Dark Crisis: World Without a Justice League – Superman. That’s a bit of a mouthful as titles go, but it does make clear what’s going on with the two stories in this Dark Crisis spin-off. Two? Yep, because as well as a main strip starting Superman and Superboy, there’s a back-up centring on Aquaman and his family.
To be fair, Aquaman does get billing on the cover, but it’s very subtle, and not using one of his known logos. It’s probably fair to say most people will be here for Superman and Super Son, intrigued as to why Jon is dressed in a Robin-style costume. And the ansŵer is…
… er, sorry. Writer Tom King doesn’t explain that one. A tease to bring in a few Batman fans, perhaps? Anyway, we do get a look at a world in which Clark, Superman and Lois Kent live in domestic bliss.
But Jon starts having disturbed nights, his super senses bringing hints that all isn’t well ‘Out there’ (that’s the name of the story).
Little by little, in chapters giving snapshots of Jon’s life from the ages of 13 to 18, we see how Jon deals with the knowledge that what’s out there is Darkseid, and learn that Superman had made a peace pact with the lord of Apokolips. Darkseid has always liked a good peace pact.
But the bad guy isn’t the point of this story, the point is that we’re on a world where Superman of the regular DC Universe gets to live another life. A life in which he doesn’t miss his son’s teenage years. And this motivates a final page that’s very touching – Tom King is terrific at writing parental love.
If you liked ‘For the Man Who Has Everything’ or stories in which the Justice League battles Dr Destiny, you’ll likely enjoy this. It follows the template of ‘perfect world with reality scratching at the edges’ to a tee. Apart from Jon being a sweary little fella – everyone curses in King comics – the Kents are recognisable, with Lois especially fun. It’s sad to see Clark so afraid to go beyond Earth, but my guess is that he and Jon are the only superheroes the planet has – King could usefully have spelled this out.
One curiosity: Lois mentions to Jon that her stomach is bothering her… how is there not a new superbaby within a few months? And one note: Tom King really wants us to think he hates Adam Strange.
Chris Burnham makes one of his too-rare DC appearances, his wonderfully organic art giving the story a pleasantly human feel. He’s great at emotion, capturing the concern Lois and Clark have for their growing boy. As for the action beats, highlights include a big fight against Brainiac and a bone-crunching encounter with Orion of the New Gods.
And I do like details such as Jon casually crushing the door frame before breakfast.
The sympathetic colours of Adriano Lucas add another dimension of comic book goodness, while the hand-drawn feel of Troy Peteri’s letters adds to the rough and ready tone. Burnham and Lucas’s cover totally has that Batman and Robin sensibility, I love it. It’s a shame the classic Superman logo isn’t there, it’s not appearing on any DC comics at the moment, which is wrong – it’s part of the visual iconography of not just DC Comics, but the entire industry.
Aquaman, meanwhile, is in a world of his own. All the current Justice League heroes are, courtesy of the newly evil Pariah in the aforementioned Dark Crisis. Things are terribly bright in Aquaman’s corner of the Multiverse, with Mera ruling at his side, daughter Andi all grown up, both his father and mother alive and happy… even Black Manta is a pal!
And that’s it, really, even a minor supervillain can’t wreck the fun of Aquaparents’ wedding renewal ceremony, thanks to Andi’s amour Jess Quick. But…
It looks like Arthur isn’t as locked into Black Pariah’s fantasy world as the hero turned villain – well, nutter – would have hoped. I look forward to seeing what comes next. For now, this is a fun little tale.. it’s just a shame Arthur Jr doesn’t make an appearance. Wrong continuity, probably. Anyway, writer Brandon Thomas, artist Fico Ossio, colourist Sebastian Cheng and letterer Troy Peteri (using a more conventional font) do a cracking job, there’s a confidence and elegance to proceedings. Ossio delivers one panel that’s a veritable crowd of Atlantean supporting characters, even Silver Age sea sprite Quisp pops up, and it made me smile.
All in all, Dark Crisis: World Without a Justice League – Superman is a good-looking tie-in to an intriguing event.