“DC Universe Presents” is a lackluster name for a comic, and there’s no getting around it. It does beg the question on which would sell better: a series of mini-series each with their own numbering, or all being bound together under a single banner? DC’s number crunchers clearly feel it’s the latter, but I worry that good comics might get lost behind the bad name. That’s the impression I certainly got with “DC Universe Presents” #1, where Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang slightly tweak Deadman’s life to create a new reason for the character’s existence.
The original Deadman stories in “Strange Adventures” had the ghost of Boston Brand existing so that he could find the mysterious man that killed him and bring him to justice. It’s not a bad idea, but of course it runs the problem of becoming particularly one-note. Here, Jenkins recasts Deadman as more of a “Quantum Leap” concept, with Boston Brand being pulled to different people in need to help them. There’s also a stronger incentive to succeed; the character is told he’s on the edge of the abyss, and too much selfishness will plunge him backwards into oblivion, instead of inching forward towards a glorious afterlife. As a story hook, it works without taking too much away from any of the more recent “Deadman” comics.
More importantly, Jenkins is having fun with the concept of Deadman. When Boston tried to talk to his old carnival acquaintance, Madame Rose, the jumping from one person to the next to continue a conversation with the fleeing Rose works quite well. It could have easily grown tiresome, but Jenkins carefully ramps up the sequence page by page, with a great culmination on the third page involving Rose pushing through a crowd of Boston Brands. And in terms of cliffhangers, Jenkins has one of the better ones from the DC re-launch to date; it’s certainly one of those, “Wait, what?” moments that feels just enough out of the blue (yet still connected to what we’ve seen so far) that I want to read more.
Chang’s art over the past year or two has gotten more sharp and attractive with each new iteration, and this is no exception. I feel like we’ve gotten a nice mix of visuals for Deadman himself, merging the muscular, pumped up athlete that Carmine Infantino and Neal Adams gave us with the emaciated, withdrawn rendition from Kelley Jones. We’ve got strong arms and pectorals, but we’ve also got ribs. The art also feels extremely versatile, from military missions overseas looking gritty and dangerous, to the backgrounds in a carnival carefully adding in goofy stuffed prizes and brightly colored plastic fish. His people all look distinct and different from one another too, and it works especially well in that earlier-mentioned crowd scene with Rose pushing through the chattering hosts.
I was a little skeptical about “DC Universe Presents” #1 (especially after seeing Deadman still hanging out with Dove over in “Hawk & Dove”), but this take on the character grabbed my interest quickly and has yet to let go. I’ll definitely want to read the next issue; Jenkins and Chang grab the reader’s attention and hit the ground running. That’s my kind of debut.