Finished art: Jerry Ordway
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Publisher: DC Comics
What's it about?
Zero Hour is a 5 issue mini series published by DC comics in 1994, which was billed as a sequel to their 1986 Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi series. You can read more about the crisis stories here.
In Zero Hour, time is ending. Entropy is creeping back from the end of history to the present day and if the heroes don't do something soon the universe as we know it will be destroyed.
Alternate versions of our familiar heroes pop up - many Batmen, lots of Hawkmen (see the page on the right) and a walking Batgirl (this story takes place after Barbara Gordon is shot by the Joker and paralysed). Our heroes realise something is terribly wrong and gather together to form a plan.
A being called Extant seems to be responsible. Working with other mysterious figures he does his best to stop the superheroes, who of course respond with force - yet in the end it's simple human bonds and shared history which could save the day.
What's good about it?
Superhero comics do epic, self important, time spanning, messy, end-of-the-world stories very well. No other media can be quite this big in scale and effect. This story allows us to see what heroes are most famous for - making dramatic statements and punching things. At least for most of the story. If you want to read something grand and ambitious, this mini series will fit the bill. It's a better bet than Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is a similar universe-stopping story, but at 12 issues long can be a bit tedious.
This series will introduce you to lots of the main DC heroes although, given the style of the story, sometimes it feels like it's mostly heroes declaring the injustice of events and hitting things. Having said that, there are ample opportunities to discover more about our heroes. For example, the relationships between the Flashes, the JSA's role in the modern world, and Batgirl's understanding of her place in the world are very well done and give the series its emotional heart.
The final issue is great, really great. It provides a completely unexpected twist (even for those of us who knew the outline of the story). It provides yet more human moments which are rather touching and sad.
What's bad about it?
It's rather sprawling and, as said above, features a lot of superheroes: this can make it confusing. New readers won't know the backstory of each character, which could make connecting with them a bit difficult. Only a couple of characters are given enough prominence so that you get to know them.
Of the people we can see in full, the silver shiny guy in the middle with the red emblem on his chest is Captain Atom (powered by an alien metal and nuclear weapons). The guy in red with the yellow lightning bolt in the top right corner is DC's Captain Marvel). The redhead in the bottom left corner is Guy Gardner, now known as Warrior, used to be a Green Lantern). Next to him is a black haired lady in a white and yellow suit - that's DC's good Doctor Light (can manipulate light in it's hard and soft forms). The guy next to her in orange and green is Aquaman. The redhead lady in purple is Maxima, a Superman villain/heroine, dependent on the writer. The blonde guy standing to the right of her in blue and yellow with goggles is Booster Gold, hack superhero from the future. The guy in blue crouching down in the bottom right corner is Blue Beetle, good with technology, no powers insectile or otherwise.
Most of these guys only feature in a few other panels in the series and don't have any real role to play. There are lots of panels like this one and they serve to show the enormity of the Zero Hour event, but but they don't do much for the story.
The pacing is a bit off. This series is numbered backwards, from 4 to 0. While issues 4, 3, 2 and 0 are good and engaging, part of issue 1 feels a bit like filler - just full of heroes looking for something to hit, with less of an emotional core than the other issues. A lot of the events feeding into the series took place in other issues not included in the main storyline (but may be included in the trade edition of this book). Because of this there are some strange subplots, such as Power Girl's pregnancy and subsequent labour, which have nothing to do with the Zero Hour events but reflect her story just prior to this series. It is doubtful new readers will understand Guy Gardner's (an ex Green Lantern) role in this.
I've just realised that pretty much all the characters in this book are white and most of the key characters are male... that isn't good.
What's the art like?
Jerry Ordway is billed as one of the artists but, sadly, he doesn't do all the art. Ordway finishes off Jurgens art, which isn't as expressive as it could be. There's a lot of detail to the scenes, and some truly amazing use of colours. This book was produced before computer based art came in so the colours are far more one dimensional than modern books. This gives them a flat, 2D quality and makes them quite garish.
This panel shows Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Metamorpho the Element man and Maxima.
Par for the course with this type of story, there are lots of impressive double page spreads with hundreds of heroes included. I can't imagine the hand cramp the artists must have had after finishing these panels!
This series is available digitally from comixology and as a secondhand trade from places like Amazon. Amazon UK is currently listing it at £35 - I think this is far too expensive and I would urge you to buy it on comixology instead.
To see how Zero Hour fits into the rest of DC's big multiverse spanning events, read our summary post here. As mentioned above, I wouldn't recommend Crisis on Infinite Earths to anyone, but Infinite Crisis is a good read.
If you want to read more about specific characters in this series, might I suggest clicking on these links to see what else we've covered:
Justice Society of America (JSA)
Legion of Superheroes