It’s been a long journey to the point Hell Arisen #4 brings us to. With several miniseries, tie-in issues and crossovers galore, the main storyline of the DC Universe has been wrapped up in these machinations for a while now. With the weight of the world on its shoulders, it’s no surprise Hell Arisen #4 settles to be a prelude for even bigger things to come. But when characters in your own book constantly question why all of this is happening, there may be problems too entrenched into a series’ DNA that even the highest craft can’t alleviate.

For those who haven’t kept up with the current status quo, the opening scene does a good enough job to set the stage. The frame is simple; Mercy asks Lex exactly why he’s doing all of this to which he responds with an encyclopedia dump of recent events and his mental reasoning. I’ve always had issues with the core premise of Lex becoming part Martian as I’ve always seen him as an emblem of human exceptionalism and the inherent cost of hitting above your weight. Lex’ monologue alleviates these concerns to a degree as he laments his many failures that he wants to correct once and for all, no matter the cost. Steve Epting’s pencils do their part in visualizing Lex’s timeline of events and his artwork never misses a step, even when relegated to simple montage. However, when you bring attention to how out of character someone is acting and have several other characters call them out on it, I can’t help but feel like that’s a sign of a story heading in the wrong direction. Mercy calls Lex out here, much like Joker did in the last issue, and makes James Tynion IV’s script feel like it’s on the defensive.

Credit: Steve Epting, Nick Filardi, Travis Lanham

These things don’t matter much as any real excitement is generated in the book’s fight scenes that are stunningly brought to life by Epting and Nick Filardi’s colors. Simply put, I’ve always thought Epting is a master of the craft but was definitely wary of him being on such “out of this world” book as his strengths are in more grounded stories. Fortunately, his style translates well with his thick inks and Filardi’s eye-popping colors. Epting and Filardi keep backgrounds simple which allows the characters to pop off the page. Script-wise, Tynion’s dialogue gets the job done with enough verbal insults thrown at each other amid the more literal blows, even if the threats come off as a bit juvenile with the stakes as high as they are. The script gives Epting more than enough to play with though, with each beat legitimately exciting and easy to follow.

Credit: Steve Epting, Nick Filardi, Travis Lanham

The panel layouts keep things a little off kilter by slanting just enough to lend some movement to Epting’s figures. If there’s any flaw to Epting’s work it’s that his figure poses are a tad stiff, but the overall production with Epting’s great detail and layouts with Filardi’s fantastic colors more than make up for it. Tynion also smartly keeps the focus on Lex and the Batman Who Laughs and has all the supporting characters fight in the background. The real in depth characterization is with these two characters, and it’s smart to not spread the book too thin. The fight also doesn’t overstay its welcome with three major beats that change up the stakes. I love the moment where the Batman Who Laughs easily dispatches Lex’s machine gun since it takes more than a gun to take down Batman. The panel where the Batman Who Laughs charges at Lex as he fires upon him stretches belief just enough to buy into a world where someone wouldn’t be immediately shredded by a minigun.

Credit: Steve Epting, Nick Filardi, Travis Lanham

Unfortunately, after the initial excitement of the battle wears off, it ends incredibly anticlimactically. The script doesn’t justify how the Batman Who Laughs can dodge a few hundred bullets fired at him but can’t dodge Lex stabbing him with a needle. Said needle also breaks the Batman Who Laughs’ control over all the infected heroes through the power of comic book magic. The fallout here could be interesting, if Lex didn’t teleport himself, Mercy, and the Batman Who Laughs away to face Perpetua. This is where things mostly fall apart. The majority of the issue is dedicated to Lex offering the Batman Who Laughs to Perpetua in a drawn out, overwritten, scene where everyone talks about even bigger things to come. This is the most frustrating thing about DC’s attempts at large-scale event comics. This finale issue should offer a more substantive ending or at least be more exciting. More thoughts on the ending are in the spoiler tag below.

Credit: Steve Epting, Nick Filardi, Travis Lanham
Spoiler
All the work that Lex and the series have done is completely undermined by the Batman Who Laughs talking himself out of his demise. He tells Perpetua that since he is a “child of unreality” he is able to see things in the future that Perpetua cannot. Therefore, Perpetua takes away Lex’s superpowers and teams up with the Batman Who Laughs. Even when he loses a battle, the Batman Who Laughs can never be defeated which feels more like DC knowing he’s a popular character rather than delivering a compelling story. It feels like there are no true stakes, especially when Perpetua merely sends Lex back to Earth, powerless, instead of just killing him even though he tried to attack her. Nothing matters, there’s no stakes, and no amount of high quality art can save a book that seeks nothing more to fall on its own sword for the sake of the next so called “event”. This chain of prelude after prelude has to end at some point and unfortunately Hell Arisen #4 is the latest victim of ultimately being of no true consequence.

Recommended if…

  • Steve Epting’s high quality art is worth the price of admission.
  • You’ve been invested in the storyline up until now.
  • You’re excited for Scott Snyder’s upcoming Death Metal.

Overall

Hell Arisen #4 features some great art from Steve Epting with fantastic colors by Nick Filardi. Unfortunately, James Tynion IV’s script doesn’t do enough outside of its action sequences to justify the lack of consequence the storyline ultimately entails. It’s a common problem for most of DCs “event” style books and Hell Arisen #4 is no different. Taken on their own, there’s a few good scenes in Tynion’s script, but he is betrayed by the books’ placement within the DC Universe as a whole. Tynion and Epting do what they can I suppose, but it’s hard to get invested in a “world changing” book that can’t afford to shake things up too much.

Score: 5/10


Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.