Writer: J.M. Dematteis
Artists: Darryl Banks (p), Paul Neary (i)
Publisher: DC Comics
An alien force has come to destroy the human race from within. Using psychics and spiritualists, the Trans tap into the collective consciousness of mankind to bring archetypal nightmares and demigods to life. Hal Jordan, the Spectre, has discovered that he can defeat these manifestations by linking his spirit with each of his former comrades in the Justice League, but to cleanse the psychic infection at its core will require a much greater sacrifice.
Soul War has some incredible strengths and staggering weaknesses, both showing most prominently in the script. Dematteis writes with a much stronger narrative force than that seen in his work on the Spectre's own title, playing down the esoteric philosophy in favor of character interaction to move the story along. Hal Jordan comes off as human and, more so, likable, something he hasn't been since in quite awhile. JMD has a solid grasp on most of the personalities in the League, although it is clear that he is more comfortable with Batman than some others. The Spectre's frame narration also gives an interesting perspective to the tale, while hinting at things to come.
Unfortunately, there a few sour points. The ultra-picky reader will notice a continuity problem with hook-handed Aquaman being on a team with Green Lantern in his post-Ion costume, but this isn't the throbbing, pulsating head wound of the story. No. That would come toward the end of the issue, when an important decision must be made, with the burden of responsibility falling to Green Lantern because he alone among the League is unbiased in regards to Hal Jordan. Really. Again, Kyle Rayner, who became Green Lantern after Hal destroyed the others, who strove with Hal at the end of time, who brought the man home to save the earth during Final Night, has no feelings whatsoever toward Hal Jordan. Their relationship has gone through enough stages that Kyle may have a more intimate understanding of his predecessor, but that is hardly the same thing as holding an objective distance. Unfortunately, it appears that the fruit of this bleeding mess will carry no small significance when the miniseries wraps up next month.
Artistically, the book looks great. Darryl Banks draws his heroes as Superheroes, and, while there are more daring artists, his characters have a refreshingly classic look reminiscent of the Silver Age. His one-on-one Spectre amalgamations look great, with BatSpectre and SuperSpectre particularly impressive. The complete JLASpectre is something of a mess, but with all those primary colors it would be difficult to come off in style.
Originally conceived as an original hardcover, it's not difficult to see why DC backed off that approach. There's not enough story here to justify a $25 price tag. In two easy-to-swallow $5.95 installments, however, things look rosier.
Hal fans frustrated by JMD's handling of the character in the soon-to-be defunct Spectre ongoing actually might want to give this a try. The Spectre comes to Justice League headquarters as an estranged friend, and really looks as though he belongs. The "God-in-you" angle is present, true, but is not used as a blunt instrument as it had been for most of the ongoing, and actually makes for a compelling story in its proper context.
Overall, Soul War was a pleasant surprise, not flawless by any means but quite enjoyable. There remains the possibility, however, that issue two could tank the whole enterprise, but the first half of the story gives strong reasons for optimism.
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