I love big reveals in comics. My favorites are the ones that make me go dig through my back issues, looking for hints and clues that were hiding in plain sight the whole time. Commanders in Crisis #4 doesn’t just have one big twist, though. It serves up a whole meal. After finishing this issue, I went back and reread #1-3. A whole bunch of scenes that had seemed just a little bit off the first time I’d read them suddenly took on new meaning. It’s a trick that comics are uniquely geared toward pulling off, and it works to great effect here.
Steve Orlando, Davide Tinto, and crew have been knocking it out of the park with their big-idea indie superhero book. A team of superheroes from across the multiverse, the Commanders are fighting to protect the last Earth from “multiversal sepsis,” the apocalyptic condition that destroyed each of their versions of America. For the last three issues, they’ve been working to solve the murder of not just a person, but the concept of empathy itself, which has pushed Earth-Z’s countdown clock even closer to doomsday. As they confront him, they will also come face to face with his terrifying superiors, the enigmatic Extinction Society. The society knows all about the multiversal sepsis and is actively trying to hasten the end of conscious thought in the multiverse. But as the two groups face off, even darker secrets are revealed, leaving the Crisis Command to struggle with the most difficult question of all: What if the world they’re fighting for isn’t worth saving?
This is the issue that the book has been building towards in the first three issues, and it doesn’t disappoint. Full of high concepts and high melodrama, Commanders in Crisis #4 lays its cards on the table. This is where Orlando and Tinto get to the meat of what they are trying to say, and it mostly works. This is a world where concepts are fungible. Empathy can be killed and hope can be stolen. Emotions as finite resources, ones that can be spent or squandered, sets up a conflict that is both unique and very familiar to comic book fans. This meshes well with the ongoing political subplot in the story, in which the US government is debating the American Individuality Act, a bill to dissolve the union into fifty-two separate independent states. The theme of individuality versus empathy resonates well, both on the national and cosmic levels and at the character level.
The real heart of the issue is Crisis Command’s confrontation with Tyler, empathy’s killer. Tyler is everything these superheroes are not. He’s a self-absorbed, angry loser who blames the rest of the world for his failures and delights in their suffering as he watches from his mom’s basement. He is in no way a threat to the team, but he serves as a useful tool for more powerful villains, and an interesting foil. Like politics, superhero storytelling relies on certain paradigms. Lines of ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ ‘hero’ and ‘villain,’ and political party indoctrination are quite stark, and this book is crossing these wires in some interesting ways. How do you save a world whose residents all want to see it burn?
Tinto’s art and Francesca Caronuto’s colors really shine, particularly in the confrontation sequence. There is a very clever section of the layout that helps bring Tyler’s story to life in a way that would be just another talking head sequence otherwise, and the whole book is filled with Tinto’s dynamic and arresting splash pages. I particularly love the way this art team visualizes the characters’ powers, which are always easy to follow, even for more esoteric characters like Seer and Originator. Orlando delivers a few sections of very heavy dialog in this issue, and the art is what saves the book from getting overwhelmed with information. There are a lot of melodramatic chunks of exposition here, and while these walls of text may leave some readers behind, the cleverness and skill on display kept me engaged.
Commanders in Crisis #4 is a standout issue with melodramatic reveals, gorgeous art, and intense action. While some of the exposition feels a bit stiff, the payoff and the concepts in play are more than enough keep me on board.
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