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Examining World War III

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World War III Book One: A Call To Arms
Words: Keith Champagne
Pencils: Pat Olliffe
Inks: Drew Geraci
Colors: Hi-Fi
Story Title: A Call To Arms
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.50
Release Date: April 18, 2007
World War III Book Two: The Valiant
Words: Keith Champagne
Pencils: Andy Smith
Inks: Ray Snyder
Colors: Hi-Fi
Story Title: The Valiant
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.50
Release Date: April 18, 2007
World War III Book Three: Hell Is For Heroes
Words: John Ostrander
Pencils: Tom Derenick
Inks: Norm Rapmund
Colors: Hi-Fi
Story Title: Hell Is For Heroes
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.50
Release Date: April 18, 2007
World War III Book Four: United We Stand
Words: John Ostrander
Pencils: Jack Jadson
Inks: Rodney Ramos
Colors: Hi-Fi
Story Title: United We Stand
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.50
Release Date: April 18, 2007

The events of 52 Week 50 were fleshed out last week in four one-shot specials examining Black Adam’s war on the DC Universe and answering all those lingering questions about how characters came to be in the situations they were One Year Later. Writers Keith Champagne and John Ostrander guide the readership through the four issues of World War III subtitled “A Call To Arms”, “The Valiant”, “Hell Is For Heroes” and “United We Stand”.

Before I begin to look at the contents of these issues as a whole it’s time for your customary Spoiler Warning – the following discusses significant major plot SPOILERS so please read no further if you have not yet read the issues.

The very basic premise of this long-anticipated storyline is that Black Adam’s quest for vengeance on those he blames for taking the Black Marvel family from him has now escalated into a full-fledged war against the entire planet. With Adam having killed millions, the world’s super-heroes must first conquer global political concerns before attempting to put a stop to the greatest mass-murderer in the history of the DCU. Oh and in the panels between the events of the war, just about every unresolved One Year Later subplot is speedily cleared up to differing degrees of success…

The main thrust of the specials is obviously Black Adam’s descent into out and out irredeemable villainy. From the very beginnings of this storyline I, like Atom-Smasher throughout, have been desperately clinging to the hope that there was some “out” for the character that would explain he really wasn’t responsible for his unimaginably horrific actions.

Sadly that doesn’t appear to be the case. I say that because Black Adam was previously a fascinating character with an intriguing and complex morality. Now he’s just an out and out psychopath and I can’t help thinking that this degeneration robs the readership of a multi-layered anti-hero.

The other big question surrounding Black Adam here is just how likely is it that the assembled might of DC’s heroes couldn’t have easily found a way to take him out long before his rampage reached the levels that it did? There’s no real reason for this beyond the plot dictating that they didn’t and, as such, it’s just not a strong enough foundation to build a story on.

World War III isn’t just about the former ruler of Kahndaq’s fall into madness though. It also acts as a bridge into the One Year Later status for the DC Universe, finally explaining how so many familiar faces were so radically changed after Infinite Crisis.

As Dan Didio candidly admitted in this week’s DC Nation column, many of these subplots should have been tied up in the pages of 52 but, as that book’s focus changed, it’s been necessary to shunt their resolution into a different title. I see where Didio is coming from when he talks about the core 52 characters taking on a life of their own and pushing out some of what was planned for the series. However, as a reader, it’s frustrating. I was left feeling somewhat short-changed by the hastily tied-up nature of some of these long-awaited answers.

In the “Oh was that it?”-department are the explanations for how the heroes who returned from space recovered from the teleportation accidents that left Firestorm and Cyborg merged and Hawkgirl a giant. We get a couple of quick lines of throwaway dialogue to resolve those. Similarly there are brief reminders that Harvey Dent was Batman’s replacement in the missing year; a storyline never adequately covered. How Supergirl got to the Legion of Super-Heroes’ 30th Century is anticlimactic and the revelation of why Aquaman underwent his major transformation is also a major disappointment.

Slightly better are the reasons for Geo-Force being back in his brown suit, although it also raises some unanswered questions, and why Jason Todd took on the Nightwing identity. This latter is played well, emphasising the character’s twisted psyche and deluded rationale for his behavior. Only J’Onn J’Onzz’s story gets the depth and time it deserves though, which is hardly surprising as the Martian Manhunter is the central character for reader identification throughout these World War III specials.

Given that I’m not a major fan of what’s been done to the character that is the catalyst for this entire event and my disappointment that so many mysteries are concluded here almost as an afterthought what I’m going to say next may come as a surprise. I have to admit, that despite everything, World War III is still an entertaining read. This comes down to writers Keith Champagne and John Ostrander taking all the disparate story elements they were required to cover and weaving a fast-paced and exciting tale from them.

The third and fourth parts, in particular, are full of deft moments of characterisation from Ostrander. As the writer of the last Martian Manhunter ongoing series a few years back, Ostrander has a special affinity for J’Onn J’Onzz and the story of the Martian’s journey into the One Year Later DCU is moving and thoughtful. The highlight though is seeing John Ostander writing Amanda Waller again, a setup, presumably, for the much anticipated Suicide Squad revival.

The group of artists for World War III do a great job of underlining the breakneck speed of events. This is big, brassy super-heroics on a global scale and this is reflected visually. A special mention to penciller Jack Jadson, a name I’m unfamiliar with, whose work on Book Four captures the frenzied and desperate end to the war to great effect.

World War III wraps up many of the 52 storylines leaving us with just the major mystery surrounding the series’ title. Some will no doubt be disappointed that it’s taken these four one-shots to speedily explain so much that probably should have been explored in the main narrative and see this as a failing in terms of pacing and story structure. I have sympathy with the view that 52 lost its way towards the end, necessitating extra material like this. However, as we approach the finale, whether we see the last year of the DCU as a missed opportunity, a qualified success or a glorious failure let’s at least be thankful for a year’s worth of stories that took chances and tried to push the odd boundary or two.

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