In loving memory of Stan Lee, many comic creators have come together in order to deliver alternate universe stories for the likes of Batman, Catwoman, Wonder Woman and more. These stories are incredibly short and vary quite a bit so let’s take a look at them one at a time!
This first story has Michael Uslan writing a very corny reimagining of the Batman and Joker that ends so quickly you barely get anything beyond a couple chuckles and an incredibly cringy opening. The art on the other hand is a complete contrast to the writing as Lee Weeks presents this beautifully dark Gotham with details that teach you about the world while also uplifting the writing. The coloring by Trish Mulvihill is excellent as well and I love the little details like the fuzziness of the red spray paint or the sickly green of the Choker’s face. All in all this opening has a competent (albeit kind of corny) story with a visual bang to really grasp onto and get you invested in the rest.
“Superman: Make War No More”
This story is a blast honestly. The writing by Mark Waid really hones in on the way that wars are perpetuated by systemic issues as well as showcasing this funny whining Superman reluctantly trapped on Earth 6. It’s so cathartic to see Superman take on something systemic in a way that makes the worst kind of people incredibly uncomfortable. The insecure Olsen in his brief appearance also makes a mark and is a great balance to this version of Superman. His role as a memoirist gives purpose to the exposition and the way Olsen undermines Superman’s backstory makes for a fun parody of the exhausting exposition dumps we’re used to.
Kevin Maguire does a great job with the opening page and character designs but sadly I’m really disappointed by how many panels are just faces in front of monochrome filling. Especially since this story follows such a beautifully detailed Gotham I wish we didn’t immediately have such stripped down panels. The art is still really intuitive so while it is disappointing it’s not like it ruins the story and Maguire does deliver some great panels here and there.
“Wonder Woman in New Beginnings”
This story has me pretty conflicted. There are so many head scratching and groan worthy moments. Wonder Woman gets cat-called by a scummy worker who is overly specific about having mistletoe “during the holidays”. Then, she saves them and is just like “peace!” which just feels wrong like she’s not gonna get any payback? Then again this could be a clever way of showing that female superheroes have to deal with saving men who idolize them as heroes yet treat them as sex objects when they’re pretending to be normal people. The exposition dump seems to be really unnecessary and the dialogue between her and William can be quite clunky but it’s a common thing to expect in comics and there’s at least some personality in the narration. The way she talks to the villain could’ve been a cool way to show that it’s not just about good vs. evil but there’s also the awkward line “that is enough for any child” like, were you not listening? Her child is sick and she got laid off so her motherly love is clearly not enough for that child! Writing a story to shame the company is such an underwhelming way to resolve it too. So yeah, very mixed feelings about Stephanie Williams’ writing.
Belén Ortega’s art on the other hand is just great. The opening shots of the city feel really grounded and casual which makes for a great contrast to the superhero spectacular we get treated to later. The office romance is kindled by their flirty looks and ravishing clothing. And I love the way that Wonder Woman’s golden staff pulls apart Frosteen’s armor as a parallel to the staff’s ability to get to the core of someone and reveal what they truly think. My one gripe is that Frosteen’s powers are shot straight at Wonder Woman which leads to a close up of her boobs with a bluish aura around. Just feels a bit weird to have that zoomed in to be honest. I guess this story in general just makes me feel weird. (also he orders champagne and yet they’re clearly drinking red wine)
“The Flash in Palindrome”
What an incredibly heartfelt and touching story! It’s amazing how much Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad managed to fit into such a small amount of pages! While the majority of this story is bittersweet and depressing the ending is still incredibly uplifting and really reminds me of how inspiring superheroes can be. I love the closed loop of having the story start and end with the burning building. The fact that she is directly talking to the reader also makes the exposition work as a way to reveal facts about the story while her tongue and cheek tone prevents the backstory from feeling too dry. There are subtle things you can get at while reading like how the ability to bend time is a curse passed down from a grieving father to his grieving daughter or the burning building acting as a metaphor for the past that she breaks into in order to save whatever she can. There’s also the incredibly troubling realization that her going back to talk to her father seals her fate as a time traveler, the spark in his eyes as he sees her come back pushing him to work on the project with newfound conviction… chills.
Pablo M. Collar also does a great job at having the extreme speed provide a variety of backgrounds that the Flash zips through with ease. I love how after all that running we see her sitting down having a heart to heart with her father because the contrast makes the conversation feel so personal. The cloud in the background with her mother’s face hurts to see in all the right ways. The colors by Dee Cunniffe also provide the conversation with incredibly soft hues that feel warm and inviting. The colors in general are great and I especially love the rainbow that tags along behind the Flash whenever she runs. As a palindrome I can’t wait to read this forwards, backwards and over and over again whenever I need to feel uplifted!
“Green Lantern in Behold Nekron”
Back to back we have two incredibly uplifting stories that truly highlight our ability to come together and fight seemingly world ending problems. This story is very impersonal and instead focuses on a clash of the titans type epic to get you invested. Since the characters themselves aren’t particularly important and the exposition is very cut and dry the main draw is seeing these two badass heroes duke it out. Don’t get me wrong, Kenny Porter writes all the right things to have the story advance without a hitch. Lantern even mentions he can’t fight alone at the very beginning as clever foreshadowing for how he conquers Nekron. But like I said, we don’t get that much character development because this story is really focused on their fight so it’s up to Karl Mostert to make that fight look as cool as possible. Which they do amazingly well! The progression of having Lantern first help a human with a small display of power only to ramp it up more and more, the suspense and blood letting that comes right before we see Lantern’s final form and the ways that the tree of life branches out into becoming panels and connecting pieces between people, all wonderful ways to get me glued to the page!
“Shazam in The Contingency”
So here’s a stark contrast to the two stories I just reviewed. This is a snapshot into a horrifying life with succinct writing and incredible art. Collin Kelly’s story is simple so the sparse dialogue and lack of explanation is actually perfect. It totally fits the CIA vibe that it’s going for and the toxic work environment makes it feel even more genuine. Why would we be told about anything that’s going on? Shazam is probably in the dark too and anyways, it’s just another day at work right? The few moments of dialogue clearly demonstrate the power imbalances between characters and the ups and downs of their situation. The title is a promise that is teased out page by page with an incredibly satisfying albeit gruesome conclusion. I also love the art by Juan Ferrerya whose realistic depiction of this bloody massacre makes me wince with delight as the squishing of brains makes me squirm in my seat. I also like that the backgrounds are so devoid of detail as it reinforces the lack of knowledge being passed onto the reader. From start to finish you will be witness to the horror but it has become so mundane to them that they won’t even bother explaining it anymore.
“Aquaman! in Titan’s Tempest!”
Aquaman is having a swell time discovering his powers and fighting crime. I think Zac Thompson does a great job of writing a story about a young crime fighter who’s beginning to gain self confidence. It’s pretty cool to see how this new version of Aquaman interacts with water and very endearing to see how he goes from uncertain to unstoppable. The art by Hayden Sherman isn’t exactly my cup of tea but I still really love certain pages like when Aquaman is racing past the goons within the building or gliding through the rain and helping people on his way. I do think this is a really lighthearted and fun story that you could flip through and easily enjoy.
“The Cat and the Canary”
Meghan Fitzmartin provides us with a terrifying scenario craftily resolved by a barrage of nails, fists and puns. I like most of the puns and really like the fact that some of them link to the characters in subtle ways like Catwoman saying that Mastiff’s reputation makes him like a “dog” before she meets him. Sometimes the puns feel a bit heavy handed though like the “fetch” and “cat got your tongue catwoman?” one-liners. I’m also a bit confused by the fact that the agent said Dinah wasn’t available for this opportunity when it turns out that she’s already there? There’s also the issue that the yellow colored narrator is added on top of Catwoman’s inner monologue which is pretty unnecessary in my opinion. Apart from these minor issues and plot-hole I do think this makes for a great story and Mastiff as a character is absolutely sickening.
The art style might be hard to digest, at least for me, because it’s so cartoony but then it also kind of looks like a dark and depraved version of the Looney Tunes. I particularly like the detail of her ad being replaced by Dinah as I think it accentuates the campiness of the story.
“Sandman in Not Only In Dreams”
We jump straight into the action with this one but instead of jumping back to a couple days or years or whatever earlier we get sent to the dreamworld where the main antagonist is reliving a nightmare over and over again. This nightmare takes the form of a kid getting hit by a truck and this has dire consequences for the character and what they see as their need to be powerful. I do think this could’ve been explored a little bit more but I guess it’s not really the point of the story. The point of the story is that some guy wants Sandman dead so we have to learn absolutely nothing about any of the characters present or why Sandman needs to die. This is the problem with having this story be so short, it brings up a lot and only resolves a little. I like the part that it resolves but am left a bit underwhelmed by the fact that it’s the only thing that gets a resolution not to mention it felt a bit forced to begin with. The dialogue might have hints to more but there’s just not enough space to really chew on something that seems so specific to a world we don’t live in.
I will say the art by Max Dunbar at least does its best to glue the misshapen pieces that Steve Orlando’s story lays out. The way that the nightmare transitions into the standoff is really smooth and intuitive and the dreamworld looks like a little kid’s heaven and hell with monster trucks, dinosaurs, dogs and danger all rolled into one!
“Justice League: Trust”
I find it pretty funny that most of the stories leading up to this have been really insane battles with incredibly high stakes but the story that closes off this anthology is all about toys and marketing. Jerry Ordway has some pretty funny remarks in general about the essence of making these superheroes into products or as extensions of products. I have to say that even though I like the dynamic between the characters, the snappy guy is incredibly annoying to read about. His catchphrase feels unnatural every time and he provides absolutely nothing to the story in my opinion. Like the idea of rolling out a savvy public relations person makes sense but he literally does nothing at all! So while I enjoy the lighthearted jabs at these heroes and the story does present some fun moments I am never reading this one again because my god is that snapping guy annoying. I also feel kind of gross about the fact that these heroes’ solo stories were so genuine and inspiring but now we see them groveling for public approval and getting pushed around by toy sales. Maybe that’s just the living contradiction of superheroes themselves which would mean that this story is quite powerful in its ability to shine a light on such a disheartening duality.
- You love anthology books
- Alternate universe micro-stories of your favorite heroes sounds sweet
- You want something that can make you feel a thousand different emotions
These stories are all incredibly short. Most of them use their time to deliver incredibly concise and captivating combinations of solid art and writing. Personally I really like the fact that I can pick this up and immediately feel either horrified or uplifted depending on how I want to feel that day. There are definitely some weaker links in here but almost all are above average and it’s always refreshing to at least see these familiar heroes be presented with a unique twist and an incredibly talented roster of writers and artists! So check this anthology out and tell me which story was your favorite and why in the comments!
Total Score: 8/10
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
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