Comic Book Review – Countdown to Infinite Crisis/Day of Vengeance

Countdown to Infinite Crisis
Written by Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Judd Winick
Art by Rags Morales, Ivan Reis, Jesus Saiz, Phil Jimenez, and Ed Benes

In the wake of Identity Crisis, the DC Universe had taken a darker turn, and it was decided that this would be the lead up to a massive line-wide event. Instead of repeating the format of 1985’s 12 issue Crisis on Infinite Earths, this event would have a one-shot prelude with four mini-series spinning out that which in turn would lead to the main title Infinite Crisis. It all starts here in Countdown, a single issue that frames those four mini-series: Day of Vengeance, Villains United, The Rann-Thanagar War, and The OMAC Project. The cover to the comic portends a bad turn of events, Batman holding a lifeless figure in his arms while other heroes look on in horror.

This story is told through the eyes of former Justice Leaguer Blue Beetle who, in his real identity of industrialist Ted Kord, has noticed that almost his entire fortune was siphoned out and spread amongst some shell corporations. Following the breadcrumbs leads Beetle to cross paths with Batman, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman and others. Through these encounters, we learn about how the aftershocks of Identity Crisis’ revelations are affecting the characters.

Writer Geoff Johns has always had a love of the deep bench of DC’s superheroes, and while it’s expected that Superman and Green Lantern will show up, the emotional core of this story is Beetle’s and Booster Gold’s. If you followed my review of the collected Justice League International comics earlier this year, you know I love this duo who typically played things for laughs are shown to have fallen out and are struggling with being heroes. Booster Gold, in particular, has ended up becoming a laughingstock all his fault for playing up his corporate sponsorship angle. It’s a genuinely heartbreaking moment to see Booster shrug off Beetle’s concerns, especially with the way the issue concludes.

Johns, who wrote Infinite Crisis, keeps the focus on the darkening of the DC Universe. Batman has lost trust in his former teammates in the League and has taken some drastic actions that will have consequences that lead to a more significant problem. War is spreading across the galaxy spurred on by the warlike Thanagarians and essential need to claim territory for the survival of a community. The villains, having learned about the mindwiping, are organized in a manner they’ve never done before, a cohesive unit that is eliminating those who don’t toe the line. Even the primal foundations of magic have been torn asunder as the Spectre has lost his human grounding. This is a universe in chaos and Johns has a reason why he’s playing up the grim nature of reality. Infinite Crisis will end up being a meta-text for DC post-1985, but that is a discussion for another time.

Countdown does an excellent job of outlining the scope of what is to come and signals an end to the Crisis era by killing off a character who came into their own in the years after that last reality shaking event. The following mini-series don’t all live up to the expectations set in this volume, but all offer a focused examination on a particular corner of the DCU.

Day of Vengeance
Reprints Day of Vengeance #1-6, Special
Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Justiniano and Ron Wagner

The Spectre was created in 1940 and was Jim Corrigan, a police officer killed by thugs and left for dead. When his spirit reaches the afterlife, he’s turned back and told by a disembodied force to dedicate his life to go after evil. Corrigan creates a ghostly costume and fights organized crime. In the wake of the reality rebooting Crisis of 1985 writer John Ostrander made the Spectre a manifestation of God’s Wrath even linking him to the Angel of Death from the book of Exodus. Ostrander would place the Spectre in situations where good and evil were not so clear cut, leaning on his background as a student of philosophy and theology. Corrigan eventually found peace, and it was the former Green Lantern Hal Jordan assigned to the role. When writer Geoff Johns wanted to bring Hal back into the Green Lantern, fold this posed a storytelling problem. The Spectre was now unconnected to a human soul, and it’s this issue that propels the story of Day of Vengeance.

The main character in the mini-series is not The Spectre though, but a new team of magical heroes who end up with the name Shadowpact. These are all traditional C-tier heroes, not ones who would ever get their long-running solo series but visually appealing with fresh concepts. They are:

Nightmaster – Jim Rook is a former rockstar turned bar owner who was given mystic powers through the Sword of the Night
Blue Devil – former stuntman Dan Cassidy used to wear a devil costume, but after a deal with a devil he was turned into a literal infernal being
Nightshade – a spy for the US government who is also the heir to a shadow kingdom
The Enchantress – June Moone is a villain turned hero, after doing a tour with Suicide Squad, and struggles with her dark occult persona The Enchantress
Ragman – Rory Regan is a well-meaning Gothamite who is covered in a suit of magical rags which absorbs and punishes the souls of the evil
Detective Chimp – An African chimp experimented on by aliens and now a super-intelligent primate that uses his intellect to solve crimes

As you can see this is more a Guardians of the Galaxy style line-up rather than something like the Justice League. I always have a soft spot for these teams of misfit heroes because you know you won’t get a traditional wrapped up nice and neat type of story. Groups like Shadowpact are the answer to people who don’t like Superman because they are deeply flawed and make lots of mistakes that cause the plot to become more interesting.

Beyond the Shadowpact, the story is showcasing big moments in the death of magic. The Spectre battles the tree-like Blackbriar Thorn who uses an entire forest as his body. The big moment is when The Spectre assaults the Rock of Eternity, the home to the powers of Shazam. It was clear leading up to this story that DC was making big shakeups with the Shazam family, and it comes to fruition here with the wizard Shazam being killed. Billy Batson’s powers falter as a result, and it’s clear to the audience that things will only get worse.

Writer Bill Willingham manages to tie in Identity Crisis through his villain, a character bearing the powers of Eclipso. Eclipso is a very strange villain/anti-hero who influences human minds to become violent and selfish, typically more potent at night. In Day of Vengeance, Eclipso is the primary influencer to push Spectre towards killing magic. Of all the mini-series leading up to Infinite Crisis Day of Vengeance falls near the bottom, just slightly better than Rann-Thanagar War. There’s a constant push to make sure the reader understands the weight of what is going on, but in retrospect, I didn’t see many ramifications. Shazam gets shuffled around by Judd Winick, and it’s all for the worse, only to be erased when the New 52 reboot rolled out. There was a Shadowpact series, very short lived with little acclaim. The Spectre story would continue into Infinite Crisis where he gets a new human host and writers would try so hard to sell this version to the public despite it not being very compelling.

Next up: Villains United!

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