Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen #4 is published by DC Comics, written by James Tynion IV, art by Steve Epting, colors by Nick Filardi and letters by Travis Lanham. With last issue setting all the pieces in place, it’s time for the final showdown. With Luthor’s army of villains taking on The Batman Who Laughs’s corrupted heroes, everything is on the line. But which of the villains has thought everything through? And who will reveal the final twist in their plan?
Nothing can kill tension in a story like an extremely obvious set of plot armor. Knowing that a character can’t die can kill all the drama a book attempts to create. This is an eternal struggle for comics. We all know our favorites won’t die, or even if they do they’ll be back in a couple of months. However, I’ve come to accept, and mostly get past, this drawback inherent in most superhero books. Lately, I’ve had to struggle with an even greater storyline killer. Failure armor.
While death may not be a threat to many characters in our favorite superhero books, failure is. The possibility of letting down loved ones, or innocent civilians is crucial to the story. If you know who will win, there is no stress or drama. Many classic comic arcs are built around key hero failures. Whether it be Knightfall or even Kingdom Come, failure is an intrinsic part of the medium’s storytelling. Lately, however, I’ve been forced to face a character that creatives seemed to have forgotten the importance of failure with. And while not a hero, his inability to lose has come to grind down all interest I have in any story related to him. That character is The Batman Who Laughs.
Since I reviewed Batman/SuperMan #1 last year, straight through to this week’s Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen #4 the stories involving him insist on leaning on the same plot point: just as his opponents think they have him beat The Batman Who Laughs reveals this is actually exactly what he wanted all along! It’s gotten to the point where I can’t even take a threat seriously. The last time I was this tired of a character specific plot point was Wolverine. This was back when every villain the X-Men faced would make the mistake of assuming Logan was dead just so he’d come back and take them by surprise.
The presence of this plot point in Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen #4 completely crushes what interest I had left in the story. It undermines the story entirely and leaves me feeling like having read the last four issues was a waste of time. Clearly, Luthor had no chance and could serve no possible purpose other than to do exactly as The Batman Who Laughs wanted.
Outside of that immense narrative frustration for me, the rest of the story is adequate. Some of Luthor’s deeper motives are explored. Tynion does a good job of giving him some truly human presence in the book. The Batman Who Laughs serves as a strong counterpoint to Lex. His twisted imbalance holds well against Lex’s calculated personality. Which is good, as they are the only characters with significant time here.
Epting’s art provides a solid visual display to convey the story. My only complaint is that I often felt the choice of angles a bit too conservative. The art tends to hold back a bit. It lacks the dramatic punch I would hope from some of the more crucial moments. Instead of putting the reader right into the critical moments it keeps them at a distance. It’s as if they were being held at bay by a velvet rope.
When all is said and done, Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen #4 serves as a lackluster finale to its tale. It finishes off the conflict it presented while placing the groundwork for what is to come next for the DC Universe. I just hope that what comes next can break some of the narrative ruts I’ve seen form around some of these characters.
Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen #4 is available March 18th wherever Comics are sold.
Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen #4
When all is said and done, Year of the Villain: Hell Arisen #4 serves as a lackluster finale to its tale.