DCeased: Dead Planet #5 review

In last month’s issue we followed some of our heroes to New Genesis and beyond, to meet with Metron and the other New Gods, in order to find out more about the cure for the Anti-Life virus. While that issue did advance the plot and ended on one hell of a cliffhanger, I thought the majority of it was rather lackluster. Hopefully #5 can up the ante again. Let’s have a look.

I like this issue a lot better than the previous one, but it still has some problems. This series started out as a book in which nobody was safe and in which anything could happen. And, don’t get me wrong, a lot of what happens in this issue is still very cool, but I think that at this stage it’s just not as interesting or exciting anymore. The unpredictability of this book has become predictable. When a character gets fatally wounded, seemingly out of nowhere, I’m no longer surprised or shocked. It’s just something that happens now, almost like a gimmick. The story no longer stops to examine the consequences of such a death; at best, it only provides us with a brief glance at how the others react when their friends die. Because of that, there’s no impact, no emotional resonance, and the scenes that are supposed to carry emotional weight fail to illicit such a response from me. The book suffers from this, because from the very start of the series it’s been the characters and their struggles that have been the main driving force. Sure, the story is plot-driven, but I want to root for these characters and see them succeed, and so it’s always been the characters that have been the main selling point.

Fortunately, there is still a character that singlehandedly makes this story worth reading—John Constantine. He is the one who has all the agency in this book, the one who sets things in motion. After last month’s lackluster episode, it’s good to spend some time with a character who has a plan and knows exactly what to do in order to execute that plan successfully. This streamlines the narrative again, and the mystery of what exactly Constantine is planning to do with the attributes that he retrieves from locations such as Nanda Parbat and the Rock of Eternity has me intrigued and excited to find out what’s going to happen in the next issue.

DCeased #5 also reminds us of the fact that there’s a bit of a ticking clock in the background. We’ve seen the cliffhanger at the end of #4, but with a certain demon from hell preparing to come to Earth to set things right, it seems that whatever we saw at the end of #4 might well be the least of our heroes’ worries. I foresee one hell of a showdown coming up, and I’m ready for it.

Still, despite the excellent Constantine content, I’m a little worried that this series is starting to be more about fan-service than stuff that’s necessary to enrich the plot and the situations that our heroes find themselves in. For example, one of our heroes accesses the powers of Shazam in order to beat the crap out of a super-powered zombie, and, I’ll admit, this is really damn cool to see. But at the same time I find myself asking what’s underneath this moment? Does this happen just because it’s cool, or will this enhance the character in question on a deeper, more personal level as well? I sincerely doubt that, simply because Taylor probably won’t have the room for that kind of character development given the fact that we only have two issues left after this one. Fan-service and cool stuff for the sake of cool stuff is fine every once in a while, but when it literally is used as a quick solution to an otherwise nearly impossible problem, I just don’t find that enjoyable at all, nor do I think it’s a sign of good writing. Now, I know Taylor is a fantastic writer—he’s proven himself over and over again—but quickly giving a hero superpowers so they can beat down a super-powered foe in just a couple of panels is way too easy and way too lazy. Being cool isn’t good enough. I need actual substance, not just flashy special effects.

That said, the flipside is that Hairsine gets to play with these special effects, and it makes for great visuals. It’s a very dynamic book, with characters doing visually interesting stuff on pretty much every page. We see our heroes fighting against a horde of zombies, and it’s especially the composition and perspective that Hairsine creates that makes this stuff stand out. For example, the page in question is very layered—there is a sense of depth and every character has a unique fighting style and it’s like we (as readers) are right in the middle of the chaos.

Throughout the book, there is also a kind of ebb and flow to the artwork as we move from quiet moments into big fight scenes and vice versa. Hairsine embraces the quiet moments by focusing on realistic body language and human expressions, using close-ups and medium shots to make these scenes feel more personal and, when necessary, emotional. Then, when it’s time to let loose, Hairsine does so by rendering our heroes as larger-than-life beings that strike hard and true. The flowing sequence in fight scenes is on point, and there’s real energy to these illustrations. Sure, the artwork still has some of the same old flaws that I have been complaining about since #1, but when there’s so much attention to detail, rhythm and sequence—who cares anymore? Even though the aesthetics may not always be my taste, I still have a lot of respect for how solid the artwork is on a technical level. Hairsine is the right artist for this book.

Recommended if…

  • You are a fan of John Constantine.
  • You don’t mind hollow fan-service as long as it looks cool.
  • You enjoy fights of epic proportions.
  • No, but really, John Constantine.

Overall: This is a good comic book, but lately Taylor has been taking the easy way out with some of the challenges and opponents that our heroes have to overcome. Magically granting a hero the powers to easily defeat a super-powered zombie is too convenient for me and I dislike that. But, at the same time, John Constantine’s role in this is enough incentive for me to keep reading, and the artwork is really good. If you look past some of the lazy narrative choices, a very entertaining story will emerge, and so I still recommend this issue in the end. I just hope that Taylor will have stopped taking the easy way out by the time the series’ finale arrives.

Score: 7/10

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