Friday, January 13, 2023

Review: Lazarus Planet: Alpha #1

Dark Crisis is over. Did it really happen? And what happened?

If you're DC, perhaps the best palate cleanser for an underwhelming event is to just roll into the next one and hope for the best.

DC Universe Lazarus Planet: Alpha #1 came out this week and kicked off the Lazarus Planet event which will steamroll through a number of titles. This issue had a coherent story with what felt like real stakes. There were good character moments which came out naturally from the story. Already I feel like this is going to make more sense and have a bigger impact than more recent events.

Writer Mark Waid knows what he is doing here. We have had a nice simmering build up in both World's Finest and Batman Vs. Robin. The Devil Nezha has been introduced as a major villain of some power. And somehow Nezha isn't even the biggest bad in the book. Nezha's rival, King Fire Bull, is the true villain here. Nezha might even be the friend who is the enemy of the enemy. That is a nice wrinkle.

But even more than the premise of demons entering the world, we have the straw stirring the drink. The Lazarus storm is effecting our heroes' powers meaning they need to be on their feet and ready. They need to cope and reel. This might lead to some deus ex machina moments (powers fading or returning just in time) but it makes things a little shaky right off the bat.

Perhaps best of all, Waid returns to a nice comic trope, the big hero team being split into missions to save the day. Gardner Fox is smiling somewhere. But even better than that, Waid only includes Batman as a true headliner. But he is injured and therefore sort of lags. We haven't seen that recently. The other heroes in the spotlight are more sidekicks or B-level. Power Girl and Supergirl are veteran leaders here. Cyborg, Blue Devil, Zatanna, Monkey King, et al are the players on the role. That gives these characters, all great, some much needed love. In particular, Waid just gets Supergirl, intelligent, fierce, determined. And he contrasts her with Power Girl who is more brash and physical. I love that the headliners here are these characters. I love them all.

Riccardo Federici is on art and brings that lush, detailed, penciled look to the pages. This really is a gorgeous book. The action pieces are big and bold and powerful. The emotional scenes are subdued and have an impact. And the ka-pow moments are eye-opening. Heck, he even makes Supergirl's new costume look good!

All in all, this was just the sort of book needed to whet my appetite for this event. To put it succinctly, I added 'Lazarus Planet stuff' to my LCS pull list.

On to the book.

Batman Vs Robin ended with Batman being injured by Nehza and the Lazarus volcano, powered by all the magical items Nehza drained. Of course, Nehza himself is on the run from King Fire Bull. It's up to ... Robin?? Damian thinks he can make everything better.

Of course, the Lazarus energy is making magical storms pummel the planet, making tech unreliable and super-powers unpredictable.

Thankfully, it's Supergirl who's home minding the store at the Hall of Justice and asks for everyone available to ready themselves. This is why I love Mark Waid. He could have picked lots of people to be there as the coordinator. He chose Kara.

Damian has to crash land his plane (carrying the injured Batman, Talia, and Black Alice) at the Hall leading to a nice moment where Supergirl and Power Girl have to team up to stop the crash from being worse.

Then Damian takes charge of the ragtag group he has in front of him. Zatanna, Blue Beetle, Supergirl, Blue Devil, Power Girl, Monkey Prince, Mary Marvel, and Cyborg. Not exactly 'The Big Eight'. But that is what makes this book feel so fresh. We have seen the Justice League in these moments before. Why not some of these legacy players?

And Monkey Prince being there makes sense given the overall threat.

Love this group photo. Supergirl looks iconic!

The plan is to split up. 

Damian, Black Alice, and Monkey Prince stay at the Hall. Damian belittles Prince's powers saying the Monkey Prince would be worthless out there. But trust me, this is a calculated move.

Meanwhile, Blue Beetle, Power Girl, Cyborg, Shazam (forever Mary Marvel to me), and Zatanna head to the Tower of Fate to reclaim the magical items Nezha stashed there. The hope will be Black Alice and repower them. 

King Fire Bull has sent one of his lieutenants, Silver Horn King, to also gather the items. This guy seems to be able to manifest spectral wolves. 

I do love the snarky dialog. Even a demon doesn't like to be called a lackey.

Meanwhile, Blue Devil, Supergirl, Talia, and Batman head to find Nehza. They hope to turn this enemy into an ally against King Fire Bull. 

But they run into Golden Horn King, a fear inducing ally of King Bull Fire.

The storms are effecting Kara. She says her powers seem to wax and wane. She tells us sunlight will weaken her now. All of this seems like a set-up for drama. I hate when a plot hinges on such things.

But for now she has power and can do things like chuck a boulder at opponents to keep them off kilter.
I am telling you, Supergirl shines in this book. She is a take charge. Even on this team, with Batman, she seems to be the leader.

At the Hall, there is a nice moment where Monkey Prince helps a moping Black Alice. She isn't just a tool in the story. She is more than that. And he knows what it like to feel like a pawn.

That is the mark of a true hero. And Federici's panel angles and close-ups sell it nicely.

I said before that Power Girl is brasher than Supergirl.

I loved this moment. The team can't break into Fate's tower and are having a hard time with Silver Horn King's wolves. Karen decides if you can't beat him, maybe you can just remove him from the board.

She grabs him and flies off. 'Leading with her face.' I like that. That sounds right coming from her.

Meanwhile, Golden Horn's fear momentarily makes Supergirl quake ... until she is reminded by Blue Devil that she is Kara Zor-El and she doesn't frighten easily.

Okay, the last panel makes her look like a witch more than Supergirl. But great story beat. Her wiping her bloodied mouth and laying the smack down! She buries Golden Horn King in an avalanche allowing the heroes to slip away.

The heroes find Nezha already in battle against Swamp Thing and Poison Ivy. Again, Waid is giving these secondary characters (I know, these are A-listers but not Trinity or JLA) their time in the sun. The Green heroes are trying to see how the Lazarus resin is impacting their realm.

But Supergirl is there to end the fight and convince Nezha to join the heroes. Before her powers fade, she cooks him with heat vision. 

It is clear. In this book, Supergirl is the powerhouse. She is the 'Superman' of this team. 

You want more Waid goodness?

The other team finally breaks into the Tower of Fate. And there they find the items of power ... and their owners.

Check out this bench of magical characters ready to join the fray! Is that Jack O'Lantern?? Lots of great characters here. Dr. Occult! Klarion! Enchantress!

Nice ka-pow moment! We got ourselves an army!

But things aren't done.

I love how Supergirl reinforces that the super-family doesn't kill. They'll hit hard. But they don't cross the line.

Of course, leaving Nezha alive means he can possess Batman. 

Hmmm ... interesting.

And then a cliffhanger. We at least see the big bad. And he's going after Robin. 


That was a pedal to the metal fun ride. It felt like a classic, different mission teams heading off in different directions to save the day, but it had modern day sensibility and action. The fate of the world is at stake. Our heroes are effected by the storms. We have Eastern demons trying to control the world. Batman is possessed. And Supergirl was fantastic!

And I would be remiss if I didn't add that Brad Anderson's beautiful colors don't make the whole thing sparkle.

I'm on board. This was a hoot!

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

Just 1 tech comment; I wish the pics weren't so dark.

I had to download them and use PhotoShop/Image/Adjust/Levels to be able to see them.

Bostondreams said...

My gosh, the panels with Kara and the classic sonic boom clap are just fantastic. And I want so much more of the two Karas (I know PG goes by Karen but still, she's always still Kara Zor-L :) ) together!!!

Martin Gray said...

Tiptop review, this evenr has started very well, and looks like it could be the Supergirl spotlight of the year. Federici really does draw a great Kara, that one witchy panel apart! I’m very much looking forward to seeing where this series leads her… I wouldn’t be surprised if it weren’t moving towards some surprise that will be followed up in Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s Action Comics - Supergirl at the front, Power Girl at the back, a super-mullet for the 21st century!

Anonymous said...

This was better than I could have hoped with some reasonable "Karatharsis" intermixed, I think the reason I like it is that the overall set up seems relatively simple and unadorned, "a magic volcano" okay thats a comic book peril I can understand.
Agree though, the panels seem dark and somewhat drained of color, the creatives should be admonished, sometimes it is hard to distinguish characters when their normally vivid chromatic schemes are dulled down.


Anonymous said...

Is that the same Amalak from Superman #195? Or no?

Anonymous said...

Oops, sorry, wrong post...