REVIEW: DC’s Shadow War Zone #1

As the bloody crossover event "Shadow War" nears its end, the oversized anthology special Shadow War Zone #1 explores the wider effect of Deathstroke's vendetta against Talia al Ghul and the League of Shadows on the DC Universe. Written and illustrated by an impressive roster of comic book creators at the height of their creative powers, the one-shot features four different stories on the periphery of the crossover's primary conflict. While Shadow War Zone provides a nice complement to the crossover story ahead of its explosive climax, the creative teams have also done a good job making their respective stories relatively accessible for readers that may not have caught up with the DCU's ninja-fueled showdown.

"Shadow War'' main crossover writer Joshua Williamson and artist Otto Schmidt take point on the lead-off story, exploring the fallout the crossover has on Black Canary while she faces her own threat to contend with. Black Canary had been working directly with Deathstroke in the pages of Deathstroke, Inc., quietly hoping that redemption may have been possible for even the likes of Slade Wilson. With Deathstroke fully embracing his villainous side, Dinah Lance confronts her own disappointment and guilt, and Williamson and Schmidt craft the most beautiful story of the anthology.

Writer Nadia Shammas and artist Sweeney Boo put the focus on Talia and her family, with one of the more contemplative and haunting stories of the set. Talia's upbringing is shown, giving the character more of a vulnerable and playful side than the usual amoral depictions that the character has received recently. There is almost a surreal, dream-like quality to Boo's artwork as unseen details from Talia's past emerge. Shammas' scripting provides a welcome respite and introspective interlude from the bombastic action that dominates the event.

This is followed by the anthology's most action-packed story, with writer Ed Brisson and penciler Mike Bowden joined by inker Mark Morales and colorist Antonio Fabela for a tale exploring Clownhunter's fledgling partnership with Ghost-Maker. The pair were established as a more lethal twist on the familiar Batman and Robin dynamic, with the creative team showing this new Dynamic Duo in action against a small army of ninjas, joined by Black Spider. Perhaps the most lightweight of the stories in the anthology, Brisson and Bowden bring plenty of escapist fun for those coming to this special looking for some superhero versus ninja action.

Closing out the anthology is a short story by Stephanie Phillips and Ann Maulina, with the League of Shadows hunting Harley Quinn for her admittedly brief tenure with Deathstroke's Secret Society of Super-Villains. The story very much feels like a natural extension of Phillips' work on the main Harley Quinn series, with Phillips still deftly blending screwball comedy with chaotic superhero action. Maulina is a strong collaborative match for Phillips, giving a real kinetic sense to the artwork as Harley eludes, evades, and punishes a group of ninjas gunning for her.

"Shadow War'' has been a dirty fight for the DCU's darkest corners, with Batman and Robin caught in the middle of a supervillain conflict sweeping all over the globe. With this anthology special, the story takes the time and space to breathe a bit and shine a light on the more ancillary characters and how they react to the devastating fracas. This particular special provides a solid quartet of standalone stories, each offering their own take on the crossover's wider implications ahead of its big finale while also serving as a great window into several more overlooked characters in the DCU.

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