(July 2006)


"Death in a Small Town"

Writer & Artist: Bill Willingham
Colorist: Chris Chuckry
Letterer: Patrick Brosseau
Assoc. Editor: Michael Wright
Editor: Joey Cavalieri


Flying about in Wyoming, Superman discovers a supernaturally-formed red bubble enclosing the town of Riverrock. Even with the help of Green Lantern, the two fail to find a way inside. The Phantom Stranger (a later arrival) believes that he can use his body as a portal into the bubble, but fears that Superman's vulnerability to magic makes him a less-than-ideal choice for a raiding party. Thus PS summons Ragman, the Blue Devil, Nightshade, Detective Chimp, Enchantress, and Night Master. Meanwhile, inside the bubble, the sorceress known as Strega, along with her crew of demons and freaks, has summoned into the center of town the residents of Riverrock, and has illuminated her plan to use some number of them as human sacrifices in a spell of necromancy. Phantom Stranger's team, which he calls the Shadowpact, enters the bubble.

On the outside, a year has passed with no word from the Shadowpact. On the inside, however, the Shadowpact has just arrived—shaken up, but not terribly worse for the wear. Nightshade, upon beginning her surveillance, quickly encounters the villain Sister Shadow, and one-on-one battle ensues.


Strega informs the masses

Detective Chimp? I'll be honest and admit that at the time of this writing I know very little about this character, but come on! This is a project that I think only Bill Willingham could really care about. Even I can admit that all of these characters are lame. But God bless his little heart—DC comics fans are geekier than most when it comes to these obscure B- and C-listers, but an entire team without a single decently popular hero? I'm just not feeling it.

It would be one thing if the comic cohered well, but to be honest, I found the comic to be slightly schizophrenic. Half of it is, I would say, fairly mature, while the other half attempts (somewhat too obviously) to recapture the goofier style of writing that was in vogue when some of these characters were celebrating their heydays. There's nothing wrong with that—I actually respect a writer who refuses to shoehorn fun characters into dark roles, but I just don't know...something feels out-of-place here, and I can't quite put my finger on it.

This comic begins intriguingly, putting aside the sequence in which Superman narrates for us his attempts to enter the bubble ("Whatever it is, it seems to be entirely covering Riverrock, Wyoming. This bears investigation. Looks pretty solid. Opaque to my X-ray vision. And my heat vision has no effect either."—seriously, what's wrong with thought balloons anyway?). Willingham writes a rather creepy sequence in which Strega calmly informs the townspeople—whom she called "raw material" a few pages earlier—of her plans for them. This is a well-written scene owing to the coldly rational ultimatum that she lays on the crowd; her half-hearted attempt to empathize with her victims; and her final line: "Keep in mind that we're immeasurably more powerful than you. So there's no shame in submitting meekly to your fate." Chilling, I'd say. Though that mood seems somewhat contrary to what must surely be the intention of a comic book featuring Detective Chimp and Blue Devil.

Blue Devil kicks butt

The script for this comic also suffers from feeling a bit rushed, as though Willingham didn't particularly feel the need to justify the grouping of the Shadowpact team. As I have gone back and researched DAY OF VENGEANCE somewhat since reading this comic, I have discovered that Shadowpact actually came together as a team within that series, but...why? I wish we had been given more of a raison d'etre, not to mention more background on the players, about whom we learn very little except for some essential exposition through occasionally clumsy dialogue.

Moving on.... I hate to call a series after reading only the first issue, so rather than continue to analyze the story itself, I'll just do some nitpicking.

The Blue Devil's new outfit: what the heck is with that little logo on the left breast? This has got to be the lamest logo ever. It looks as though he's wearing a red police badge with a blue devil-head pattern on it. Is this an indication that he's supposed to be some kind of paranormal cop now? I mean, the entire outfit is just lazy. A black undershirt and grey track pants (or sweat pants?) with a Captain America-style bootcut? Still, I shouldn't complain too much. It's still a marked improvement over that S&M crap he was wearing back in Day of Judgment.

Do I even want to know what's going to become of this foreshadowing about BD's loose horn? I wonder.

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