Review: Year of the Villain: The Infected trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Year of the Villain: The Infected

No line-wide mainstream comics event comes without some cruft, and in that regard “Year of the Villain” (being, even, a sub-event “countdown” to another event) has had better or more innocuous tie-ins than most. That said, it was already apparent from the lead-in Batman/Superman Vol. 1: Who Are the Secret Six? that the “Infected” tangent of “Villain” might be the weak link, and the Year of the Villain: The Infected collection seals that.

Though not objectionable, there is nothing here that’s consequential and nothing that feels like it couldn’t be easily skipped. Should the plight of the heroes infected by the Batman Who Laughs play out more strongly in Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen or the like, maybe that assessment will change, but I’m not optimistic on that point. Further, DC Comics made the odd decision to choose particularly out-of-the-way characters for these stories, such that the stakes start low and barely end up getting any higher.

[Review contains spoilers]

Considering the “infected” characters present in this book — Shazam, Blue Beetle, Donna Troy, Hawkman, Supergirl, and Commissioner Gordon — they are mostly characters whose series were already cancelled or have now been announced as cancelled as of the release of this trade (plus the one supporting character, Gordon). Arguably there might have been an idea that Shazam was worthy of a spotlight given the movie (see also Black Adam’s out-of-the-blue inclusion in the upcoming Endless Winter) but that moment seems long since passed given, again, the halting schedule and cancellation of his series.

If “Infected” were trying to save Hawkman or Supergirl, it failed; Blue Beetle and Donna Troy I can’t even explain. And it is not even as though these books are written by creators associated with the characters, as is sometimes the case with these tie-in books. Instead, the creators include Sina Grace, Dennis Hallum, and Zoe Quinn, all of whom have comics experience but only burgeoning DC-writing experience, as if this were more a venue project for the latest DC writers' workshop. The inconsequential might feel less so if Geoff Johns were on the Shazam story, Keith Giffen on Blue Beetle, or Phil Jimenez on Donna Troy.

Probably best among these specials is Infected: The Commissioner, written by the biggest name here, Paul Jenkins, and with art by Jack Herbert. It suffers from the same malady as most of these books, in that it’s starts in the middle of a story and does not end conclusively so much as it just stops. But Jenkins' noir-ish words are effective in the most grounded and least “high superheroics” of the specials, and Herbert is just stellar in his scenes of Batgirl Barbara Gordon fighting her way through Arkham Asylum escapees — I’d happily read Jenkins and Herbert on a Batgirl title. The story involves the now-evil commissioner shipping Gotham’s homeless out of the city for reasons unknown — the story isn’t clear on that point, and again it’s equally unclear whether this will all be very relevant in Hell Arisen or never mentioned again.

Again, among the other specials, there’s nothing particularly problematic. King Shazam has art by Joe Bennett, Scarab (Blue Beetle) has art by Freddie Williams, and Deathbringer (Donna Troy) has art by sometimes Titans artist Brent Peeples. Deathbringer features this strange Titans team of Raven, Beast Boy, Miss Martian, and Steel Natasha Irons; though this iteration from Dan Abnett never quite gelled, it’s cool to see them again after the end of their series, and Zoe Quinn gets the characters' voices just fine and builds a good atmosphere of horror. I never did read Beetle Jaime Reyes' Rebirth series, but as a fan of his previous series it was fun especially to see Paco and Brenda again.

But the stories are largely formulaic, mostly what you’d expect — the hero goes bad, lashes out at their cast, and then flies off. As in Batman/Superman, Shazam comes off poorly because his “bad self” is essentially Billy Batson throwing a temper tantrum, and lines like, “The real me — he doesn’t follow chumps anymore” does not a scary villain make. Freddie Williams draws a frighteningly beastly “Scarab,” but here too the story just ends (with Ted Kord apparently still in peril). And Quinn unfortunately gets this iteration of Donna Troy who was angst-ridden and annoying to begin with, and the switch to Deathbringer hardly makes her more palatable.

The book concludes with an issue of Hawkman and an issue of Supergirl from their main series, by Robert Venditti and Marc Andreyko respectively. Perhaps it’s the title’s willingness to fold the “Infected” storyline into their main plot that determines whether a character got a separate special or not; this, I’d venture, reflects worse on Shazam, because at least the other two gave it a try. Both of these read about as well as you’d expect a random issue from a comic to read, pulled in without context; Hawkman is the better, with the interesting idea of the “infected” Hawkman being the corrupt Earth-3 Hawkman, though why that’s not true of the other heroes I can’t tell you. On the other hand, the trope of Supergirl gone evil-and-leather is tired as is, and here it felt a troubled plot plus chaotic art from Eduardo Pansica wasn’t serving the now-cancelled series particularly well.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Year of the Villain: The Infected



So perhaps Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen will prove Year of the Villain: The Infected to be deceptively important; maybe Deathbringer Donna Troy will turn out to be the character find of the decade. Based on this volume alone, however, I don’t think so, and unless you really must complete your library of Blue Beetle appearances, if you’re looking to trim a book from your “Year of the Villain” reading list, Infected might be the one to drop.

[Includes original covers, character designs]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. I so loved the old continuity Jamie Blue Beetle series. Just superb. His new52 series, however, was fascinatingly awful (complete direction changes every few issues). And his Rebirth series wasn't very good, it suffered too much from Giffen's mean-ness; his constantly bickering characters really only work with a artist who can do the subtle facial expressions to make it work. Basically anyone but AH or Maguire drawing a Giffen book and it just seems like the characters (who are supposed to be friends) loathe each other and are plotting each others murder. JLA 3000 had the same problem.


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