Review: Inferior Five trade paperback (DC Comics)


Inferior Five is a pretty niche story — a semi-sequel to a lesser-known 1980s DC Comics crossover — to the point I’m surprised they even decided to publish it. Few new readers, I imagine, are going back to read Invasion! as opposed to something like Batman: Knightfall or The Death of Superman. Perhaps the draw is the presence of the big name on the book, writer/artist indie sensation Jeff Lemire, though really this book is writer/artist and 1980s DC stalwart Keith Giffen’s. It branches off of Invasion!, in which Giffen and his DC storylines of the time played a big role, it features Giffen’s distinct art style, it plays with characters who were obscure in Giffen’s 1980s heyday and are virtually unknown now. Like I said, it’s pretty niche.1

To that end, there’s probably not a lot of reason for most readers to pick Inferior Five up, including that it was unceremoniously cancelled six issues through a 12-issue miniseries, with issues #5 and #6 only published online and the latter not even drawn by Giffen. But though Giffen is only credited with plot on the final issue, it is the most Giffen-esque of this whole Giffen-esque book, as wise and ridiculous as one would expect from the final issue of a Giffen book cancelled halfway through. If Giffen was ever your go-to DC guy, if you’ve got issues of Invasion! fondly mildewing in your garage, you might go find the last issue of this series, at least.

[Review contains spoilers]

The bottom line is that in a 12-issue miniseries with a mystery at the center that only gets to release six issues (and of those, maybe five that were on track and one clearly written once the rug was pulled out), not actually a lot has a chance to happen. Mercifully, the fifth issue fills in a bunch of the gaps as to what’s going on in Dangerfield, Arizona, though the broad strokes of this series will forever remain unanswered — why was Tasmanian Devil a robot? Why was the comic book store owner a vampire? Was that Bizarro who showed up toward the end? Who approved Angry Charlie appearing green instead of pink?

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

The other effect of this foreshortened story is that most of the first five issues is set-up. The Inferior Five, such as they are, are nearly never together, and most of the story simply involves pairs of them walking around Dangerfield trying to find the others. Though there are the requisite superhero battles (of the absurdist variety, like Starro vs. the Tasmanian Devil), the “inferior” five kids are for the most part just kids, trying to stay out of the way of the furor. That might eventually have been fun in a Stranger Things kind of way — the DCU continually lacks for books about normal people in an abnormal world — but also we know how tough it can be for a book about unknown characters to gain traction.

That final issue, with tongue firmly in cheek, is set “five years later” after the events of the first issues; for those in the know, that should be a clear picture of what you’re in for. (Whether that’s Giffen making his own joke or Lemire kindly nudging him, it goes both ways, as when, pointedly, a character heads to Canada because “everything is better in Canada”). The fourth wall crumbles further when Brother Power, the Geek takes his bow, moaning not only about the cancellation of the series halfway through, but also how, despite Peacemaker appearing in this book, “James Gunn won’t even answer me on Twitter.” A Khundian warrior protests, when management suddenly pulls the plug on their invasion, that “all the time we have invested … it can’t all be for nothing?!”

But the most poignant moment comes when narrator Justin thinks about his nostalgia for “the first invasion” and how Dangerfield “feels like another forgotten story.” In a lonely desert scene, a bulldozer comes along and plows away the scenery, as Justin notes that “life … is forgotten stories” and that “when people get tired of one, they just wipe it out and build another on top of it.” He continues, “Old stories like layers upon layers of sediment building up, waiting to be excavated again one day.” It’s a perfect metaphor for Inferior Five and for comics in general — and then, let’s not overlook, a sign tells us what’ll be built on top of this is “Gotham Southwest,” or yet another Batman book.



Inferior Five is a snake eating its own tail — a book by a creator somewhat out of fashion about an event nearly forgotten featuring characters straight from limbo, which was then itself cancelled (presumably) due to lack of sales. This might be a rare instance when cancellation adds to the effect. I’m a sucker for books that resurrect the past — in this, it’s not Invasion! being resurrected as much as Keith Giffen and all he represents. Maybe next time he can stay a while.

[Includes original and variant covers]

  1. Occasionally I hear rumor DC publishes something simply to keep trademark up on a character or team name. No idea if that's true, but it would explain some things some times.  ↩

Comments ( 4 )

  1. The last two issues were released digitally during the covid shutdown and I remember it being a surprise that those came out at all. It may have been that they just wanted to release anything they could at the time digitally

  2. Insightful review as always. Being a fan of both Keith Giffen and Jeff Lemire and that it seemed like an interesting premise...I picked this up....and I couldn't believe this was published at all to be honest. I don't know who thought there would be a demand for this kind of book (especially with the current state of the market)....I always enjoy quirky books and this was one of those. Surprising that it was referring to an event book from around two decades ago....and I enjoyed the beginning part of it......but the rushed ending just ruined the whole thing for me....It was clearly slapped together, and they just couldn't really get it to work.

    This really could have been something like a quirky hidden gem, instead it's full of unfulfilled potential.

    It was really nice to see Giffen's artwork......I've always enjoyed the fact that his style is so unique and different from everyone else out there. Sad that he is not appreciated as much right now and getting more assignments.....would be great to see him back doing mainstream super hero work.

  3. Really liked this more then you guys, as I kind of had an idea this would be going in a very "meta" direction. I think this was as good as it could be, with everything going against it. For that reason 4 stars.

  4. AnonymousMay 26, 2022

    Giffen is one of those creators whose work, unlike that of say Morrison or Waid, I hadn't necessarily purposefully sought out, but, looking at my collection, has produced a fare share of comics I've bought, enjoyed and kept. Justice League. Doom Patrol. Suicide Squad. He was part of the 52 crew (along with Waid and Morrison), but working on the art, if I recall. And yes, Invasion, which isn't a masterpiece but actually holds up pretty well as a story about a bunch of DC's alien races wanting to wipe out the Earth because its superheroes are so meddlesome. Yes, it's dated. But I've found anything Giffen does is well-written and creative. It's never just average. So when this was first announced I was kind of excited for it and happy to see a vet like Giffen paired with a hot "modern" creator like Lemire. I'd one day love to read an article about the backstory of this - how it came together and, eventually, fell apart, with interviews with Giffen, Lemire, etc. In fact that would have been great to include in the tpb. Given Lemire's popularity I don't necessarily think it was a nutty idea. And Giffen would attract the long-time fans. I could see the people who green-lit it recognizing it was a risk, but with a potential payoff.


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