A swiftly catastrophic Apocalyptic comic, John Byrne’s Doomsday.1 (IDW) hearkens back to one of the first professional comics on which the fan fave writer/artist worked: a short-lived series done with writer Joe Gill for the poverty row comics company Charlton entitled Doomsday +1. Where the civilization trashing disaster in the first series was man-made, though, the dire events in .1 prove natural: a massive solar flare large enough to break away from the sun as a huge sphere hurtling Earthwards. Charting the impending doom is an international space station crew whose shielding protects them from the flare’s radiation.
Byrne, in the opening issue, cuts between the station and a series of brief vignettes that will likely pay off in the future: a distraught Madam President who grimly jokes that her opponents had always claimed she’d preside “over the end of civilization,” a callous Pope fleeing the Vatican, the faceless crew of a submarine, inmates in a maximum security Texas prison. When we learn that the area most likely to escape relatively unscathed is northern South America (“a pity it could not be somewhere more civilized,” Byrne’s Pope sardonically notes), we know those nasty Lone Star inmates are gonna show up to bedevil the good guys.
The characterization’s fairly sparse in this set-up issue, though a few figures promise to provide some meat in later issues: foremost among these are Benning, the cantankerous capitalist responsible for the space station, and that cynical Pope. The first reads like Byrne’s piss-take on Robert Heinlein’s competent geezer; the second should prove a prime source for sardonic one-liners. When one of his underlings, for example, offers the thought that the flare could be divine judgment cleansing the Earth for a portion of humanity to survive, his Eminence replies, “I suppose you could look at it that way. If you believe in that sort of thing.” A few of the rest are primarily defined by their nationality: the good-natured Canadian crewman (“I’m just a poor farmboy from Manitoba.”), for instance, though hopefully they’ll be given more to do in upcoming installments.
Issue #1 concludes with the flare hitting Earth and our space station crew returning to the planet to find a burnt landscape and . . . ? Though much of the debut is – in the tradition of s-f disaster tales – primarily devoted to scenes of talking and desperate strategizing, the panels set in the space station provide some visual variety as writer/artist Byrne depicts his figures from a variety of floating angles in their gravity free environment. Aided by colorist Leonard O’Grady, the artist’s handling of the firestorm and its aftermath prove suitably awe-ful. Ending the opener at dawn, howver, he teasingly holds back the full revelations of devastation until issue #2. Bring ‘em on, John!