‘Just Imagine…’ is a series of graphic novels that Stan Lee wrote for DC Comics, reinterpreting many of their iconic superheroes as they would have been had he created them. Paired up with a different artist for each issue, the series completely reinvents our favourite DC heroes and heroines, giving them new looks, powers, histories and personalities.
Each graphic novel tackles a different character and is an origin story with a primary adventure to set the stage for that hero/heroine. The recurring elements are its setting, which is usually Los Angeles, its main villain, Reverend Dominic Darrk (of the Church of Eternal Empowerment) and a mysterious green element that empowers many of the series’ heroes and heroines.
“Holy $#!tballs, Batdude!”, you might say excitedly. “Stan Lee rewrote all of the DC characters?”. Woah, woah! Hold onto your superbritches, lil’ one: the series was not well received and has largely been forgotten since. But we here at TCE were very curious, and we know some of you are too, so we decided to explore each one in turn, giving them the spotlight they deserve.
This week on ‘Just Imagine…’:
Crisis, by Stan Lee and John Cassaday 6.0
When I think of “Crisis” in terms of DC Comics, I can’t help but think of the “Crisis on Infinite Earths’ series from 1985 to 1986, which was released in celebration of DC’s 50-year anniversary. It was a big deal because it completely revamped the DC Universe, cleaning up loose ends and even killing off some significant characters. I don’t know if it had been done before but, to my friends and I, it felt like it was history in the making.
Naturally, the idea of Stan Lee tackling ‘Crisis’ is an extremely exciting notion. Even though his DC Universe had only existed for roughly a year (‘Batman‘, the first issue, was published in September of 2001 whereas this one was published in September of 2002), one could easily pretend that this was a momentous event. It would be extremely interesting to see what twists and turns he would throw into the mix to surprise us.
Alas, Stan Lee’s ‘Crisis’ is nothing to get excited about.
In his iteration of the landmark DC Universe event, Crisis is not so much a multiverse incident as it is a being. This being, a huge armoured character with vaguely Greek overtones, comes from the Dreamworld (see ‘Sandman’ for more info). Although he was called the Dream Lord in the Sandman graphic novel, he is called Crisis here and his intention is to do unspeakable things to Earth. What those things are is unclear, but they aren’t good.
Thankfully, he wears five Dreamworld sapphires on his armour, and without them he’s powerless! So, all our heroes need to do is team up to get the sapphires and the world will be saved. But first they have to stop fighting amongst themselves: they have never worked all together before, and some of them dislike each other at first glance (as heroes do!). To make matters worse, they know there is a traitor in their midst but don’t know who it is.
Confusing things are the fact that Robin clearly tried to steal the Inca Hawk Runes (although Catwoman can’t seem to recognize him) and Sandman is carrying the husk of Reverend Darrk with him and won’t explain why. And, in the shadows, Darrk’s two offspring are fighting over an amulet and Adam Strange, now the Phantom Stranger (looking all goofy and fishlike), intervenes, allowing Mark Merlin to return to Earth and be reunited with Morgana Le Fey.
Can you spell convoluted?
Motivations are utterly murky in ‘Crisis’. We don’t know why Crisis is attacking Earth, have no idea which hero is on whose side, and the bad guys switch from bad to good in the blink of an eye. Even the characters’ roles feel random, with Wonder Woman calling all the so-called heroes together, even though Green Lantern seemed to be their natural leader in ‘JLA‘. Why he didn’t call them together this time is completely unclear.
What’s even more annoying is that the impact of Crisis’ “pestilence” on Earth is shown nowhere; he seems to have no impact aside for the fact that he fights the JLA and wins. Until they defeat him. And he defeats them back. And they defeat him again. And so forth, thanks to powers that come out of nowhere, out of convenience. And let’s not forget the traitor in the JLA’s midst – who is so obvious that there’s no suspense whatsoever.
‘Crisis’ is a very unsatisfying volume and a terrible conclusion to the whole ‘Just Imagine…’ series. To wrap-up such a momentous event in one issue is hard to imagine already, but given all the plot and subplot twists taking place, you’d normally need a few issues to get everything right. Here it’s just a mess of random details and nonsensical resolutions. At the end, I was just glad that it was over, that I didn’t have to read any more.
And that’s how I feel about ‘Just Imagine…’. The series intended to be inspirational, in an old school way, about what it is to be a hero, about the power the average person has to effect change, …etc. There’s an idealism within its pages that I can relate to, but I just wish that the message had been delivered in a more sophisticated way, so that it would feel more credible to the readers. Sadly, I wasn’t convinced by anything that it proposed.
I didn’t find most of the heroes inspired or inspiring, and didn’t think that the individual issues were crafted with the whole in mind; it seemed to me as though Stan Lee just wrote them separately and later tried to tie them together. Either way, we got a series of poorly-thought out books, and ‘Just Imagine…’, for all its original promise, failed to deliver on pretty much all levels. Even with few expectations, I ended up disappointed.
In a way, I wish that this project had been left to the imagination and never come to fruition. Sometimes a daydream is better than reality.