Written by: Bryan Hill, with Warren Ellis
Art by: N Steven Harris, Dexter Vines and Andy Owens
Colours by: Dearbhla Kelly
Letters by: Simon Bowland
Release Date: February 14, 2018
What happens when you cross The Wicker Man with Jaws and set the resulting hybrid in a world where DC's best-loved heroes have become dark psychopathic versions of themselves? If, like me, you've never really thought to ask that question before… tough. Because you're about to find out…
The issue starts with an ancient house standing on a rocky cliff's edge, its lights blazing in the dark while below the waves crash against the moonlit rocks. A man stands on the house's balcony for a moment, outlined in just enough of a silhouette to pick out his well-muscled chest and 80s mullet. He divests himself of his robe and dives into the churning water below. Meanwhile, a woman gets into a Boat which villagers push off the beach and out to sea. On the beach, more villagers stand holding flickering torches aloft while chanting repeatedly about "bounties" and "sacrifice" and the water around the boat begins to churn and…
Look, I'm not going to spoil it for you. We do see the woman again. Well, bits of her. Sharks are messy eaters. Not sure about that green webbed hand thrusting out of the water to grab the poor girl's head, though. That was a bit weird. I wonder what that was…
Oh, hang on! That'll be the weird mutated Arthur Curry we saw at the end of the last issue. I bet that's who it'll be. Alright. Switching the sarcasm off now. (Although I reserve the right to turn it on again later if necessary.) Taken on its own, this opening is perfectly serviceable. There's a nice sense of foreboding and rustic people chanting by torchlight on night time beaches is always enjoyably creepy. It's just that there are opportunities for building tension and mystery that are being missed here. That's been a particular bugbear for me with this series and it's happening again. Given the way this story starts, the reveal of Arthur Curry at the end of the previous issue just seems like a massive misstep to me. The panels in which he emerges from the water and moodily sits in a large armchair and raises a toast to a picture of his father who is dressed like a particularly camp Neptune on a throne are intriguing, but we're going to get Christine Trelane handily explaining that to us in a couple of pages' time in yet another one of her briefing style infodumps that manages to succinctly tell us all the background we need to know but could have had fun finding out for ourselves.
Cray ends up taking one team member with him, because, he says, he's distracted by the thought of keeping them alive, which is not a particularly convincing argument given that he used them as bait last issue and without one of them he'd have been killed by a one-armed Oliver Queen in issue 2. The one he's taking with him is, of course, Leon, with whom he had a bit of a spat last issue, but to whom he says a grand total of zero words here. There is no sense of interplay or relationship between them whatsoever and imagine my surprise when, despite Trelane's warnings about using him as bait, he ends up disappearing for much of the issue only to reappear on the final page bound, gagged and in a boat with sharks circling around him.
Much of the second half of the issue is taken up with a somewhat rambling conversation between the village's 'elder' and Cray (who is posing as possibly the most unconvincing marine biologist in the history of popular literature) which doesn't tell us very much at all, but does contain a historical inaccuracy. (According to the 'elder', the Currys found New Zealand around 100 years before Abel Tasman did in 1642.) When the 'elder' leaves and Cray gets attacked by masked axe-wielding men yelling "Blasphemer!" it's almost a relief. Say what you like about N Steven Harris but he knows how to draw a good action sequence. And he delivers here with Cray flourishing a sword while chomping on a cigar like a weirdly bad ass Errol Flynn.
And that's pretty much it. Leon's stuck in a boat surrounded by sharks (the woman earlier had her boat bitten through by a shark, so just sitting tight really isn't going to be an option for him) and… I don't care. As with much of this series so far, the extraordinary potential of this issue's premise, while partially touched on in intriguing ways at times, remains mostly unfulfilled and there isn't even any decent characterisation to keep the reader interested. While nowhere near as poor as, say, some of Steve Orlando's writing on Justice League of America, the dialogue is flat and uninspiring in places and the sense of a comic series simply going through the motions is getting depressingly stronger.
Bits and Pieces:
The odd flashes of excitement and the opening's atmospheric homage to 70s horror films apart, this is a flat and uninvolving issue. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the issue's cliffhanger which expects the reader to feel a modicum of concern for a character whom the writer has made no effort whatsoever to make interesting or sympathetic. Mediocre art doesn't help and neither does Hill's predilection for uninspired infodumps. There are some excellent ideas here but simply not enough is being done with them.