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DC Universe #0
posted May 19, 2008


Creators: Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, George Perez, Doug Mahnke, Tony S. Daniel, Ivan Reis, Aaron Lopresti
Publishing Information: DC Comics, comic book, 32 pages, 2008, 50 cents
Ordering Numbers:

I take it this is some sort of low-cost stick with which venerable DC Comics hopes to stir the comics readership into a frenzy regarding its latest round of universe-shattering and status-quo changing crossovers. A series of short vignettes separated by portentous ad pages, DC Universe features various creators really piling on the dramatic high points and nebulous hints via a narrative strategy that recalls a movie trailer more than it does a comic book. Of course, many comic books resemble movie trailers anymore, just not too many that I read. I can now use a quick key I created about five years ago that will spit out the following without my having to type it out for the 375th time: if you're heavily invested in the DC superhero universe, its plot progressions and narrative outcomes, this comic may be a preview of what you'll consider a pretty neat thing and thus worth your 50 cents; if you don't give a crap about the DC superhero universe, I can't imagine this giving you any reason to start. And by itself? DC Universe #0 is a terrible, nearly incomprehensible comic and only slightly better on both counts when viewed as an advertisement.

Cosmic crossovers were fun when I was a kid because they took my favorite superheroes out of their everyday circumstances and placed them into a context where everything had great significance, just like the life I imagined for myself. One of my favorite, cliched plot points of 1970s and early 1980s superhero comics is the pause before the storm, where the writers would underline the gravity of the situation by having the characters reflect and brood. There's a crudely effective scene or two of this type early on in one of the Avengers vs. Thanos crossover battles, there's a ton of them in Master of Kung-Fu and perhaps the most famous example from that period can be found in the Uncanny X-Men issue before they fight for the life of Jean Grey on the moon. You know, fighting a superior opponent for your friend's life on the freakin' moon is a pretty romantic concept. Of course you'd want to lay some groundwork for that aspect of it. No wonder I liked those comics.

Anyway, there's no time for that kind of emotional build-up now. Worse, there are no longer any normal routines from which characters may be temporarily plucked. Everything is Armageddon in today's superhero comics. The stakes are always turned up to 11. If something earth-shattering doesn't happen this month, next month we'll learn that everything we know is a lie. Because they barely replenish their audiences and must therefore find new wrinkles for older, jaded fans, superhero comics can no longer rely on standard formulas that create the status quo against which the best of these kind of event comics are supposed to stand in bold relief. Part of that is co-writer Grant Morrison's own damn fault, for a successful 1990s JLA run that gave the finger to DC's incremental, soap opera-style plot progressions and embraced a series of escalating apocalypses that mocked the turgid concerns of the company's navel-gazing continuity and endless, precious, minor developments. Unfortunately, nothing of the light hand through which Morrison created those comics seems to peek out from the short, sweaty scenarios of DC Universe #0. I miss the hint of insouciance that worked so well to cut into the nauseating, worshipful tone of DC's infinite love letters to itself. One can only hope that the Final Battle to Come is somehow, in some way, fought against the unearned self-importance of these masturbatory exercises.