Hell Arisen #1
THE YEAR OF THE VILLAIN COMES DOWN TO THIS! It's Apex Lex...
...versus the Batman Who Laughs...
...for the fate of the multiverse! But whoever wins... we lose!
If “Year of the Villain” has done anything, it’s thrown a bright spotlight on just how deep of a villains’ bench DC really has. Readers can take it or leave it as an overarching story or editorial fiat, but there’s no denying plenty of great ne’er-do-wells have gotten time to shine. At its storytelling core, though, “YOTV” has been about two parallel villains’ paths: Apex Lex and the Batman Who Laughs (BWL for short), both competing evils whose schemes have been running at odds and are now at a head-on collision.
Sometimes these sort of villain-on-villain skirmishes set the lesser of two evils up as the ostensible protagonist; Hell Arisen has no such pretension. Writer James Tynion IV does an excellent job of setting up both Lex and the BWL as two equally unpalatable choices here. Readers are therefore left not necessarily with a hero to root for but rather a narrative to follow to its conclusion, regardless of outcome. And that sort of storytelling means it’s incumbent upon the writer to provide a great hook to keep readers invested.
So, how’s Tynion do?
Lex vs. BWL as a plot device only gets you so far; the rest of the story’s meat and potatoes have to matter too. Which leads to the full-on plot of this villainous tale: Apex Lex, in full service of Perpetua (see the last couple years’ worth of Justice League), is dispatched by his goddess to remove the “infection” of the BWL. BWL, hailing from the Dark Multiverse, is not a part of her plans for domination and must be eliminated as would any common virus. On the flipside of that, BWL has his Infected Secret Six on his side (evil versions of Supergirl, Shazam, Donna Troy, Commissioner Gordon, the Beetle, and Hawkman) – and Lex doesn’t know it yet, but his power bestowed by Perpetua doesn’t work against those infused with Dark Multiversal energy. What’s the self-proclaimed smartest person in the world to do?
Interestingly (and subverting the expectation I explained above), this twist somewhat sets Lex up as a quasi-protagonist, because if nothing else he’s suddenly the underdog. The BWL wants nothing more than to destroy and kill; by comparison, Lex’s plans, heinous though they are, would at least bring a sort of order to the multiverse. He’s hardly sympathetic, and surely plenty would die if Perpetua were to win the day, but at least he doesn’t want to commit mass genocide. As ever, Lex Luthor sees himself as the ultimate hero of his own story no matter what. Again, though – there is no upside to either villain winning this fight.
What’s interesting, though, is the logistical problem this miniseries creates. It doesn’t wrap until March; Scott Snyder’s current Justice League run, and all things Perpetua/Apex Lex winds down in just a couple more short weeks. That means that either the release schedule of this series should have been pushed up by three months to coincide with the end of “Justice/Doom War,” or it’s very existence tips the hand that the Perpetua/Apex Lex story doesn’t actually conclude with the end of Snyder’s Justice League run. I’m willing to bet on the former, but you never know.
Further muddling recent years’ continuity is the inclusion of Earth-3’s Crime Syndicate. This a more traditional version of the evil team than the last one we saw running amok in the DCU back in Forever Evil and Geoff Johns’ pre-Rebirth Justice League run. At one point Lex mentions he saw most of them die – then they’re sort of waved off as having been a different multiversal evil Justice League. DC continuity in a nutshell, folks…! Well, at least they’re back, and are currently positioned as Perpetua’s ringers in the fight against the BWL. Always good to see these vintage DC baddies.
The choice to put Steve Epting on art is an interesting one. In recent years he’s been more associated with down-to-earth non-superhero fare such as Velvet; although he more than definitely has shown his superhero comic bonafides early on, he appeared to be past that point in his career. He certainly shines here in his own right, but part of me can’t help but think an artist more akin to Andy Kubert or Jason Fabok might have been a better candidate for this assignment: someone with a bit more superhero bang-pow to their standard portfolio. Just an observation, not a statement on the quality of the art.
I was more than prepared to groan and roll my eyes at this comic; after all, both the Year of the Villain and the BWL's general presence have kind of overstayed their welcome (seriously overstayed its welcome in the BWL's case). But this was a surprisingly fun and engaging comic. With no clear protagonist to root for, all readers can do is buckle in and enjoy the carnage!
Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen #1 (of 4): Whoever Wins… We Lose!
Writing - 8.5/108.5/10
Storyline - 7.5/107.5/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 7.5/107.5/10
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