The DC Universe has been caught amidst two ideals for quite some time now. Justice. Doom. And with two power organizations representing each of the respective concepts, the inevitable cosmic clash looms ever closer. Meanwhile, in the espionage world of DC, tensions remain high. Whispers in the dark, with words of a new threat. Organizations, both old and new, continue to fall mysteriously and in an instant. A shadow has fallen over things, as all things point to Leviathan, albeit changed and different. It’s a dangerous time in the DC Universe, both in the cosmic spaceways and on the streets of Seattle. And thus, Year Of The Villain, a brand new initiative and era that begins here and now, covering the entire DC Universe and weaving all its conflicts into one large web of shared story.
It all launches with this big special issue, setting up things and teasing all that is yet to come. Structured into three eight-page short stories with three creative teams, the book boasts a whole swath of characters and creators. Each story serves a key purpose in laying the foundations for this new age of the DC Universe and it’s worth taking a look through each one.
‘Doom’ by Snyder/Cheung/Morey/Napolitano
Opening the book, we have Lex Luthor in The White House, sitting in the President’s chair. Already an incredible visual to make a clear mark and express the accumulated power, with Cheung and Morey bringing the scene to life, it strikes with the appropriate dynamism and goofy impact it needs to. What Lex Luthor is doing here is a making a statement, it’s a very clear show of power, confidence and commitment. And that applies both to the DC Universe and the reader of the book.
The creative team of Scott Snyder, Jim Cheung, Tomeu Morey and Tom Napolitano waste no time getting to their point here, as time is short. There’s only so much page real estate to go around and so the team paces to that page count, building slowly to a big impactful double-page spread on pages six and seven.
Lex then, after returning from The White House attack, which is public now, promptly fires his entire work staff and commands them to leave. This is a man who is no longer who he was. Gone is the arrogant man who lived solely to stand and spit in the face of the dreadful Superman, here he is now, on the cusp of a rebirth. Lex now believes in something bigger than himself, he buys into an ideal much higher than his own, the ideal of Doom. The long fated, prophetic concept that he has now surrendered to, much in the same way the heroes, especially Superman, have surrendered to the notion of Justice and serve it.
And so we’re shown the grand vision Lex aims for. It’s one that binds all that is and will be, from Bane in the pages of Batman to The Rogues in Flash and many more. Lex has a design in mind with all the villains of the DC world and his crusade as the devotee of doom starts here. Now forever dubbed a villain once more by all by his public display of force, Lex he blows himself up, sacrificing his life for his higher purpose.It’s always interesting to see writers write to page counts like these and how much they’re able to pack in and what they opt to put in and what they don’t, getting to where they need to. But even more importantly, seeing how Cheung and Morey take all of that which is written and manage to tell the story in the limited space they’re given is even more interesting. Morey’s lovely sheen and energetic colors, which both ground while accentuating the strange, work perfectly with Cheung’s Romita-school art. Meanwhile, Napolitano’s spot on white captions with black text perfectly match Snyder’s voice and give the tale a matter of fact quality, helping add to the flavor of the story. It’s an approach the Justice League team has utilized from the very first issue and it still works exceedingly well here.
‘Leviathan’ by Bendis/Maleev/Reed
Meanwhile, in this middle chapter, the phenomenal Alex Maleev gets to make his DC debut beyond just the realm of Batman. Set in the streets of Seattle, we get to his rendition of Green Arrow up against his classic foe Merlyn, whilst being aided by Batgirl. Letterer extraordinaire Josh Reed gets to blow up the logos of the heroes in a glorious Maleev splash page to really highlight the importance of this moment, letting it really sink in. It’s Alex Maleev drawing the DC Universe and here are the characters he’s starting off with.Bendis also gets to show off his chops at writing the two characters here, since he’s mostly been at work in the Superline and the Wonder Comics imprint. Oliver Queen is very much a character that’s right up Bendis and Maleev’s alley, perfectly playing to all their strengths and sensibilities and Bendis even proves it here with his stellar characterization for the Emerald Archer. Cocky, ever ready with a remark and ready to punch crime in the nose, he’s very much the crusader we love. Barbara is also quite good here, full of the classic Bendis charm and great humor, with lines like “Are you trying to bribe us with free helicopter rides?” which release some of the tension in the scene while also embracing what a wild world these characters inhabit.
Maleev’s painted aesthetic really benefits the story being told here, as shadows and darkness seem to cover all. There’s a lot of black used here and it works to the story’s favor. Maleev even pulls out a really inspired move, where in he represents Barbara Gordon’s disorientation and state of mind on the page by making the panel edges of a page constructed in a 9 panel format (with the middle tier being squashed into one all important image). The oddness of it is disorienting even to the reader and with the grid, the book communicates the claustrophobic nature of Barbara’s place in the story. She’s trapped and the pages reflect that. Bendis and Maleev remain a killer combo here, to no one’s surprise.But what’s really interesting is the offer Leviathan, the new mysterious antagonist behind all things gone wrong in the espionage world, makes to Barbara. Leviathan lets her know they both want the same thing. Listing off her historic accomplishments and affiliations as well as the price she’s had to pay to get where she is, Leviathan asks how much there really is to show for any of it. Is the world truly any better and different? Or is this all just cyclical, where the more things change, the more things stay the same? Echoing the eternal trap of superhero storytelling, Leviathan offers to break the binary by burning down the problems to save the world now, this very day. It’s a tempting one and with that, Leviathan’s vision is expressed to us, the readers. An enticing idea, a promise of true lasting change, evolution and betterment, both futile and exciting, for it is a wish dormant in every reader’s heart.
‘Justice’ by Tynion IV/Manapul/Napolitano
And finally, in this last chapter, we see the heroic community’s response to the very first chapter of the issue. Acting as a clear mirror to the ‘Doom’ chapter, ‘Justice’ is the heroes valiantly showcasing and discussing their vision of the world and what they’re going to do in the face of the terror that Doom represents. Crafted by James Tynion IV, Francis Manapul and Tom Napolitano, it’s a gorgeous looking 8-pager that ties up the issue. Tynion has quickly become the DC-go to team scribe, treating DC mythology in almost a Jason Aaron-fashion and excelling at writing tales packed with armadas of superheroes in the way Geoff Johns used to be at his peak. And working with Manapul and Napolitano, there’s a fantastic team here. This is the hero mission statement. Their vision of the DC world and what they will do and are willing to do in the face of danger. And what they’re willing to do is bring every single hero to have ever taken up the fight for justice ever, so that this war of Justice and Doom may be won by those on the right side.
Francis Manapul is one of the greatest artists of the modern comics industry and most importantly, he’s one of the great DC comics artists of all time. So a page full of an impossible number of DC heroes? You got it. Penciling, inking and coloring himself all at once, the artist proves once more why he is a flagship artist. With action-lines, perfect lighting and highlight effects and a painterly roughness to negative space to emphasize the light and the heroes, he draws an astonishing double-page spread. Manapul has long been his own best colorist and the issue is a deliciously exciting display of the artist’s incredible prowess, while serving to provide readers with the DC heroes’ plan moving forward.
DC Year of the Villain #1 is a great taste of all the big things that await fans this year, showcasing a wide array of villains, heroes and mysteries that span the spaceways and the streets of the DC world. There’s a lot coming this year and everyone’s got plans, whether it be creators or the characters. This is where you jump onto sample, try and enjoy them. The issue is also packed with some juicy extra content, teasing out cool designs, showing fun solicits and plans for upcoming new titles and things to watch for, in the vein of the short-lived but excellent DC Nation magazine. Given it’s even free on Comixology for digital readers, there’s absolutely no reason to not pick this up. If you wanna know where DC Comics is headed for the future, this is your compass.
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