Launching an independent superhero title is a gamble. The western comics market is oversaturated with superheroes and has been for decades. They have invaded every level of pop culture, dominating film and television. They have been portrayed hundreds and hundreds of different ways, making the undeniable success of Steve Orlando and Davide Tinto’s Commanders in Crisis something truly special.
Commanders in Crisis #1
Fabio Amelia (letterer), Francesca Carotenuto (colorist), Steve Orlando (writer), Davide Tinto (artist)
October 14, 2020
The series, Orlando’s first independent work since leaving a lengthy run at DC that included the likes of Midnighter, Justice League of America, and Martian Manhunter, seems simple at first glance: a team of superheroic survivors of dead universes is brought together to defend the last remaining Earth in creation. It is a concept that has been explored before, but not with the raw energy and enthusiasm that Commanders in Crisis brings to the table.
Starring a collection of heroes that echo various Marvel and DC standbys, but not to the point of outright pastiche, the title’s greatest strength lies in its use of familiar ideas and concepts as a foundation for something new. Take Originator, for example; she seems like a fairly standard mash-up of Scarlet Witch and Zatanna, a reality-warping mystic whose powers are fueled by language. However, Originator’s powers rely wholly on the creation of new ideas, specifically new words. Hammering together suffixes, prefixes, roots, and every other tool in the language toolbox, she creates brand-new words that then warp reality to meet their definition. However, due to these godlike gifts, outside the superheroic realm, she must control and measure every word she says and every tone she takes, for fear of accidentally triggering catastrophe.
These reimaginings of familiar concepts are found across the team’s roster, a personal favorite being the requisite Supermanalogue, Prizefighter, who is both openly gay and sporting a pro-wrestling-themed costume courtesy of Tinto. They also extend to the plot itself. Draped in very meta-narrative heavy ideas such as time travelers from an apocalyptic future coming to steal our very hope itself, the series feels like a fresh, modern riff on your Big Picture blockbuster superhero titles of the past such as Morrison and Porter’s JLA. However, a surprise reveal at the end of the issue proves that Orlando is eager to do more than just touch up the classics and has plenty of his own ideas to explore.
It is impossible to dive into Commanders in Crisis without addressing the elephant in the room: Orlando’s departure from DC Comics. While ending his run on a high note with the fantastic Martian Manhunter and Gotham City Monsters miniseries and an underrated stint on Wonder Woman, the biggest opportunity of his time at the company, Justice League of America, was rather infamously cut short by the arrival of Scott Snyder’s Justice League which has since dominated DC’s storylines for years. With Orlando’s hyper-socially aware, diverse and modern JLofA being replaced by a team made up entirely of DC’s Greatest Hits facing down universe-shaking threats, it is hard to not see the equally diverse and socially active Commanders as a rebuke of this decision. Luckily, Orlando proves capable of expressing these potential grievances, including an apparent dig at Snyder’s Dark Multiverse creation, without bogging the story down with comic book inside baseball pot-shots.
Commanders in Crisis is a superhero book through and through, and Davide Tinto’s art embraces it. Quietly working on IDW’s all-ages Marvel and Star Wars licensed titles, Tinto eagerly takes his biggest spotlight yet with Commanders and proves up to the task. Dynamic and expressive, his linework is everything you could want from a superhero ensemble book. Francesca Carotenuto’s coloring of Tinto’s art is not the most naturalistic or subtle, but the palette’s bold and bright nature fits the bombastic tone of the title to a tee.
A superhero book from outside Marvel and DC finding its footing and establishing a unique voice right out of the gate is something that you don’t see often. Especially not one that actively utilizes those iconic corporate characters as inspiration while remaining distinct and fresh. Whether Commanders in Crisis will find it’s audience in the crowded superhero landscape of 2020 is up in the air. Still, readers will have a hard time finding a more exciting new superhero team to follow this year, that is guaranteed.
Commanders in Crisis #1 is available for order from your local comic shop using Diamond Code AUG200037 through 09/21/2020.