"Wetched mowtahl! Yuuwd wiw make you watch whiwe he sucks the mawwow fwom yuh bownes!"
---Famine ("Yuurd") follows Fudd after being super-punched in the mouth.
DC Comics' influential series 52 introduced the Horsemen, incarnations of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or, rather of Apokolips, since their essence came from that dark, alien world.
Although physically destroyed in that series, Death ("Azraeuz"), War ("Roggra"), Famine ("Yurd"), and Pestilence ("Zorrm") recreated themselves in time for one of 52's several spin-offs. 52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen pits the title characters against DC's greatest heroes: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and... Snapper Carr. The team also receives assistance from a handful of heroes and villains in this six-issue mini-series. While the story has potential, especially for the opportunity it gives to examine the personalities of several iconic characters, it fails to fill those six issues in a worthwhile manner.
It does, however, feature a number of comic-book fight scenes, especially in the final three issues.
Writer: Keith Giffen
Art: Pat Olliffe, John Stanisci
The fictional country of Bialya, laid waste by Black Adam in 52, refuses all but the most basic international aid and definitely does not want metahuman assistance. Nevertheless, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman involve themselves and realize that the Four Horsemen live on. In their battle against the monsters, they receive help from others, including the current Mr. Terrific, Doom Patrol, and the evil Dr. Veronica Cale. Cale, of course, has ulterior motives, but she remains untouchable, as she has established herself as the ruler of Oolong Island, which has become a sovereign state.
Their most interesting helper, however, is former sidekick Snapper Carr, who here appears more competent than ever before and now works for an organization called Checkmate. Carr and the others engage in some witty though not always friendly banter. Batman, in particular, wishes the former Justice League hanger-on and plot device would just go away. Carr has grown arrogant, and we almost see a plausible1 portrayal of a man who spent his youth associating with and learning from demigods. However, this is left underdeveloped, and by the end, I was as irritated with Carr as his mentors.
The story also does nothing new with its major players. The Four Horsemen, unlike 52 has only a handful of leads, and Giffen clearly wanted to develop them. He gives us some snappy, character-driven dialogue and an epilogue with DC's cliquey Big Three (the fannish nickname "the Trinity" has apparently been given to them in-universe by Lois Lane Kent) sharing dinner. These constitute interesting dressing, but little more. The Horsemen themselves are largely undifferentiated arrogant comic-book villains who talk like Victor Von Doom on grain fungus. Again, opportunity is wasted.
The plot doesn't break any ground, either. Heroes face an adversary based on an old mythic concept, one of the heroes has been compromised, they all have to work alongside villains for a common cause, the adversary has a vast videogamesque army of walking dead to assist them, and the most important person in the fight may be the representative of the average man. Sound familiar? The setting, a country truly laid waste, is unusually grim for a mainstream comic, but it recalls the worlds of a thousand "dark" pop culture stories and videogames.
I doubt I’m spoiling anything to say that the story unfolds as follows:
- After a suitable build-up, the villains appear
- The heroes engage in many fight scenes which produce bombastic sound effects
- Things turn desperate, and it appears the villains might win
- With a clever twist, the Good GuysTM win after all
- An epilogue suggests the villains could return some day
DC's output also suffers from Event Comic Fatigue. When we know the world isn't going to end, threatening the world every month wears thin, and at this point creates less suspense than a story where we care about the fate of an individual or, say, a threat to Old Saybrook, Connecticut or Bwlch, Powys.
Now, the lack of originality and the artificiality of the stakes need not be a problem. This is a superhero comic book. However, the writers and artists have to do something interesting with these familiar elements if they want to justify six much-hyped issues or the inevitable trade paperback.
In a few early panels, we see the kinds of lower-level crimes that plague disaster areas. How do superheroes deal with after-effects of a world-threatening disaster? With some thought, a better comic might have been written about that topic, rather than yet another world-shattering menace. The series also reminds us (particularly in the conclusion) that the Horsemen represent greater, ever-present threats to humanity. Unfortunately, it fails to really make effective use of their metaphoric significance.
The artwork, which varies in quality, does not save the series. Some of the battle scenes have been effectively illustrated. The art team obviously rushed other panels. Limitations become especially apparent in comics printed on slick paper in full colour.
In short, The Four Horsemen presents some interesting opportunities for a mainstream comic, but it fails to deliver anything really memorable.
1. References to plausibility in a review of a superhero comic must be taken in their proper context .