Dark Days: The Forge #1

Dark Days 1

Here is a list of things I love in comics:  Batman, Superman, Hawkman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, the Joker, and big dramatic splashy action pages. Here’s a list of things in Dark Days: The Forge: Batman, Superman, Hawkman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, the Joker, big splashy action pages.

Sounds like a match made in heaven, doesn’t it?

But wait, there’s more!

Here’s a list of things I don’t like in comics: inconsistent (and just plain bad) art, “this will change life as we know it” revelations right out of the gate as a means of trying to ramp up the stakes, Duke Thomas, the endless interconnectedness of all things regardless how obscure, temporal reality-bending game changer events (again, yawn), stupid characters (oh, I see I already mentioned Duke).

Go ahead and take a guess at how many things on that second list are in this oversized and overstuffed mini from the byzantine mind of Scott Snyder?

It just wouldn’t be Snyder without some big mecha running around with a bat in it

So what is the latest paradigm-shattering premise? It spans the whole DCU, that much we know. And not just the breadth of the universe, but encompasses all time. Neither of these things is surprising (or, for me anyway, interesting). We open with Carter Hall (aka Katar Hol) ostensibly writing in a journal in a manner no self-respecting historian would ever record anything. Which is to say it’s completely self-conscious and full of its own importance.

And what’s so portentous? A riddle of steel sign, written in metal. There’s a disturbance in the Force geological integrity of the planet. The Bermuda Triangle is about to be obliterated in a volcanic eruption and a lone scientist who inexplicably couldn’t get out tells us all about it, only to be well, see above: saved by Batman in a lava-thwarting mecha suit.

I’ll admit this was kind cool.

See, here’s the thing: I never pick up a comic and think “gee, I really hope I hate this!” I always want to love what I read, and I make every effort to do so. Even when it’s silly. Even when it’s downright absurd. All I ask is for the art and writing team to entertain me, inspire me, get me excited about the story. And in this (and a few other brief moments), Snyder and company succeed.

But this is not the Rose Parade some people might be hoping for. Let’s talk about this, for example:

Duke has joined the G-Force team. Or the Power Rangers.

So while Batman is halfway around the world rescuing Bermuda scientist guy, Hal Jordan has been given a mysterious task by Yoda Ganthet involving some spurious eyeballing of the Dark Knight’s agenda. When Hal arrives at the Batcave, Duke doesn’t just say: oh hey, Hal: Bats says no prowling. No, he just kicks him right in the face.

Awesome.

I honestly don’t know whether to say this is why I hate Duke or blame it on some larger failing of Snyder’s as author because it just makes no sense. Fortunately, Hal dispenses with Duke rather quickly afterward and there’s a healthy dose of humor about it, so I’ll leave it at “Duke’s just an idiot” for now.

Snyder infuses this book with lots of interesting cameos (again, partly to give a sense of the scope of the thing). It’s interesting to see The Immortal Man, Mr. Miracle, and Mr. Terrific make appearances. But this comic is so much yadda yadda cosmic disturbance, yadda yadda, nothing will ever be the same, yadda yadda Batman has caves within caves, boxes within boxes, secret ops teams within…well you get the point. Batman has no time to fight crime. He’s too busy building redundant systems to stave off the end of the world.

Also, it won’t hurt to have a primer in DCU elements to get a toehold here: Nth metal, Electrum, Dionesium.

“Do not follow the mystery of metals,” Carter Hall exhorts. My inclination is to shrug and say okay, I won’t. It’s like Snyder has forgotten what makes us want to know more. It’s not page after page of “look how mysterious Batman is” or “You won’t believe how mind-numbingly awesome this is going to be”.  There are pages and pages in this book that are just reveals of mysterious objects with too little context to care. An egg-shaped “box” that holds something deathly important, a giant gold machine that tracks Dark Energy (oooo shiny!), a door that leads to that character that Snyder just can’t stop poking at with a stick.

So no, I don’t love this.

Artwise, this is sloppy at best. I’ll let you all play pick the artist, but let’s just say the mix of styles from artistic “greats” John Romita Jr., Andy Kubert, and Jim Lee isn’t that great here. And he only consistency is that much of it isn’t very good. Inking from yet another trio: Klaus Janson, Danny Miki, and Scott Williams doesn’t hurt or help. Some of the inks are heavier in some sequences than others, but not distractingly so.

Most of the Green Lantern and Duke scenes are relatively strong, but the Superman sequence is sub-par in so many way: awkward faces, flat composition. The perspective on the Aquaman scene is terrible. He’d have to be be totally sitting on that guy’s face to have his hand on his stomach at that angle in that beach moment. And those dolphins–they’re just lazy.

Elaine Thomas looks like Lady Elaine from Mister Roger’s Neighborhood on acid (and she never looked that great to begin with). Yes, she’s supposed to be rabid or something, but does crazy alter the structural integrity of one’s face? And take a good strong look at the page following in which Hawkman and Shiera battle Byth (a callback to Brave and the Bold No. 34).  What is happening there with Hawkman’s body? His pelvis is lewdly tilted forward though that makes no sense in terms of where his spine ought to end. Even with a “fish-eye” effect, the anatomy is spurious. And that’s just a handful of examples of many.

And even when the art is good and serviceable, it’s not thrilling. A whole page is dedicated to a repeat of the cover, for example. Angle is slightly shifted, but we get absolutely nothing new. Why bother? Show us something we haven’t seen!

Maybe it sounds like I’m nitpicking. Maybe I am. But if you’re going to put this much energy into a “prestige” comic and ask me to spend $5 on it, I expect the art and the writing to be worthy of that format and cost.

And that’s the bottom line: I can’t justify spending that $5 ($4.99 plus tax, actually) on a 30-page comic. I can barely justify $2.99 for 22 pages. Worse yet, when I finish reading a comic and find myself thinking about the cost-per-page instead of all the amazing things that might happen in the next issue, something is definitely out of whack.

Recommended If…

  • You’re a fan of legendary artists Lee, Romita Jr., and Kubert, though I have to say: this book doesn’t seem to be showcasing them at their best.
  • You love the hungry black vortex of Snyder’s imagination consuming every nuance of the DCU and attempting to distill it into one giant master incestuous continuity.
  • You have $5 in your pocket/wallet/purse and were thinking of throwing it out with the lint and paper clips and gum wrappers that are also in there anyway.

Overall

For all of its bombast, I’m not exactly dancing in circles for the next installment of this already bloated title that will no doubt be titled as “epic” and probably “game-changing” in all of its marketing hereafter. I feel even less sanguine about the fact that Snyder won’t let his Dionesium Joker just fade gracefully in the consciousness of the collective audience. Nor am I all that concerned about what appears to be a future Batfascist state of the world. For all of its setup and handle-cranking windup, I just don’t find myself asking compelling open-ended questions about any of it. It’s not the worst thing on the stands and it has a few entertaining moments, but right now it just feels over-hyped and overwrought. Snyder could do well to remember some basic tenets of good storytelling like simplicity and restraint.

SCORE: 6.5/10

 

 

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