A friend of mine has been loaning me the entire Geoff Johns run on “JSA,” which has been a generally enjoyable read despite how immersed in DC continuity it is. I’m willing to bet that most people will say that the arc of villain-teammate-dictator that Black Adam, Captain Marvel’s Egyptian-themed nemesis, goes through over the course of the run is easily one of its highlights. In the wake of DC’s first (and best) weekly series “52” the character found himself stripped of his power and the most wanted man in the world -- which is usually what happens when one’s rampage across the world is collected in a paperback called “World War III.”
As I started to recount the events that led up to Adam’s rampage, I realized that it was getting far too long for its own good. I took it as a sign and figured I should say this up front: If you’re not familiar with the character, don’t bother with this book. Its events spin straight out of “52” so if you haven’t read it, you’re going to be lost.
In fact, unless you’re a really big fan of the character, or the creative team, you’re probably going to come away from this series disappointed. It has a good premise in that it’s logical that Adam would try to find a way to resurrect Isis, the love of his life, and God knows that there are plenty of ways for that to happen in the DC Universe. The title character winds up striking a bargain with evil wizard Felix Faust and after some magical jury-rigging to get his powers back, he sets off across the world to find the pieces of the magical artifact that will allow him to resurrect the woman he loves.
The problem is that his hunt for the magical MacGuffins feels very padded out with digressions and enough guest stars to start another crossover. I’ll admit that some of these bits are pretty entertaining as I liked seeing Adam use the intestines of a still-living Yeti to safely jump down onto a ledge. His conversation with Atom Smasher in a diner is also a well-done examination of the disintegration of their friendship, and finding out what the man’s new “magic word” was was pretty inspired. He REALLY woudn’t have guessed them.
In order to get to these bits, you’ll have to endure the tedium of watching his former JSA pals trying to track Adam’s magical powers, seeing him kill lots of people on and off-panel, roll your eyes at such “shocking” sights as his cannibalism, and lots of fights between superheroes such as Hawkman and lots of shadowy government operatives. Tying this all together is an internal monologue from the character that is so tortured and self-serving that it almost, ALMOST makes Buzzard’s mini-series from the latest “Goon” collection look restrained. I’d also be remiss in not mentioning the silly parts that do work (the bullet made from the Rock of Eternity that’s used on Adam) and the ones that don’t (are all veterinarians as capable of removing bullets and stitching wounds as the ones shown here -- I don’t think so).
Writer Peter Tomasi is a competent enough storyteller, but he can’t string all of these elements into a compelling whole. In fact, a lot of this stuff feels like he was finding ways to kill time and keep himself amused throughout the mini-series’ six issues. I say this because the major plot points -- Black Adam regaining his powers, Atom Smasher’s discovery, and the “resurrection” of Isis -- felt like they could’ve been in a fraction of the time. This would’ve made a good two-issue mini-arc in the pages of “JSA” where you’d expect to see Black Adam’s story continued. All killer and no filler, in theory.
Fortunately the whole endeavor looks good thanks to artist Doug Mahnke. His expressive and detailed pencils tell the story well, even if he’s not given many opportunities to really cut loose. It’s probably unfair to compare this to his work in “Frankenstein,” “Infinite Crisis,” and “Green Lantern,” but his work really shines when he’s given something truly outlandish and over-the-top to draw.
Though the message of this series, showing that Black Adam can only get so far in his goals by doing things his way, sets up what I would assume to be his eventual redemption it’s not really executed all that well. It may have its moments, but they’re not enough to make me wish that I had bought this collection instead borrowing it from a friend.