Love them or hate them, it’s hard to deny that even though conventional wisdom says that anthology comics don’t work anymore, Marvel have managed to spin the idea pretty well over the last year or two. The latest of these is “Dark Reign: The Cabal” which focuses on Osborn’s new “Anti-Illuminati” group.
Some of the stories in it draw heavily on the Dark Reign crossover (Hickman’s Doom) while others do so less (Gillen’s Sub-Mariner.) Some feel heavily connected to another title (Milligan’s Loki) and others are entirely stand-alone (Fraction’s Emma Frost). As you can see, the mixture of tone and intent is fairly diverse.
What makes “Dark Reign: The Cabal” truly stand out, though, is that it avoids the usual problem with anthologies. The quality here isn’t half as variable as the subject matter — it’s almost all entirely excellent. The creative team is practically a “Who’s Who” of Marvel’s upcoming talent — if you don’t already know these names, you will soon. Clearly, Marvel has faith in these creators, and judging from this comic, it’s faith well placed.
Of particular brilliance is Hickman’s Doom story, which lets us get inside the head of the despot and see the world through the eyes of Doom. His vision is so arrogant that it borders on delusional, and yet seems almost effortlessly within his grasp. As if to counterbalance that, Remender writes a story about The Hood that shows exactly how hard Robbins works to stay on top of his situation, and the harsh realities it involves. Both are brilliant in their own way.
Elsewhere, Fraction’s Frost story recaps her long and convoluted history as accurately as can be expected, but it’s the brilliantly stylized art of Daniel Acuna that’s the real crowd-puller. To contrast, the strengths of Gillen’s Sub-Mariner piece lie entirely in the dialogue Gillen hands to Namor, which is pompous, pretentious and bombastic in the way only a character who loves the sound of his voice can be. Great to read.
If “Dark Reign: The Cabal” can be accused of anything negative, it’s that there’s really very little to it that’ll matter in the long term. Given the title, you could be forgiven for expecting some major developments in the “Dark Reign” mythology, and instead you’re treated to a loose collection of vignettes about the Cabal’s members. As a product it’s a tad misleading, but ultimately, as a piece of entertainment, it’s so good that you’d be a fool to let that bother you. Expectation shouldn’t get in the way of good stories like these.