DC Universe Presents #1

DC Universe Presents #1

B+

I’ve been clamoring for a straight DC anthology book for some time now. It seemed like the perfect answer to all those titles that didn’t quite sell enough to continue on their own, like Manhunter or Blue Beetle, or to test the waters for new characters and concepts. It’s not as though that’s a new idea, either; DC Comics is built on anthology books, and some of its most endearing concepts — from the Legion of Super-Heroes to the modern Flash to the Justice League itself — got their start in anthology titles like Adventure Comics and Showcase. I’d love to be able to pick up a monthly book featuring multiple concurrent, serialized, finite stories around characters who were too risky for the solo title treatment.

DC Universe Presents is not that book, but it’ll do in a pinch. I’m a little surprised that DC didn’t make this a two-feature book like All-Star Western or Men of War, since that seems like it would draw in a wider pool of people than just those interested in the main story. Instead, the series is set to showcase short multi-issue story arcs by a variety of creators on a variety of characters, making this more like the old Legends of the DC Universe. That may be better for the eventual TPB collections, but I suspect that I’ll be buying this on an arc-by-arc basis. It also makes the book difficult to review, because in six months it could turn out to be terrible, or brilliant, or anywhere in between.

In a way, it’s fitting that a book which will spend its run jumping from character to character and story to story starts with Deadman, who jumps from life to life. The story opens with Deadman’s narration as he possesses an Evel Knievel-esque daredevil, which makes for a decent segue into his (updated) origin story. Back in the old DCU, assassinated circus acrobat Boston Brand was granted the ability to possess people’s bodies by the goddess Rama Kushna so that he could seek justice. Here, his ability is more a penance, forcing the selfish Brand to help the living so that he might become a better man in death than he ever was in life.

It’s a compelling concept for a character — very Quantum Leap, which I loved — and one that seems like it could easily support its own series. With a Deadman TV series being optioned, it’s perhaps not surprising that the plot of this issue feels like the setup to something episodic. It’d be a nice bit of synchronicity for DC to have the trade collection of this out if and when a series with the same character and a similar plotline took off.

The flashback scenes are a little clunky; I appreciate that they’ve boiled down a fairly complex origin story and characterization, as well as a fairly unconventional series concept, into just a few pages, but attempts at metaphorical language like “human bricks” fall kind of flat. While artist Bernard Chang does a great job of making Rama Kushna feel exotic, it seems like something more could have been done — either in terms of pencils or colors — to make the limbo-style afterlife scene a little more otherworldly and symbolic.

The rest of the issue focuses on Deadman’s next host, a wounded soldier with a bad case of survivor’s guilt, and Deadman’s own quest to contact a librarian through surprise (and obscure) guest star, Rose Psychic. It’s a decent story, and one that efficiently showcases Deadman’s uncertainty and fatigue with an increasingly unclear mission and a creeping feeling that he’s failing to help those he possesses. The effect makes me feel like this is the season premiere to a show that’s been running for a few years, taking the time to reintroduce us to the characters and their histories, while also trying to move beyond a formulaic episode structure. It speaks well to Paul Jenkins’ writing that he manages to pull this off without losing the reader, and it makes me want to read some of the off-panel previous episodes.

Overall, this is a good comic, and another nice story for people who might not be into the standard superhero fare. Jenkins does a fine job of introducing the characters and teasing story concepts while also moving forward a larger plot, and Chang’s art is slick and distinctive. I’ll definitely be sticking around to see where this story goes, and frankly wouldn’t mind seeing this concept play out as a larger series. As for DC Universe Presents as a whole, if every arc is as thoroughly conceived as this one, then I’ll have no problem sticking with it. That remains to be seen however, so I don’t feel like I can throw my complete support behind it.

Pull list verdict: KEEP IT…at least for this arc.

tags: bernard chang, dc universe presents, paul jenkins, the new 52

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