In Robert Venditti’s arc, Reign of the Supermen, I had a good time – but it was clear that I was questioning the purpose of the story, and why Venditti was dedicating his time on one of DC’s biggest books to write out an ultimately harmless and superfluous story. I liked it fine, but the premise and execution were certainly nothing I hadn’t seen before. With his latest arc, Cold War, Venditti’s brief stint on this comic is taking a more solid form: much like Tomasi’s Detective Comics run right now, the stories don’t need to be revolutionary to be a great time. And when dealing with a genuinely interesting concept like this, the book becomes something I can much more easily recommend.

The concept I’m referring to here is regarding the Spectre. I’m not going to pretend I’ve read every Spectre story: I’m most familiar with him from Batman: Eternal, Infinite Crisis and his recent appearance in Detective Comics. So if you were to tell me that the following premise – Jim Corrigan is trying to stop the influence of the Spectre – isn’t new, I’d be about as shocked as I was when the Arkham Knight was revealed to be Jason Todd. To me, it’s the combination of factors at play here that makes this exciting. I specifically enjoyed Drowned Earth because it made an effort to combine Wonder Woman and Aquaman’s stories into a compelling narrative; seeing more of that with someone like the Spectre at play instantly strikes me as a good time. Tartarus, the Arctic, Themyscira, Batman in a fur coat, all equally compelling narrative talking points.

I also think the book follows through quite well with all of this. We open on the Amazons of Themyscira locking a mysterious man into Tartarus. His identity isn’t clear to us as of yet, but we know that whoever he is, he’s the only man who’s voluntarily accepted his punishment for stepping on the island. It’s a great hook to the issue, and the book is happy to take its time guiding you to the realization that it’s Detective Jim Corrigan, host of the Spectre, without patronizing you as if it were a twist of any kind. Corrigan’s dialogue is also quite nice; most every character here is written well, but Corrigan’s conversation with God does a good job of filling you in on the essentials without dumping info onto the page. It makes for a really nice package, even on its own – especially surprising considering that it’s issue two of a four-parter. I commented that Invasion of the Supermen didn’t feel like it deserved the length that it had, but this story seems to have a clear grasp on how much space it needs to play out.

That said, much like my old school teachers have proven time and time again, even your best work is gonna have flaws. In this case, I wouldn’t really call them major, but I think they’re worth discussing; especially because the subject matter is actually quite interesting. This book opens with a Spectre-induced fight between the Justice League, where they exchange blows over things they’ve never even said. However, the story makes a point of saying that these are things the characters actually believe, hidden under the surface: so, I wanna quickly go through each grievance the League has. I understand some of them, but a few of them feel a little forced.

First, Superman and Batman: This conflict is perfectly believable. What makes the dynamic between these two so compelling is that, in many ways, they are opposites who find their differences to be what makes them best friends. But, opposites are opposites, and I can’t imagine there being a conceivable world where Batman is happy about Clark revealing his identity, or where Superman is happy about Bruce keeping so many secrets.

Flash and Green Lantern, however, don’t seem to have anywhere near as strong a leg to stand on. We’ve seen exactly one arc with John as the commander of the Justice League, and he did a fine job; unless this is referencing a part of John’s history I’m not familiar with, I can’t see why Flash would believe John to be dismissive of the team’s safety. Nor do I see why John would consider Flash to be one who runs away from hard decisions.

Aquaman and Wonder Woman’s conflict is interesting, because while I haven’t seen this tension between them in other comics, I do find it to make a bit of sense – certainly more than the exchange they had last issue. Aquaman’s character – and his role in the world – has gone through several significant changes in a short span of time, as opposed to many of the other characters, who remain rather static in their positions. Wonder Woman in particular is a character of conviction, so it makes sense for her to question Arthur’s willingness to stick to one thing; and it makes sense for Aquaman to be resentful of that. There are other brief dialogues that I feel mixed about: between Green Lantern and Batman, as well as Superman and Flash. They’re less significant, but I’d love to hear people’s takes on those in the comments.

This week, art is being handled by Eddy Barrows, most recently of Detective Comics fame; it’s nice to see that they have two artists of really impressive calibre on this arc. While it is a shame that these stories can’t have a consistent illustrator across one arc, it’s not a huge problem when the quality of the artists remains high across the issues. I like Eddy Barrows a lot, with some caveats; sometimes I find his faces and proportions to be a little off, like in the opening splash with the Justice League fighting. It’s not a huge issue for me, though, because he more than makes up for it with his portrayal of impact. There’s a lot to like about his work here: one of my favourite scenes in particular involves his work with inker Eber Ferreira and colorist Romulo Fajardo Jr, to flesh out the brief but important scene with Jim Corrigan in Tartarus. The reason I mention impact, however, is because it’s the story’s biggest strength: we’ve all seen the Justice League fight before, but Barrows’ illustrations makes it feel like we really are dealing with titans battling it out, the ground literally trembling beneath them.

It’s qualities like these that make books worth reading; I like it when creators understand that when you put effort and care into a book, it’s going to be a much more satisfying read than something with lots to show, but little to actually share.

Recommended If…

  • The combination of the Spectre and Wonder Woman’s mythos is a concept that leaps out at you.
  • You’d like to see Aquaman back on the League for a time.
  • You want a Justice League story that manages to keep you invested without threatening all of existence.

Overall

Character drama is at the heart of every story, whether you’re dealing with a conflict between neighbours or gods. Making this story stem from Jim Corrigan’s internal conflict – and how that manages to affect the world around him – gives this book a weight that the previous arc did not have for me. This story feels important, even if it isn’t an event, which speaks to the quality of the book. I’m actually really interested in seeing where things go from here!

Score: 7.5/10

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

Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch