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War, huh, etc: Graeme wishes that he wasn’t a survivor of World War III.

Graeme McMillan

I’m sure that everyone else in the world remembers the sense of unease when DC talked about WORLD WAR III for the first time. There was, if you will, a disturbance in the DC Nerd Force when this four-part-series-all-released-in-one-day was announced – a deep intake of breath at the idea that maybe 52 wasn’t going to get it all done after all, and that they needed four extra comics to tell the story and explain everything that had happened in the missing year. In an effort to try and calm the fanbase, Dan Didio explained that you didn’t have to read any of World War III’s four issues (and, really, where’s the thematic consistency in that? Three issues for World War Three, people. Come on, that’s easy) in order to understand what happened in 52 that week. Having now read all of World War III and 52 Week 50, I have to agree. In fact, I’ll go further: 52 Week 50 is much, much better if you don’t read World War III.

In fact, I’ll go further than that: Don’t waste your time or your money on World War III.

Now, I’m not the most market savvy of internet comic geeks, but I can’t help but feel that both Countdown and especially World War III show just how badly that DC have misunderstood the success of 52 – I don’t really think that the book sold just because it was weekly, or because it was continuity porn (which seem to be the main selling points of Countdown and WWIII, respectively), but because of the creators involved in 52 (namely, DC’s four biggest writers) and the novelty of what was originally sold to us as a self-contained 52-part “novel” that would explore the DC Universe in more detail than we’ve seen before, setting up the new rules of the world post-massive status quo-changing crossover event. That’s pretty much still the case for me, and probably most of the audience who has stuck with 52 this far; to be honest, with two weeks of 52 left, my main concern has nothing to do with finding out how Firestorm got to be merged with Firehawk or why Manhunter became a defense attorney, but instead that none of the core storylines are going to reach any kind of adequate conclusion. Which isn’t to say that I don’t doubt that there is a section of DC’s core fanbase out there wondering about all of those dangling plots from the One Year Later jump, just that it wasn’t 52’s main draw. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I kind of wanted the unanswered questions from each leap forward to be handled in the series that they were initially raised, anyway; that way, the creators who came up with the questions could answer them, and the readers wouldn’t find themselves forced to buy another series for a chunk of the story. But that’s why I don’t run multi-million dollar franchise-enabling publishing companies.

Here’s the thing – 52 #50? It’s Okay, at best; it stays with the series’ inability so far to close any of their plotlines, as well as their tendency to devote entire issues to a plot as they attempt to pull it to a close (See the Steel/Luthor battle in week 40 or the Ralph Dibny finish in week 42, for proof of both; if you look at week 50 in the context of the series and ignore the “event” that was added on after the fact, this isn’t any more of an important issue or storyline than those, although it does have a much more satisfying conclusion than either – The final solution for Black Adam has an oddly optimistic and inventive bent that suggests Morrison or Waid’s input). But part of the reason that it works as well as it does is because it holds together as a complete chapter in and of itself, if that makes sense – There’s an internal consistency that keeps the whole thing moving along. As soon as you start introducing “important things you may not have known” about scenes from the issue, as WWIII does, then you start to undermine the core book. Especially when the new scenes that you’re adding are, to put it mildly, horrible.

World War III as a series takes the art aesthetic of 52 as a series – which is, essentially, “It’s not great but it’s on time; it’ll get the job done” – and applies it to the writing as well. It’s a series that, despite two writers (whose writing is entirely interchangable; I couldn’t tell you which writer worked on which book without looking at the credits) and four artists, struggles to even stay readable most of the time. Everything about the series misfires: The staging is pedestrian and haphazard (There isn’t any real narrative flow to each issue, never mind the series itself; it reads entirely disjointedly, as if scenes have been placed randomly into pages), the dialogue is – at best – wooden and the narration (by the Martian Manhunter, who gets to bookend the action of the series thanks to retconning 52 #45 and being “behind the scenes” in 52 #50) even worse:

“Theft. Lies. Deceit. All in the name of justice. The two sides of human nature, once more represented. Smaller acts of malice performed in the service of the greater good. It is not the Martian way. It is not my way. Or… is it?”

The story in the four WWIII issues undermining 52 in terms of plot makes a certain sense, if you think about it – The addition of a spin-off book that (despite the intentions of 52’s creators) essentially being sold as “If you want more of 52, you can get it here!” undermines the initial complete-in-and-of-itself nature of 52’s time capsule concept as a series and also undermines whatever goodwill and consistency that the series has built up for more or less the last year by adding an additional 4 books of unknown quantity (due to the unknown – ie, no involvement from Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Geoff Johns or Mark Waid – creative team) to the fan’s shopping list at essentially the last minute.

The worst sin of the series, however, has nothing to do with the workmanlike execution and everything to do with the core idea behind the series itself, because we don’t get any of the major One Year Later changes actually explained to us. The entire point of the series – something that Dan Didio even repeats in his DC Nation column in the back of each issue this week – and it completely and utterly fails at it. Sure, we get to see some of the changes happen, but they don’t get explained. Martian Manhunter has a new look because he mindmelded with Black Adam and then blacked out! Okay, but why? There’s Jason Todd dressed up as Nightwing! Yeah, but why? Supergirl ended up in the Legion of Super-Heroes’ future then comes back and gets split in two… but how? And what does that actually mean, anyway? Aquaman turns into a sea monster after raising Sub Diego… but why? And so on, and so on. That the changes happened isn’t news – We’ve known about them for a year now – so just showing us them doesn’t do any good. This was supposed to be the book that explained everything that we’ve seen, but it couldn’t even do that right.

To add insult to injury, the series finishes with a cutaway to the Monitors, those harbingers of crossovers yet-to-come:

“Some have lived. Some have died. Others have… changed.”

“They must evolve or they will not be prepared. Their darkest hour has not yet arrived.”

So, yeah. Your $10 on getting “the full story” of what happened to the DC Universe during 52 week 50 ends with a badly-written advertisement to keep buying more DC books. It’s kind of fitting, I guess, because if you made your future purchasing decisions based purely upon World War III, it’s very possible that you’d never buy another DC comic ever again.

(All of the above said, the worst part of the series is arguably the most laughable – Don’t buy the book, but look at the first page of #4: It’s a fifteen panel grid of close-ups of the various superheroes while they wait for the final battle, and you see the icons of Green Lantern or Wildcat grimacing, or Hawkgirl holding a mace and… What’s that in panel 6? Oh, that’s right – It’s a close-up on Power Girl’s breasts, with her top torn open to reveal more of her blood-spattered cleavage.

Whoever made the decision to let that stay in the book? Classy. Really, really classy.)

Without a doubt, an incredible misfire from DC. Really, really Awful.

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