This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on June 21, 2017.
Occasionally DC Comics puts out over-sized comics to hype their upcoming sales and changes to the universe. They’re giant advertisements stuffed with characters and some of the more recognizable talent in the brand’s stable. You get comics like Countdown to Infinite Crisis and DC Universe Rebirth. They’re not coherent narratives, but they’re passable entertainment because of the price tag: $2.99 or less. It’s difficult to complain about 80 pages of comics with decent art of favorite superheroes for less than a buck, though god only knows I’ll try.
It’s a completely different deal when you sell that same level of dreck with less than half as many pages at $4.99.
Dark Days: The Forge is this sort of un-story. It is meant to show fans things they recognize in the hopes it will encourage them to buy some more comics down the road that actually reveal something resembling a narrative. This comic doesn’t possess anything like plot points or a sense of causality though. It jumps up and down shouting “Look at this! Now look at this!” Did you know that Batman knows everyone? Did you remember that Court of Owls thing? Did you want to see Green Lantern? If Dark Days: The Forge is a wall, then the characters and artifacts of the DC Universe are shit being flung to see what might stick.
That style of writing makes itself difficult to critique because of the very fact that it is not a story. You can’t discuss motives or characters or even dialogue within a broader context because there is none. Yes, it is ridiculous that Duke Thomas goes from fiercely defending the Batcave to traipsing about with Green Lantern in two panels, but that’s what happens when show n’ tell is the name of the game. If you aren’t already familiar with the people, places, and things that fill panels in this comic, then you won’t learn anything. If you are, you won’t learn anything new.
The real tragedy of this comic is that it’s deeply boring to look at. Even the most inane comics can be redeemed to a large extent by a killer art team, and Dark Days: The Forge goes all out. It rotates between pencil and inks teams of John Romita Jr. and Danny Miki, Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson, and Jim Lee and Scott Williams. It’s DC Comics bringing out the biggest names they have on both halves of the equation for some of the dullest pages of 2017 thus far.
This is a comic composed largely of people explaining things to one another, which is a concept that doesn’t lend itself well to comics, much less superhero comics. In spite of interesting venues and arrays of canonical items decorating walls, artists are still primarily tasked with having Batman talk to Aquaman, or Batman talk to Mister Terrific, or Batman talk to Superman. Lots of panels with people talking. The occasional roundhouse kick or wide panel of the Fortress of Solitude isn’t enough to inject any awe to the explain-o-rama that is this comic.
Kubert’s work stands out as feeling the most rushed of the three. He receives arguably the best panel of the comic, a splash of a batsuit emerging from lava to save the day. Yet line weights are so monotonous and the pose so still that it reads more like a convention sketch than professional work for a prestige title.
Romita on the other hand continues to excel with Miki on inks. His Fortress of Solitude and the appearance of Mister Miracle offer the closest thing Dark Days: The Forge has to genuinely affecting moments. There is a scale and attitude in these things that make them feel larger than life, whereas so much of the comic is either poorly done pastiche or all too familiar in a less obvious way. Not even this pairing, DC Comics’ real pencil and inks dream team, can help the issue rise above itself though. A few better than bland moments cannot elevate a collage of moments that all cry out for unearned attention.
Those are the central sins of this advertisement passed off as the must-read superhero comic of June. It’s an intangible spatter of selling points for other comics lacking even the intent to appear interesting. You don’t need to go any further than that and you don’t need to read any further than here.
That having been said, if you really want, there are some real goddamn nits worth picking in this book. That’s especially the case if you spent five bucks like a certain idiot writing this review, so here are five more real problems with this comic:
1. Batman needs to go to prison. A fun reveal in this comic is that Batman has kept Plastic Man in solitary confinement for years because he is “too unstable” while extracting molecules from his body. That’s the kind of shit that would make most dictators fucking blanch. I get that morals are skewed in a superhero universe, but this is nothing short of a monstrous reveal played off as a joke. It’s the kind of thing that one person thought of, but nobody bothered to think about. Habeas fucking corpus.
2. There’s a page packed with a gallery of DC Comics memorabilia made from metal. You have Dr. Fate’s helmet, Aquaman’s trident, Wonder Woman’s bracelets. Because the upcoming series is titled Metal, and this is The Forge, and they’re all made out of metal. Do you get it? Do you get it?
3. That hallway of iconic objects just speaks to a broader issue too. The entire comic attempts to weave disparate elements of DC Comics into a secret history, tying The Outsiders, Nth Metal, the Court of Owls, The Joker, and more into a web of conspiracy. Everything in the DC Universe is apparently connected, and that actually makes the entire concept a lot more boring. The obsession with origins and everything being part of a single giant story needs to end.
4. Jim Lee can’t draw faces from below.
5. The enormous boner that everyone in this comic has for Batman is nothing short of obnoxious. Aquaman points out that Batman technically invaded his kingdom in secret for years, putting Atlantis at risk, without even bothering to tell his friend… and then he shrugs it off. Superman, Mister Terrific, and others all follow his every word and then repeat how they’d be foolish not to like a pack of cub scouts whose pack leader is the guy who drinks his own piss on Discovery Channel. Even when Mister Miracle realizes Batman is doing some insane shit, he just points out it’s crazy, but then flies off and does nothing. DC Comics is Batman’s world and everyone else is just lucky to show up, I guess.
That’s it. That’s all there is worth saying about Dark Days: The Forge #1, and then some. Boring is a boring word, but it’s the one this comic deserves. It’s an advertisement, and not of the mildly clever Super Bowl variety either. No, this comic just reminds you of things you know about DC Comics and hopes that vague sense of nostalgia or being in on the joke will compel you to keep dropping cash.
It’s too damn bad I appear to be the sort of sucker they were gambling on with this book.