In the pages of the Batman/Superman ongoing the titular protagonists are up against The Batman Who Laughs, who has infected several heroes. To go along with the current Batman/Superman arc, DC is publishing one-shots to explore what each infected hero is going through. The third of these one-shots is The Infected: Deathbringer #1. The main questions I have going into this are whether these issues will actually add anything to the Batman/Superman story (either in terms of plot or character) and if these issues will be able to deliver a solid story that can stand on its own (even if it’s open-ended to tie into Batman/Superman). In this review I’ll answer those questions based on my own subjective views. Let’s have a look!
Those who have been keeping up with my commentary on these Infected tie-ins know that I haven’t been enjoying all of them. The only exception, so far, is the Scarab one-shot, which I think is quite good. Since reviewing that book I’ve become more optimistic about these one-shots, hoping that there will at least be one other issue that I can praise. Deathbringer, however, isn’t the praiseworthy issue that I am hoping for.
I think that this issue’s main problem is that it’s trying to do too much, and so it ends up collapsing under its own weight. Its opening pages only manage to confuse me, because we see the Titans fighting random people in the streets without any sort of explanation. I guess that I’m supposed to be intrigued by the action, but since there is a lack of heroes and/or innocent civilians that need saving, and because, initially, I haven’t a clue as to who the random fighters in the background are, the stakes are lost on me and I find myself careless. In addition, there are inconsistencies in the artwork. First of all, we see Raven shouting something about Containment Formation Alpha, but we don’t see the Titans in any kind of formation. We just see them pummeling fighters left and right, so what does this formation stuff even mean? And, speaking of Raven, why is she able to fly through the battlefield undisturbed while everyone else is fighting around her? One other thing I want to point out is that we see the Titans fighting in a handful of panels, and after a flip of the page we see them just standing about, talking to each other, which makes for a clumsy transition. In short, the opening scene is a mess. There is no cohesion. It’s like this was barely edited, or like it was rushed to meet a deadline.
It doesn’t get much better from here on out, I’m afraid. After a rocky start, the creative team spends a little bit of time on different ideas, but they don’t manage to properly develop each idea before moving on to the next one.
For example, it turns out that the Titans are in this town as mediators, because there are two factions in town that are at odds with each other. The entire town is inhabited by meta humans, and now there’s conflict between a group that wants to control peoples’ powers and a group that wants everyone to be free to do as they please. The problem is that we are never given enough information about either party and their side of the argument, so it all stays rather superficial.
In the middle of all this, Donna is doubting her own leadership capabilities and is under a lot of stress and is struggling with depression. This is where the creative team could have zeroed in on her character, exploring her troubled mind and developing her personal struggle, but seeing as there simply aren’t enough panels because a lot of the panels are already dedicated to the meta human debacle, Donna’s struggle is kept at arm’s length and never gets the attention that it deserves.
On top of this, the creative team also attempts to create some conflict within the Titans by having Beast Boy and Steel debate the situation with the meta humans, but their debate never gets off the ground, either. In part because they are having the debate while in the middle of a big fight, where it’s out of place, but also because, again, there just isn’t enough space to flesh out this idea. Add to this that Beast Boy and Steel’s voices sound very similar and lack personality and their discussion just isn’t an interesting read for me. It almost feels mandatory.
On a somewhat more positive note, Brent Peeples’ character proportions seem mostly right and each characters’ face stays consistent even when the angle changes. The expressions on the characters’ faces are appropriate to the scenes most of the time, as well as the body language. The layouts get the job done, too, creating a visual flow to the story that’s easy to follow, except for the double page spread, which is filled with various depictions of Donna Troy as well as several panels related to the core plot, and it ends up looking way too busy for me. When there is this much visual input, I keep getting distracted, and it’s almost a case of sensory overload. But what I’m really missing from Peeples’ illustrations and Prianto’s colors is that, overall, their art is lacking uniqueness. I’ve seen art like this many times over in different books by different artists. There is nothing here that stands out to me. Nothing that defines Peeples and Prianto as artists. As such, it becomes hard for me to get immersed in the story, and, by extension, it’s hard for me to care about what’s going on. Artwork should, in large part, sell the story, because it’s the first thing readers see, but, with all due respect, I’m just underwhelmed and do not feel the urge to run to my LCS to grab a copy.
Before I wrap up, I have a final point I want to discuss briefly. What I like in this book is that there’s a little bit of meta-narration going on. After getting infected, Donna talks about having to shed all her past incarnations (some of which are illustrated in the double page spread) and thereby commit a kind of ego massacre so that only her current personality remains. Quinn even brings up the notion of the death of the author and attempts to tie this into the narrative and Donna’s character development. However, while I enjoy the ideas here, I think the execution is insufficient.
First of all, I’d go as far as to argue that Donna shedding her past selves and committing this ego massacre while under the influence of BWL’s infection could make for a compelling 20-page comic book, but instead it’s only restricted to a couple narration boxes and a splash page. So, her inner struggle—even though it’s implied that this is a really big and powerful process to Donna—is never shown, but we are only told about it briefly, wherefore it’s hard to engage with this idea. It’s presented as a throwaway idea, while I think this should be the main focus, as these tie-ins are marketed as explorations of what these infected characters are going through and how they end up in BWL’s grasp. As it stands, terms like “past incarnations” and “ego massacre” remain hollow and don’t actually add to the story or the character.
Secondly, bringing up the notion of the death of the author without developing it any further seems pretentious to me. I don’t think a writer should expect their audience to know what the death of the author entails, because not everyone has an academic background or has encountered this notion in their personal reading. More specific to this comic, it also just doesn’t go anywhere and merely seems like a fancy phrase that’s being dropped in the middle of an already incoherent passage.
I wonder why the focus isn’t on Donna personally. I also wonder why this comic doesn’t connect to the plot over in Batman/Superman. Mostly, I just wonder why, at all. As for The Batman Who Laughs—he does make a brief appearance, but what it boils down to is that he just infects Donna, and, other than that, he is by no means central to the plot here, so his scene feels mandatory at best.
- You’ve been collecting all the Infected tie-ins, no matter what.
- Your love for Donna Troy transcends all forms of criticism.
- Beast Boy is your spirit animal.
Overall: This comic is all over the place and collapses under its own weight. The creative team tries to balance a political debate of sorts in a meta human town with a big fight, Donna’s mental struggles, and BWL’s plan to infect Donna for…reasons. Since this book only has about twenty pages, there isn’t enough space to properly develop all these different ideas. The book also doesn’t add much to the main narrative in Batman/Superman. All in all, this comic is entirely skippable. I wish I had more positive things to say, but it is what it is…
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.