Monday, October 10, 2022

Review: Dark Crisis The Deadly Green

When it was announced that the big bads in Dark Crisis were Pariah and the The Great Darkness, I anticipated that the writers would be leaning into two of the bigger stories that came out in 1985. 

One, of course, is Crisis on Infinite Earths. That would explain all the multiverse stuff and obviously Pariah's presence.

The other though is American Gothic, the Alan Moore Swamp Thing arc that looked at horror manifesting in the DCU during the instability of the Crisis. That arc starts with the formal introduction of John Constantine and ends with a battle on the plains of Heaven and Hell. We see Swamp Thing tangentially touch on the Crisis in Swamp Thing #46. That arc introduces the Parliament of Trees. It ends in Swamp Thing #50 where the Great Darkness is revealed as the shadow of God, the Anti-light. In that issue, Earthbound magical heroes perform a seance to lend what meager powers they have to the side of good. In the end, Swamp Thing is profound, Mento is insane, Zatara is dead, and the Great Darkness has created an uneasy truce with the original Light. 

Dark Crisis The Deadly Green really leans into that American Gothic arc and in particular that issue of Swamp Thing. From a super-hero seance, to a profound character speaking from the ultimate darkness, to Swamp Thing playing an important role, it all resonates. Without knowing that issue inside and out, I wonder if readers pick up and those reverberations. In particular, Constantine speaking to three aspects of the Great Darkness is a sort of inverse of four heroes speaking to the Darkness in that issue, a very sneaky back door homage. Alan Scott almost perishing in flames (like Zatara did) is also a decent echo. 

And a key plot point of the main Dark Crisis book is tucked away here too. 

All that, from the homage to the key plot point, makes me wonder why the creator list of the book reads like a phone book. It sports three writers - Ram V, Daniel Watters, and Alex Paknadel. It has four artists - Daniel Bayliss, George Kambadais, Tom Derenick, and Brent Peeples. I suppose that the number of creators doesn't matter if the story works. But the art styles flipping about did pull me a bit out of the story. 

All this makes me wonder if I should just review Swamp Thing #50 here.

On to the book.

In Dark Crisis #5, Nightwing splits of a group to investigate how or why the Great Darkness is spreading throughout the universes. It is an interesting group. Green Lantern, Jade, and Obsidian are there. Obsidian can feel something wrong with the shadows. And Lantern thinks his ring can be some conduit into the Great Darkness itself, within some protective skin of the Starheart energy.

Two Swamp Things are there with Raven and Constantine, as the sort of mystics who will go into the breech. And Jon is there as Superman, being the leader who takes on the worst assignments.

And then Yara Flor and Dr. Fate are there to protect the physical beings should the place get attacked.

It is a set-up right out of Swamp Thing #50. That table had Zatara and Zatanna, Sargon (someone tainted with evil like Raven), Baron Winters, Mento, and Constantine. 

Now I don't know why Alan Scott's ring is the conduit. And there is a whole portion of this book about how Scott is struggling to keep the connection to the Darkness intact without immolating himself (like Zatara). I won't be covering that too much here. 

The world inside the Darkness is one made by Scott. It is a green energy cityscape. And Superman, Swamp Thing, and Raven know they need to get to the center of town.

But where is Constantine? 

He is separated in floating in a completely black field where he meets several of the baddest magical baddies out there. But I think these aren't those actual villains and instead are faces the Darkness is putting on to communicate with John on his level.

First up, the form of the Upside-Down Man from JLD. There is some poetic and symbolic speech here about how the Darkness hasn't really returned at all. It's always been there.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the Green Lantern world is percolating with evil. The Darkness is seeping into it, corrupting the landscape and our heroes. They can't seem to cross this cityscape to get to a central column of darkness. (This is also reminiscent of Swamp Thing #50 when the heroes are battling the advancing tower of blackness.)

Not only does it seem like they are walking in circles, they are losing their minds.

In particular, I like that the main emotion is fear that he won't live up to his father's image. One thing completely absent from the Son of Kal-El is any introspection from Jon about inheriting the mantle. It's all Jay Nakamura all the time. So at least here we see a little of that.

Meanwhile, Jon's tour through the Great Darkness continues.

Next, the Darkness manifests as Trigon. 

Much like the lessons learned in Swamp Thing #50, 'Trigon' tells Jon that the presence of Darkness is what makes the light that much sttonger. Jon fighting to be like his father in the face of evil. Raven turning away from the evil in her to be something better.

But the truth is, the Darkness will always be there. It can't be defeated. It is life's hubris that has brought this Crisis into existence. It did not.

Hmm ...

And then one more visitation.

Now it morphs into Lucifer. 

The Darkness once again says, more plainly now, that it isn't to blame for what is happening.

Whether there is one Earth or infinite, it will always be. And frankly, it like humanity because they bring a flicker into it's bleak black time.

Okay, I have to say, this whole Constantine tour is so great when you contrast it to the visitations in Swamp Thing #50. Remember, in that the Darkness is visited by four heroes to discuss the nature of evil. Here it is John who is visited by three villains (at least there forms). That reversal sort of shows that it is humanity that is evil here (I am throwing Pariah into the word humanity).

Maybe I am reading too much into this. And again, I wonder if people who have never read Moore's Swampy will appreciate it.

Finally making it to the black central tower, Swamp Thing and Superman fuse into a single being. It is the only way they could survive such an exposure.

And then, within the column, they find Pariah's machine, first seen in Crisis on Infinite Earths #7. This is the corruption within The Darkness.

Now how can a metaphysical force like God's Shadow be twisted by machinery? 

John has one last repartee.

The Darkness admits they are above petty emotions like hate. In fact, they love David Bowie.

So it is clear now, this entity is not the cause of the Dark Crisis. It's power is being used by Pariah.

Which brings us to the moment we saw in Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths #5.

The Great Darkness isn't the corruption in man. Man is the corruption in it. And Pariah's machine is the conduit.

I will admit that I liked this book more with the second reading for the review. But much of that had to do with the clever way it reinterpreted the Moore issue. And I don't know if that is enough of a reason to give this a high mark. I wonder what people who don't have that history felt.

As for Pariah's machine tapping into ancient darkness, I guess I chalk that up to comic book science.

Still, of all the Dark Crisis one-shots I have read, this one is the best.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

The seance was referenced continually in Tynion's (and then V's) recent Justice League Dark series, most often in conversations between Constantine and Zatanna, and often illustrated in flashback.

So I knew Tynion was referencing an older, significant story - and knew the same material was being referenced here. But I never did the work to find out what the original story was. I just accepted that it happened. So - thank you. I might seek out the original.

The answer to your general question is, not knowing the original material, I found this one-shot awkward.

It does seem that things like putting Alan being at risk from the flame was torturing the plot to try to fit the reference material or, as you say, echo it. And I think that works best for people who can make the complete connection. The rest of us can sense homage is in play - maybe the stranger the story, the more likely we're missing the references. I'd rather the references not be critical - a story should be good even while standing on its own, and this story on its own just wasn't great - it wasn't even, really, good.

Maybe it's fair, though - after all, the entire event is supposed to be an homage to the original Crisis.

It doesn't seem Supergirl is going to die this time, since she's going to be in Superman titles next year. But if it's really a solid homage, shouldn't she do something radical, dangerous and heroic before the end?


Martin Gray said...

I hadn’t read SW50 since it came out, so didn’t remember all the details. I am sure, though, that the Darkness there wasn’t called the Great Darkness, that seems to be a thing tacked on by recent DC writers and I wish they would stop it - the Great Darkness was a Darkseid plot, that is it,

That said, I liked this a lot, and I don’t think I suffered by not noticing when direct homages were coming. I think I’d have enjoyed it less were I trying to map parts of one comic onto another.

Craft-wide, I loved that moment one demon form’s word balloon morphed into amother’s, the Upside Down Man to Trigon, that was a great way to show what was going on.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments!

I suppose that my trying to map it to ST 50 might have taken me out of the story a little. But it also added an appreciation of the crafting.

Would love Kara to take some sort of action in the book. Indeed, perhaps an homage in the seventh issue?

Olivia mia said...

The seance was referenced continually in Tynion's (and then V's) recent Justice League Dark series, most often in conversations between Constantine and Zatanna, and often illustrated in flashback. More info