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Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League – Superman #1 (Review)

Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League – Superman #1

Writer: Tom King
Artist: Chris Burnham

DC Comics, 12 July 2022

Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League – Superman is an arrow in the overstuffed quiver of tie-in comics for American superhero comic book publisher DC Comics’ ongoing summer event, dubbed “Dark Crisis“. The Dark Crisis arc revolves around the premise that the publisher’s premiere superteam, the Justice League, has been wiped out of existence. Like most of DC Comics’ “Crisis” events for the past few decades, Dark Crisis offers writers a chance of exploring alternate timelines in DC Comics’ massive shared continuity.

In Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League – Superman, author Tom King entertains an alternate timeline that revolves around the middle-aged Superman and his son, Jon Kent. The big difference is that in this timeline, Superman performs his duties without the Justice League, aided only by Jon – who is interestingly enough wearing a costume similar to Batman’s sidekick, Robin (except using the Kryptonian S-shield for his emblem instead of Robin’s R logo).

Here is DC Comics’ ever-exuberant promotional copy:

When Pariah and his forces of the Great Darkness laid waste to the most powerful superheroes of all time, all hope was lost…with the Man of Steel suffering the same fate as that of his comrades, join us for a look at a world of dreams he would never have thought possible while alive. Where there’s life there’s hope, and with that hope comes a deeper unraveling of the tapestry of DCU’s biggest event of 2022!

While the comic features all the action you would expect from a comic that involves two near-omnipotent superhumans, the story’s main focus is in exploring the dynamics of the Kent family, as well as the challenges in raising a teenage boy who is faster than a speeding bullet and stronger than a locomotive. Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League – Superman also features an additional story that revolves around Aquaman, which isn’t directly connected to the Kents’ story but more of a way to further flesh out the main Dark Crisis storyline.

Storywise, we don’t have any major criticisms for Tom King’s writing. The comic finds a balance between the slightly whimsical – almost sitcom-like – story of a family unit dealing with a superpowered family, and the darker subject matter of an adolescent boy having godlike powers without the patience and experience needed to focus that power in directions where it will be most effective.

Artist Chris Burnham’s choice to trade in sleek modern art style for something that evokes vintage art styles (without looking) dated is wonderful.

Our main complaint is that the story is completely obtuse for the casual reader who hasn’t kept up with the Dark Crisis event, as well as the other crossover events that help facilitate DC Comics’ current “crisis.” Which is a shame because the comic itself is completely unnecessary for the full enjoyment of the main Dark Crisis storyline. We miss the days when explorations into alternate timelines and breaking out of the established canon is relegated to Elseworlds titles, with the stories themselves written as standalone yarns that can be enjoyed even by someone unfamiliar with DC’s extremely complex continuity.

Other reviewers have been less kind.

a. Christian Hoffer at critically notes:

Tom King corrects one of the great errors of DC’s recent past, but somehow comes up with something terribly worse… Fundamentally, I’m tired of King taking DC characters and always examining them through the lens of war. Yes, King has a background in the military and yes, King has actually experienced the horrors of wars but that personal history doesn’t need to be reflected in nearly every character he writes. Not only does King almost always frame war in an oddly positive light (the wars he writes are awful, but the people who fight in them are noble and resolute and morally righteous), but he also bends characters to shape his perspective.

b. Alexander Jones at Multiversity Comics writes,

“In the past author Tom King has had a difficult time balancing out the light themes of Superman with his violent tendencies in the writing. While I was hoping to see a shift in these themes for “Dark Crisis: Worlds Without A Justice League – Superman” #1, the series kicks the story off on the wrong note. Lois Lane’s crass rhetoric towards Jon early in the issue shows a lack of understanding in the characterization of Lane on King’s part…. this dark scene is violent and undermines previous characterization that King has established. In other words, King falls into similar traps he has taken before in the approach to Superman.”

c. I J Wheaton at observes:

Although the subject matter of a more homely, fatherly conception of Superman sounds inherently whimsical, Dark Crisis: Worlds Without A Justice League – Superman #1 has a distinctly hard edge to it. King’s writing is biting and tense. He explores a complex family dynamic and the disturbing possibilities of growing up with extraterrestrial superpowers. The beauty in the resolution in the comic feels bitterly hard-won, a poignant commentary on raising a super teen. 

Most of the criticism in our view is valid if applied to the publisher, rather than the author. DC Comics point Mr King in a particular direction, and draw the string. Mr King merely hits the target he is aimed at.

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