Monday, November 13, 2017

Title Bout, Part III: Darkseid #1 vs Justice League #23.1 (Darkseid #1)

Justice League
Title Bout, Part III: Darkseid #1 vs Justice League #23.1 (Darkseid #1)

There is a clear winner here…

Here's the concept: take two books with the same or very similar titles, review both and then declare a winner. Books from any publisher (or even the same publisher but with subtle differences, like they are from different years or volume numbers, are eligible). Heck, the books themselves can be completely different in genre, characters and content. Doesn't matter.

This time around we are looking at Justice League's as of yet unnamed and unseen major bad guy: Darkseid. Originally created by the late, great Jack Kirby when he swung over to DC from Marvel in the 1970’s, Darkseid is what we term an archenemy.

Yes, I’m stealing liberally from “Unbreakable” here.

The archenemy is the type of villain who fights the hero with his mind and not with his hands. He usually knows the hero before he becomes evil...they might even be friends. Beyond that, the archenemy works by plotting and scheming, sending waves of “solider” villains to do his dirty work, but rarely (if ever) fighting the hero with his own hands.

How well does Darkseid fit this? Just you watch.

And while you are watching, dare yourself to ask the question: WHICH ONE OF THESE ISSUES WAS BETTER?

"Shadows in a Greater Darkness"
Writer – John Byrne
Layouts – Sal Buscema
Penciller – Keron Grant
Colorist - Noelle Giddings
Letterer – John Workman
Asst. Editor – L. A. Williams
Editor – Paul Kupperberg
February 1998

New Year’s Evil was a fifth week event published by DC comics in 1998. For those of you who don’t know what a fifth week event is (I didn’t until Chris and Reggie explained them on the Weird Science DC Podcast - 4:37 on the podcast.), I’ll take a shot at explaining them.

Comics are released monthly, according to the week of the month. An example of this would be if Action Comics came out on the second week of the month, that would be its scheduled week every month. On months that have five weeks the comic book companies have a problem though. They will have a week with NO regular comics scheduled to come out.

Rather than leave that money on fifth weeks in their customer’s pockets, the comic book publishers created special “fifth week” titles for those months. It allowed them to try new concepts while also giving their comics junkie customers their weekly fix.

In the New Year’s Evil event of 1989, DC gave us single issues focusing on a specific villain in the DC universe. The eight titles were spilt down the middle between tried-and-true DC bad guys like the Rogues, Scarecrow and Mr. Mxyzptlk OR new comers like Gog, Prometheus, Dark Nemesis and Body Doubles.

This issue is supposed to focus on Darkseid, but right away I can tell something is wrong with it.

Wait, narrator-guy! Darkseid is DEAD?!? When did this happen?

We get a page of narration that sets our scene. Apokolips and New Genesis are in ruins, the planets having been merged as one and then split back apart by some recent cosmic fiddle-faddling around by Darkseid. Highfather died in these events and both civilizations are trying to recover from all these momentous and unbelievable changes.

As for Darkseid…

Uh, guys! If Darkseid is dead who are we going to have in this book then. I bought it for Darkseid.

Well, I’m out of luck. Who we do get is handful (not all, mind you) of Darkseid’s minons. First up are the weasley weakling Desaad, a lurk-in-the background coward whose hair is so greasy that he has to cover it with his hoody, and the overly trim and buff version of Granny Goodness, Apokolip’s resident devilish daycare owner.

They are soon joined by Kanto, Darkseid’s ninja assassin guy who dresses more like a member of the three musketeers. Kanto arrives as Desaad is just about to stab Granny for her insults against him.

Kanto’s arrival isn’t just about saving Granny, however. He appears to warn of an attack on the capital city by another Darkseid minon…

…the villainous and insipidly named Virman Vundabar, an airship riding, pidgin-German speaking nuisance that is taking Darkseid’s absence as a opportunity to seize power.

And sadly, that’s the entire cast of characters in this. No Female Furies. No Glorious Godfrey. No Doctor Bedlam. No Steppenwolf. And NO KAILBAK, for god’s sake.

Let me clue DC in on a little something: if you are writing a Darkseid-less comic with the title DARKSEID and using a war among the minor characters, you better include all the minor characters. Even if they are dead. Bring them back or something. No excuse for this.

So we wrap up the conflict by Darkseid animating a statue of himself using all the magic he can muster from the source wall.

…and he’s not too happy about having to make an appearance in the comic mag that bears his name neither.

He tears up Vundabar’s ship, catching all the principal characters in his statue-fists.

Then proceeds to chew them out, like a stern father who is chastising his kids for misbehaving through one of the weirdest Skype sessions ever.

The art of this “raging Darkseid” section makes the villain look like a bad loony tunes cartoon, like those knock-offs they did about ten or so years ago. In fact, the art of the book really doesn’t match the tone of Apokolips in general. I know we have Buscema doing a fine job on breakdowns, but it is definitely the pencils that are the problem.

Darkseid gets in two pages of yelling before his “deposit two quarters” warning comes up…

…and we are left with the four characters acting sheepish and we exit.

What a “nothing” issue. It doesn’t feature the guy we came here to see, it misses a lot of the characters that make Apokolips so much fun and it ends after one lousy conflict. In all the issue would be a miss anyway, but considering the magnitude of the villain and that amazing Jason Pearson cover, I’d swear off the rest of the “New Year’s Evil” titles after picking this one up.

No sense in getting burned this badly again. Do better, DC!

Writer – Greg Pak
Art – Paulo Siqueira and Aetho Diaz
Colorist – Hi-Fi
Letterer – Dezi Sienty
Asst. Editor – Anthony Marques
Editor – Eddie Berganza
November 2013

Thankfully they did just that, although at the expense of jettisoning some of Kirby’s origin for Darkseid. For some, this might amount to a greater sacrilege than a thin story. Let’s go through this one and see how you feel afterwards.

We begin with the man who would be Darkseid…tending his fields. 

Yeah, Darkseid (or rather Uxas) started out in the New 52 universe not as the son of a king, but instead as a lowly peasant farmer. This removes a lot of the “silver spoon” feel from the character in my opinion, and not in a good way. I’m not comfortable with a lot that was done to Darkseid in the 52 ‘verse. Punching people, fisticuffs with the Justice League...anything that makes Darkseid get his hands dirty seems beneath the character.

Darkseid is best when he standing on the sidelines so untroubled by the heroes that he’s crossed his arms behind his back and is smiling, even in defeat. Like he always has an escape plan ready. Not to mention, if his minions lose he gets the pleasure of torturing the crap out of them. Win-win, in his opinion.

I’m not comfortable with him caring about anyone or anything, besides getting the Anti-Life Equation, that is. Definitely don’t know how I feel about him saving his brother Izaya, the future High Father, here.

But even if this isn’t what I envision as a good Darkseid origin, it is a pretty understandable tale that Pak and the art team of Siqueira / Diaz roll out. We get the disdain Darkseid feels concerning the gods casually destroying his world…

We understand his arrogant superiority over his pacifistic and devoted brother. We even find it a logical quest to both vanquish the gods and steal their power for himself, given these circumstances. 

He can’t know that his machinations would result in the death of his brother’s wife. Likely, they didn’t get out of the way of another giant foot and would have been dead within a week anyway. Not really his fault, way I see things. 

And while you might blame it on the violence of the gods war he crafted, it isn’t like they were careful of the mortals below before they hated one another. Again this isn’t painting Darkseid as the villain.

Nor does him gaining back something by murdering the beings responsible for so much death and destruction.

And after a page devoted to him “tasting the rainbow” by killing a multitude of the uncaring titans, we see he’s finally transformed into the being we all are waiting to appear…

…but none of this has been truly evil up to this point. Which is kind of the real divergence from Kirby’s backstory of the character. He was a bad guy from the start. Here it appears that he took power for himself from beings that were crueler than him. He’s not really a villain at this point, just driven and obsessive with a huge grudge.

But as all this transpires, his brother appeals to the Lord of Sky to save his wife. The sky god is dying however and passes his power to Izaya instead, creating High Father.

Which foments the eternal war between the two of them and…

…heralds the creation of New Genesis and Apokolips. It’s a shaky start in this reimagining, but then Pak takes a very weird turn. We interrupt Darkseid’s brooding with this ‘lil fella – Kaiyo, the Chaos Bringer. Never heard of him before, but that might be my ignorance of the Fourth World.

That isn’t the weird part. The weird part is the mischievous Kaiyo causes Darkseid so much trouble that he provokes his ire. Enough so that he starts to pursue the imp as he teleports across space…and into alternate dimensions...

If you are thinking this is 52’s Superman, I can join you. Seems it isn’t though…

…because Darkseid KILLS this Superman. And then he realizes Izaya had something to do with imbuing Superman with such strength. In a flash he is off hunting Kaiyo again across multiple realities and destroying hundreds of worlds. A hunt…

…which DOES end up on 52’s Earth. A place where Darkseid goes mano-a-manos with the entire Justice League. A League that is more brutal and edgy than any before it.

And it is here that I find one of the most telling fatal flaws of the 52 universe, bluntly stated for all to see. Yes, these were edgy versions of all our favorite heroes. They weren’t the milquetoast versions of the silver age, nor did they owe any allegiance to them. They were completely new creations, and as such much of what made them heroes seemed to be missing. Pak kind of let the cat out of the bag here.

Is it any wonder that Rebirth returning these characters back to more sensible, less edgy 90’s-channeling versions of themselves has been more popular? I think not.

We end up with Kaiyo worried his “edgy” Darkseid will kill him. 

But he doesn’t, and we fade out with an admonishment to look for Darkseid to return very soon and a hint of a Darkseid version of Franken-Superman.

So, who takes top billing here?

Winner: Justice League #23.1
Even though it is a shoe-in by virtue of including the actual character, there is a decent story OF Darkseid in Justice League #23.1. The New Year’s Evil book is exactly that..Evil! It raises hopes of an incredible story with amazing art and all of that falls flat. Did I enjoy all the changes in JL 23.1? No. But I found there was a smidge of that old Darkseid magic there by the end of the story.

So it wins, but I have to state that if movie audience want the real thing they are going to have to walk it all the way back to Kirby. Or will they? We continue our walk on the “Darkseid” tomorrow.


  1. Kaiyo the Chaos Bringer was a character invented by Greg Pak in Batman/Superman, one of many concepts in the New 52 that was never explained or well-developed. I seem to recall that the timing of this comic that September of 2013 fell neatly within the applicable story arc in Batman/Superman, but I could be off-base. Regardless, she was a "trickster" bringing Darkseid through the multiverse, which wasn't supposed to exist at the time, to kill other Supermen. Frankly, I don't even remember a lot of it--I think she was Darkseid's half-daughter or something? Point is: not an original Fourth World property. Nice breakdown of both issues!

    1. And see...the issue doesn't even provide me with enough info to guess her sex correctly. Pak's a good storyteller, even if I usually dislike his modifications to existing characters.

      Thank you for the compliment and the added info. Always a pleasure to hear someone liked a review.

  2. Out of all the other New Year's Evil books, I've only read those dealing with Mr. Mxyzptlk and the Scarecrow. Mxy's book is rather lousy and sloppy, and unfunny, which is the biggest sin a Mxy story can suffer from, but I rather liked the Scarecrow story, with nice Duncan Fegredo art and a Scarecrow who is a really twisted sadistic creep without coming off as Joker with a Sack Over His Head.

    I've heard some praise about the Rogues book, but I won't confirm it since it's in my To Read list still.

    1. This feels like every other book was a loser. I heard the opposite about the Rogues book and good things about Body Doubles. Don't even know who they are. Thing is, if I look hard enough all of them are probably somewhere in the Crapbox already. Like you, still on my "To Read" list.


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