Wednesday, May 11, 2005

SPOILER Review: RANN-THANAGAR WAR #1

RANN-THANAGAR WAR #1 is the first issue of the fourth and final INFINITE CRISIS lead in mini-series -- ignoring, of course, the vast number of story arcs in ongoing titles linked to the upcoming CRISIS. It is written by Dave Gibbons, penciled by Ivan Reis, and inked by Marc Campos. First and foremost: the answer to the most pressing question to be asked since the preview appeared:

No. Despite what the preview pages may have led you to believe, the Dark Phoenix of Marvel’s X-MEN is not, in fact, invading the DCU. In case you missed the preview, the first few pages of R-T WAR #1 show Hawkman and Hawkgirl going wing to wing with a fiery bird -- which turns out to be a run of the mill, old fashioned phoenix of, apparently, the usual mystical variety. It also seems to have nothing to do with the larger story of R-T WAR #1, but appearances can be deceiving. I’ll reserve judgment or comment on it for now, but I will say that mythical monsters do suggest a link to the DAY OF VENEGANCE side of this INFINITE CRISIS countdown.

In any case, Adam Strange -- Defender of the planet Rann and recent star of his own mini-series -- arrives to solicit help from the Hawks, given a rather dire scenario: events have conspired to relocated Rann from its own star-system to that of Thanagar, which orbit’s the star we call Polaris. Thanagar is the home world of the previous incarnations of Hawkman and Hawkwoman, who were alien policemen stranded on Earth, rather than the continuously reborn doomed lovers we know and love from the current HAWKMAN title. Don’t think too hard on it, since the Hawks have the most convoluted continuity in all of the DCU. Instead, run out and buy the RETURN OF HAWKMAN trades, which not only clears up much of that mess but is also a damn fine JSA story to boot. I myself am familiar with Adam Strange only through a few brief appearances in books like JLA in recent years, but my lack of expertise did not diminish my enjoyment of R-T WAR #1 at all -- Gibbons does a fine job of filling you in on the essentials and hinting at the larger story, so that you might make the effort to go out and get more information (which I did -- I just purchased all 8 issues of the ADAM STRANGE mini-series, and once they are digested, I will post a follow up review as it pertains to INFINITE CRISIS in general and R-T WAR in particular).

Adam Strange’s exposition follows for a few pages, basically coming down to this: The Rannians and the Thanagarians are now sharing a world, and the Thanagarians are being preyed upon by a militant cult within its own society called the Cult of the Seven Devils, which appears to be your standard ‘mwa-ha-ha’ style evil organization. Both Rann, whose technology is considered the best in the galaxy, and Thanagar, whose soldiers are unparalleled, have alliances all across the cosmos, which means a conflict between the two will create a massive Galaxy wide war. We are told explicitly that both the Tamaranians -- of which the Teen Titan Starfire is a member, and whose evil sister is queen of the survivors of their lost home world (planets do seem to be rather fragile in the DCU) -- and the Khunds -- one of those ubiquitous “warrior races” we see a lot of in pulp science fiction -- have battle fleets revved up and ready to go. By the time Adam Strange and the Hawks make it back to Rann via Zeta Beam -- a nifty teleportation system that has the unusual side effect of rather randomly returning its users from when they came -- war has already broken out in the streets and much of the planet has already fallen to the Thanagarians that support the Cult of the Seven Devils. Strange and his allies will have their work cut out for them.

We get relatively few cameos in R-T WAR #1, at least relative to the other INFINITE CRISIS mini-series (but it is early yet). Hawkwoman -- the Thanagarian cop, not the habitually reincarnating Hawkgirl -- tries to contact Hawkman, apparently in order to warn him about what is happening, when her ship is boarded by one who must be the head of the Cult of Seven Devils. Her fate is not revealed, but the order for her arrest is given -- of course, the evil cult leader only has two guards with him, which means we’ll likely be seeing Hawkwoman on the lam but free nonetheless in issue #2. We are also treated to the brand spanking new Green Lanterns Kilowog and Kyle Rayner -- well, not really new so much as recently re-commissioned with the finale of the GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH mini-series -- as Kyle is ordered not only to go ‘remove’ a Khund blockade in an outlying system, but also to steer clear of the Polaris system, which of course means that we should be seeing Green Lanterns in action on Rann/Thanagar any moment now.

We are left with a tried and true cliffhanger -- Adam Strange’s headquarters being breached, with bodies flying and children screaming -- at the end of the issue, thereby staying true to the pulp sci-fi nature of the entire issue. While it isn’t fair to classify R-T WAR #1 as a ‘throwback’ or even as ‘retro’ in its style and approach -- both the story and the art are too modern for that -- the book certainly embraces its roots in the old science fiction comics of yesteryear. While there is plenty of fighting and explosions in this issue, the action doesn’t drive the plot as much as the exposition does. Given that these worlds and characters may not be familiar to the more casual reader, of those that prefer to stay more earthbound in their DCU reading, it is understandable. Compared to the complete lack of exposition in VILLAINS UNITED #1, it is in fact commendable. Nonetheless, it keeps the pace a little on the slow side. However, this is hands down the most beautiful of the four mini-series. While each of the others had character, and this one does too, R-T WAR #1 is just plain pretty to look at on top of it. I am still not a huge fan of how the slick paper accepts the coloring, but it isn’t as blurred or sloppy looking as THE OMAC PROJECT #1 was.

I am compelled to give R-T WAR #1 an 8 out of 10, but am going to settle for a 7 because of the slow plotting. Slow plotting isn’t always bad, and action sequences that are expository in nature certainly make up for some of that, but when the book in question is supposed to be a break-neck, damn near incomprehensible pulp sci-fi yarn in the vein of Star Wars and Perry Rhodan, I think the reduction is valid. Here’s hoping that issue #2 confounds and delights.

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