By writing about magic confined within the superhero genre in Day of Vengeance, Bill Willingham avoids the overwriting sometimes found in his Fables work. Willingham grounds Day of Vengeance from the beginning in the hard-luck trappings of the Oblivion Bar -- much as he gives Fables a real life sense through the politics of Fabletown -- but Day of Vengeance fortunately never becomes sidetracked from the story and characters by layers of research, as Fables sometimes does. Day of Vengeance reveals any number of mystical origins, but all of them are relayed clearly and with relevance to the story. Magic, in the DC Universe, is sometimes boring; Day of Vengeance is not.
I think I expected to like Day of Vengeance the least of all the "Countdown to Infinite Crisis" miniseries; after all, even if the Rann/Thanagar War, at the outset, seemed only tenuously connected to the DCU proper, at least it had familiar Green Lanterns in it. But the team dynamics of Day of Vengeance are just so engaging -- Ragman as the "everyman," kissing the Enchantress and then being teased mercilessly; Nightmaster as the team leader that makes his whole team eat a good breakfast before a fight; and, of course, a talking monkey -- that I couldn't help but be drawn in by the story. Each of the characters take a turn narrating a chapter, in true Jeph Loeb style, and it helps to distinguish their personalities and powers.
I especially liked Willingham's exploration of Nightshade — feeling that she hadn't shown the full extent of her powers in an early battle, Nightshade resolves to fight harder; later, we get a better glimpse of her powers, making a nice character thread throughout the chapters. And Willingham writes a fantastic Captain Marvel, including a truly touching scene where all the magic characters of the DC Universe offer up their powers to help Captain Marvel fight the Spectre.
Day of Vengeance loses, however, only in an examination of its villains. The Spectre here is ghostly and ruthless, buffeted greatly by Beast Boy's Justiniano, doing some of his best work; however, this Spectre seems greatly removed from previous incarnations, speaking in full, complete sentences with Ming the Merciless wit. Eclipso, on the other hand, is all but inscrutable; it's easy to understand that the Spectre is attacking magic and the Shadowpact has to stop him, but it's far less clear why Eclipso's egging him on.
Even if, as we come to understand later, the Eclipso gem was given to Jean Loring by Superboy-Prime so that Alexander Luthor could gather all the world's magic, we're never quite sure what's in it for Eclipso. And in the end, when Eclipso is made to orbit the sun, a quick look at Eclipso: The Darkness Within shows that when Eclipso is exposed to sunlight, he leaves the host body; Jean Loring ought be burned to a crisp while Eclipso lives another day. The use of Jean Loring appears to be for the Identity Crisis-name-check only; once Eclipso takes over, the character is all but indistinguishable from any other Eclipso around, which is probably a waste of some potential drama.
All in all, however, Day of Vengeance is surprisingly good, and takes the top spot right now above OMAC Project; we'll see how the other stories hold up. I'm eager to read JSA: Black Vengeance to get more of Captain Marvel's side of the story, and Robin: Days of Fire and Madness to see more of the Shadowpact (there's also, apparently, a Shadowpact-member appearance in Birds of Prey: The Battle Within, too). The preview pages from the upcoming Shadowpact series, however, still leave me cold; Willingham writes and draws, and it seems like the actions and dialogue often overlap (at one point, Superman says, "I'll try my heat vision," while using his heat vision; at other, Blue Devil quips, "Let me trying hitting this guy," while he hits the guy.). Early reviews are good, however, so I'll wait to see how the trade comes out.
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