For many people it’s a common opinion that, with almost a century of history (and stories) behind it, the superhero genre has practically exhausted the topics to be told and that – embedded in the mechanisms of seriality – it does nothing but update, modernize and adapt to the contemporary its archetypes and topoi to churn out new stories which, however, always tell the same themes with the same characters.
It is equally true that, in over eighty years of life, this particular comic genre has seen a project appear from time to time – often born from the mind of a single author – which has enriched a narrative with an unprecedented look that, cyclically, proposes again itself.
Just think of what Jack Kirby did with the Fourth World saga, grafting into the DC Comics cosmos an entire sub-universe of stories and characters that have expanded the mythology and narration of the publishing house based today in Burbank.
We also think of Erik Larsen, his Savage Dragon and all the world connected to it, and also Todd McFarlane and the universe of Spawn; or to Kurt Busiek and the entire Astro City epic. Or, more recently, what Robert Kirkman did with Invincible and Jeff Lemire with Black Hammer.
All superhero universes more or less derivative or homage to those of the Big Two Marvel Comics and DC, but still capable of creating a narrative stage that has given the authors the possibility to expand the boundaries of their worlds with new stories that have been added over the years – and in some cases they will still be added – to the original ones.
Steve Orlando has been, since childhood, a huge fan of superhero comics. Then he managed to become a comic writer, fulfilling his professional dream, and his encyclopedic knowledge of characters and events (capable of “rivaling the entire DC editorial staff“, as revealed by Dan DiDio who knows him well) allowed to work exclusively for about five years in the house of Superman & C., writing stories for many of the most important DC characters (Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter), some of them winners of industry awards.
In this 2020 Orlando has returned to being a freelancer and has decided to devote himself to a series of creator-owned projects. However, the call of the superhero passion has not died down in the American author, so much so that he is about to launch, for Image Comics, a maxi series in twelve parts which effectively sanctions the birth of a new multiverse populated by heroes in spandex.
Commanders in Crisis right from the title immediately clarifies the idea behind the entire project: we are faced with a multiverse that is about to face its final crisis and a handful of heroes is the only bulwark that can avoid the end of human existence.
Put like this, the plot would not seem to shine for its originality, however the first issue brings out a series of interesting elements that leave the reader curious to see how the story will continue.
First of all, this issue leaves, upon reaching the last page, the feeling of having just begun to explore and deepen a complex and multifaceted multiverse. Above all we perceive how Orlando has done a big job of planning and writing probably creating a conceptual map of an entire universe, complete with past, present and future main events, bonds and connections between characters.
This element, if well played and developed, could prove to be one of the winning keys of the series, a passe-partout to transform it into an incubator of a large number of stories and future developments, also told by other authors.
Another winning point that this issue scores are the characters, in the characteristics and powers that distinguish them. Orlando also confirms in this new comic how close he feels the instances of racial and gender inclusion, making each of his protagonists a representative of an ethnicity or a gender often victims of attacks and persecutions by some political and social fringes of the contemporary Western societies.
But the heroes outlined by the writer are also people who, in a certain sense, have made it in their personal life, redeeming with their success the suffering of those fringes of humanity to which they belong.
All of them then have powers unrelated to physical force and closer to other aspects such as speech, the ability to X-ray vision, the understanding of a quantum universe, the power deriving from the approval of others. All elements that these characters then transform into physical power, but in any case quite original and that seem to want to convey a message of opposition to physical violence as an end in itself.
Where the story appears less effective is in some didactic passages in which Orlando is perhaps anxious to clarify some “structural” aspects of his multiverse to the reader, but he risks transforming plot aspects with interesting narrative potential into explanations that do not enrich the story.
Commander in Crisis is also a series that speaks Italian, starting with the designer and the colorist – Davide Tinto, co-creator with Orlando, and Francesca Carotenuto – up to the graphic design and editorial supervision of the entire project entrusted to the guys from Arancia Studio.
Tinto prefers a variable page structure but which always aims at display clarity and which opens in a single, very effective splash page that has the function of presenting the cast of the protagonists on the battlefield.
In a trait that tends to be realistic and which is very close to a certain European school of comics that tries to mix together a naturalistic style with manga and animation influences, the designer slips into some small anatomical défaillances, perhaps due more to having to take the hand with the many characters present.
The work of character design on the look of the various heroes, which mixes derivative elements – from comics to video games – with more original and personal intuitions, is very effective and interesting.
Carotenuto’s colors – which shares with Tinto an artistic bond that has been going on for some years now – enhance the ligne claire of the penciler, filling volumes and providing greater three-dimensionality to figures and environments, at the same time using the color palette both to set the underlying emotions of the various sequences, both to emphasize the powers of the various heroes.
A twelve-issue series cannot be judged by the first issue alone, which however, marking the debut, is always fundamental for any comic. Commanders in Crisis # 1 brings together many more positive than negative aspects and reveals the potential that, if well developed, this new narrative adventure by Steve Orlando can have.
We talked about:
Commanders in Crisis # 1
Steve Orlando, Davide Tinto, Francesca Carotenuto
Image Comics, October 2020
32 pages, full color – $ 3.99