DC Nation #0 review

DC Nation #0 features three short stories by three creative teams that set up major upcoming events. I was very curious going into this book to see what it would be like. On the one hand you could say it’s but an elaborate advertisement for those aforementioned events, but at the same time I was eager to find out if perhaps these stories had more to offer, especially with the creative teams working on this book. So, seeing as the issue is only 25 cents, it’s not so much a question of whether or not this book is worth your hard-earned money, but more of whether or not it’s worth your time. Let’s dive into the review and find out, shall we?

Okay, first things first. On the credits page it says: BATMAN IN “YOUR BIG DAY”. But Batman doesn’t actually appear in this one. A more fitting title would’ve been JOKER IN “YOUR BIG DAY”, because this is all about him. I honestly don’t know why they’ve put Batman’s name in the title. Perhaps it’s because Batman’s name sells, so it’s a marketing tactic. But for a story that’s all about the Joker, in which Batman doesn’t even show up, it’s also misleading. Besides, isn’t the Joker just about as popular among comic book fans as Batman these days?

Anyway, the premise of the story is that Joker breaks into a random guy’s house. This guy’s name is Roger Martello. Joker tells Roger that he’s waiting on an invitation to Batman’s wedding, and Roger doesn’t understand why Joker has come to his house, or why Batman would even send an invitation for Joker to his house in the first place. Basically, the entire story Joker and Roger are sitting in the hall, watching the front door, waiting. While that premise might sound a little odd, and perhaps somewhat boring, I assure you it’s not. The creative team is doing a really good job here, and after reading the story I found that images were still ghosting through my mind as I was figuring out what all of it means. Really, the more I think about it, the more I appreciate it.

See, that’s just the thing with Tom King. In my opinion, he’s at his best when he writes short stories. I can’t exactly say why that is, but maybe it’s because shorter narratives force him to stay more focused. Or perhaps it’s easier for him to write character-driven pieces with fewer pages. What I find most interesting about this one is that, even though it’s so short and basic on the surface, there’s another layer that informs us not precisely about who the Joker is, but more so what he is like.

My favorite depiction of the Joker is not when he’s written as the devil incarnate, and not when he comes off as just a cold-blooded, murderous maniac. To my mind, the Joker is the most scary when he’s unpredictable. Whereas you already know from the get-go that he will do evil as the devil incarnate, or as the murderous maniac, this doesn’t strictly have to be the case with this unpredictable Jester/Trickster version of the Joker. The one moment he is cracking jokes, and the next he suddenly shoves a gun up your face. But even when he holds you at gunpoint you can’t be sure if he will blow your brains out, or if all that will happen is a flag coming out of the barrel with the word “BANG!” written on it. But above all the horror and evilness, my ideal Joker is mostly funny. He jests, pointing out the ridiculousness of his audience, showing us we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. The sheer idea that in the one panel you can laugh about his jokes and humor, and the next the story takes a dark turn really resonates with me, and I feel that Tom King has incorporated all these traits in the character. It becomes even more apparent when you take into account the secondary character, Roger.

Roger is scared of the Joker all the way through the story, even when the Joker isn’t really doing anything. Just being in this madman’s presence is enough for Roger to completely lose it. On the very first page he’s already stuttering, indicating that he’s definitely scared from the beginning. As the story goes on, we often see him questioning things the Joker is saying, countering the Joker’s madness with logic and reason, as it were. But Roger’s logic and reason starts to break down rapidly, as if the Joker’s madness is contagious. Or perhaps it’s Roger’s own fear that’s getting the best of him. But really, I bet it’s a combination of both factors.

The story is also beautifully illustrated by Clay Mann and colored by the great Jordie Bellaire. Both do a solid job at establishing the mundane setting: it’s just an ordinary hall in an ordinary house. The artists add in details, such as plants, a carpet, chairs, and you can sometimes glance into the living room. It’s impressive to see how consistent the art team is in depicting the location, even if it’s just a single, small hall. The objects are always in the right place, so clearly they put a lot of thought into the layout of the location. In addition, the story’s realistic look adds to the narrative itself. After all, this would have been just a random, quiet house had it not been for the Joker’s presence. The Joker completely upsets the peaceful security, and if you think about it, the idea of someone like the Joker being able to break into a random home makes it even more scary, because evil is clearly capable of going wherever it pleases—even into your own private place. Nowhere is safe. Aside from thematics, the Joker also aesthetically offsets the balance. While everything else looks so mundane, he looks larger than life. He wears his tuxedo, has his green hair and white skin: he looks otherworldly compared to his surroundings, like a demon from another plane, or a monster that’s stepped right out of a nightmare. Lastly, Clay Mann especially draws the characters’ faces really well. It’s their emotions that convey about half of the story, as they really add the qualities of fear, despair and madness to this short but terrifying tale.

Score: 9/10

The second story is first and foremost about Clark Kent, and only secondly about Superman. I’ll admit that I haven’t read a lot of Bendis’s works before, and the ones that I did read just weren’t for me. Yet, I was still curious to see how Bendis writes Clark Kent specifically—especially after Action Comics #1000 where all that happened was that new villain Rogol Zaar beat the crap out of Superman. It didn’t really give me an indication of what to expect from Bendis’s take on the character. The story featured here, however, is much more informative in that regard.

Despite not having enjoyed some of Bendis’s previous work, I was actually really entertained by this short. It’s almost entirely set in the Daily Planet’s offices, and the narrative is doing a couple of things at the same time. First, it starts with Perry White declaring that he only wants to report what Superman actually does, rather than what he could do. What he means by that is that he wants to provide an accurate representation of who Superman is, and show people that they don’t have to be afraid of him, or be suspicious of him. Although Perry White declares that the Planet will report when Superman does do questionable things, he is quick to add that he doesn’t want to sell any more fear to keep the lights on. This commentary, with such an emphasis on the benevolence of Superman, could perhaps be interpreted as an announcement from Bendis that he will embrace the truth and justice aspects of the character, as well as take a hopeful approach to his story-telling. I suppose only time will tell if that’s true, but at least it makes me more optimistic about the new direction that the Superman titles are going in.

Moving on, I think that Bendis has a good grasp on Clark Kent’s voice as well. He clearly separates Clark from Superman by making Clark this total dork and Superman this fearless action hero. Bendis has Clark stutter, and sometimes clumsily look for the right words to say, which really makes Clark seem like a different character (which is intentional, of course, so people don’t associate him with Supes). However, at times Bendis is overdoing it, dropping just too many “uhs,” “ums” and awkwardly composed lines into the same conversation, which is distracting and diminishes the readability somewhat. But overall, I’d say that this story promises some pretty decent Clark Kent stories from Bendis. That said, while the characterization seems to be on point and Perry White’s statement sounds reassuring, at the same time I’m also a bit worried about the new direction of these upcoming Superman stories.

Bendis is hinting at relationship troubles between Lois and Clark. Lois is noticeably absent, and Clark’s painful and awkward reaction when Perry White offers him Lois’s old office speaks volumes. Clearly something has happened between them, but it’s never explained what it is. The idea that these two are driven away from each other doesn’t sit well with me, and to be quite honest, it feels like a lot of unnecessary controversy. While Superman stories from Bendis might be (hopefully) embracing the core values and optimism of the title character, I personally just think that separating Lois and Clark is a step in the wrong direction, because it seems like it’s completely uncalled for and unnecessary. But then again, I guess we’ll have to wait to see how Bendis is going to handle it, and cross our fingers that it’s going to be good.

What’s more is that a new character is introduced. Her name is Robinson Goode, and she’s a reporter who used to work for the Star City Sentinel, but who now works for the Daily Planet. Not a whole lot about her personality is revealed here yet, except for one important detail that has me intrigued, but at the same time not at all surprised because I saw it coming the moment the character showed up. At least what we know is that Robinson is very driven and competitive, and likely to be a great rival for Clark. At this point I can’t say for sure whether the character is actually interesting, though. It completely depends on how Bendis is going to develop her. For now, she’s just kind of there I suppose.

The story is illustrated by José Luis García-López, inked by Dexter Vines and colored by Alex Sinclair. Tonally and aesthetically, it’s a complete shift from Tom King’s Joker story, and so you might have to adjust if you read the entire issue in one sitting. Where the Joker story looked realistic, this one is much more light-hearted and leans more toward a cartoonesque vibe. While it’s not entirely my thing, I must say I really appreciate how creative and detailed the artwork is. The illustrators create a cool office space, include lots of unique extras lurking in the background, and convey the chaos and time-pressure at the Daily Planet really well. Everyone is engaged in some activity, whether it’s a conversation, snapping some pictures, working on a computer or just walking around. Everything is in motion, and I feel like I’m in the center of it all, like I’m really drawn into the story. Additionally, I like how the Superman scenes are a complete shift in tone from the office scenes. The Superman scenes are explosive, action-packed and dynamic, with gunfire and lasers and flames everywhere. It adds to the notion that Clark and Superman are so different from each other, even though they are one and the same man. I like it when this is conveyed through visuals as well as text.

One complaint that I have, though, is that Clark tells Perry that he’s gone to a black market in Costa Rica, which he infiltrated, posing as a buyer. Then he says that Superman showed up to stop the black market. Now, I’m perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief that people can’t recognize Clark as Superman because of his glasses and his clumsy behavior, but there are close-up pictures of Superman on the walls of the offices. There are lots of people listening to Clark and Perry’s conversation. The fact that Clark and Superman were in the same location, and that they look very similar, should probably raise some red flags. Especially considering these are all reporters always looking for the truth. This doesn’t completely ruin the story by any means, but I do find it rather jarring and questionable.

Score: 7/10

The final story in this issue is the Justice League: No Justice prelude. It’s an action-driven, bombastic, cosmic story in which the Justice League has split up in four smaller teams. Their opponents are four gargantuan cosmic beings that are threatening to destroy the earth. Now, if there’s one thing I love when it comes to Justice League books, it’s when the threats are so big that it really, absolutely takes the combined might of all these heroes to stop them. I usually need some sort of justification as to why these heroes move away from their own cities to form a super-team, and a threat this big is a great justification.

The main characters in this short are Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg, whose inner monologues we read throughout. These inner monologues all mirror each other in some ways. They start out similarly by stating opinions on the previous main character. So, for example, the story starts out with Batman and then moves to Superman. Then, Superman comments on Batman’s personality and tone of voice. When Wonder Woman takes over, she comments on Superman in a similar fashion. And so on. This humanizes these (sometimes godlike) characters, and establishes a thematic connection between them, ultimately showing that they aren’t perhaps so different after all. Besides, it shows that they actually care about each other, and also know each other well. I’d say these are the important elements to make a team work, so it’s nice to see that the writers establish this here. However, at the same time these inner monologues contain a lot of exposition. While this in and of itself is not strictly negative (and actually quite understandable given the few pages the creative team has to work with), it does mean that there’s a lot of information to take in at once. Coupled with lots of very crowded visuals, explosions, flames, lasers, robots, blood, flashy costumes and magical effects, it’s all just too much to take in at once. It’s overwhelming.

Don’t get me wrong, Jorge Jiminez draws beautifully, and the color-work by Alejandro Sanchez is fantastic. These two establish a look fitting for an animated Justice League series, and it’s amazing how everything is always in motion, and how the colors almost glow off the page. But it’s also so overwhelming that I often don’t really know what’s going on. After reading the story the first time, I had almost immediately forgotten what it was about because of how overwhelming it is, and had to read it again. It was easier to take in for me on my second reading because I knew what to expect, but even then I’d have to say this story (and I as a reader) suffers from sensory overload. It’s not bad by any means—it’s just too much at once.

Having said that, seeing these characters working as a team, the enormously cosmic threat and the amazing talent of the artists has made me very curious about No Justice. While I haven’t exactly learned what’s going on in this story, I think the creative team has given me just enough to make me want to check out what’s next.

Score: 7.5/10

Recommended if:

  • You love it when the Joker is unpredictable, actually funny and also very scary at the same time

  • You are curious about where Bendis is taking Superman, because this is a much more informative preview than the Action Comics #1000 story

  • You love insane, out-of-proportions, cosmic Justice League adventures, and want to get ready for No Justice

Overall: I think these are three fun stories. The first one depicts the Joker as I want to see him: genuinely funny when he’s cracking jokes, and genuinely frightening at the same time. The second story is an entertaining glimpse at Bendis’s upcoming Superman work, and mostly focuses on the Clark Kent side of the character and the Daily Planet. It introduces a new character as well, although I can’t say that I care about her just yet—it depends on how she’ll be developed in later installments. The last story is the No Justice prelude, and while it’s incredibly overwhelming due to too many flashy effects and a lot of textual exposition, its cliffhanger is a jaw-dropping moment that has me excited to see what No Justice is really going to be about. All in all, this is a cool issue for only 25 cents, and these three short stories are well worth a read if you have 30 minutes of free time. Enjoy!

Total score: 8/10