Folks, you’ve heard about it whispered in the corners of DC fandom. You’ve been confused at the odd reference to it in those “modern comics” you devour week after week. What in the darned heck is “Zero Hour”? Why is it called that? Why is it numbered backward? Who is Extant and should I really care? Well, wonder no more, gentle readers. Not only will I be recapping all five issues of the titled event comic, but I will also be reviewing the whole damned thing. Yes, every official lead-up and questionably connected tie-in that DC Comics has chosen to fill up their hefty omnibus tome that haunts the corner of my writing desk. Come with me on this journey through time and more time and some space as we dive into the mess that is “Zero Hour: A Crisis In Time”.
Written by Christopher Priest, and Chuck Dixon
Illustrated by Luke Ross, Dennis Cramer, Matt Banning, Wayne Faucher, Jose Marzen, Jr, Greg Larocque, Rich Rankin, Phil Jimenez, John Stokes, Tom Grummett, and Ray Kryssing
Colored by Gene D’Angelo, Dave Grafe, and Adrienne Roy
Lettered by Clem Robbins, Bob Pinaha, Kevin Cunningham, and Albert De Guzman
A ZERO HOUR tie-in, “Return of the Hero” part 1! Triumph, one of the founding members of the Justice League, is back to regain his place among his fellow super-champions. The only problem is…no one in the League has ever heard of him! Continued in JUSTICE LEAGUE TASK FORCE #16.
A reminder that I’m scoring these comics based on their relationship to the core event, with my patented Zero Hour Score (Series relevance + individual merit)!
This week, we get a multi-part side story from the acclaimed Christopher Priest, as well as some classic action from the fan-favorite “Robin” series of the nineties. Let’s get into it!
Justice League of America #92
Written by Christopher Priest
Illustrated by Luke Ross, Dennis Cramer, Matt Banning, Wayne Faucher, and Jose Marzen, Jr
Colored by Gene D’Angelo
Lettered by Clem Robbins
This issue debuts a three-part story within a story! It’s the first of its kind in this coverage, dear readers, serving as a fun little distraction from the main timey-wimey stuff. What shook me at first was seeing that Christopher Priest is on writing duties, someone who’d produce some fantastic work for the next three decades, including another “Justice League” run in the 2010s. The deal here, though, focuses on a forgotten hero named Triumph who’s just the absolute worst guy. He seemed to have been a part of the Justice League’s formation but an alien race ripped him out of space/time, and it healed around him (?) causing him to be erased from memory. This first issue is dedicated to that mission that took place, which sees Priest get to play around with a freshly formed League. Hal Jordan is grappling with his godlike, seemingly infinite powerset, whilst Barry Allen claims that he staves away the existential ennui of being a superhero by cracking jokes. Thankfully, we lose this grim veneer as this particular sect of the League celebrates a minor victory, and all clamor together in exclamation, which is genuinely wholesome. Luke Ross on art is pretty solid for the whole book, with his clear strength being drawing superheroes at their most dramatic. Our heroes are quite often seen yelling with unclenched jaws or gritting their teeth with almighty pressure. The host of four separate inkers on this book does lead to a bit of visual inconsistency, however, as the art can look rich and brush-like on one page, and move to sharp and cross-hatched the next. There are moments of clarity, however, like these close-ups that use stippling to create eerie realism:
In terms of character building here, you simply need to know that Triumph is incredibly militant and constantly ordering the League members around, getting frustrated and angry whenever they fumble their jobs. Priest’s Superman is kind of the opposite, having the weight of also being a fresh superhero but still being the one that everyone looks up to, and genuinely trying his best. In the end, Triumph is ripped from time, and petitions the modern Justice League for help – to which they decline?!Continued below
Zero Hour Score: 6.5 – Not really relevant to the “Zero Hour” plot but holds its own as a neat side-story opener.
Justice League Task Force #16
Written by Christopher Priest
Illustrated by Greg Larocque and Rich Rankin
Colored by Dave Grafe
Lettered by Bob Pinaha
The story continues in the modern-day! I do love that the Justice League that Triumph stumbles upon is completely different than the one he’s used to: here we have characters like the Elongated Man, a possessed Despero, and a bloke named the Tasmanian Devil? It seems that now Priest is done playing with the classics, he’s here to explore all the new stuff in the DC toybox. Triumph throws a tantrum that these posers are refusing to help him, knocking everyone around, before Ralph Dibny, the darn Elongated Man, shows his experience and manages to school this feisty newcomer. Artist Greg Larocque has a bunch of fun with Ralph, playing with size and perspective cleverly with his mess of tangled limbs.
After this debacle, we see a bit of the wider DC universe, with Larocque having fun with the “Zero Hour” context drawing dinosaurs occupying a local city park. We get a neat diversion with newcomers Arion and Chaon, two immortals sorcerers of old Atlantis who are in disguise as disgruntled old Brooklyners. Priest nails their banter, as they call each other “Shyster Deli Man” and “Dracula on Prozac”, whilst Larocque and Ranking give an angled and cartoonish look to them. Dave Grafe gets to go hard with the coloring on the following page, however, bringing some rich reds and greens as Arion assumes his sorcerer form whilst being followed by the neon green Leaguer, Fire. She’s dealing with the loss of a teammate, Ice, and posits Arion to commune with her dead form to grant some closure. At the same time, Ralph has left the league after feeling like he’s been treading water as its leader for too long. It’s kind of mind-boggling how many plots Priest is juggling here! Eventually, the Leaguers travel with Triumph, who’s starting to realize he’s not as perfect as he might have thought, to the spot he was ripped out of space/time to find the aliens. Martian Manhunter arrives late to the scene, charging like a bull who’s in full disbelief of Triumph’s story, and throws him into the river. But lo and behold – the aliens show themselves emerging from the river!
Zero Hour Score: 7.0 – A little more “Zero Hour” context here, and some more dynamic and consistent art, but overall more focused on this internal storyline.
Justice League International #68
Written by Christopher Priest
Illustrated by Phil Jimenez and John Stokes
Colored by Gene D’Angelo
Lettered by Kevin Cunningham
This is it! The finale! …to the diversionary story “Return of the Hero”! We get Phil Jimenez on art this time around, shocking me at how much output and work he’s done in this crossover and overall era. Priest starts this issue off with Triumph reflecting on his past, revealing to the readers that he was trained as a hero to be a kid but doesn’t have a heroic purpose spurring him on like the Leaguers of old, detailing the key difference. It’s the exact amount of origin that we need for this once-off character, told as Triumph swims through the river fighting off aliens, all colored with searing blues, yellows, and purples from Gene D’Angelo. Finally, Priest truly ramps up the drama as Triumph falls next to the Lincoln Memorial, begging forgiveness from those he spurred. The League discusses their slam-dunking of Triumph into the river and whether it was the right thing to do, eventually deciding to go back and save our feisty blue and gold boy when they see the aliens he was talking about.
Jimenez does great high-detail work here with the action, rendering the Plasma Men/aliens/whatever as these protean masses that the League tears through like so much playdoh. Triumph realizes that he’s the MacGuffin in this scenario, knowing from past experience that the only thing that affects these aliens is pure sound. Priest gives him a tight redemption moment here as he uses his combat knowledge to order around the League to disable the aliens, but this time with a little more care and empathy. This is where things get a little confusing, however. The Plasma aliens start to morph into the old Leaguers like Superman and seem to share a memory bond with Triumph, and Priest seems to hint that the aliens might be a part of his subconscious mind manifested, but it’s not totally clear. However, with the aliens morphing we do get some great body horror art from Jimenez:Continued below
In the end, it turns out Triumph became the thing to spur and motivate the League back into action. Ralph is pulled from his funk and joins the foray again, and Fire reconciles with her loss of Ice, also with the help of hermit-sorcerer Arion. The League is about to thank and possibly bring Triumph into their ranks but wait! This is still a “Zero Hour” tie-in so we must fade to white!
Zero Hour Score: 6.2 – A solid end to a story that wraps up it’s many threads and propels the cast of this Justice League forward, but still hasn’t much to do with the main event.
Written by Chuck Dixon
Illustrated by Tom Grummett and Ray Kryssing
Colored by Adrienne Roy
Lettered by Albert De Guzman
Back to our regular tie-in schedule! This Dixon-penned “Robin” run is one that I’ve heard a lot of good things about over the years, but haven’t touched too much of it. From this read, it has the same vibrant and youthful energy of the Karl Kesel “Superboy” series we covered earlier, and even with the same artist, Tom Grummett, to boot! The story is pretty similar to that tie-in too, with Tim Drake meeting a young version of Dick Grayson as Robin, but Dixon nails each character’s voice and personality tics so well here that it plays out completely differently. Tim is busting a Jewel thief when Dick springs upon the thief at the same time, leading to a brief misunderstanding. The thing is, though, that this ain’t no Marvel hero team-up, nor is it even a Triumph/Justice League team-up. Dick Grayson is infamously the nicest guy in the DC universe, and Tim Drake is methodical and thoughtful, so they both accept their reality very quickly and move on with the barest few panels of bickering. Tom Grummett does a great job distinguishing the two characters not just in their costumes but in their physicality and stances too. Dick Grayson is very true to form, lithe and small and constantly jumping around like an acrobat, whilst Tim relies more on his tech and stays cloaked and closer to the ground. Dixon even plays off these traits, having each character be a little jealous of the other because of their acrobatics or tech-knowhow, which is super endearing. Adrienne Roy does some great coloring work in this issue too, highlighting this as the brighter side of the Bat-books with lots of blues and yellows that harken back to the golden age covers:
After a few battles with sharks and a subtle humorous nod to the infamous shark-repellant bat-spray of the ’66 Batman movie, our Robins reconcile. Dixon uses this tie-in as a good character-building moment for Tim, as Dick snarkily remarks at one stage “Was the guy who replaced me this reckless?”. It causes Tim to remember Jason Todd, and that he was often spurred by being a hot-head, making Tim consciously decide to ‘take it slow’. The boys get the thief, everything fades to white, cue curtains.
Zero Hour Score: 7.8 – Only light “Zero Hour” references but a fun romp to see the two Boy Wonders at this stage in their primes.