Comics Ate My Brain

September 14, 2005

All Together Now: Day Of Vengeance #s 1-5

Filed under: crisis — Tom Bondurant @ 7:45 pm
Day of Vengeance #s 1-5 is, in a couple of significant respects, the opposite of The OMAC Project. Like Countdown to Infinite Crisis, it is the story of B-listers trying to stop an A-list threat, but there the comparison stops. No A-listers overshadow the main characters (Captain Marvel is merely a plot device), and where OMAC‘s narrative ranged far and wide, DoV‘s is almost maddeningly simple. Its focus is on the characters, but to such a degree that it forgets to ground them for the reader.

It begins with Eclipso seducing the host-less Spectre (as opposed, of course, to host-less Twinkies) into destroying all of Earth’s magic. He does this by killing or otherwise incapacitating Earth’s magic-users. The survivors begin gathering at a bar outside space and time, run by John “Nightmaster” Rook and having Dan “Blue Devil” Cassidy as its bouncer. Bobo, the Detective Chimp, decides he’s not going to sit around and wait for the end of the world, and recruits Nightmaster, Blue Devil, Ragman, Enchantress, and Nightshade to help him try and stop the Spectre.

There’s not much more to the plot than that. The group (eventually named the Shadowpact) takes two stabs at the Spectre — first, by increasing the flow of magic to Captain Marvel and making him Spectre’s equal in power; and second, by recruiting a heretofore unknown teenager who can steal others’ magic briefly, and using her to steal Spectre’s power. Issue #5 ends with a cliffhanger in the middle of that fight. Here’s the issue-by-issue breakdown:

#1. 6 pages of Jean Loring becoming Eclipso; 4 pages of Ragman introduction; 6 pages of Ragman and Enchantress establishing the plot; 5 pages in the Oblivion Bar; and one page of Shazam and Captain Marvel.

#2. 6 pages of Spectre and Eclipso; 4 pages of the team assembling and expositing; 4 pages of Spectre and Eclipso taking out magical heavyweights; 3 pages with the team before Detective Chimp and Nightshade split off; 2 pages with Enchantress and Ragman; 1 page with the remaining members getting ready for Eclipso and the Spectre; 1 page of Spectre/Captain Marvel fight; and 1 page of the Shadowpacters preparing to face Eclipso.

#3. 6 pages of Spectre/Eclipso/Shadowpact fight; 4 pages of Detective Chimp/Nightshade conversation; 6 pages of Eclipso/Shadowpact fight; 4 pages of Enchantress powering up Captain Marvel; 2 pages of Detective Chimp and Nightshade finding Lori Zechlin.

#4. 3 pages of Detective Chimp origin; 2 pages of Chimp/Nightshade/Mr. Zechlin conversation; 4 pages of Spectre/Captain Marvel fight; 3 pages of Enchantress going nuts; 2 pages of Lori introduction; 5 pages of Enchantress/Shadowpact/Spectre/Captain Marvel fight; 2 pages of team-reassembling.

#5. 1 page of Spectre/Eclipso; 5 pages of Shadowpact/Captain Marvel in the Oblivion Bar; 2 pages of Shazam/Captain Marvel conversation; 1 page of Nightmaster/Detective Chimp/Phantom Stranger Mouse; 1 page of Spectre/Eclipso; 3 pages of Shadowpact planning; 3 pages of Nightshade/Lori conversation; 6 pages of Shadowpact/Spectre/Eclipso fight.

Based on that, I’d say the book is split 60-40 in favor of characterization, and there are some decent character moments. Ragman has unrequited feelings for Enchantress. Nightshade hates Enchantress, apparently from their time in the Suicide Squad together. Blue Devil hates Detective Chimp because the chimp’s a mean drunk. Nightmaster’s armor itches. These are sometimes effective, but they aren’t enough to fill out a thin plot, and the characters themselves are obscure enough that even their little bits of business emphasize the lack of backstory. I know who Nightshade is generally, but here she’s in a fairly new costume, and her name is not uttered until issue #3. Again, it can be hard to get into the bits when you’re trying to figure out who the characters are.

Still, this loosey-goosey attitude makes the book somewhat unique. When I first heard about these Infinite Crisis lead-in miniseries, I imagined that they would establish backgrounds and foundations for the components of IC‘s plot. Let’s say that during Infinite Crisis, the Spectre can’t do X because Y happened to him — well, DoV would have streamlined the IC plot by telling how Y happened. From that perspective, Day of Vengeance already feels half-empty. I admit I could be approaching this the wrong way, and DoV is actually designed to introduce the Shadowpacters to the larger DC audience. In that respect it’s more successful, but obviously it could have done more than just throwing the reader into the middle of their conversations.

I can’t close this essay without mentioning Day of Judgment, the 1999 miniseries by Geoff Johns and Mike Mignola-wannabe Matt Smith, because there are some weird comparisons. Day of Judgment also featured an unhinged, host-less Spectre controlled by an evil presence. Ragman, Enchantress, and Blue Devil had minor roles too. However, Day of Judgment was more of a JLA-centered adventure, with scenes in Heaven, Hell, and purgatory; and it focused on making Hal Jordan the new Spectre. As such, it had a lot more action and a lot less characterization. Moreover, the art was so Mignola-esque it was distracting.

It’s unfortunate that none of the Day of Vengeance participants seems to remember Day of Judgment. Even something along the lines of “We beat the Spectre before — but we were second-chair to the JLA then” might have reinforced the oh-no-it’s-up-to-us? theme. I suppose that could be chalked up to more selective backstory, but it’s a curious omission.

Day of Vengeance tries hard to be witty and irreverent in the face of certain annihilation. The art, by Justiniano and Walden Wong with help from Ron Wagner on one issue, establishes a good, creepy, apocalyptic mood. Most of the time, though, the miniseries is too detached and ironic for its own good. On principle I want to like it, but in practice it’s hard to work up any excitement. Obviously this could change depending on how #6 ends, because that will determine whether DoV was about beating the Spectre or forming the Shadowpact.

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