Guess what’s out for New Comic Book Day? Commanders In Crisis #1, by Steve Orlando and Davide Tinto, hit the shelves today. It’s a story that feels timely and hopeful and 100% NOT a subtle about drawing parallels to the current state of American civil discourse.
I was provided with a free copy of Commanders In Crisis issue 1 for review. The opinions I have shared are my own.
Caution: This review contains some spoilers for Commanders In Crisis issue 1.
Before we start, an important note. I got an ARC of the first issue and will receive the upcoming issues, too. However, after reading the ARC of the first issue, I added Commanders In Crisis to my personal, paying-with-my-own-money pull list. That’s not hype for hype’s sake- I’m intrigued by the story so far and I want the series to do well enough to see where it’s going.
I low-key expected Commanders In Crisis to be a well-executed example of what the superhero genre, in general, has become for me lately: comic comfort food. You know, the same thing reheated, but still warm and reassuring on a bad day. With the exception of the Catalyst Prime Universe, I haven’t read a ton of new superhero verses that really felt fresh and exciting to me. I read the opener, where we see that *surprise* a police officer is Not What He Seems, and was comfortably settling into my expectations.
Then two pages in we get a politician demanding the dissolution of America to create 52 independent but cooperative nation states. He feels the country has a lack of respect and this will help them learn to “agree to disagree”. Ten bucks he meant, “respect my right to harass and Other people I don’t agree with.” The audience doesn’t even seem to be paying a lot of attention to his aggressive speech, so either they expected it or they can’t be bothered to react.
Talk about taking a left turn onto topical. People have made suggestions like this in the real world. Maybe not on this scale, but recently the topic has been the subject of several recent books. Americans are so divided that it feels like a more realistic fear than it might once have.
The short scene got my attention, and it also set the stage for the overall setting of the book: a world of people who are disconnected from each other and increasingly unwilling to find points of common interest. The lack of unity and empathy is literally becoming a danger to the existence of the universe.
The message is not subtle, people. I love it.
I continued to enjoy the right-out-there social commentary through the rest of the book. It’s interesting that there were (I guess?) no universes with even a single survivor that failed to have some kind of diversity in the American presidency. Every one of the Commanders was a US President in their own world and were somehow brought here by Nina right before their universes collapsed. That’s a pretty rad hook right there.
I’m fully aware that America is not the center of the universe- but you have to admit, America has held a position at the Cool Kids Table for a while. When we get gross, the other Cool Kids (and anyone who wants to sit at the table) feel okay getting gross as well. It’s not a good look for anyone.
SO these Commanders, all leaders and heroes in their own right, are now fighting for the last Earth. In most series, this would be a major event with at least months of buildup. Orlando and Tinto made it their first issue. Bold choice. Does it pay off?
In some ways it does weaken the structure. This issue gets a little text-dense in places. There’s a LOT of exposition. Orlando had to introduce a whole bunch of new heroes with weird powers (cool ones! Fresh ones!), so heavy expo is to be expected. I don’t think it detracts too much from the story, and it’s one thing we can expect to ease up as we get to know the heroes more closely.
Balancing that out are two things: art and message.
The page layouts are really well-done. Tinto uses a bunch of creative panels layouts to give everyone on the team a balanced presence in the story, and the art in those pages is just plain fun to look at.
Message is the other main selling point of this new series- the message of hope in the face of probable destruction. The heroes have all watched their own worlds fall. They’re in the last one, and they’re watching signs of the same rot that killed the rest of the multiverse. However, they’re still putting in the work to keep that rot at bay.
I can see critics raising a potential complaint that the story is just a little too out there. Like, “Really? They’re fighting an idea? The murder at the beginning of the story is ’empathy’? The cosmos wipes out entire universes full of diverse life because humans are mean to each other and the only hope is an improbably diverse group of superheroes who are by all indicators already too late to stop the future? This is cheesy af.”
Three responses to that. First, I read the story a few times and it reads like the violet skies only killed off sentient life. Maybe even just humans. Kind of a fresh take on that trope if it’s true?
Second, really good comics often revolve around problems which feel immediate and personal. Captain America fought Nazis and white supremacy. The Commanders are fighting something less definite but more pervasive: the impending loss of our ability to empathize with each other as fellow humans. I don’t think that’s any cheesier than people must have thought Cap was back in the day.
Finally, if comics aren’t allowed to be just a bit cheesy or melodramatic then what medium is? It’s literally part of the art form: heroes with carefully curated costumes and names to reflect their powerset, villains drawn with spittle flying as they yell to underscore their unbalanced rage, mysterious pins worn openly so we know who belongs to the group… none of this is realistic.
But it is fun, and Commanders In Crisis as a whole is fun. There’s a rich world, and fun superheroes, and engaging writing. Better, I get the impression that the story will make me feel more upbeat and optimistic about the real world as it evolves. What more could you ask for in a comic series?
A few parting questions and notes:
- Seriously, who is that guy demanding secession? Is he a Big Bad or a Random Example Of Systemic Problems?
- Nina mentions Thunder Woman. That implies there are other superheroes in this world unrelated to the current multiverse crisis. What are they doing?
- What is that pin? A bird on a triangle? An eye with one really long lash? Something Egyptian because pyramid? WHAT IS IT?
- Frontier looks a little burned out there in the beginning. She didn’t even want to leave her lab to help? Does her ennui weigh more heavily because she’s from this Earth? I have A Concern.
- Is hope not a regenerating resource in this world? If the Mind Muggers steal it from people, can they regrow it or is it lost forever? Because wouldn’t you want to give them some if you could grow your own again? I have a wee bit of sympathy for them- but I’m also a person frustrated by dealing with the environmental impact of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. So take that as you will.
- If Nina brought the Commanders from other Earths, is the secret pin-wearing organization also multi-earth? Are they some kind of nihilistic cult bent on destroying all humanity? Because they die too if the violet skies come?
- I want to roll my eyes at the Boobie Armor on Originator and Frontier’s costumes… but eh, that’s also a cherished comic trope, and it’s not exaggerated. Plus their designs are generally cool and practical. You could comfortably wear these at a convention without worrying about a wardrobe malfunction.
- I don’t even care if a full page of Prizefighter kissing a firefighter is pure fan service, I am LIVING FOR IT.
- Did anyone else notice we don’t have Nina’s last name because she was the one doing the introductions?
Did you pick up Commanders In Crisis #1 today?
Let us know what you thought about it!
Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and games enthusiast. She is co-editor (alongside Alex DeCampi) of and contributor to “True War Stories”, a comic anthology published by Z2 Comics. When she’s not writing or creating games, Khai likes to run more tabletop RPGs than one person should reasonably juggle.
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