Friday, April 15, 2011

DC Universe Online Legends

reviewed by guest contributor Simon Breeze

DC Universe Online Legends
#1 'Legendary'
Written by Marv Wolfman & Tony Bedard, art by Howard Porter & Livesay and Adriana Melo & Norman Lee, colours by Ed Benes and Randy Mayor
#2 'Control'
Written by Tony Bedard, art by Howard Porter & Livesay and Adrian Melo & Norman Lee, colours by Carrie Strachan and Randy Mayor

You may have heard about a new video game kicking about based on some well known comic book superheroes - DC Universe Online. My first introduction to this was via a teaser trailer in which we see a world where a full scale war has broken out between our favourite superheroes and villains of the DC Universe: and the bad guys are winning!

The trailer really blew my socks off! (you can view it here courtesy of IGN).

As great as this trailer is these types of games are not my cup of tea. I am more of a 'I have a spare ten minutes' gamer now rather than one who can spend hours playing these sandbox type games. However, the trailer had peaked my interest and I couldn't help but have two thoughts: 1) Is there going to be a comic series of this? and 2) why don't DC make an animated film using this type of animation? I would love to see a Superman or a Batgirl film done like this - watch the trailer and you will see what I mean.

A quick internet search later and I discovered the following - Animated films? Who knows, we can only hope. Comic series? Yes. Oh yes!

I don't know about you, but I find that most tie-in comic series tend to be very hit and miss, mostly a big fat buttered miss in my experience. However, the trailer made the story look very interesting indeed. Not only that, but I have a gap in my 'Cape-Comic' reading at the moment and was looking for something with more than one hero and one that stood alone from current continuity. DC Universe Online Legends filled these criteria nicely and is a twelve month run, bi-weekly. Which means that I've got twenty-four issues of awesomeness to look forward to over the next year– and awesomeness it is indeedy!

The main premise for the story is that Lex Luthor, with the aid of an army of super villains, has finally defeated his arch nemesis, Superman and most of the other superheroes of DC's Earth. The first issue starts at the end of this war with an amazing first page splash of Lex about to plunge a Kryptonite tipped spear into Superman's heart, to be followed by an equally-as-fantastic two page splash as he finishes this act and thus Superman's life and the war.

Superman dead, heroes of the world defeated, Lex Luthor gloats over the dead alien he has fought so hard to destroy all these years. Then, suddenly, Brainiac descends from the stormy skies above the battlefield with an invasion fleet. Lex realises his mistake too late, the only person powerful enough to stop Brainiac (Superman) lies dead at his feet by his own hands ... and our story begins.

The comic now splits its story telling between two times. Several years before the war and the continued events from the first few pages of the comic at the end of the war of heroes, and it neatly slips between the two without any jarring or confusion. In the 'past' we get to find out how events brought about the war and how they neatly tie in with the 'current' events post the death of Superman.

The story is brilliant, anyone with even a surface knowledge of the DC Universe could read this series, it is already twisting and turning within the first two issues at a break-neck-speed and keeping you guessing as to not only where the story is going, but who can you trust now that heroes and villains have been thrust together to save the world from this common enemy (Brainiac), all under Lex Luthor's leadership? Lex clearly has his own goals and you can at times find yourself stopping to catch your breath as you are sent spinning in another direction of thought by yet more of his plotting and scheming to have his cake and eat it.

The action is great, lots of fisticuffs and plenty of Superheroes throwing their weight about throughout, and despite mostly all of the characters being big named heroes and villains there seems, so far, to be no treading on toes in these situations, everyone getting to have a fare crack of the whip so to speak. Which nicely leads me onto the art.

Having so many artist working on a book can become a train-wreck, especially with multiple heroes involved. With DC Universe Online Legends this is not the case, artist-to-artist the transition is seamless, if you are looking for it you will notice it, otherwise the story telling flows very well indeed. One of the things I liked about the art is the cover for issue #1, it is a brilliant wrap-around cover by Ed Benes & Randy Mayor and Ryan Sook, it is the sort of thing that in my youth I would stick on my bedroom wall to admire. Something I am not allowed to do now I am a 'grown-up' as I have been told by my wife 'Superheroes don't got with the sofa and curtains.'

All-in-all DC Universe Online Legends is shaping up to be a really enjoyable read and I am happy to part with my $2.99 twice a month to keep up with the action. I still have no intention of buying a copy of the game, and as far as I can tell this hasn't effected my enjoyment of the comic, to the best of my knowledge there seems to be no missing story that 'can only be experienced as part of the gaming experience.' The comic series is a stand alone – and there in is where my enjoyment is coming from.

It is all up for grabs. The story is out of DC Universe continuity. This means that you can kill Superman and get away with it. I quote Lex Luthor, 'SUPERMAN will NOT live again!' When one of the characters tries to suggest saving him from a Kryptonite spear through the heart (I'm not sure how that would worked if they had gone with it – but hay it is the comic world!) and Lex stops them. So, Superman is in this universe – dead - and if you can kill Superman in the DC Universe, everyone is a potential target.

This adds something that can sometimes be missing from the 'Caped Comic' universe: jeopardy. It seems all too easy to kill off a character and bring them back to life in the following issue or two, it has even to a degree become a bit of a joke for fans of comics. I am myself still placing my bets for when they bring Jonny Storm back to the Marvel Universe and the Fantastic Four are back to even numbers once again. With DC Universe Online Legends the death of a popular character is just that and there are no implications beyond the comic series and the story that is being told This, for me, makes it all the more exciting to read because actions are having consequences, which is the lesson learnt from the very first few pages of issue #1.

My last point is this (okay it is going to be two points, but they are related so stick with me!) and I hear this argument a lot: 'I have a friend who has just seen – insert superhero film title here – and wants to start reading the comics. But I just don't know what to recommend. I just don't know where a good jumping-on point is, there is so much back story?'

How often do you hear that one?

DC Universe Online Legends could be the answer. Yeah, okay it has almost every DC hero you can shake a stick at in it, but it is a great way to introduce someone to the universe that way too. You get Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Power Girl ... the list goes on and on and it is the same for the villains too. I would be more than happy in this situation to hand over my copy of this comic and say 'Give this a go' safe in the knowledge that with a little or next to no understanding of the DCU that person will at the very least enjoy this comic, and hopefully in some way find the crack in the doorway into the DC Universe and maybe find the courage to venture into other comic realms.

This doesn't mean that there is nothing for the hardcore follower of the DCU or those in-between either. DC Universe Online Legends is a breath of fresh air: with the cobwebs of continuity blown free the writers can take the characters in new directions, whilst still staying true to who they are and what they are about. This leads to some very dynamic, interesting and sometimes surprising story and character direction.

I'm giving DC Universe Online Legends a 5 out of 5 Capes. I am just loving it. I have already gobbled-up issue #3 the moment it landed on my doorstep and as a comic it is jostling for 'must read first' place on my comic pile when it arrives every other week. That is the other thing, bi-weekly! Every other Wednesday I have the next instalment, just enough time for the last issue to digest and not so long that I have forgotten the details either – perfect.

Thanks to Simon for his enjoyable and detailed review of DC Universe Online Legends - this isn't a title I've been picking-up and it sounds like I might be missing out on a good read.

Don't forget you can check out Simon's writing and art over at his personal blog while his excellent weekly webcomic - JesseKane - continues to release a new page every Wednesday.