There have been few books in recent memory that have been as highly anticipated as Tom Taylor’s DCeased series. While the premise has proved to be controversial amongst fans (many arguing that Taylor is “ripping off” the formula from Marvel Comics’ popular Marvel Zombies series), what we received in issue #1 was far from a repeat of what’s come before.
In fact, Taylor and company boldly proclaim their intentions from the very first page:
And, much to my delight, the issue does lives up to this declaration, even if the set-up for the narrative doesn’t seem overly inventive at the start.
When the issue opens, we see the conclusion of a battle that has happened many times before; the Justice League have defeated Darkseid’s attempted invasion of Earth. However, it doesn’t take long for the DCeased team to subvert our expectations:
It’s here that we start to see the story that we think we know begin to unravel, and Taylor’s real narrative begin to take shape. We learn that Darkseid has kidnapped Cyborg and brought him to Apokolips so that he can be used in the villain’s machinations against the DC Universe.
What unfolds on Apokolips in this issue will have far-reaching implications not only for the universe, but also for Darkseid and Cyborg. Cyborg, in particular, has been forever changed by these events. Even before he is altered by the experimentation that Darkseid and Desaad subject him to, the reveal of what Cyborg possesses within himself should, if handled correctly, completely change the value of his character within the DC canon.
It’s also very refreshing to see a writer who can handle the nuances of Darkseid’s character. Taylor presents us with a Darkseid that is full of the hubris and thirst for universe-dominating power that we expect from the villain, but also very quickly, shows us something that we rarely get to see from the New God; absolute power corrupting absolutely.
From a villain whom many would argue is already the definition of corruption, it is so powerful to see him fall in violent and glorious fashion. Without spoiling how the events unfold, to say that Darkseid himself is the first to be impacted by his own schemes should suggest to all readers just how high the stakes of DCeased really are.
And all of this is before Cyborg and the Anti-Life Equation even make it to Earth.
What follows Cyborg’s return to earth is best left for the reader to discover on their own. From a narrative perspective though, Taylor not only has set the stakes incredibly high for Superman and Batman (the only two Justice Leaguers that we see post-Cyborg’s return) in just one issue, but he has also demonstrated to us that no character is off the board for this story. Prepare yourselves for a powerfully affective reveal near the issue’s end that might spell doom for two beloved DC characters…
Artistically, the issue is fabulous.
Some of the book's most beautifully designed pages are those done by James Harren during the Apokolips scenes. From his pristine line work and the powerful articulation of Apokolips’ shadows through his inking, these pages are absolute standouts. They are a perfect complement to the monumental catastrophe of the Apokolips events.
Rain Beredo (colorist) should also be applauded for his work in this issue; his work in particular stands out to me in the best of ways. His methods for coloring Trevor Hairsine & Stefano Gaudiano (artists for pages 1-6, 15-26) differ dramatically from his technique for Harren’s Apokolips pages. It demonstrates that the industry’s top colorists recognize that there is no “one size fits all” method when working with different artist’s pages. The choice particularly benefits Harren, whose work pops so brightly and vividly with Beredo’s color assistance.
That’s not to say that the “earthly” pages don’t work as well. While Harren strives for a type of art that is further towards “iconic” on the abstraction spectrum, Hairsine and Gaudiano fall much closer to the “realistic” side. This works so well for these scenes as we watch each intricately detailed wrinkle of a person’s face being ripped apart by their own fingernails… yes, a disturbing image, but an effect also well-suited for this story.
I do feel though that I have to mention my one qualm with the book. After Darkseid leaves earth to return to Apokolips, Batman reveals that Cyborg has been taken, and that he knows this because of the tracking device he has implanted on Cyborg without his knowledge. We get the now-far-beyond-cliche moment where the League questions Batman’s ethics and wonders if he’s gone too far. This is something that has been done to death since Mark Waid’s Justice League (2000) “Tower of Babylon” story. What was once an inventive moment for the League has now become an unwelcome addition to any JL narrative… here’s to hoping this one has already run its course in issue #1.
Ultimately, this first issue of a six-issue mini-series might be one of the most well-rounded and inventive comics that I’ve read in a long time. The stakes are real, the art is on-point, and the narrative is inventive and subverting our expectations already from the very first issue. This may turn out to be a gory, hyper-violent roller coaster ride through the DCU, but it is one that I’m paying the price of admission for every month.
DCeased #2 arrives in comic book stores on June 5, 2019.