THIS REVIEW OF ‘COMMANDERS IN CRISIS’ #3 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Jarrod Jones. “The last survivors of the multiverse have landed here, the last world left, to protect us under strange, new identities!” Come on. That sounds awesome.
Commanders in Crisis is that crackerjack, high-concept superhero stuff that doesn’t typically thrive outside of the jurisdiction of DC or Marvel—and really, that’s a damn shame. I’m not sure if the independent artiste community actually gets together every year or so and renews its mandate that this turf should remain unencumbered by the cape-and-cowl set; sometimes it feels like that’s the case, but c’mon, we know better. It’s just one of those things. Attitudes and tastes concerning superhero pop can fluctuate wildly depending on who you’re talking to in the independent comics scene at any given moment, but there remains those brave few who dare chase the garish thrill experiments of Buscema & Byrne withouth the safety net (and multimedia tie-ins) offered by the Big Two. So when something like Commanders in Crisis pops up in the Image Comics slate alongside the publisher’s time-hardened super-stalwarts like Savage Dragon and Spawn, my heart swoons just a little bit.
Indie superhero books have a lot more heavy lifting to do to get folks to pay attention, so an inventive, if not totally out-there, premise is always a must. Commanders in Crisis has a doozy: On top of being a multiversal super-crossover of heroes we’re only learning about now, CiC‘s core crew, The Crisis Command, is an assemblage of champions who were, each of them, formally the President of the United States on their own respective earths. Like that lovely-but-still-goofy “President-Superman of Earth-23” stuff Grant Morrison did for DC all those years ago, but if Calvin Ellis was just one player among a much deeper bench.
Their mission? Someone’s murdered (like, stabbed) the actual concept of empathy, and now the Crisis Command has to find a way from stopping the world from spinning into a societally fractured heap so toxic that the multiverse simply wills it dead.
It’s a lot. And that’s all right. Commanders in Crisis feels like Steve Orlando—formerly the DC-exclusive writer of Wonder Woman, Electric Warriors and Midnighter (among others)—is processing a few things through this co-created endeavor with artist Davide Tinto. Some aspects of this series clearly read like personal reflections on our current social moment; other aspects feel more personal, like Steve is finally getting to tell the kind of high-flying cape comics he’s been dreaming of making since he was a kid and there’s finally nobody around to tell him he can’t.
It’s bold, earnest comics storytelling made in an industry that still likes to wink and roll its eyes at such things, a type of book few creators can get away with today. One consistent criticism put to Commanders in Crisis is that it’s too big for its own good. Considering how far you’re willing to ride on any given superhero crazy train, that’s totally fair. The core combo of heroes plucked from dying planets is just par for the course. That they run up against a murder mystery where the victim was turned into the flesh-and-blood avatar of empathy is a lot to chew on, but watch me sink my teeth in. (“It’s Ideacide!”, the very Morrisonian hook provided in the series’ original solicits text, is what sold me on buying this book.) But then there’s that added wrinkle, where this group of superheroes turn out to be their own version of America’s President, which feels like Orlando and Tinto are pushing a boundary they set for themselves far, far afield. What does that last thing have to do with the rest? Remains to be seen.
In the interim, we’re left to contend with the sheer inventiveness contained in each issue of Commanders in Crisis (and, oh my, is there a lot to play with). And then there’s the roster of heroes—Prizefighter, Scarlet, Originator, Sawbones, and Seer—which look and function like an offbeat and far more diverse spin on the Justice League, fighting a war where good absolutely must—must!—triumph over bad. The Crisis Command also looks terrific; the book gets an added charge every time Tinto gets to assemble them on-page (which, maddeningly, has only happened a couple times so far). Tinto draws with anime on his mind, at least in terms of character design; they look terrific in action and less so when they’re walking around in their civvies in unexciting rooms (attentively, if plainly, colored by Francesca Carotenuto). Orlando & Tinto are steadily working towards a tantalizing endgame, so pardon all the juggling that occurs in these first three issues. So far they’ve yet to drop a single pin.
But when the fur beings to fly? When the canvas of Commanders in Crisis expands? You begin to grasp precisely what Steve Orlando has set out to accomplish: Make weird stuff in an unforgiving world that gets people’s pulses racing and maybe, just once per issue, gives them something else to think about for a little while. Like superheroes advocating for decency and hope. That’s worth something, now, always.
Image Comics / $3.99
Written by Steve Orlando.
Art by Davide Tinto.
Colors by Francesca Carotenuto.
Letters by Fabio Amelia.
8 out of 10
‘Commanders in Crisis’ issues #1-3 are in stores now. ‘Commanders in Crisis’ #4 drops January 13. You can pre-order it now. (Diamond Code: NOV200141)
Check out this 6-page preview of ‘Commanders in Crisis’ #3, courtesy of Image Comics!