I feel like I read the original DCeased story arc a few years ago for my previous podcast venture, but I’m not actually 100% sure. The past was so long ago, you know. I do definitely recall having read it; what I don’t remember is whether I talked about it or not.
DCeased was basically DC’s attempt at a Marvel Zombies style story where the heroes and villains of their universe deal with a spreading zombie infection. Very cleverly, the infection itself is tied into the precious Anti-Life Equation that Darkseid has been after almost since his inception. In this Elseworlds’ universe, the ruler of Apokolips finally gets the full equation, only to discover that it turns him into a rampaging zombie.
As the disease spreads, heroes start dropping like flies. Superman, Batman, The Flash and more are quickly either killed or turned, and several DC heroes have to take up new mantles. Jon Kent becomes Superman. Damian Wayne takes up the role of his father. Cassie Sandsmark becomes the new Wonder Woman. Cassandra Cain gains the power of SHAZAM, and Black Canary gets herself a Green Lantern ring. And what’s left of the universe wages war against the unliving Anti-Life Equation.
There is… none of the light-heartedness of Marvel’s zombie tale. That story was brutal, but it had its share of laughs. DCeased is straight misery from beginning to end.
And after several years and several other mini-series (Unkillables, Hope At World’s End, Dead Planet), the tale finally came to War Of The Undead Gods, the arc that was set to wrap up the DCeased story.
TITLE: DCeased: War Of The Undead Gods
Writer and Artist: Tom Taylor, Trevor Hairsine, and Andy Lanning
Publisher: DC Comics
Protagonists: Superman, Jon Kent, Damian Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, Cyborg, Lobo, others
Antagonists: Darkseid, Erebos
I actually have a really large knowledge gap here, as all I have read is the original DCeased story, the one-shot A Good Day To Die, and then War Of The Unhead Gods. But it’s not like it’s rocket surgery here: The DC characters are fighting a zombie virus! Lots of people have died in the meantime. The biggest going on I missed is covered pretty extensively early in this series, and that is that the heroes have found a cure!
I actually had no great intention on ever revisiting the DCeased universe; I basically bought this because I was tricked. I was looking around my comic shop several months ago and saw the cover to issue number two of the the new series. Who did I spy on the cover but Kyle Rayner! Well, if Kyle is going to be a core figure of this arc, I’m sold.
(Spoiler: Kyle is nowhere near a core figure in this arc)
I grabbed issues one and two that day–the issue #1 I got was a phenomenal black & white variant cover by Jay Anacleto–then grabbed each successive one as they were released. Over the course of this series, it is revealed that the true threat is not an equation, but a timeless ancient being called Erebos. That is what Darkseid accidentally summoned when he gained control over the Anti-Life Equation.
From there, we get a series that lives up to its name. The infected New Gods join Erebos’ cause with Darkseid. Ares gets involved, sensing that the final war in history is about to take place. The Guardians Of The Universe battle both the zombies of the ALE and the heroes who disapprove of their plan to massacre victims who could otherwise be cured. And upper level beings like The Spectre and Mr. Mxyzptlk find their way into the fray, as well.
So there really are a lot of godlike beings involved in this saga!
Probably none more unexpected of intriguing than when Alfred Pennyworth–of all characters across the DC universe, ALFRED PENNYWORTH–bonds with The Spectre! They definitely set it up. The mysterious narrative for the first several issues. Alfred having killed Bruce, Dick, and Tim. And then the infection of Leslie Thompkins. It all leads to Alfred giving into decades’ worth of held rage and summoning the unbound Spectre to him.
And then he punches Highfather’s head off, ha!
Hairsine and Lanning’s art is definitely fitting for the series, even if I’m not sure I… like it. It’s messy. It’s gritty. It’s very dark, and it all works brilliantly for a series that is as hopeless and violent as this. Talk about people getting the assignment! But their detail isn’t that great, and the characters faces sometimes just seem a bit… exaggerated? Or misshapen? I can’t quite verbalize my issues with them. But I don’t care… they aren’t drawing a light-hearted She-Hulk book; they’re drawing a series about zombies blowing up planets and slashing people into pieces. This book looks exactly how it needs to look!
The story is… I mean, it feels a lot like misery porn for a while. When the series starts, the survivors have had 5 years of hiding and fighting in their wake, and then this run spends at least its first six issues just making things worse. Darkseid gets a Sinestro Corps ring. Warworld gets turned to Erebos’ cause, as does friggin’ MXYZPTLK! Taylor makes the odds ridiculously stacked against the living here before finally coming up with a way for them to take the fight to Erebos’ forces.
Here’s the problem: when you stack the odds that high and you make winning impossible, virtually no resolution is going to work. And that’s the case here where the heroes formulate this weird plan to have Warworld stop their hearts to encounter Erebos (Erebos is only accessible via a Doom Tube, and you die if you try to pass through one) and restart them on the other side. It’s a stupidly simple strategy, but once they use it, they just attack Erebos with no retaliation whatsoever.
Then there is the ultimate plan: Damian Wayne has pulled the Life Equation out of Cyborg, and put it inside himself (what?). Then when he goes inside a wound in Erebos, it creates an explosion, killing them both.
I mean… okay, I guess? That feels oversimplified and unearned. After 5 years and 7 issues of hopelessness, Damian comes up with and enacts this plan in the last issue. It’s so rushed and anti-climactic!
The art works, and the story is all a really decent mix of hopeful and dire. The heroes get Superman back in the first issue, but then things just get worse and worse until the sudden but inevitable conclusion. I wish it had stuck the landing because when I finished issue #8, I was left feeling like I’d been cheated a worthwhile resolution. But up to that point, this was a good ride.
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