Thursday, October 16, 2014

Number of the Beast Trade Paperback Review

Number of the Beast
DC Comics - Wildstorm
Softcover Trade Paperback
192 pages
$19.99 (2008)
ISBN 9781401219994

Contributors: Scott Beatty, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Neil Googe, Leandro Fernandez, Simon Coleby, Andy Smith, Drew Geraci, Brian Stelfreeze, Jonny Rench, Wes Abbott, Saida Temofonte, Mike McKone, and Darick Robertson

Reprints: Number of the Beast #1-8 (of 8)

Synopsis: A generation of heroes disappeared without a trace at the end of World War II.  Rumors would have you believe they died when the bomb went off at Hiroshima.  Some considered it a fitting end to the dangerous post-humans and vigilantes who fueled the war effort, but would be a liability back on domestic soil. Both heroes and villains were drafted into the war and they include:
  • The Paladins
    • The Redeemer - an immortal man who has walked the Earth for millennia, but still holds to himself and others to the highest standards of moral decency
    • Engine Joe - a massive cyborg made from tank and engine parts, he fights for the everyman
    • Mago - a mystic and premier magician, he rides a magic flying carpet
    • Black Anvil - a former football player who is now made of living iron
    • Aeronaut - uses a prototype jet engine on his pack and fights crime, full of himself
    • Thrush - she flies uses artificial wings
    • Falconette - the sidekick and daughter of the Thrush
    • Tumbleweed - a former army officer, he was changed from exposure to radiation at a bomb testing site, now he is covered in desert plants and has power over flora
    • Neandra - she is apparently a cavewoman with a big wooden club
    • Wallflower - has chameleon-like ability to blend with surroundings and can stick to walls
    • Midnight Rider - a leather-clad female vigilante who rides a motorcycle and beats people up
    • Johnny Ray-Gun - former ranch hand turned lazer pistol vigilante thanks to a pair of extraterrestrial pea-shooters
    • Honeybee - she has wings and a stinger, just like a bee and pretty good-looking
    • Mite - she can shrink to the size of a bug
  • The Crime Corps
    • Dr. Sin - genius-level intellect bent on world domination
    • The Stinkbug - wears a suit with a combination armor and terrible stink-smell producer
    • Hotfoot - youthful speedster with his eye on riches
  • The Changers
    • Eidolon - a spirit who glimpsed the world beyond, but was not allowed to pass on and is compelled to tell others of his experiences
    • The High - he was one of the most powerful superhumans on the planet, but went on a self-imposed exile.  He returned and attempted to alter society by giving humanity all of the tools to either succeed or fail.  His motto "Change or Die".  His plans were stopped by Henry Bendix and Stormwatch before he destroyed himself by crashing into Skywatch's 'storm shield' barrier system.   
The High comes face-to-face with the lost Paladins
What is the secret government program called "Number of the Beast" and its link to these forgotten superhumans?  The elite Kheran warrior, Nemesis, was warned by extra-dimensional seer, Void, of the Wildcats, that an extinction-level event was going to happen in the near future.  Nemesis was charged with trying to stop it.  She enlisted help and was able to uncover one fragment of the secret, but the whole truth will be laid bare at last.  Did the countdown to Armageddon just speed up?

We witness a seemingly endless loop of events as the heroes defeat the villains and avert the end of the world (again).  What happens when a new element is added to the program - namely Eidolon and The High of The Changers?  After the events of "Change or Die" the remains of the two superhumans were added to the Number of the Beast program, but their addition causes a massive instability.  Will it trigger the end of the world?  

Pros: Continues the Wildstorm Armageddon trilogy, some fun sci-fi elements (like when The High's liquefied remains get dumped into the Number of the Beast system), Chris Sprouse's art is slick as ever, seeing The High again was kinda cool, some mature themes and a suitably dark ending

Mago, Tumbleweed, and Engine Joe take a break from the Apocalypse
to have some breakfast
Cons: Plot is a bit scattered, The Paladins are all one-note characters, one scene where The High smashes a clone through the Moon is not done realistically, Reapers don't seem numerous enough to circle the globe, not as epic as I was hoping, inept government employees could not have kept the program secret for so many years

Mite is urged by Eidolon to reveal The High's deadly behavior
Mike Tells It Straight: DC Comics restarted the Wildstorm Universe in 2006, but by 2008 sales had waned and the idea for an epic, line-wide event was hatched.  It began with Wildstorm: Armageddon as an impending apocalyptic event was revealed and heroes were charged with stopping it.  Only one took the quest seriously and uncovered the first hint in Wildstorm: Revelations.  Number of the Beast is the next chapter in the story and sees the full scope of Armageddon unveiled along with the fate of the lost generation of superhumans.
The High somehow manages to survive
being smashed to jelly attacking Skywatch

Scott Beatty does a decent writing job by infusing the story with humor, gore, and intrigue.  The book reads like a '50s science fiction movie and was fairly entertaining.  Chris Sprouse's art is slick and competent as usual (he was coming off of a great run on Tom Strong).  Seeing The High again after his demise in Warren Ellis' classic Stormwatch: Change or Die storyline (which finished off that book and paved the way for The Authority) was welcome.  Despite being a clear Superman knockoff, The High felt like an untapped character whose screen time was cut short.

This book was fun, but ultimately a disappointment due to a few key factors.  The Paladins were all one-note characters and the reader doesn't get enough time to really care about them.  The bumbling antics of the government employees in charge of watching the Number of the Beast program (which is supposed to be incredibly covert) was pathetic and there's no way could it have been hidden for so long.  While I enjoyed the book after reading the first two chapters I'm not sure if it's a solid recommend.  If you're a fan of the Wildstorm Universe and have followed the first two chapters then go for it.  The events of this book continue in Wildstorm: After the Fall as John Lynch reforms Team 7 following the wake of Armageddon and also the separate World's End storylines in each Wildstorm title (Gen13, The Authority, Wildcats).  I'll follow it to the inevitable conclusion and post upcoming reviews.  The Wildstorm Universe officially ended and was later absorbed into the DC's The New 52 universe-wide relaunch.

TO BUY and Recommendations: