Given my recent history with John Byrne and IDW’s just-wrapped book High Ways, I was kind of de-facto volunteered to cover this latest collaboration between the two industry powerhouses. Now, while I quite enjoyed Byrne’s treatment of High Ways, what takes place within the fiery conflagration of the pre/post-apocalypticDoomsday.1 is much less a Phoenix than it is the ashen remains of truly great Byrne stuff. I’m sure there will be something in this story for his diehard fans to enjoy - the art mostly - but for the most part, this first issue is forgettable, unimaginative and rife with overcooked cliché. Still, I guess some people just want to watch the world Byrne. The story follows a racially eclectic group of astronauts aboard an international plot device ... space station ... as they chart a massive solar flare, which starts out by threatening to “give cancer to everyone within a year,” and then settles comfortably into just straight-up, nigh-global evisceration via fireball. Standard.
Okay, before I get into the specifics of plot, I want to mention the first problem (amongst many) I have with this book. What’s with the quasi-racial profiling going on here? It feels like each member of this diverse crew is forcibly hammered into type: the gruff Russian bear, the good-with-numbers Asian chick, the hardass African-American leader type, the nice guy Canadian with a fucking maple leaf tattoo; and then there’s the French homme-boy, who spits mad Frenglish and rocks a pretty pervy mustache. I think Byrne could have gone that extra mile here by giving him a beret, a striped shirt and a cartoonishly-large baguette, but I guess that would have been excessive.
As the United Colors of Benetton aboard the international race station make a series of harrowing (and tired) sacrifices en route to escaping the solar flare, they simultaneously prove to be a sack of fucking ding-dongs. There is, for example, a scene where the gallant mission commander sacrifices himself (à la, Bruce Willis inArmageddon, replete with a TV screen caress), remarking how nobody else aboard “remembered the latches,” thus capitalizing on the fact that someone needs to close them from inside, as well as outside, so that he can grab immortal glory in sacrificing himself. Sorry, but if you’re smart enough to make it into space, it seems like LATCHES would be a pretty fucking important thing to remember. Get it together, NASA!
What follows is a rehash of almost every single disaster movie you’ve ever seen, from Dr. Strangelove (which is even openly referenced) to Deep Impact. As you’d expect, the leaders of Earth freak the fuck out, as exemplified in a scene where the female United States president breaks down in tears ... presumably because she’s a girl? Meanwhile, prisoners escape their confinement and submarine sailors dive deeper beneath the waves to keep themselves safe, but really these are just used to set up a few uninteresting subplots.
The most intriguing of these is the reaction of the Pope. As the Vatican is inundated with frightened believers, a very jaded Vicar of Christ, who has probably taken the name Pope John Paul Getthefuckouttahere the Second, lives up to the name I just made up by fleeing to the one place that won’t be affected by fiery space death: the northwestern part of South America. What’s interesting is that in his nonchalant retreat, he shows a decided disenfranchisement with the world, his faithful followers and his own belief. If Byrne fleshes this aspect of the story out further, or in fact just follows this subplot solely, I’d be a happy bunny. But let’s be honest, we all know that’s not gonna happen.
As for the rest of the reactions, as well as the story itself, they all feel trite, saccharin, well-worn and emotionally wavering, particularly from the surviving astrodongs, who alternately opine, with cringe-worthily “deep” gravitas, the death of humanity and its culture ... right after mourning the loss of their commanding officer JUST SECONDS PRIOR by saying, “Rest in peace, big guy, and thanks!” If it’s one thing you can count on here, it’s its consistent inconsistency.
The art is your classic Byrne, which is pretty great, but that’s just not enough anymore, certainly not in elevating Doomsday.1 from a jittery-paced narrative with an almost complete lack of nuance and originality into something worth your money. As with everything, I’ll give this story another shot in its second issue, but I’m not really expecting much. I have to admit, I’m feeling a bit Byrned-out.
Writer /Artist: John Byrne Colorist: Leonard O’Grady Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $3.99 Release Date: 5/15/13