From page one, Commanders in Crisis is clear: this is a story in conversation with both the modern social and political landscape, and the narrower field of the DC Comics that made up much of Orlando’s bread and butter until recently. From the cover, for that matter, with American flag iconography and clear iterations of the archetypes DC defined on display, the expectations it wants you to go in with are clear. This is sensible given Commanders is thus far built on many of writer Steve Orlando’s previous big ideas, from the likes of Midnighter and Justice League of America, expanded to encompass an entire universe in the making of his own.
The task of establishing these ideas to play out over the course of the book – some of which have been advertised, some not – is no small one, but this is a deceptively dense, intelligently constructed read that’s more than up to the task. Orlando brings to bear the sharp dialogue and skill at landing the “Hell Yeah” moment that characterizes his material to quickly define his new heroes within and beyond their adherence to the classic caped champion/mystic/dark warrior/etc. archetypes, much as in his work with Midnighter. And like Midnighter, there’s a similar interest in how these humane but fundamentally inhuman beings navigate their lives through the lens of their extraordinary capabilities promising to play out over the course of the story.
Just as importantly, there’s a rapid sense of history and scope to this world that lays the background and stakes for the central murder mystery. By the end of issue #1, you’ll know your leads, their relationships to the world around them, the basic tone of said world, and the wrenches thrown in the gears threatening to tear it all down. A necessary if not always given accomplishment for any debut, but an incredibly impressive one for a title that still reads for all the world as a relatively breezy, straightforward superhero adventure.
Just as much of the groundwork comes down to Davide Tinto and his assorted artistic collaborators. Tinto’s art is bold, angular, and direct. Having devised a set of instantly familiar yet still unique designs for the Commanders, their expressiveness and dynamic posing under his pen does as much as Orlando’s words to introduce and endear them, conveying superhuman brawls, mundane café conversation, and reality-upsetting displays of power with equal straightforward clarity.
This effect is matched by Francesca Carotenuto’s cool, understated colors, softly shifting into assorted shades of monochrome to accentuate significant changes in setting, shifts in perception, or disruptions in the universe (alongside letterer Fabio Amelia, whose work is particularly essential for depicting one hero’s abilities). Wrapped up in Fabrizio Verrocchi’s sleek bookend design work, some prospective readers could feasibly be underwhelmed by the lack of soaring bombast typically expected of this sort of big superteam action, but most willing to accept the aesthetic on its own terms should find themselves engaged by the more grounded and stylized storytelling choices here.
To go much further into Commanders in Crisis and the excitement of how it’s beginning to discuss its subject matter would give away some of the most interesting reveals regarding its big conceits, but it’s no spoiler to say it extends across essentially all scales of the superhero genre, and it looks confident and prepared to tackle them all in equal measure. Make no mistake: if it keeps up the pace and delivers on its promises, this could be poised to be the defining independent superhero comic of the 2020s, as Supreme was of the 1990s. Whether you’re a fan of classic superhero adventures, the creators’ previous works, or simply big-idea genre storytelling, this deserves a place in your pull list. You’ll get in on the ground floor of something special.