I have mixed feelings about my relationship with DC Universe Presents, particularly with the opening arc focusing on everyone’s favorite undead acrobat, Deadman. That sounds really stupid. Let me explain. No, there’s too much – let me sum up. On the one hand, I really like that writer Paul Jenkins had an ambitious idea for a self-contained story, with little by way of action and absolutely no big-name characters. On the other hand, the plotting was fairly haphazard, the stakes were never properly established and the story’s fumbling reach for profundity fell short. All of which makes this a tough book to review, but an interesting book to contemplate.
I recently wrote
far too much a really thoughtful essay on the first 13 issues of Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Ultimate Spider-Man. In it, I singled out “Confessions”, the thirteenth issue, for particular praise:
A stand-alone story that sees Peter confess his identity as Spider-Man to childhood best friend and long-time crush Mary Jane, the entire issue is, essentially, a single conversation between Peter and Mary that sees their entire relationship with one another shift with Peter’s revelation — and then shift again with Mary Jane’s
Now, I bring that up here because, well… that’s pretty much exactly what DC Universe Presents #5 is. Sure, there’s a three-page action sequence near the end, but the core of the book, the climax of the story, is found in Boston Brand’s lengthy conversation with Rama, a discussion that alters the fundamental relationship between the pair.
Unfortunately, where Ultimate Spider-Man succeeded and DC Universe Presents failed was, as I mentioned, in the execution. USM grounded its story in secrets and relationships that had been building for some time. DC Universe Presents grounds its conversation in a philosophical difference of opinion between two characters without ever giving us any real grounds to consider one of them as a character at all. Peter and MJ both have power in the USM story, and their conflict is recognizable; in DCU Presents, not only is Deadman holding all the cards, we aren’t even ever fully aware of what precisely their conflict IS.
And yet… it almost works. Bernard Chang’s art is vivid and lively, and a great fit for the mythic, larger than life milieu in which the story takes place. Brand’s confidence and underdog status makes him easy to root for, and Jenkins only rarely overplays Rama’s inscrutability and godhood. But murky stakes – I never really understood the ‘connection’ Deadman felt to his previous hosts – and an anti-climactic conclusion to not only Deadman’s story, but to that of Johnny, Brand’s host for much of the story combine to drag the book down a little.
Next month, DC Universe Presents will shift its focus, and we’ll be getting a story about the Challengers of the Unknown from Dan Didio and Jerry Ordway. Despite the not-entirely-satisfying nature of this first five-issue arc, I confess, I’m excited. Monthly comics are an inherently predictable medium, both because that’s what fans want and because that’s the nature of a lot of serialized stories. But DC Universe Presents is far from predictable. When I picked up the first issue, I definitely didn’t expect to get a bizarre supernatural drama focusing on issues of guilt and redemption. Will the “Challengers” story be a pulpy adventure? A horror-tinged action story? I don’t know, but I’m more than happy to jump on and find out. DC Universe Presents had an interesting first arc, and I think I can forgives its flaws in favor of recognizing the thoughtful, relaxed tone that is so rare in mainstream comics, and so easy to slip into here.