(w) Tom Taylor (a) Trevor Hairsine (i) Gigi Baldassini, Stefano Gaudino (c) Rain Beredo
Throughout the last year or so, DC has experienced quite the identity crisis. Between the clunky exit from Diamond Distributors, the multiple rounds of layoffs, the cancellation of critically acclaimed books (RIP Hellblazer), and several other items, it’s difficult to understand what the hell is going on there. Then there’s their actual books, which run the gamut from a couple great, a lot of “meh,” and a healthy dose of “kill it with fire.” Oh, and you can’t forget the mess that is the publisher’s imprints, with pop-ups, whatever Black Label is supposed to be, and the decision to kill off Vertigo. With all of this going on, it’s incredible that a glimmer of DC’s historical greatness could even exist, let alone in the pages of dystopian alternate universe. Yet writer Tom Taylor, artist Trevor Hairsine, and their collaborators have given readers a story that quite literally tears down the DC Universe, and rebuilds it with hope, optimism, and legacy.
In many respects, DCeased follows the story structure of the polarizing story Final Crisis. Darkseid effectively wins, with anti-life taking out Earth along with DC’s most prominent heroes. But being a tale outside of DC continuity has enabled Tom Taylor to make bolder moves than Grant Morrison ever could. When the original DCeased miniseries ended in 2019, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and many others were dead. Those survivors either had left the planet entirely or managed to find and fortify shelter. DCeased: Dead Planet sees a new generation of heroes fighting to take back the planet, and it’s all due to hope for a cure. To that end, it is easy to see how the Coronavirus Pandemic has informed this follow-up series.
DCeased: Dead Planet #7 is a story of personal sacrifice for the greater good, and the rewards of that sacrifice. DC’s next generation trinity, consisting of Damian Wayne (Batman), Jon Kent (Superman), and Cassie Sandsmark (Wonder Woman) fill the shoes of their predecessors admirably. Meanwhile, on the mystical side John Constantine has conned his way into possession of the most powerful magical artifacts in the DC Universe. These four characters, along with some supporting players, provide the foundation on which Dead Planet is built. With this mix of old school and new school, Taylor proves adept at providing a natural growth and maturation of DC’s characters than the publisher has been able to do since 2011’s Flashpoint.
Taylor’s script peppers the issue with narration boxes that gives this issue a true sense of finality, regardless of it being a happy or melancholy ending. Given his past works, including the previous DCeased titles, this could have gone either way. And yet he leans into something hopeful, as that is what these characters are at their core. This thematic evolution from hopeless to hopeful takes precedence above all else. While this does result in some stumbling through the issue to a rushed conclusion – the narration boxes acting as a storytelling short – it manages to rise above such criticisms due to the strength of its messaging.
The storytelling tonal shift is best represented through the core characters. Damian Wayne has evolved from punk kid to a true leader while embracing the costumed family he’s kept at arms length for much of his publication history. Jon Kent is not some kid playing dress up in his dad’s clothing. He is truly Superman, without coming across as a pale imitation of Clark Kent. But most emblematic of this upbeat turn is John Constantine himself. As mentioned, he has conned himself into the DCU’s most powerful artifacts, such as the Helmet of Fate. In the past, John Constantine would have found some poor, unsuspecting sap to throw to the wolves while he saved his own bacon. But inspired by the example of DC’s next generation of heroes, he puts himself out on the front line to save the world. This doesn’t seem like a betrayal of classic Constantine, but properly earned through the story.
The story doesn’t work without the great art by Trevor Hairsine. The 2000AD and Valiant veteran has excelled in creating a bleak, zombie-like apocalypse from Taylor’s scripts, and does just as great a job in providing the needed emotional shift. This of course is greatly aided by the colors of Rain Beredo, who fills the the pages with cold, emotionless hues to start before adopting a warmer color palette. It acts as an artistic cherry on top of this storytelling sundae.
DCeased: Dead Planet #7 wraps up what started as an out-of-continuity, (way-too-late) zombie cash grab and turns it into what is arguably the truest version of the DC Universe. Legacies. Overcoming impossible odds. The publisher sharted all the goodwill it had built up during DC Rebirth, but managed to fall ass-backwards into arguably it’s truest version of itself, all by simply letting great creators create. Whatever comes next for Taylor and Hairsine, you can bet there will be a strong interest from DCeased readers.