Ever since their 1966 debut in the pages of Showcase #62 by Nelson Bridwell, Joe Orlando and Mike Esposito, the Inferior Five has been one of DC's most eclectic and unusual super-teams. Introduced as a parody, the team has appeared sporadically throughout the DC Universe ever since, usually in brief cameo appearances where they continue to lampoon the Justice League, perhaps most notably during Grant Morrison's classic run on Animal Man. Now, the quintet has been reimagined in a very different, modern incarnation in a new maxi-series by Jeff Lemire and Keith Giffen, drastically changing the team and their place in the DCU.
Set in the Southwestern town of Dangerfield, Arizona, the opening issue follows a group of children that notice strange events occurring around their hometown, events tied to an ominous, abandoned house and the invasion of the Dominators some time ago. As the eponymous quintet come together, they realize that no else appears to notice the unsettling incidents and developments around them, even as they investigate what's truly wrong with the heart of their town. In a back-up story by Lemire, the classic Charlton Comics character Peacemaker is assigned by Amanda Waller to locate a top-secret weapon before the Russians can recover it, his path destined to cross with the main story.
Eschewing the humor and parody normally associated with the Inferior Five, Lemire and Giffen have reimagined the team completely for the IT/Stranger Things crowd, the latter connection especially apparent with Peacemaker's secret mission. While there are certainly meta-textual elements at play -- the more iconic DC characters have comic book titles that exist in this story -- it's not yet clear where the characters' place in the greater DCU. Instead, the creative team keeps a sort of small town focus while gradually mounting the sense of tension and dread as the main characters are drawn deeper into a mystery that defies conventional explanation, with sinister implications.
A lot of this more grounded, offbeat approach is elevated by Lemire's art, joined by inker Michelle Delecki on the main feature, with Hi-Fi on colors for the main story and Jose Villarrubia in the backup. There has always been a raw, personal touch to Lemire's artwork as well an emphasis on small town stories stretching as far back as the creator-owned title Essex County. Here, the shadows and houses are a bit more foreboding, while the Dominators and similar otherworldly elements are played up more for mystery and horror than their usual sci-fi depiction.
Similarly, while both writers are comfortable tackling social pariahs and misfit superheroes, this plays out as a coming-of-age tale wrapped in small town horror more than anything else. The story may be the one of the more intimately personal stories crafted by Giffen and a natural extension of Lemire's previous work, both in regards to creator-owned horror and postmodern meditations on the superhero genre as a whole.
For those expecting the usual, goofy incarnation of the Inferior Five, this issue will almost assuredly you scratching their heads in confusion; it is, after all, a pretty drastic departure from their traditional depiction. Instead, Lemire and Giffen take a postmodern approach, not unlike Lemire's acclaimed creator-owned title Black Hammer but with a greater emphasis on horror and the youthful end of innocence than a thinly veiled parody of the Justice League. For fans of Black Hammer and Lemire's previous creator-owned work, this first issue is right in his and Giffen's wheelhouse, and teases a considerably darker approach to the typically one-note joke team.