Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - “World War III”

Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2007
By: Keith Dallas

World War III: Part One: A Call to Arms
Writer: Keith Champagne
Artists: Pat Oliffe & Drew Geraci

World War III: Part Two: The Valiant
Writer: Keith Champagne
Artists: Andy Smith & Ray Snyder

World War III: Part Three: Hell Is For Heroes
Writer: John Ostrander
Artists: Tom Derenick & Norm Rapmund

World War III: Part Four: United We Stand
Writer: John Ostrander
Artists: Jack Jadson and Rodney Ramos

Publisher: DC Comics

Average Rating:

Jim Beard:
Michael Aronson:
Chris Murman:
Kevin Powers:

Jim Beard

After an enjoyable Week Fifty in 52 wherein World War III played out as a lightning fast battle with an interesting coda, the four-part “World War III” mini-series is barely anything but disappointing. It is definitely not, in my opinion, worth ten dollars.

“World War III” ends up a mish-mash of characters and situations that rarely connect to the War itself and fail to bring anything resembling a coherent storyline. More a grab-bag of vignettes, the four-part series could, no should have been one over-sized Special. Splitting it up only increases the frustration level of reading it. The characters are not engaging, no matter how much you’ve wanted to find out what happened to Firestorm, or Supergirl, or whomever, and the drawn-out plots do a real disservice to fans’ interest. Many things presented in the series are unclear. A good example of this is that even though I witnessed something happening to Supergirl in one book, it wasn’t until the “story so far” text on the inside cover of the next book that I had a clue to exactly what that something was. Still not sure, really.

The only character to have anything resembling a grip on me was the Martian Manhunter, but as his story was also drawn out to ridiculous proportion (after a good, intriguing beginning in Book One), I started to realize how frail the premise of his “problem” really was. J’Onn is “old guard,” and his experience level should have allowed him to much more easily deal with his difficulties. Other characters whiz in and out of the books, and if you aren’t already familiar with them, even a little bit, you might even begin to hate them. Father Time is a good example here. He steps into frame, and if you haven’t read the Uncle Sam miniseries, you are left clueless…and with time wasted. I myself read the Uncle Sam miniseries (and loved it), and I’m not sure what was going on with him in “World War III.” Same with Nightwing. Same with… you get the picture.

I was very disappointed in Keith Champagne’s part in this event. He has recently proven himself to be a pretty good writer, as well as a good artist, but his dialogue here is often clunky and unwieldy. John Ostrander fares little better, and his text is cumbersome, and God help me, very “old school.” And I myself am “old school.” Just doesn’t work well at all here. It’s all so rushed-feeling. And speaking of rushed, the art is pretty weak, too. I was particularly looking forward to Andy Smith’s involvement in this project, after his damn fine turn in 52, but the inking killed his efforts for the most part. Jack Jadson devolved into cartoony faces in the most inopportune moments, Tom Derenick was serviceable (he probably came off best), and the least said about Pat Olliffe the better. Where the art really shone was on the Ethan Van Sciver covers, but alas, the books never live up to the promise of those great drawings.

And we have gore. Not gore that means anything or imparts a necessary punch (pardon the pun, Terra fans), but the kind of gore that DC (and Marvel) have been wallowing in of late. Week Fifty of 52 managed to get through the War with impactful violence but no unnecessary gore. “World War III” the series goes for the lowest common denominator and is the lesser for it.

In the end, I was left with a fairly bad taste in my mouth. A good event in 52 was a bit soiled by these mostly-inferior “supplements.” Despite DC’s admonitions that these four books would provide further information that was important to grasping the larger picture of World War III, it sits there looking like one big “oops, we forgot to wrap up some of these issues in 52”. One wonders what it could have been if they had tightened it up and given us one single book, with a single writer, a single art team, and a lot more care.

Michael Aronson

Champagne, Oliffe, Gehrlein, Tomasi, Siglain, Didio: one of you better be reading this – rather, all of you better be reading this, because you’ve got a country to apologize to. The irony of an event called “World War III” exemplifying such cultural obliviousness would have me in stitches if not for the sobering timing of our friend at Virginia Tech who’s surely damned American opinion of his country of origin for the next decade or so. With politicians already jumping on the anti-immigration bandwagon, now is as pertinent a time as ever for cultural tolerance, understanding and especially education. I may be as white as they come, but allow me to verbally smack upside the head the creative team of World War III: A Call To Arms on behalf of the entire population of South Korea.

Yes, I’m making a big deal out of a tiny panel at the bottom of page 8. Unless the DCU South Korea is supposed to be an underdeveloped third world nation, the creators seem perfectly happy to depict the rest of the world in ignorant bliss. Allow me to provide a brief education: The average Korean family doesn’t live in a stone shelter in the middle of the jungle with chickens that casually grace the living room near the tiny television placed on the floor for lack of furniture. They’re not poorly clothed, and their families don’t usually exceed two children. The typical family lives in a high-rise apartment building in an urban setting. Both adults and children are exceptionally dressed, and both western and eastern furniture decorate every room. As for technology, heard of Samsung? They released the world’s first blu-ray disc player. A television isn’t a rare commodity in Korea. Koreans have had TV reception on their cell phones for the last year, you neanderthals! And don’t even get me started on the boy’s line about Black Adam. These people have been living next to a military threat, now a nuclear one, for over half a century. I’m sure they couldn’t give two shits about Black Adam.

As for “World War III,” this had almost as little to do with the rest of the world as Marvel’s Civil War, and at least that wasn’t advertising otherwise. This was American heroes fighting an Egyptian man-god over European and Asian soil. Yes, the Great Ten were present, but had they not been, there would be no grounds to call this a World War of any kind. And if you think I’m offended by the South Korea panel, the next guy wants to know why the only glimpse of a massive armada of Rocket Reds have them flying “Somewhere Over Russia.” Pathetic.

Forget 52 #50. You see, that was a great story, and though it condensed a week-long war into 22 pages, it hit all the necessary beats, featured significant dialogue and character appearances, and fit perfectly into the quilt 52 has been weaving. The four World War III books do none of this and actually contradict some elements of 52. The fact that none of the 52 writers are associated with the World War III tie-ins should be your first clue to steer very clear. This was editorial’s attempt to charge readers an extra ten clams to catch up on all the OYL changes they failed to include in 52, as promised, and instead crammed into four quarter-bin-happy one-shot wastes.

Unless you care about what happened to Z-listers like Firestorm, Batgirl, Young Frankenstein, the Bronze Tiger and the too-often misused Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, you need not apply. And if you’re a fan of the latter two, prepare for colossal disappointment as Aquaman’s appearance contradicts a scene from 52 #39, and Martian Manhunter hides from battle for most of the war, only to end up contradicting the finale of 52 #50. Absolutely nothing of significance occurs in the rest of these pages, and even fans of these inconsequential characters might as well just carry on with their post-OYL appearances and pay World War III no mind.

Those two bullets in my score go to 52 #50, which would have ranked much higher had it not been bogged down by the event. If I hadn’t volunteered to review this event, I would have just as well pretended these four one-shots had never existed.

As an admonition to all creators, not just the culprits named above: do your goddamn homework. If you get the name of a galaxy wrong, the galaxy isn’t going to care. But if you depict one of the fastest economically successful nations in the world as a third world dung farm, you’re doing a lot more damage than simply making your comics look bad.

Chris Murman:

“You may only write about one aspect of these books for this slugfest. You are reviewing the entire event.”

Paraphrased, those were the words decreed from my editor about tackling this five book summation. It can be daunting to do so, when there’s so much to like (or dislike) about a very short mini-series. I can comment on the art (pretty nice, if not serviceable), the writing (admirable that Ostrander and Champagne seemed to work together nicely for this war), or the story (the “drive by of the DCU” that we were once promised 52 would be).

Can I honestly say at the end of the day the four World War III books made 52 #50 any better? I would have to say no, even if it’s with great regret.

I bought at least one of each of the OYL books of the DCU shortly after Infinite Crisis wrapped, mainly because the idea of a reset button being pressed isn’t THAT horrible of an idea when you look at it right. I saw it as a chance to get back on board with great writing not hampered by continuity issue that I haven’t read. I saw the premise there, and I stood by it. For readers such as me, this was a great chance to catch up on some of the reasoning for many of the events’ starting points when the OYL launch happened. It was kind of like a special features DVD in that it gave you behind the scenes moments. Again, they were enjoyable to see…but they didn’t service 52 in any way.

The “Martian Manhunter as moderator” for this drive by was interesting, as his alien heritage gave him a unique voice for this war against a one man army in Black Adam. As the thoughts and words of so many became integral to what the two writers were trying to accomplish, it only makes sense to use a telepath as narrator.

Jim Beard’s review of 52 #50 was spot on as far as how awesome the issue was. In a realm of a million possibilities for how to end this conflict between Earth and Black Adam, it ended well. (They actually ended a war with a clap of thunder, not a whine and whimper. How novel of an idea is that?) When you have a war last only a week and in 22 pages, you sort of need some extra pages to fill in some of the blanks. When you do so, why not make it about the actual war!?

Yes, I realize there were many scenes of battle in the four World War III issues, and some of them actually added to the story. What we should have seen was more about Captain Marvel and the JSA formulating their plot to end the battle. I wanted to see Cap actually intercede with the Egyptian gods and ask them his requests as depicted in 52 #50. Some would argue that it would seem repetitive to retell the events in a four issue mini-series instead of go off in another direction. I disagree, mainly because we had an ENTIRE war happen in one issue. I think it would have enriched the story happening in 52 to give some extra dirt.

You’re telling me the four rock-star writers wouldn’t have been willing to help Champagne and Ostrander out a bit with some of the finer points of the story to make this mini even better? Please.

The last gripe I have is with everyone associated with this event telling me I should read 52 #50 first before tackling the four addendum issues. I would disagree mainly because if I didn’t know how the war ended, I would have read the pages with a bit more anticipation. I’m smart enough to know Adam was going to go down, but I didn’t know how. Each page I turned (especially United We Stand) would have been with excitement for finding out how the good guys were going to take out the villain. To me, with the ending spoiled a bit, I thumbed through with much less mystery in my mind.

My words seem harsh for this event, but I want to make this clear: this isn’t the worst way World War III could have been handled. I really enjoyed the drive by, but that’s because I’m familiar with most of the stories that were touched on in these pages. If someone bought these books that got into the DCU with 52 and not OYL, they will be severely disappointed. Those readers probably read the four books with a “so?” mentality. I’m a DCU fan, and even though DC has been on the decline as of late, this year long ride we’ve been on has been great to read. To see it all come to a head this week made me feel good for having jumped on this ship from the beginning. I also am interested in the upcoming Black Adam mini that will spin out of this.

52 has been great, in other words. I just wish the four books that accompanied the parent title would have added to it.

Kevin Powers:

52 is an amazing concept that no one has ever really attempted. It’s had a lot of ups and downs, but it is truly the first of its kind, and from the way Countdown is shaping up, DC may be aiming to perfect the art of the weekly comic book. There have been plenty of moments over the course of the past year where I have really debated if 52 has been worth the extra $2.50 every week. While titles have been dropped over the past year that ultimately compensate for the extra money spent, for a long time 52 was not what I expected. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were gone. Even further than that after about week 12, Hal Jordan was shot down and kept as a P.O.W., Wally West was no longer the Flash and Bart had yet to take up the mantle, and Martian Manhunter disappeared. Arguably the five most powerful beings in the DC universe were suddenly out of the picture. For marketing purposes and for the purposes of continuing the innovative trend, DC jumped “One Year Later.” Initially, the concept of “One Year Later” was absolutely fantastic because it at least made me want 52 to see how we got to this certain point, but it fizzled out leaving many questions unanswered. But 52 was not what I expected, and I have wondered about why I kept buying 52 week after week, I’ve never cared about Booster Gold, the Question, Renee Montoya, Ralph Dibney or Black Adam. The only character I was really interested in was Batwoman, but she was hardly featured enough throughout the series. But the $122.50 that I (and many of you) have spent the past 50 weeks on 49 issues of 52 finally feels completely justified. World War III by itself is a pretty darn good story, but it also makes me want to spend a day and read 52 from the beginning.

As a writer, I always strive to make character development more compelling. Without great character development and a good character arc, a story can’t be great. But over the past year, the character development of Black Adam has been slowly boiling to this story. World War III isn’t the most mind-blowing mini-series I have ever read, but in terms of character and in terms of a conclusion to a certain character’s development, it is simply fantastic.

But there is a massive amount of character development in the pages of this mini-series itself, particularly the further development, or evolution if you will, of J’onn J’onzz. Told from the perspective of the Manhunter from Mars, World War III serves as a journey of self-discovery for Martian Manhunter. He tries to stop Black Adam on his own, only to be plagued with the thoughts of the millions of people that Black Adam has killed. With these memories rushing through his head and watching Earth’s heroes fail to stop Black Adam, Martian Manhunter debates human morals and human emotion, trying to understand human nature and where he fits in with humanity. For Martian Manhunter, World War III is a journey of accepting himself for who he is on the inside, a pretty positive and well-crafted message.

Personally, I don’t really think this series should have been titled World War III, maybe something more along the lines of “The Black Adam Wars.” The reason for this is because although the battles with Black Adam take place all over the world, it’s really just the heroes vs. him. Of course, World War III is much more marketable, but it’s really just the conclusion of absolutely brilliant character development that has launched Black Adam from B-list sometimes hero/sometimes villain to A-list super-villain.

There’s a lot to like about World War III, and there’s a lot not to like, but if you take it for what it is, a vehicle for character development, than you can’t help but appreciate the story. It also foreshadows events to come, as a time-jumping Booster Gold appears in every issue saying “it’s not the right time.” Those pesky Monitors also appear in the end to warn all readers “the worst is yet to come.”

The second issue is probably the most mediocre of the mini-series, but if you have followed 52 or want an explanation for “One Year Later,” or if you want to see a super-battle without Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Hal Jordan or the Flash, this is it.

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