I have a theory about this comic, or, at least, about how best to appreciate this comic. Don’t go into it expecting logical, consistent characterization. Don’t think, “hey, I hope this comic explores the deeper themes of superhuman identity.” Don’t ask what might happen next. Just enjoy the sheer camp excess flowing from the pages. Let yourself get swept up by the overblown grotesquery of the series, and I think you’ll find that dozens of costumed villains pounding on each other can be an enjoying ride.
I’m not saying this comic is so bad it’s good. I’m not saying that it’s camp because it’s not sophisticated enough to have literary pretentions. I’m saying that it’s a comic that contains lines of dialogue like, “Let’s see just how tough you martians really are!” and “Ow! Hurt!” while maintaining a straight-faced dignity. It’s camp because it doesn’t try to wink at the audience and make it seem like everyone’s in on the joke. It plays it straight, and revels in its own excess. This is a comic that featured, in the previous issue, a gorilla beating another gorilla using a brain as a weapon. Not metaphorically. Literally. Smashing a metal-encased hunk of grey matter into the skull of a downed ape. And it did that without saying to the reader: isn’t this hilarious? Not in “Salvation Run”! This comic tries to be serious and fails, and that’s what makes it so much fun.
Issue #5 is, artistically, a significant improvement over previous issues, as fill-in artist Joe Bennett can draw with far more dynamism and fluidity than regular artist Sean Chen. Chen’s characters look like gritted-teeth action figures, and move about the page like they have been posed for a middle school diorama, while Bennett is able to effectively negotiate between foreground and background, allowing his characters to leap to and fro with balletic grace. Luckily, he still maintains the standard Salvation Run facial expressions throughout: either grim or angry, except for the Joker, of course, who is both grim and angry but hides it under that plastic smile of his. Bennett’s artistic talents do not in any way detract from the camp value of this comic, don’t worry.
Writer Matt Sturges, who replaced the over-worked Bill Willingham a couple of issues ago, continues his apparent mission to push this comic into absurd territory, which I find absolutely enjoyable. He’s the guy who wrote the gorilla on gorilla action last issue, and here he juggles the warring supervillain factions with a subplot about Vandal Savage’s secret plans and the reveal of an even bigger (much, much bigger) threat from off-planet. This doesn’t feel like the comic Willingham started, and that’s a good thing. Willingham seemed interested in exploring the “Lord of the Flies” dynamic of immature characters on an inhospitable world. Sturges, on the other hand, seems interested in turning it all into a frenzy of explosions and heat vision, gigantic girls and falling martians. Restraint is not what this comic is all about, and that makes it worth a look. Enjoy it for what it is.