As the latest entry in DC’s Black Label initiative, The Other History of the DC Universe dares to shine a new light on the rich tapestry of the comic universe. Each issue promises to bring a different perspective to various eras of DC continuity, specifically through the lens of some of its more disenfranchised characters. Issue #1 in particular follows Jefferson Pierce, the hero Black Lightning, from 1972 all the way to 1995. Through Pierce, writer John Ridley and artists Giuseppe Camuncoli and Andrea Cucchi offer a fresh and challenging view on the DC mythology that makes for a fantastic series debut.
Ridley utilizes a unique approach to the narrative by choosing a more prose writing style, as opposed to traditional comic book storytelling. It very much feels that Ridley wants to call to mind the storytelling approach of the series’ 1980s predecessor, The History of the DC Universe. Such a writing choice leads to a complete lack of word balloons in favor of straight first-person narration laid out across the artwork. This creates a different reading experience altogether as prose flows across the pages, both bound and unbound by captions. This narrative approach works spectacularly well at drawing readers in while treating them to a nontraditional style.
The choice to tell the story completely from Jefferson Pierce’s perspective also gives the narrative a more intimate and relatable tone. Not only do we see the trials and obstacles Pierce must overcome on his journey, but we become privy to his internal struggles as well. We see the toll being a hero takes on him and his family. We feel his righteous fury towards the injustice he sees in the world. We understand his disillusionment with other costumed heroes who seemingly turn a blind eye to all the everyday struggles of humanity. At the same time, Pierce is human himself, which creates a narrator whose views dynamically shift throughout the story. He’s as much a flawed character as anyone else, and for this reason his story comes across as immensely relatable.
The issue also delivers standout artistic talent from Camuncoli and Cucchi. The art throughout the issue is visually arresting and dynamic. The rugged linework gives the book a unique texture and harkens back to an older style of comic. The book very much looks like it stepped out of a different time, which works all the better for the stylistic choices the issue achieves. Jose Villarrubia’s vibrant colors also pack an artistic punch. Lightning crackles and leaps off the pages alongside the technicolor pallets of the various superheroes.
The most engaging aspect of the artwork is how the artists play with panels and page layouts. All throughout the book, panels and pages are laid out in a fun and engaging manner. Whether it’s the recreation of iconic images and hero designs or the use of inventive paneling, each page is imbued with its own life and energy.
The issue also makes fantastic use of the Black Label format. It tries unique approaches to storytelling and artwork by holding nothing back. Though Ridley offers a very critical eye to the DC landscape, it never comes across as bitter. He strikes a careful balance between criticism and praise of DC’s heroes. He brings to light the unfortunate reality of the many disenfranchised heroes of color, but does not revel in the anger or sadness this could spark. Instead, he offers an honest story that encourages readers to have the strength to be the best they can despite their circumstances.
Taken as a whole, The Other History of the DC Universe #1 delivers a spectacular debut. Ridley’s writing is fresh and challenging alongside the inventive artistic talent of Camuncoli, Cucchi, and Villarrubia. This is a debut that earns its merit as a prestige series and sets the stage for a grand examination of DC’s history.