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Review: Knight Terrors First Blood #1

DC Comics July 2023

Deadman helps the Justice League

I enjoyed Howard Porter's artwork on past DC titles like Justice Society 3000 and Justice Society 3001, and the same energy is in Knight Terror's First Blood #1, but there is a difference: an unfinished look to the art, with wispy line work that projects incompleteness. I dismissed this after several pages because the lead character, John Dee (aka Dr. Destiny), is experiencing a nightmare while on a picnic with his family who turn suddenly (no transition panels here) into maggot spewing gnarled figures who grasp him threateningly, saying platitudes of love while jagged outlines are put around their word balloons to imply terror.

I thought the wispy, unfinished looking art represented John Dee's dream gone bad and maybe a disintegrating mental state, but when Dee is attacked by a zombie-looking version of the Justice League, who are before him in a giant framed painting worthy in size of a Bill Finger story, they erupt out of the canvas and attack, except in the next panel it isn't a canvas anymore, it looks like a flat-screen TV, and this randomness gave me pause.

Is this on purpose? I don't know, the art has such a rushed, unfinished state to it it could either be a clever commentary about how a traditional oil painting is like a flat screen TV, or the second panel simply got less drawing attention in forming a coherent visual world and it's supposed to be the same framed object as the previous panel but looks different.

John Dee vows revenge with self-important word play "It will take more than a haunted house to frighten someone such as myself " but whether this is part of his personality or just common comic book villain talk circa 1966 Marvel Comics, I don't know.

At this point, without any exposition (or narration) there's not a lot going on here to explain things, and I'm not familiar with Dr. Destiny, so why his head changes shape from panel to panel and he constantly looks different, that's another thing I don't know. Is it an expression of the character or perhaps no editor noticed the key character in the front of this issue looks different from panel-to-panel?

The story segueways into a Deadman tale, with Deadman introducing himself and explaining with "Yes, I like to hang out in graveyards. Batman gets a cave and I get a graveyard, okay?" He then begins to tour a few other locations, monologuing along the way, saying that he senses another being that is "like him." The artwork has improved and has a much more finished appearance, but we've still got heads that change, for example Wonder Woman with a pug nose in one frame, and then immediately after a long nose (kinda like Gal Gadot).

Deadman is literally following some sort of "scent" and traces it to the Hall of Justice, and there he watches as Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman go in search of why a security alarm has been tripped, and then, with Deadman providing sarcastic comments (that they can't hear, but of course we can) the trio (plus Deadman) find the slain figure of John Dee impaled upon a wheel (the Justice League logo?) multiple times with black... spikes? spears? arrows? Don't know.

And this sequence is probably where the failings of this issue are at their strongest, the unrealized and hurry-along-the-plot mode of the story: John Dee is dead, and the three principal members of the Justice League could care less, there's no emotional reaction to the gruesome murder, just an immediate problem-solving, we've got a case.

Deadman can see what's going on and wants to explain, so he enters Batman's body and begins talking through Batman, explaining a few quick items concerning what's afoot, then Batman spews him out like vomit.

But in the course of all this, we've learned, via Harley Quinn on a phone, John Dee is actually back at Arkham on an operating table having a violent nightmare surrounded by a medical team, and the body the Justice Leaguers are looking at in the Hall of Justice is a "dream construct" (this gets explained by Zatanna). Then the real villain appears, a character called Insomnia.

But the real, real villain is the hurried look of the art and the lack of human perspective in the story. Irony and sarcasm are the main modes of dialogue, and since the writer (Joshua Williamson) knows that the impaled John Dee at the JLA headquarters is a "dream construct" this is presumably why Bats, Supers and WW have no emotional response to finding an impaled dead body right under their nose. But the reader, of course, doesn't know that, (nor should WW, Bats and Supers) and the non-reaction of DC's Big Three to a dead (and briefly unknown) person implies something that transcends the numbing sarcasm and irony that communicates the tale.

Summary

Howard Porter is a gifted caricaturist, but, man, this art has an unfinished look to it. Sometimes on these pages Batman is the typical heroic and anatomical ideal, but in other panels he's got a long body and short, stubby cartoon legs. Some editorial attention was needed here.

Since Williamson's story features regular effusions of body fluids, we get to see a lot of liquid being ejected, so for fans of body fluids, this is probably a real treat. But for me, I think this is an unintentional, and unfortunate, theme. Some editorial oversight to some of these aspects would've helped what is an otherwise a serviceable introduction to a new adventure for the DC heroes.

DC Comics online page about the book Knight Terrors First Blood #1


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Original Page August 20, 2023