Crisis character of the same name, the albino temptress in love with the night. Illustrator Clayton Henry completes the artistic alchemy with a lovely throwback page, complete with Benday dots effect from colourist Marcelo Maiolo.

Can we have this Batman back, please?

By the end of ‘Because the Night’, Nocturna is in prime position for Dark Crisis shenanigans, as are, indeed, the rest of this comic’s cast. There are some very good moments in this issue, but I wouldn’t say it’s indispensable, it’s more an appetiser for the very keen. If you have plonked down your £4.79 or local equivalent, I’d love to know what you thought to it.

12 thoughts on “Justice League: Road to Dark Crisis #1 review

  1. I have no plans to read a single page of Dark Crisis. I red the last page of Metal as homework for the new status quo but have learned my lesson. There is no DC status quo so why bother with ‘game changing’ events. I’m just gonna read what I like and ignore everything else.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed this. Slim stories, but enjoyable. But Dark Crisis is turning into an increasingly massive affair – DC just announced the addition of several more books to the already large event, and are updating the checklist accordingly.

    Matt Herms (on colors) has been showing up everywhere lately, and I haven’t seen his name until recently. And in turn I wonder what colorist we *haven’t* been seeing as much of.

    I think that schematic was the Flashes helping out all the impacted passers-bye, and some of it is pretty funny, though I don’t understand what Wally means at numbered point 2 (“On me!”).

    The sci-fi details of Chuck Brown’s story are definitely murky, but apparently there is an entire race of benign but infected aliens that are hijacked and forced to traverse the galaxy by ocean-devouring parasites that can handle interstellar space travel, but can’t handle a little firm churning under water! Don’t think about that too hard. I also wonder what happened to said parasites. Dead?

    Pariah does have a fine head of hair, but he’s stuck in the 80s with that mullet!

    As for the Nocturna/Batgirl story, I’m a fan of this Batgirl, and I enjoyed this for the art and the overall situation, though I didn’t entirely follow the flow of the narration until I did a bit of digging. From the recent Suicide Squad, I thought Nocturna was some kind of vampire, not an astronomer/jewel thief afflicted with a skin condition and aversion to light. My mistake! Add to that a pheromone thing she has going on, and the essay about stars, night, desire and so forth starts to make sense. Plus, she and Spoiler heavily interacted over the course of 4 or 5 issues in “Robin” in 2002, and I think they became frenemies then, so Phillips is drawing upon that history.

    It was nice to see Dan Jurgens. A solid choice when there’s a death of Superman involved.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The colourist was Gabe Eltaeb, who quit the book because of ‘[DC] ruining these characters’. It’s not reported whether or not the door hit him on his way out.

      I did get that things were happening at the numbers in the Flash story, I just didn’t see the point of the numbers. Must be something to do with Whack-a-Mole. It could be worse, it could be Rock, Paper, Scissors.

      Thank you for explaining the GL/Aqualadman story. Oh dear.

      I’d pretty much forgotten what happened in Nocturna’s post-Crisis appearances. Originally she didn’t have pheromone powers, just a narcotic perfume she wore that made her super-alluring… even to her foster son Jason Todd.


  3. I just ordered the TPBs of Walt Simonson’s “Orion” series from the early 2000s. Why bring this up now? Because that period of late 1990s/early 2000s was SUCH an excellent period for DC. You had top writers on the big titles — JLA, JSA, Superman/Batman — but also excellent books about the lesser known characters, like Orion, Starman, Chronos, Chase, Martian Manhunter. It seems like the company was firing on all cylinders. But looking at DC’s current publishing landscape, it seems so odd that the only real variety is in Dark Crisis. They just announced a tie in starring the 1980s version of Dr. Light. Meanwhile the rest of the line is mostly Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman or titles starring some variation of those characters, with the occasional mini-series by Tom King to spotlight, then ruin some other more minor character like Adam Strange and Human Target. More and more I just find myself skipping buying any new DC and hunting down books I missed two or more decades ago. It just makes Dark Crisis, to me, an oddity. It’s like Joshua Williamson is intent on celebrating all of the breadth of the DC Universe and its history, and no one else in the company is going to the party…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh Brian, I wish I could disagree with you as to the breadth of DC’s publish plate, but you’re right, it’s pretty monotone… well, maybe duotone, the two colours being black and grey. Soooooo much Batman. Are the lower tier Bat books really welly so much better than might a Firestorm comic, or a Sgt Rock, or a Chronos? They really need to offer something more to those of us bored by so much Bat.

      And thanks for the reminder about Orion, I’ve never read the series even though I’ve had the trade of the first five issues for years… and presumably I could read more on the DC app if I enjoy it.


  4. I was thinking about letting Dark Crisis pass by, but I realized without it, DC’s publishing is pretty much just Batman these days. So if I feel like reading some non-Bat content, this is nearly the only game in town. And I know I’ll like the emphasis on non-JLA heroes. I’m still on the fence about the Young Justice tie-in. though.

    I liked most of this issue — the Aquaman/GL story being the one weak link.

    I didn’t realize Steph and Nocturna had a history together, or that she had appeared in 2002 at all! I just figured as a Batman villain, she’d have known the Cluemaster’s daughter since she was a baby.

    I just thought of the most marvelous and cruel bait-and-switch: The Death of the JLA happens, instituting Dark Crisis — even though it seems like the JLA aren’t really dead at all, but transported into fantasy worlds of Pariah’s design. So the Leaguers struggle and break free of their individual world-prisons… only to have some of them ACTUALLY die, in a much more heroic and convincing way. (And not all in the same way, which invites them all being resurrected the same way.) And with a third or a half of the league dead — I’d nominate Ollie, Zatanna, and my favorite, Barry — the universe can continue on for a while without them, and some changes happen that feel like genuine growth, instead of a promise that could get whisked away as soon as all of the grownups come back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve liked your comment even though it seems you’d kill Ollie and Zee and Barry! Oh well, they would indeed come back, and it’s not like things didn’t tick along nicely when Barry and Ollie were dead, and Zee hasn’t had a good role for years! OK, kill ‘em.

      I love your idea about Spoiler and the villains, it’s like the obverse of the Black Canary II and JSA situation. Clever!


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