Commanders in Crisis #1
Prizefighter! Seer! Sawbones! Originator! Frontier! These five heroes have banded together as the CRISIS COMMAND to protect the world... but as the secret survivors of realities lost to the direct currents of a multiversal crisis, they have a higher calling: to protect their new, last world standing at all costs!
Commanders in Crisis is, first and foremost, unabashedly, unashamedly a superhero comic.
And that’s a wonderful thing.
Oftentimes when creators break away from the Big 2 to forge their own artistic pathways, they tend to eschew the superheroic and branch out into other genres, such as sci-fi or horror. And that in and of itself is definitely not a bad thing – lord knows, in a media dominated by the tights-and-flights genre, having a burgeoning diversity of content is healthy and mature. But what the unintended consequence of that the Big 2 more or less get to define what a superhero book looks and feels like. That isn’t to short-sell any non-Big 2 superhero books out there – and to be sure, there are plenty – but they often wind up playing to the established tropes and pre-established rules of the game. Not always, but often.
I’m happy to report that Commanders in Crisis #1 really does feel like something different, even as it lovingly adopts some tried-and-true genre tropes.
Oh sure, it wears it’s superhero bonafides on its sleeves. The titular Crisis Command – Sawbones, Seer, Frontier, Prizefighter, and my personal favorite, Originator – are the survivors of a secret multiversal crisis that eliminated all of their realities and left but one remaining. (Sound familiar?) Now living under newly-assumed identities, the heroes of Crisis Command work to preserve their world from destruction, knowing that if humanity was aware it was the only Earth remaining from a former multiverse, there would be mass panic. And, to protect this final Earth from annihilation, because without any other realities remaining, there is no backup plan. If this Earth falls, that’s it for everyone and everything. This is a book that easily could have been published by DC in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, but with modern storytelling sensibilities.
Writer Steve Orlando, clearly relishing crafting his own world after several years of being a strictly-DC guy, hits the ground running and introduces us to these heroes, letting us see them in action, prior to establishing the book’s true stakes. From the top, there’s a murder mystery that’s seemingly unconnected to anything else, followed by an assault by (and I cannot explain how much I love this alliterative wording) “mind muggers” from seventy-seven years in the future hellbent on stealing the present’s emotions because there’s no hope in their time. In the process of the battle, Orlando gives readers the broad strokes of how each hero’s powerset works: Prizefighter is super strong but his power waxes and wanes depending on crowds’ hope in him; Seer can see one minute into the future; Sawbones is sort of a Doctor Mid-Nite but without any actual medical skills; Originator can rewrite reality by the creative use of words she makes up; Frontier appears tech-based but there may be more to her than meets the eye. Orlando then follows the larger action sequence with several small-scale beats that allows readers to get a better look at how each hero’s powers work, and how they impact their personalities.
The real hook comes at the end of the book, though, as we learn the secret behind these heroes, and how it connects to the opening murder mystery. And it’s a whopper, with a definite meta-commentary behind it on the current state of the world that would make Grant Morrison proud. There’s also a subplot involving a motion in Congress that would radically alter the United States that, too, is a definite commentary on current events. Orlando manages to work these ideas in without hitting readers over the head with them, telling a story that’s at once about current affairs without proselytizing.
Commanders in Crisis is socially aware, too, as one of the lead characters is openly gay, and makes no bones about it. The scene in question is extremely empowering in an almost casual way, acting as a broad challenge to any who might have a problem with it. Not since Midnighter has Orlando had such an opportunity to flex LGBTQ+ representation so firmly and boldly. It’s a fantastic, in-your-face moment that lets readers know exactly where he stands without getting preachy or wagging his finger. One side character’s blushed reaction to a homosexual kiss is met with a casual, “Oh, quit clutching your pearls,” without hectoring or lecturing. It is what it is. Move along. This sort of normalization of LGBTQ+ relationships, even casual ones, is crucial for acceptance. Forget Lois Lane and Superman. This is Louis Lane, and he has every right to snag a smooch as his female counterpart.
What Commanders in Crisis #1 has going for it in terms of innovation and deft characterization, it also has going for it in its art. Davide Tinto (Afterlife Inc., Marvel Action: Spider-Man) handles the pencils and inks alongside colorist Francesca Carotenuto to wonderful effect, delivering rock-solid superhero visuals that really leap off the page. Tinto, credited as co-creator alongside Orlando, is clearly a rising star, able to render quiet morgue scenes with the same deftness as time-travelling emotion thieves getting bonked in the noggin. There’s no wasted space; backgrounds are always rendered, and the sense of scale and scope is always appropriate. Tinto’s page layouts are equally inviting, easy to follow and expertly paced. Carotenuto’s computer-rendered colors add depth and shadow to every page in vibrant ways, bringing CiC‘s world to life in immaculate and lush ways. If the art has any true flaws, it’s the cover: a composite shot of the series’ various characters is technically proficient, but doesn’t exactly stand out on the shelves. At a casual glance, it’s just another superhero comic, not truly indicative of the awesomeness inside.
Commanders in Crisis has a lot going on, to be sure, and that may be both its strength and only noteworthy detriment. As explained in the introduction, Orlando not only has to establish his characters, but also their world, its history, and craft a hook to draw readers back in. That’s no easy feat. There are times when CiC feels a little too busy, and it’s not until the final few pages that everything that’s just been read truly coalesces into an established narrative. That in and of itself forced me to read the issue twice to truly grasp what I’d just read. That surely isn’t a bad thing, because it means that Orlando has written a smart script that demands attention to detail. But it also means that CiC may feel somewhat inaccessible to more casual readers. General rule of thumb, though: if a story seems too smart for its intended audience, it’s probably just the right amount of smart. And if anything, even more so than superhero comics, that’s exactly what the industry needs: more smart comics. And that’s exactly what Commanders in Crisis is. Hats off to everyone involved.
Commanders in Crisis achieves exactly what it set out to do: craft a smart, unique superhero world that demands attention to detail. Steve Orlando is writing - and creating - like a man free of corporate shackles, and loving every minute of it. With artistic collaborators Davide Tinto and Francesca Carotenuto by his side, along with letterer Fabio Amelia, this book looks destined for greatness. Grab your copy on Wednesday, October 14!
Commanders in Crisis #1: Survivors (SPOILER-FREE Early Review!)
- Writing - 8.5/108.5/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Art - 8/108/10
- Color - 8.5/108.5/10
- Cover Art - 7/107/10
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