Writer: Greg Pak
Artist: Ken Lashley
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: September 11, 2013
September is gimmick month for DC. Two years ago the publisher relaunched its entire fictional universe in a drastic move that boosted sales, but gradually hurt its reputation with certain readers and creators. Last September every title paused briefly with a #0 issue that filled in some of the pre-New 52 backstory. Although not born of creative necessity, there was at least a bit of narrative logic to the zero issues.
This month DC replaces its regularly scheduled comics with special one-off issues focusing on different villains. It springs forth from the Trinity War crossover, which leads directly into the Forever Evil crossover, which will probably end with a readymade set-up for whatever the next major crossover may be. Because reading comics has to make you feel like a damn Ouroboros. To complete that retro ‘90s ensemble, DC announced the books would ship with plastic 3D covers, before revealing they wouldn’t print enough of the special covers to fill all orders, necessitating a run of traditional covers, which all served mostly to anger and confuse comic retailers and their customers.
Marketing concerns aside, some of the “Villains Month” issues have been perfectly fine spurts of modern-day superhero hoo-hah. Take Action Comics #23.2: Zod #1, which debuts the New 52 version of the mad Kryptonian general and reveals his retooled origin. It’s a solid and straight-forward Secret Origins tilt through Zod’s monstrous past, with a final twist that emphasizes his extreme self-interest.
Greg Pak, who kept the Hulk interesting for a few years over at Marvel and co-wrote the fantastic Incredible Hercules series, is a seasoned pro who understands how to pace a 22-page comic, and he even gets to lightly touch on such hot-button issues as the morality of drone strikes, the possibility of false flag terrorist attacks, and the often-contentious relationship between science and religion in America. So yes, this one-off origin of the seventh or eight different version of this character can actually provoke a thought or two within the reader.
Ken Lashley’s art isn’t quite as commendable. He can certainly draw guys with muscles, and when given enough space his action scenes are easy to follow and appropriately kinetic. And really, that’s probably 80% of the job right there. He even instills legitimate pain and pathos into the faces of innocent lizard aliens staring down a torrent of bullets from Kryptonian drones. But the layouts are often far too busy, with panels reduced to tiny smears of incoherent action. And although Lashley probably didn’t design the character models and Kryptonian uniforms, he still had to draw them, and their sci-fi matinee retro-futurism is less alien or endearingly kitschy than downright ugly. Zod and his minions look like action figures from a third-rate ‘80s toy line that hit the discount bin within months. They look like Visionaries.
Lashley’s inconsistent art is the least competent part of a comic that rarely surpasses mere competence and that summarizes why the “Villains Month” idea isn’t particularly exciting. There’s nothing wrong with a comic taking an occasional break from its on-going story to tell the origin of a major player or explore a peripheral aspect of the main tale. An entire month’s worth of such stories, interrupting every book at once, must try the patience of even the most loyal DC reader. It feels less like an event than a stop-gap, a month’s worth of the type of place-holding inventory comics the publishers would run in the past when a creator missed a deadline. It feels too much like a gimmick.