The fourth and final month of the Comics’ Greatest World introductory miniseries in some ways saved the best for last, as the final storyline by Randy Stradley took place in Cinnabar Flats, the area where the prologue story took place. The area where the alien scientist conducted his forbidden experiments until he was interrupted by a nuclear test in the desert above, where the U.S. government discovered a dimensional anomaly which could mutate humans and grant them amazing powers, the start and center of everything else. Dark Horse also saved some of their best artists for the final month; every month’s artist was a recognizable name, at least to me.
Unfortunately, the storyline and selection of characters was weak.
The first issue was Division 13, in which escapees from the government’s special mutant ward attempt to break in to free their fellow prisoners still trapped inside. Unfortunately, the aliens who have been hovering in the background for the past three months have tracked their “heretic” to this same location, and attack the base, putting it on full alert.
The art and cover by Doug Mahnke (The Mask, Superman, JLA) was good, but the characters were dull. In fact, the alien assault storyline was more compelling than the adventures of the title team.
In the end, the aliens breach the containment facility holding the dimensional anomaly known as the Vortex, and something escapes.
Which leads to the next title, Hero Zero, illustrated by Eric Shanower with a cover by Art Adams. I never could figure out how Shanower ended up doing this book. His art has always been technically excellent, with solid expressive drawing and clean, controlled lines.
But his work was also always a bit happy and bland; he was best known for a series of comic adaptations of the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. Seeing him illustrate this fighting adventure story about a schoolboy who can transform into a giant robot-type guy to fight giant monsters was just weird. Not as weird as if he’d been doing something like Faust, but still…
Anyway, this classic Chinese dragon escapes from the Vortex and a kid transforms into Hero Zero to stop it. And like I say, though Shanower’s work looks gorgeous, it doesn’t carry the same kind of visceral thrill as a cruder artist like Frank Miller manages when he’s on his game.
Hero Zero defeats the dragon, but it separates into several smaller spirits which fly away, vowing vengeance.
But they don’t get far before they run into the star of the next book, King Tiger, some kind of martial arts sorcerer. He traps the spirits inside a magic circle, then attacks them using magical arrows.
And once again, the book should have been a natural fit for me, given my affinity for martial arts movies and the artists involved. Geoff Darrow (Hard Boiled, The Matrix) turns in a cool cover, and the interior art was done by Paul Chadwick, who had first made a name for himself on Marvel’s Dazzler, of all books, before branching out to create the award-winning Concrete, about a guy stuck inside an alien suit that sets him apart from the rest of the human race.
But while Chadwick’s style was perfect for the introspective, humanistic drama of the environmentally-conscious Concrete, it didn’t make as good a fit for the frantic martial arts action of King Tiger battling elemental Chinese spirits.
Tiger eventually wins the fight with the help of his friends, but in the meantime, the aliens have penetrated the inner base in search of the Heretic.
Leading to the final confrontation in Out of the Vortex, the final book in the miniseries. Frank Miller provides the final cover as a counterpoint to his cover on X, the book that launched the miniseries. Interior art was handled by Bob McLeod, perhaps best known for co-creating Marvel’s New Mutants with Chris Claremont. Like Shanower on Hero Zero, McLeod did his own inks as well, and the result is polished and detailed, but again, the brief story falls short.
Basically, the entire issue is filler leading up to the final panel, as the aliens penetrate the inner core of the base to try to destroy the dimensional anomaly that bears the Heretic’s energy signature. Meanwhile, some of the prisoners from Block 13 are escaping, as well as the Division 13 stars. The Hero Zero kid sneaks back home, and King Tiger and his friends retreat the battlefield as well. When the aliens attempt to breach the Vortex, there’s a dramatic explosion of energy.
And then out of the Vortex comes the dude on the cover. The End. Who is he? Buy the first issue of his regular series to find out.
I didn’t bother. I didn’t bother buying any of the Comics’ Greatest World books, except for maybe one or two issues of Ghost. And as I said before, with the exception of Ghost, none of them lasted longer than two years. And the only character that anyone except a hardcore Dark Horse fan would even remember is Barb Wire, because of the Pamela Anderson movie.
I’m actually kind of happier that the entire enterprise collapsed. Dark Horse made its reputation on well-crafted creator-owned properties (plus a few licensed properties like Aliens). A me-too superhero universe just didn’t suit their strengths.