Lazarus Planet: Dark Fate #1 review

Another week, another Lazarus Planet anthology, with another meaningless subtitle. May as well call it Lazarus Planet: Random Doomy Words. You know the deal by now. Magic green rain is coming down, people are getting super powers, blah blah. This one I’ve been looking forward to, though, as it brings the return of the Doom Patrol, setting up their coming mini-series, The Unstoppable Doom Patrol.

The World’s Strangest Heroes are called to a military base by General Blanche, an irritant from Negative Man Larry Trainor’s test pilot days. He needs their help to save a squad of soldiers from a technician transformed by the Lazarus Resin. Larry, Robotman Cliff Steele and Elasti-Woman Rita Farr go underground and find themselves in nightmare situation.

After quite the struggle, and the arrival of a rather forthright new Crazy Jane persona, the unfortunate tech, Simon Choe, is saved and the Patrol finds themselves with a new mission – to help victims of the Lazarus Resin retain their humanity rather than feel like monsters.

Writer Dennis Culver and artist Chris Burnham show how you can tell a satisfying tale in just ten pages – characters are efficiently introduced, there’s action, a conclusion and the promise of fun and games galore. There’s an offhand comment from Blanche that paints him as a total git – I hope his glasses are a hint that at some point Larry’s settled a grudge with him, painfully. I love Burnham’s art, it’s full of personality, and looks especially nice as coloured by Brian Reber. Steve Wands brings his considerable talent to the lettering assignment and does a delightfully unfussy job. I have just one question. Look at this sequence.

Surely the art for panels two and three should be flipped? Panel 1: The team is chatting to Blanche on the cliff top. Panel 2: They’re on the way to the entrance to the underground by dinghy, with Blanche watching from the cliff top. Panel 3: Back on the cliff top with Blanche. Panel 4: They reach the entrance. The word balloons seem entirely in the right place. Am I missing something?

Because this is a DC anthology, two of the four stories are set in Gotham. The first stars the Huntress as she bids to save the staff of Arkham Tower – the successor to Arkham Asylum – from low-level Batman enemies after the Lazarus Resin falls. Killer Moth has gained the power to bring out the worst in people and even Huntress, good Catholic Helena Bertinelli, feels the pull. But there’s a twist, something I think is a new wrinkle to Helena’s personality. I like Tim Seeley’s massively confident Huntress, and his use of some very obscure Bat-hoods, so will likely check out the promised continuation this summer – that’s if the presence of other Huntress Helena Wayne over in the JSA book doesn’t scupper it.

What I don’t like is quite how vicious Huntress is, yeah, she’s fighting for her life, but a hero shouldn’t look quite so cruel. Artist Baldemar Rivas does an efficient job with the storytelling, while Ivan Plascencia brings the lurid green tones demanded by every Lazarus Planet special and Carlos M Mangual is the real-life Onomatopoeia.

The other Gotham-set tale introduces us to new character Xanthe Zhou, the Envoy. She’s in a graveyard in Chinatown.

Now that’s intriguing, and things get even more interesting when she’s attacked by ‘hopping vampires’, gets some help from Cassandra Cain Batgirl and John Constantine turns up. Apart from being dead, Xanthe’s gimmick seems to be that she can make tiny talismans huge and use them as weapons. Batgirl, with her Chinese heritage, also knows how to use paper to fight off the vampires.

I don’t know the ins and outs, but Alyssa Wong’s confident script jollied me along through loads of nuttiness, climaxing in a cliffhanger leading into a new series with an old name. Spirit World. And the fantasy-filled art by the mononymous Haining and colourist Sebastian Cheng is a veritable Chinese banquet of goodness, full of vim. The final page is stingingly good. Xanthe herself is a great design, attractively androgynous as are most new DC characters these days. Completing the core creative team is Cheng’s Monkey Prince colleague Janice Chiang, meaning we get the talents’ names as pictograms in addition to regular Western style. Love it!

Remember what I was saying about androgynous designs? That also applies to another protagonist, Jules Jourdain who, DC publicity wants us to know, is trans-masculine. There’s no mention of how Jules identifies in the story, though a discreet chest scar is seen in one panel. So let’s ignore all that and look at what we are told. Jules earns his (that’s the pronoun in the story, don’t judge me!) living in Badlands Station cosplaying The Flash, who apparently once fought the Turtle there. Pal Mica gets to be the Turtle, master of the Still Force. The Lazarus Rain comes down and a local man manifests explosive force. Jules gains the power to absorb energy, but can’t control it and it ‘infects’ Mica.

Jules intuits that his new powers are connected to the Still Force and saves the day… for now. There’s still danger, but an established hero arrives and all will hopefully be well when the story continues in the next DC Pride special. Who’s the hero? Well, she’s unnamed in the story, but I recognise Avery Ho, the Flash of China, whose Speed Force connection allowed her to sense Still Force energy being used.

I think. I really don’t get the Still Force… it’s useful against speedsters in the occasional Turtle appearance but I can’t see how useful it would be for an ongoing hero. Writer/artist A L Kaplan presumably has a notebook full of ideas as he’s come up with the character, and as Jules is pretty likeable, I’m looking forward to seeing what said ideas are. This is the first hint we’ve had that the Lazarus Resin can bestow an ability linked to the recipient’s reality at that moment – what’s up with that?

The ‘Wild West’ setting is a definite bonus, we don’t see enough of the region in comics – I think the Jinny Hex Special is the only example in recent years from DC. Maybe Jules – superhero name, Circuit Breaker – will run into the rootin’ tootin’ cowgirl and that treasure chest plotline Brian Bendis left dangling will be resolved. Kaplan’s full-colour art is a treat, refreshingly non-DC house style – while waiting for a regular Jules slot, hopefully DC editors will give him as much work as he wishes. The stylish letters of Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou complement the pages beautifully.

Mind, the terrific cover by artist David Marquez and colourist Alejandro Sanchez hints that Jules wasn’t always in the comic – he’s not there, his spot instead taken by a couple of Flashes. Go figure.

I think this is the first Lazarus Force special in which all the stories are either continued elsewhere, or presaging further scheduled appearances by their protagonists. And I liked that, it feels like an issue of DC’s old New Talent Showcase, so well done editors Jessica Chen, Dave Wielgosz, Chris Rosa and Paul Kaminski.

Whether you’re an old Doom Patrol or Huntress fan or open to fresh characters, I recommend this issue, there’s lots to enjoy.

7 thoughts on “Lazarus Planet: Dark Fate #1 review

  1. I appreciate DC’s effort to diversify the line. But, as always, it will be interesting to see if any of these new characters (Doom Patrol aside, obviously) become the next Miles Morales or Ironheart or Hitman or are forgotten like most of the spin-offs from prior big events like “Death Metal” and, going way back, “Zero Hour” and “Bloodlines.” But a year ago I was complaining about TOO MUCH BATMAN and nothing else, so it’s nice to at least see some else, even if it’s not necessarily anything I plan to pick up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I did like all four too, which was weird for a DC anthology book. I didn’t understand ninety percent of the Xanthe story but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The art in the Circuit Breaker story reminded me a lot of the Enigma mini that still haunts me decades later so that was a win on top of an efficient origin story.

    The Huntress tale was good too but she’s been rejiggered so much it’s confusing. Huntress I died during the only coherent Crisis. Then there was Huntress II, mob princess turned school teacher. Then New 52 race swapped her and made her a spy. Tha was followed by spy Helena cosplaying Bertinelli to become Huntress III. Now we’re getting Huntress II back in this story while elsewhere we’re getting a Hutress IV. Ugh. Next Sports Master’s better half will show up and DCAU details will bleed over and one of the three post-Crisis Huntresses will start dating one of the three Questions.

    Anywho, the featured Huntress’s violence was part of who she was back in the day. Her willingness to be violent and fatal is the core reason fellow childhood trauma survivor Batman disapproves of her.

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    1. I do remember that Batman thought Huntress 2 too extreme, maybe it’s that modern comics let us see more?

      You know, I’ve still never read Enigma, and I bought the trade years back. Hmmmm


      1. Make time for it! It moved me in so many ways and just thinking about it brings back those feelings. My head canon has it as a world in the DC mulltiverse and I’ve even thought up a way to do a sequel without ruining its ending if I ever meet Mister Milligan. There’s even the coolest set of villains you’ll ever read about with a very original power set.


  3. Good point about Huntress’ violent tendancies. Wasn’t that why, back during Morrison’s JLA, Batman recruited her into the League – to try and help change her approach to crimefighting? And then, if I recall, she got booted for trying to murder one of their enemies (Prometheus maybe?), also penned by Morrison.

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