Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artists: Darryl Banks (p), Paul Neary (i)
Publisher: DC Comics
The Psychic Friends Network flies off into space, while the Spectre murders the JLA! The disembodied heroes hang around a realm called the Imaginal, where anything is possible and nothing is true! As each Leaguer’s fondest fantasy comes to life, the Flash is the first to lose his essence to the light, his soul fading into dreams of the never-was. Disappearing one by one, it’s down to Green Lantern and Batman to restore their teammates, as even the Spectre succumbs to temptation. Just in time, too, as the evil force known as the Trans invades and becomes the Imaginal. Meanwhile, in the real world, one of the psychics takes a stab at the not-quite-cold bodies of the JLA. The final showdown leaves Hal Jordan, the Spectre, on the verge of non-existence, his fate dependent on a sacrifice required by an ally who may be reluctant to grant the favor.
As prophesied in the review of issue 1, the second half of Soul War sends the whole deal into a muddle. Abstract, surreal, or just plain nonsense stories work can be thought provoking, but as with the failed Spectre monthly, DeMatteis loses himself in mythology, philosophy, and spiritualism. There seem to be no rules to universes he creates, and thus no basis for judging the magnitude of a threat or a plausible road to victory. Sure, it sounds imposing to say that a villain “became” all of existence, but from a storytelling perspective this can lead to aimless meandering.
On a “Nobody Stays Dead but Bucky” note, it’s interesting that, with the publication of Soul War, every one of the World’s Greatest Heroes has “died” at least twice, here and in the Obsidian Age arc just this past summer (Superman and Wonder Woman have taken the nap three times apiece; Wally West, the Flash, is an old pro with four, maybe five, obits). A new plot device would be handy.
It is interesting that, after Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again, it’s become popular to regard Plastic Man as one of the most powerful beings on Earth. In the Justice League monthly, Joe Kelly had old Eel O’Brien survive for several thousand years in several thousand pieces, and now in Soul War DeMatteis shows Plas as a near master of the Imaginal realm. It’s a tough sell, but certainly adds some much-needed depth to the character.
Sadly, Darryl Banks’s artwork for this issue was keenly disappointing. Perhaps stemming from the fact that there is no concrete background setting, the double page spread across pages four and five looks absolutely ridiculous. Batman looks like a cat that’s been dropped, before it hits the ground, and Wonder Woman looks like she’s revving up for a porno. Meanwhile, Superman has a look on his face that makes you want to donate to the next telethon. On the plus side, there’s a foetus floating around, and that’s always a welcome sight. Later in the book, when the Trans infests the Imaginal, it’s a shame that no one could think of anything creepier than a bunch of eyeballs and skinless monsters. The rest of the issue is decent enough, though not spectacular.
And now, a dramatic reading from JLA/Spectre: Soul War #2:
“We dwell simultaneously, in all time and beyond all time. In an already-existing future, we have consumed and assimilated your world.”
And so on. The Spectre is a terrific device to examine spirituality and metaphysics in the DCU, but, as written, more often than not simply reeks of pretension and false intellectualism. If the above excerpt sounds at all intriguing (and it may, for those not familiar with the offal that surrounds it), don’t doubt that it won’t when repeated about a thousand times in various permutations without ever examining on a deeper level what exactly it’s trying to say. It’s easy to sound profound (oh, how easy it is!), but if DeMatteis indeed has a grasp of the concepts he wishes to explore, he fails in conveying this understanding to the reader. This implies that either he does not trust his audience with more than a shallow lecture in his divine philosophy or, worse, the prophet himself doesn’t know what he’s preaching.
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