“Death in a Small Town”
Writer and Artist: Bill Willingham
Publisher: DC Comics
Plot: A small town in the mountains finds itself trapped under an impenetrable shield of fresh blood. Superman and the JLA are unable to crack this magic shell, so they enlist the aid of the Shadowpact, and the advice of the Phantom Stranger.
Comments: I only bought one issue of Day of Vengeance, the Countdown series that Willingham penned. The evil Spectre can’t really hold my attention. With that mess semi-resolved, I’m here for one reason alone now: Willingham is drawing and inking this series as well as writing it. Willingham’s illustration is
unique in comics, and I love his soft-edged takes on familiar figures. His humanistic approach is ideally suited to the horrific and the supernatural, and that’s what he’s providing in this tale.
The Shadowpact are the Enchantress, the sword-wielding Nightmaster, Blue Devil, Ragman, Nightshade and Detective Chimp. The villains include Sister Shadow, Strega, the demonic Jack of Fire, Karnevil, Bagman and the White Rabbit. Willingham in this issue contrasts the horrors the demonic crew inflict on the townspeople trapped in the blood shell with the more wholesome and humorous evil-battling hijinks of the Shadowpact. This makes for a very strong beginning, as we can see how very different and yet evenly-matched are the two teams.
Willingham’s subtle redesigns of the characters are appealing. He sexes up the Enchantress as a sword and sorcery style witch, while getting Nightshade out of her skintight (and generic) body suit and into a more retro, almost Girl Scout-ish uniform. His Blue Devil is a big blue bouncer, his Superman and Green Lantern are touchingly human, and his Phantom Stranger is note-perfect.
There are some intriguing plot machinations dealing with the One Year Later theme, as the heroes seem to have entered the blood shield and never come back out. Leaving it standing for a year where a town used to be seems unlikely for a world with a JLA, but I’m very intrigued as to where this is going. I may lose interest if Willingham steps back from the art, but so far big thumbs
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