REVIEW: DC Universe: Zero

DC Universe Zero coverWriters: Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns

Artists: George Perez, Doug Mahnke, Tony S. Daniel, Ivan Reis, Aaron Lopresti, Philip Tan, Ed Benes, Carlos Pachecho, JG Jones

Publisher: DC Comics

Perhaps the smartest decision DC has made recently is their insistence on thoroughly separating DC Universe: Zero from the much-maligned Countdown to Final Crisis weekly series. Serving as a jumping-on point for the next year of major storylines, and at a fifty-cent price point no less, the book acts like a compilation of various prologues. Structurally, it bears major similarities to a group of trailers before a film, which isn’t surprising, given Geoff Johns’ predilection toward strikingly cinematic teasers. As such, the reader’s interest will likely be determined by how interested he is in DC anyway, but there’s a lot of great moments in the teasers here that should prove intriguing to anyone who picks it up. There’s a compellingly large sense of scale to the whole thing – it never lets up in the assertion that big events are happening – and that should be enough to raise the eyebrows of even casual comics readers.

It helps that the book is well-crafted enough to justify its existence as something other than a simple preview. There’s some incredibly compelling layout choices on display; the Batman R.I.P. section, with its red-and-black motif and increasingly claustrophobic panel setup – there’s a full sixteen on its last page – is a marvel of design and elevates a cryptic conversation between Batman and the Joker into an intensely eerie occurrence. Equally fantastic is a two-page montage for Green Lantern: The Blackest Night, divided up horizontally into thin panels that each represent a color of the various Lantern Corps, and then further spliced with dark panels depicting the villain Black Hand finding the power battery that will lead to the formation of the Black Lantern Corps. The effect is witnessing a color spectrum constantly interrupted by absolute darkness, and it’s as grandiose and surreal as its story requires.

The most important thing about the book, however, is its connecting thread, the mysterious narration that runs through the comic and ties its sections together, and seems at first to be coming from the perspective of the universe itself (another device to further widen the book’s sense of scale). As the book continues the narrator begins to recognize his own identity more and more, and it’s not only a compellingly hallucinatory struggle, but it hints towards a number of thematic connections for those who know their DC history. Libra, one of the central villains in Final Crisis who is reintroduced in these pages, found himself dispersed across the universe after stealing half of the Justice League’s powers after he was unable to control them; the fact that the narrator is going through the same process that would’ve brought him back is another example of the didactic balance Morrison has been working with lately, particularly in the red-and-black symbolism in his Batman work. Both characters have been one with the universe in some way, and one has come back to guide the villains while the other (and the end of the book all but states flat-out who this is) seems destined to guide the heroes. It’s that kind of structural intricacy that makes this a worthwhile read, even after the raise in cover price to a full dollar, and although it’s a book that will likely lose most of its effect after these events finally do play out (after all, who watches old movie trailers except for kitsch value or nostalgia?), it still stands on its own as a remarkably well-made book when it didn’t even need to be.

Rating: 8/10

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