DC Zero Issues Review, Week 1, Part1 (Mania.com)

By:Tim Janson
Review Date: Thursday, September 06, 2012
Source: Mania.com

To mark the one year anniversary of DC Comic’s New 52, September has been tabbed as Zero Month.  The New 52 titles will be getting #0 numbered issues all month featuring stand-alone stories that tell the origins of a character or team, or offer surprising new details about the New 52 Universe.  This week we’re looking at the first wave of the Zero Month titles in three parts.  This first part will focus on similarly themed “weird” titles The Phantom Stranger, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and G.I. combat.  Stay with Mania all month for your Zero Month coverage.
 
Phantom Stranger #0
Written By: Dan Didio
Art by: Brent Anderson and Scott Hanna
Grade: A
 
Perhaps my two favorite characters in the DCU are the Phantom Stranger and The Spectre…and both of them are in this issue.  Dan Didio could have wrote a story about the two sitting around a Starbucks and drinking Lattes and I’d have been fine with it.  Back in the 1980s DC published a special issue of Secret Origins which had four different stories, each offering a different origin for the mysterious Phantom Stranger.  Each one provided a plausible origin for the character.
 
But Dan Didio has given us a new origin of the character while maintaining (purposefully or not) elements from some of the Secret Origins stories.  After betraying a friend, a man seeks to hang himself to end his torment but he’s not getting off that easily.  He is brought before a council of wizards along with two others to be judged for his crimes.  His betrayal of a close friend for a handful of silver coins makes it clear who the character is supposed to be.  Sent back to Earth to wander and perform his penance, the Phantom Stranger is seen playing a pivotal role in the life of Jim Corrigan, the DCU’s first Spectre.
 

Didio gives us two origins for the price of one as he forever links the DCU’s most powerful supernatural characters, possibly hailing the return of Jim Corrigan as The Spectre.  I also love what Didio does with the mundane necklace that has been a part of the Stranger’s look for decades, giving it new purpose that ties in with his origin.  With penciller Brent Anderson and inker Scott Hanna you get two veterans who don’t make the mistake of overwhelming the story their work the way so many younger artists tend to do.  Phantom Stranger #1 is one of my most anticipated books of the Fall and it all starts here in issue #0. 

 

Swamp Thing #0
Written by: Scott Snyder
Art by: Kato
Grade: A

If you’ve been following Swamp Thing and Animal Man since the New 52 kicked off you are well aware of how both characters have had their origins tweaked and tied together.  They were now a part of an ancient trio of powers referred to as The Green (representing all plant life), The Red (representing all animal life) and The Rot (representing death and decay) who have fought for eons, each keeping the other in check.  But now the Rot has grown too strong, partly because proper avatars of the Green and Red have not been found.

Swamp Thing #0 is set in the late 1800’s during the time of a previous Swamp Thing.  A horrible winter is plaguing the residents of Manitoba, Canada as a young girl sets out to find the mysterious Green Man in hopes that he can end the bitter winter.  But behind the guise of this seemingly innocent girl is the horrible form of Swamp Thing’s greatest enemy, Anton Arcane.

It’s clear from the ongoing Swamp Thing series and this #0 issue that Scott Snyder GETS the Swamp Thing better than any writer since Alan Moore.  His story reveals tendrils of horror that span from the decades before present day right up through Alec Holland’s becoming Swamp Thing and the desperate plan the Parliament of Trees came up with to save him.

Kano’s art reaches a pinnacle of the grotesque that hasn’t been seen since the days of Stephen Bissette and John Totleben were teamed with Alan Moore in the mid-1980s.  The stench of the Rot and its avatar Arcane almost threaten to bring the bile up from your gut.  Read this one, and then read Animal Man #0.  Some of the very best horror to be found in comics today!

 

 

Animal Man #0
Written by: Jeff Lemire
Art by: Steve Pugh
Grade: B+

Hopefully you’ve got Swamp Thing #0.  While it’s not necessary to have read it, the two zero issues have a definite tie-in and tone.  And that tone is the unmistakable rotten stench of The Rot’s avatar, Anton Arcane.  If you’ve been reading Animal Man you know that it’s Buddy Baker’s daughter, and not him, who is the true Avatar of the Red.  Buddy was no more than a stopgap measure by the Red until his daughter was born.  

Lemire’s story relates the events that lead the Red to their fateful decision to imbue Buddy Baker with a fraction of the power of the Red.  But even more interesting was their well-devised plan to make Buddy believe in a fictitious origin, constructed to fit with the current DCU and the rise of superheroes.  It was interesting to see the members of the Red take note of superheroes and the role they play in their decision.

Lemire further propels Anton Arcane up the ladder of great DC villians.  No longer just a foe of Swamp Thing, Arcane is now firmly entrenched with the likes of Darkseid, Lex Luthor, and the Joke as one of the most deadly villains in the new DCU.  Pugh’s art is solid but it’s also very clean and doesn’t have that macabre, visceral quality that made Swamp Thing #0 so enjoyable both in story and art.  Animal Man and Swamp Thing are no doubt two of the very best titles of the New 52!

 

 

G.I. Combat #0
Written by: Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, J.T. Krul
Art by: Staz Johnson, Ariel Olivetti
Grade: C
 
I suppose this isn’t the easiest book to write…It’s definitely going to be a small niche audience but credit the team of Palmiotti and Gray of making the book interesting.  G.I. Combat has been around for 60 years telling both standard and weird war stories.  With the New 52 the emphasis has definitely been on the weird with stories of “The Haunted Tank”, “The War that Time Forgot” and the Unknown Soldier.  
 
The latest incarnation of the Unknown Soldier places him as a soldier in Afghanistan when he sustains the serious injuries that leave him disfigured.  The zero issue makes the conjecture that there has been an Unknown Soldier during every war.  The current Unknown Soldier decides to test the theory by undergoing a procedure at an advanced medical military lab that will probe his subconscious memories.  But what he finds comes as a shock…Giving the book a supernatural hint at the Unknown Soldier’s origin and lineage certainly make the book more appealing than a standard war story and it’s the likely the hook that will have readers coming back.  
 
The backup feature “The War that Time Forgot” is far more standard fare about soldiers who find themselves trapped in an era where dinosaurs still exist.  Influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “The land that Time Forgot” there’s nothing about the story that especially stands out but the art of Ariel Olivetti is lush and beautiful with a Richard Corben feel.

 


Mania Grade: B+
Comic: Phantom Stranger #0
Writer: Dan Didio
Artists: Brent Anderson and Scott Hanna
Mania Grade: A
Comic: Swamp Thing #0
Writer: Scott Synder
Artist: Kato
Mania Grade: A
Comics: Animal Man #0
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Steve Pugh
Mania Grade: B+
Comic: G.I. Combat #0
Writer and Artist: Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, J.T. Krul, Staz Johnson, Ariel Olivetti
Mania Grade: C
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