The final issue of Trinity, DC's third yearlong weekly series, hit stores last Wednesday, concluding a dense, mystical, multiverse-spanning epic that was also absolutely brilliant. Here's our review of this groundbreaking series, plus our exclusive interview with creator Kurt Busiek.
The series explores the roles Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman play in the DC universe by examining what happens when they are removed. Trinity delves into unapologetically mystical territory as it posits the three heroes as representatives of essential cosmic principles that underpin the Earth (and, by extension, the entire multiverse). The concepts they represent can be articulated in a number of ways - truth/justice/the American way and day/night/earth are just two combinations suggested - but they stand for something that is fundamentally good about the world.
Their magical removal from reality at the hands of the villainous trio of Morgaine Le Fey, Despero, and Enigma (who is, well, enigmatic) radically reshapes the world into one barely held together by the older heroes Carter Hall (Hawkman), Jay Garrick (the Flash), and Alan Scott (Green Lantern), who have marshaled the world's superheroes into the Justice Society International, sworn to keeping the peace and maintaining security at any cost. It's a world where the idealism of Superman has had to give way to mere pragmatism, and one that is vulnerable to the further machinations of Morgaine Le Fey, who seeks to attain godhood and rule the world.
There's plenty more going on, only some of which can be summarized easily. Krona, the renegade Oan immortal obsessed with learning the secrets of the universe, wishes to communicate with planetary intelligences. Green Lantern John Stewart has become infected with a super-intelligent alien parasite from the antimatter universe. The Crime Syndicate enlists the begrudging aid of the Justice League to save their Earth and its oppressed citizenry. An alien convict is desperate to regain his honor after accidentally killing a civilian. A Tarot card reader discovers she is connected to the soul of the world itself, making her a prime target for the upstart trinity.
On the altered Earth, Sir Alfred Pennyworth, late of MI5, recruits five others, from thuggish gangster Richie Grayson to sensationalist TV pundit Lois Lane, who share vague memories of the lost heroes to go on a quest to another universe, where the heroes have become an actual divine trinity. Heroes like Triumph and Tomorrow Woman must face the possibility that, should the true reality be restored, they would go back to being dead, while Hawkman wonders whether there is anywhere in the entire cosmos where he is truly meant to be.
There's a ton of stuff to unpack here, as befits a story that runs well over 1000 pages, and it's all interesting material. The epic length gives creator Kurt Busiek and cowriter Fabian Nicieza the necessary space to take a tricky metaphysical concept and make it concrete, which they do with aplomb. In a sense, the threat they're dealing with - a fundamental change to the nature of reality - is very similar to that which Grant Morrison explored in Final Crisis, but they have over seven times as much time to properly unfold their narrative, which makes for far more readily comprehensible reading.
This is a story that's equal parts personal and cosmic, and hundreds of characters get their own little moments, from Ragman to Black Adam to the self-declared alien tyrant Kanjar Ro. The minor hero Gangbuster, who protects Tarot as she becomes aware of her cosmic abilities and comes to her aid time and again, provides an everyman's perspective that keeps the potentially abstract stakes relevant and relatable. It's a sign of great writing when Busiek and Nicieza handle gang warfare in inner city Los Angeles just as nimbly as they do a godlike being searching for ultimate knowledge.
Busiek also makes some great choices to fill out the supporting cast - fans of James Robinson's run on Starman (which I am, since I'm a fan of things that are awesome) will get a kick out of seeing Opal City's own Charity O'Dare, who becomes the heroes' leading mystic once Tarot is captured. Kurt Busiek is well-known as one of the half dozen or so walking comics encyclopedias that DC keeps on staff, and it shows as he crafts a story steeped in the rich history of the DCU without ever drowning in gratuitous continuity references.
What the story arguably lacks is, of all things, enough Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. This is by design, as Trinity is less interested in exploring their relationships with each other as it is pondering their mythology and considering what they really mean to the DC universe. The best way to do that is to see what happens once they're gone, but it's worth acknowledging that they don't necessarily feel like the main characters in their own story (if I had to choose one person, I'd argue this is really Hawkman's story, but that's certainly up for debate).
The story isn't quite perfect, but most of my problems are quibbles. Krona is a tricky character to write, as his unimaginable power makes it difficult to really set up a fair fight against him. The climactic showdown between Krona and the godly versions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman veers a bit between an epic clash and a minor nuisance for Krona. Much like with Superboy-Prime in other recent DC stories, there were times when fighting Krona seemed to take Trinity into Prince of Space territory. (For those who don't remember that particular MST3K entry, most of the fight scenes in Prince of Space entail the title hero patiently reminding his enemies that their weapons have no effect on him.) Ultimately, it's almost impossible to deliver a completely satisfying final battle after forty-five issues of setup, but Busiek and Nicieza just about pull it off.
And then there's the art. Trinity marks Mark Bagley's debut with DC Comics, and from the first issue he feels right at home. His drawing style is crisp, clear, and a joy to look at, but more to the point he simply nails the personalities of the characters he draws. I found his interpretations of Lois Lane and Alfred Pennyworth particularly memorable, but there's really not a single character he fails to capture. The rotating backup team of Scott McDaniel, Tom Derenick, and Mike Norton offers styles that contrast well with Bagley's. The various art styles ably hit the sweet spot between being too blandly interchangeable and being too jarringly different, and Trinity is well-served by the artistic variety.
When I started getting back into comics about two years ago, it was massive, universe-spanning stories, from Crisis on Infinite Earths to 52, that really showed me the unique ability of comics to craft stories on a scale that arguably surpasses any other medium, and I found the more mythical undertones of DC made it the better-suited of the two publishers for these sorts of tales. Trinity is probably the biggest and most epic superhero story I've ever read, and it's certainly one of the best. After all the problems of Countdown and Final Crisis, Trinity shows DC can still pull off both weekly series and metaphysical epics, particularly when they're done simultaneously.
Click through to check out our interview with Kurt Busiek, who is his usual illuminating self as he delves into the behind the scenes story of this massive undertaking.