80’s DC Comics is a well known entity. It’s where so much of what’s defined the company has arisen. From Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns to Year One, Justice League International, New Teen Titans, Legion Of Super-Heroes, Animal Man and Doom Patrol, the company was making waves. And this is without even addressing the likes of Crisis On Infinite Earths, which defined what an event could be and could accomplish and is pursued to this very day. It was a hugely successful period for the publisher.
And that’s what Inferior Five takes us back to. That era, that period. And that’s because of the creative team: Jeff Lemire and Keith Giffen. The former grew up reading all the above, devouring 80’s DC. It was his childhood. The latter, was responsible for a great many waves in that period at DC and simply comics in general. From Legion with Paul Levitz to JLI with DeMatteis and Maguire to other things, Giffen was certainly everywhere in that period. He was experimenting and producing a lot of interesting work. And as Lemire himself puts it, Giffen was (and still is), ‘The Man’, the absolute star creator throwing out ideas left and right in great variety at the publisher.
Amongst those ideas was the work he did with legendary bronze age scribe and iconic Marvel writer on a little 3-issue event called Invasion! The comic has since been adapted in numerous forms, most notably in Young Justice Season 2, bearing the same name (although The Reach replaced The Dominators), in the CWverse and helped launch a great many things. It may not be the most iconic, but it was vital. It was the comic that introduced the idea of the ‘metahuman’ and the ‘metagene’ into DC Comics. And it is no accident that it was done with Mantlo, a key Marvel scribe. The event, in effect, introduced the X-gene and the mutants to the DC Universe, in a DCU flavor. That was the goal and it worked. But beyond that, the other goal was to propel The Dominators into a higher status as antagonists. This, too, worked, for the most part.
But even past that, the event served as a basis for DC to relaunch a lot of its present-day cosmic elements at the time. Giffen would go onto revamp Brainiac 2 from old silver age comics and create Vril Dox (II) and team of L.E.G.I.O.N. (Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network), unlocking and unleashing all new cosmic characters, alliances and threats upon the DC world. Beyond his own works, the event served to set up others’, such as Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s Doom Patrol run. It was an interesting experiment, structured into 3 big issues which told a single story, while segments off it were cut off into tie-in books. Earth faced the threat of The Dominators’ Gene Bomb and somehow made it out alive, with far more metahumans now among its people. It was an event that counted.
Inferior Five is a direct sequel to that, set right in the aftermath of the Invasion! event, in the 80’s. It deals with a group of kids in a small town in the DCU after they’ve lived through this event. And interestingly, they share the commonality of having widowed mothers and thus no fathers. All of them moved to the town after their losses in Invasion! and they’re gathered here. And what’s more, we see a strange, inexplicable haunting figure near the town and The Dominators conversing of secret stratagems. Already you have a bit of a creepy setup and a potential conspiracy emerging, set against the backdrop of a small rural town with a couple of kids. It’s very much a Jeff Lemire comic, in case you were ever in doubt. The book reads very much like his indie work more than any Big Two stuff he’s done to date and that’s a positive, as his more personal work is his strongest. It is, however, such an amusingly Jeff Lemire comic that the very first words on the very first caption box are MY DAD and one of the leads is really wrestling with his father’s absence, with all the kids’ fathers having been lost. There’s even a hilarious panel that asks WHY NO DADS?! and anyone familiar with Lemire and his work and the immense emphasis it places on fathers, father-child relationships and how they shape us, should have a bit of a chuckle.
But even past that, it fits right into Lemire’s body of work. If Black Hammer is about heroes in the facsimile of a small rural town dealing with the aftermath of a big Event, this is a group of kids, just ordinary people having to deal with the aftermath. It’s us watching them react to all this and their world, through their small perspectives. There’s also, of course, the entire small town conspiracy and creepy alien cosmic meddling aspect, which should be of no surprise to readers of Gideon Falls. This is a book that oozes with the personality of its writer.
But he’s not just the writer, as he writes and draws a Peacemaker back-up series which links up with the core story and brings his idiosyncratic style and vision to the DC Universe, colored by the fantastic Jose Villarubia. It’s the sort of Piskor or Scioli-esque indie makeover of the superhero comic at Big Two that is always welcome and nice to see. Not exactly that, but very much in that wheel house. Fans of Lemire’s work are absolutely going to dig seeing him do this.
But the other big factor and element is Keith Giffen, the absolute legend and Lemire’s hero. This is very much a personal project, as Giffen returns to the time and period he helped shape and Lemire gets to work with the hero who shaped his childhood. Giffen’s work here returns to his 90’s style, which feels oddly fitting considering this book follows up the very late 80’s event and is effectively a sequel. That is very much the Giffen to tap into. And so you have a loose art style, that feels right at home in its Kirby-influenced sensibility and looks nothing like anything else on shelves right now. But that applies to the storytelling as much. The book operates on a rigid, classical 6-panel grid, which Giffen is very familiar with and which evokes an older era. Certainly Kirby, to be sure, given his love of it and Giffen’s style which evokes Kirby.
Hi-Fi colors Giffen here, as Rob Leigh bridges the entire book and it’s a curious experiment. The coloring can be inconsistent at points, as Giffen’s work doesn’t always respond to certain approaches of coloring, being attuned to the sensibilities of a different time. He’s an older artist and like, say, Adams, his work can always look a bit odd when done with modern coloring. That being said, Hi-Fi does their best and it’s a solid looking book that captures the story Giffen is trying to tell. Leigh’s lettering works really, really well with the work here, as he captures Lemire’s voice and blends it well with that of Giffen’s on the page. Giffen meanwhile has fun with the 6 panel grid construction, like in the above page, discarding the panel borders and backgrounds to convey emotion. The boy, unrestrained, letting loose his emotion, as the loud black words screech out against the white space, that’s fun comics.
The creative team is definitely having a blast here, as shown by a particularly memorable sequence in a comic store, where in one of the leads is reading Invasion published by DC, complaining about events that keep on forever, which if you know Giffen, is very Giffen humor and Lemire channels that and nails it really nicely. There’s discussion of and reference to other DC books of the time as well, particularly Doom Patrol (by Morrison and Case), which Lemire’s a big fan of. There’s definitely a sense here that Lemire’s finally mastered the ability to balance his indie sensibilities with that of the demands of Big Two superhero fiction and that synthesis comes out here in full swing nicely.
Inferior Five #1 is a solid start for an exciting new 12-issue maxi-series. It’s not necessarily for everyone, it’s set in a very specific time, with a certain art style which can feel dated to some people and it’s a revamp of a property most are likely to only be tangentially aware of from Grant Morrison’s Limbo sequences in DC. So there’s a sense of nicheness to it, but if you are its audience and it lands for you, it’s a load of fun. It’s a love letter to a certain time in DC’s rich history and it’s mining that period for something fun and new alongside being nostalgic. Whether you’re here for Giffen or Lemire, or both, ideally, you’re in for a good time.
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