It has been about two years since it was first announced Keith Giffen and Jeff Lemire would create a new Inferior Five series, taking the parody superhero team that debuted in 1966 and giving it a reboot. At the time Giffen described the reboot as "Stranger Things meets Twin Peaks," but describing Inferior Five as being anything like Stranger Things or Twin Peaks (in any combination) would do both of those shows a disservice. Inferior Five definitely has the chill-inducing tone and 1980s setting Stranger Things offers, but that's roughly where the similarities begin and end.
Inferior Five is set in a post-"Invasion!" world and that is the first place where this issue runs into trouble. For fans of DC Comics in the 1980s, "Invasion!" is a well-known story, one in which an Alien Alliance assembles to invade Earth and eliminate the threat posed by metahumans. The CW's Arrowverse did a version of "Invasion!" a few years ago as their annual crossover, as well. For fans familiar with either one of those stories, the mess of a world Inferior Five is set upon makes sense. But "Invasion!" was published thirty years ago so newer readers—or those with less than encyclopedic memories of comics—are immediately in a disorienting situation.
Readers are immediately introduced to a young kid whose life was disrupted when his father was killed in "Invasion!" prompting his mother to move them to the ramshackle town that is Dangerfield, Arizona. While we're supposed to get the idea that weird things are occuring, the book does something that "good" stories arguably are not supposed to do: it tells rather than shows. Everything in the issue is designed to highlight how weird or strange or dangerous things are, but nothing really backs that up other besides the distorted, too-bright art that gives Inferior Five #1 its visual sensibility. The art isn't bad; it's actually fairly well constructed. The problem is that it's too stylized, trying too hard to push the "things are weird" narrative to the point that all of the characters have one facial expression throughout the entire issue.
What generally saves Inferior Five #1 from feeling like another thinly veiled attempt to capitalize on the creepy-retro-80s Stranger Things vibe is the rather intriguing mystery of X marks appearing on houses. Some person or creature is marking things—apparently the being with the X on his head named Billy—and it's just weird and sinister-seeming as those marks lead to the death of whoever is targeted by them. The natural question, and it's one that the issue sets up well, is why. There's also a backup story starring Peacemaker that is a bit more coherent and interesting, but suffers from art that's trying too hard.
Ultimately, Inferior Five doesn't really seem to share much DNA with the original group of the same name (which will disappoint some), relies on a bit better than working knowledge of "Invasion!" (which will put others off), and is more than a little bit messy and disjointed in a way that makes it hard to enjoy. It's possible that this will be a series requiring more than one issue to really invest in. It feels, in a very real way, like the issue is hanging its hopes on Giffen's “Invasion!” pedigree with a wait-and-see strategy that will be more wait than see.
Published by DC Comcs
On September 18, 2019
Written by Keith Giffen and Jeff Lemire
Art by Keith Giffen and Michelle Delecki
Colors by Hi-Fi
Letters by Rob Leigh