After our Top Ten DC Trades with Female Protagonists list the other day, a Collected Editions reader wondered why, if I liked Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman and Checkmate runs so much, why I hadn't reviewed 52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen, which includes elements from both of those series.
The answer is that the Four Horsemen miniseries seemed to me like the worst kind of crossover bait. I had a hard time seeing the necessity of a miniseries involving the Four Horsemen, essentially one-shot villains vanquished at the end of 52, except for the money DC Comics might make on a book with 52 Aftermath in the title. Black Adam: The Dark Ages filled in, at least, some of the gaps between Black Adam and Felix Faust's final appearances in 52 and their next appearances elsewhere; Four Horsemen reminded me of those Star Wars novels that tell a giant story about an insignificant background character, ultimately signifying nothing.
Having now read the book, I'm still not entirely convinced this is a book that needed to take shelf space away from something else. That said, there are a number (even a surprisingly great number) of in-roads through which a reader could find some value in grabbing a copy of this book on the cheap, not the least of them is dark, sketchy artwork by Pat Olliffe, which I had felt cast something of a pall over the final collection of the more-hopeful All-New Atom series, but that I found better-suited and enjoyed much more in this volume.
The first of Four Horsemen's hooks is that, perhaps purposefully, whereas Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were absent when 52 pit all the DC Universe's heroes against the Horsemen, this time it's DC's Big Three who fight the Apokolyptian villains. Writer Keith Giffen offers an effective "trinity" story that ends with a nice, unusually quiet moment for the heroes. Giffen's take on the three heroes' relationship reminds me of the epilogue of Mark Waid's Kingdom Come, especially in the dialogue between Superman and Batman -- they banter, they put each other down, they finish each others' sentences, very much like brothers who compete but still care about one another.
If anything, I felt Giffen's characterization of the heroes together was a bit too easy. Batman works with the other heroes, but otherwise he's unnecessarily a grump, insulting a few too many times Checkmate operative Snapper Carr; the first time Batman tells Snapper to "shut up" is humorous, but the twelfth time is a drag. Giffen has one of the Horsemen give Superman a magic-infected bite early on in the series, and this too-conveniently de-powers Superman so as to not overwhelm the other heroes. And while I very much enjoyed Wonder Woman's interactions with the character Veronica Cale from Rucka's run, Wonder Woman is separate from Superman and Batman for most of the story, making this not a true "trinity" story until almost to the end.
That said, it is a relief to read a "trinity" story that doesn't beat the reader over the head with the characters' similarities and differences, and rather is just a superhero case that happens to involve these three. To an extent, Big Three team-ups now seem to be considered "events" in the DC Universe, whereas I miss when the Super Friends working together was just natural.
The book's second hook is the aforementioned Checkmate agent Snapper Carr, a concept given some legitimacy by the character's subsequent appearance in Rucka and Eric Trautmann's Final Crisis: Resist. Snapper's history is a bit unclear in current continuity, but he's a fascinating character especially teamed with DC's Big Three -- this is a sidekick, mind you, who betrayed the Justice League. It's as if Robin were to sell out Batman to Two-Face -- that story isn't specifically referenced in Four Horsemen, but it underlies in interesting ways, especially in Batman's dealings with Snapper. Giffen also suggests that Snapper knows every secret identity of every DC superhero, which is certainly controversial for a Checkmate agent. If you enjoyed Checkmate as I did and noted Snapper's appearance in Resist, here's what started that off.
Finally, it turns out Four Horsemen is, above all else, a lead-in to Keith Giffen's new Doom Patrol series. Halfway through the book, nearly apropos of nothing, the core members of the Doom Patrol show up on Cale's Oolong Island to help Cale and her fellow mad scientists defeat the rampaging Four Horsemen. I don't imagine there's much here that can't be picked up from the first issues of Giffen's Doom Patrol, but the scenes of arguments between Doom Patrol chief Niles Caulder and Veronica Cale are also very strong, and it seems some of Horsemen's final loose threads will be tied up in that series. As such, if you're a Doom Patrol completist, you might start here; and, I liked seeing just the core members of the Doom Patrol in action again in this story without all the extra members or continuity trappings, much in the same way Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman appear here in fairly iconic form.
What lacks the most in Four Horsemen is, tellingly, the Horsemen themselves -- War, Pestilence and the rest aren't aren't any more well-defined than the sum of their names, and their mission beyond destruction is never entirely clear; at times I wasn't even sure which Horseman was which. Frankly I don't think any Four Horsemen story can ever really be about the Horsemen so much as about the heroes fighting them. To that end, this miniseries accomplishes some nice character points among DC's Big Three and the rest, and maybe I'll find some additional relevance in it once I get to Giffen's Doom Patrol; for now, fair stuff, but as I suspected not a "must read."
[Contains full covers by Ethan Van Skiver (though strangely half-covered by chapter numbers)]
Still, every book is someone's favorite, so if Four Horsemen spoke to you, please chime in and tell us why.