Thursday, June 02, 2016
Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week one
Outgoing Batman writer Scott Snyder fairly literally hands the reigns over to incoming Batman writer Tom King in this special, designed to show off at least one big change in the Batman status quo. That is the addition of Duke Thomas into Batman's innermost circle.
Thomas, if you haven't been keeping abreast of the goings-on in Gotham, was first introduced as a little kid in Snyder and pencil artist Greg Capullo's "Zero Year" storyline, in which he helped rescue Batman and keep him safe, all the while studying in the hopes of becoming smart enough to save the city from The Riddler. He was a popular candidate for the new Robin when current Robin IV Damian Wayne was (temporarily, it turned out) dead, in no small part because he was black, which would have made him the first black Robin (and the most prominent person of color in Batman's orbit–Orpheus, Onyx and the two Batwings never really caught on).
He was Robin in the alternate future of Future's End, and a Robin in the pages of Snyder's "Superheavy" story arc and the short-lived We Are Robin series. When we last saw Thomas, he was pretty close to Robin III Tim Drake in many respects: A very smart kid who figured out Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne's secret identities and, thanks to the events of "Endgame," temporarily without his parents.
In this comic, he does not become Robin.
That, like what bat-related codename King might attach to Thomas, remains to be seen.
What is seen here is a few updates on the status quo embedded in a story of Batman vs. a minor supervillain. We see Thomas accept "the offer," we see a two-handed Alfred, we learn that Bruce Wayne has his fortune and mansion back and we see how Batman and Whoever-Duke-Will-Be will work together in the field.
We also see a lot of Janin's excellent artwork applied to the world of Batman. It took me a while to warm up to Janin's realistic style, but I got there during his run with King and Tim Seeley on Grayson. His very detailed style makes the backgrounds worth paying attention to, even poring over (in the case of a Batcave spread), he makes his Bruce Wayne ever bit as sexy as his Dick Grayson (there's a gratuitous shirtless sequence in which Bruce is doing one-armed pull-ups while dangling off the top of Wayne Tower and conducting a meeting; as someone who can only manage two-and-a-half two-armed pull-ups, that freaked me right the hell out) and he even makes elements of the new Batman costume that defeat some talented artists (note Ethan Van Sciver's version of the giant, vaguely bat-shaped utility belt in DC Universe: Rebirth #1) look cool.
The super-villain here is Calendar Man, who still looks like The New 52 version which, you may recall, I hated–both in look as well as in origin.
Snyder and/or King give him a new twist, though, and while I don't really care for it–it's the sort of revision that would work fine in an adaptation to a different medium or an out-of-continuity story, it's just not necessary in-universe–it's something at least, and makes him a lot more interesting than the version previously introduced into the New 52.
This was an all-around good Batman comic then, and an intriguing introduction to the "Rebirth" Batman...although if you liked this, there's no indication you'll like what comes next. That last panel includes a box reading "Next: BATMAN #1! By Tom King & David Finch"
So the ongoing Batman will feature work by half of the special's writing team and artwork by an entirely different artist whose style is nothing like that of Janin (and, by the way, generally terrible in terms of quality).
I won't be reading Batman (not until the trade collection shows up at my local library anyway; I can force myself to read Finch, but I don't want to pay for him or bring him into my home), but the Duke Thomas plot certainly interests me.
There's another box letting readers know that Snyder will next show up in August, with All-Star Batman #1, featuring artwork by John Romita Jr. and Declan Shalvey.
And as for Janin, he has been announced as the other Batman artist, so maybe he and Finch will be trading off story arcs.
Green Arrow Oliver Queen was a character that was particularly ill-served by the hard reboot of 2011's New 52, as he was a character with a particularly dramatic, decades-long story arc, and a character that had become all but defined by his long-standing relationships with other DC characters. He was a long-time Justice Leaguer (his entire tenure was reduced to an ill-fated try-out in The New 52), he had a long-time romantic relationship with fellow Leaguer Black Canary (whom he has now barely ever met), he was best buds with Green Lantern Hal Jordan (ditto), frenemies with Hawkman (ditto), former partners with his sidekick Speedy Roy Harper (who in The New 52 may or may not have ever even been Speedy, but apparently has worked with Ollie at some point as Arsenal) and the father of Connor Hawke, who also took up the mantle of Green Arrow (and who doesn't exist in The New 52).
Shorn of his history and relationships, what was left was a "Year One" version of Green Arrow, and what is his essential characteristic? He's an archer who wears the color green, a Batman clone with a Robin Hood theme rather than a bat theme, a spoiled rich guy who taught himself archery on an island and returned to his hometown to fight crime. It's not an accident that he was created in the early 1940s, but didn't really stick after the post-Silver Age superhero renaissance outside of team-ups and Justice League books, his most successful run being the Mike Grell-driven one in which he was reinvented as an urban bowhunter of men.
I don't know if it was the difficulty of finding a there there for the character that so troubled his New 52 relaunch, but his first creative team lasted all of three issues, and his second creative team lasted only three more. In fact, The New 52 Green Arrow suffered the most creative chaos of any of the New 52 books to not be cancelled and/or relaunched throughout the course of its four-years and change existence as a line.
The New 52 Green Arrow spanned 54 issues (counting #1-#52, plus issues numbered #0 and a #23.1), and in that time the title had seven writers or writing teams and nine pencil artists. The writers averaged 7.7 issues a piece, while the pencil artists averaged 6.1 issues. Ideally, DC would have cancelled the book a long time ago, but kept it going because the CW has a TV show based on the character, and, in fact, one of the show's producers came on to write it briefly (six issues), and attempts to tie it closer to the TV show, like introducing characters original to the show, were made.
Personally, I tried a couple of issues, but I don't think I ever made it all the way through a single issue, certainly not in a single sitting. One of the longest-running creative teams involved, for example, was that of writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino, but I can't stand Sorrentino's artwork, which generally features interesting, show-y lay-outs, but photorealistic artwork that I find aesthetically repulsive.
So, by that probably too-idiosyncratic metric, this qualifies as the very best Green Arrow comic I've read since at least the beginning of The New 52, as it is the first I've managed to read all of the way through in a single sitting. (Actually, out of curiosity, I just checked, and I think the last issue of a Green Arrow comic I read was either #51 or #52 of the 2001-launched series; the former featured an Anarky team-up and a James Jean cover, the latter a Zatanna team-up and a Cliff Chiang cover.)
Writer Benjamin Percy, who was actually the last of those seven writers on the previous volume of the series, can only do so much to restore some of what Green Arrow has lost, but he adds two things I like: The goatee and Black Canary. Actually, Ollie starts with a full-beard, but decides to clean up shortly after meeting Canary and a street kid in trouble and bringing them back to his penthouse apartment, trimming it down to a goatee.
Geoff Johns devoted a chapter of DC Universe: Rebirth to the fact that the New 52-iverse had lost love, and, during that chapter, had Green Arrow and Black Canary both lock eyes and then both feel like they were missing something.
Here Percy avoids any of those cosmic business, but it becomes pretty clear that they each see something in the other. It's a pretty basic team-up, as they find themselves working the same case and bickering a bit, although ultimately they find they work effectively together. is counting on reader familiarity with the characters and their past, if not bringing up Doctor Manhattan and Pandora and Flashpoint.
The case involves sinister, not-quite-human seeming creatures involved in auctioning off homeless people, an element of which is pretty damn tired (I can't tell you how many superhero comics I've read in which villains prey upon the homeless and point out that they are the perfect prey because for all intents and purposes, society doesn't even admit they exist). That's a lot less interesting than the character interactions, in which Canary seems to be playing devil's advocate to the conflicted Green Arrow, who wants to stand up to "the man" even if he is the man. Deliberately or not, their banter reminded me of Denny O'Neill's hard-travelling heroes take on Green Arrow and Green Lantern, only here Canary is in the Arrow role and Arrow in the Lantern role.
I liked art quite a bit, and it looks close enough to that of Annie Wu (who was drawing Black Canary) that I can imagine fans of that series liking the way this book looks, and even how it reads. I'm not crazy about GA's current costume, but with the hood, domino mask and goatee, he at least looks more like himself than he has in a good long time. Schmidt draws both it and Canary's slightly tweaked non-costume costume well.
By the time I reached the last page, I did find myself wondering if DC should have entitled this comic Green Arrow/Black Canary, as they seem to have equal prominence in this first issue at least. It's not like they need a comic just called "Green Arrow" on the shelves because of the TV show, since that isn't called "Green Arrow," but just plain old Arrow.
The Percy/Schmidt creative team is scheduled for the ongoing. I probably won't read this monthly, but only because I'm transitioning into collections as much as possible, rather than because of any objections to the quality.
Sam Humphries, who will be writing the upcoming Green Lanterns title, is here joined by long-time Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns, who created the title characters, Simon Baz (Earth's fifth Green Lantern, during his New 52 Green Lantern run) and Jessica Cruz (Earth's sixth, but first female, who just got a GL ring in the pages of Justice League, where she has been going by the codename Power Ring and wearing an Earth-3 green ring). There's also a sizable (and wordy!) framing sequence involving a Guardian, a secret rainbow weapon and Red Lanterns Atrocitus, Bleez and Dex-Starr.
The script hums along at a quick pace; this issues is fast and efficient in introducing the portentous threat, re-introducing our two protagonists and their personal conflicts (Baz suffers from prejudice because of his race and religion and has a chip on his shoulder, Cruz is an agoraphobic) and then set up the book's premise.
Their rings call them out to the desert, where they meet Green Lantern Hal Jordan. He tells them he's going to be busy on the other side of the universe with the Corps for a while, so they will need one another, and so he smooshes their power batteries together, essentially forcing them to be Green Lanterns together. He then re-introduces them to the Justice League (Baz fought them once, Cruz was on the team) and tells them that the League will help train them, and off he flies.
It feels very much like Johns-era Green Lantern, and despite the fact that Baz seems a bit more petulant and new here than he did last time we saw him (which seems like forever ago now), these are two very appealing characters who I'll enjoy spending time with, I think. Additionally, Humphries has proved himself a hell of a writer elsewhere, so here's hoping whatever dysfunction that goes on behind-the-scenes at DC that drains the spirit of fun from their super-comics doesn't break him.
The artwork is surprisingly strong, too. Van Sciver's figures look as stiff and posed as always, but they also look as detailed and, well, heroic as always too. Benes draws ten pages, the middle of the book. He handles the scenes of the two leads out-of-costume, and then their initial meeting and a brief fight with a robot. While his figures still fall into one of two categories–male and female–he avoids any of the bizarre, forced cheesecake he has inserted into everything he's drawn before. Visually then, this is not that bad at all, and certainly could have been much worse.
The last page, a splash revealing the Red Lanterns lounging on a pile of skulls, says "To Be Continued in Green Lanterns #1." That will be written by Humphries, but drawn by Robson Rocha. Van Sciver will join artist Rafa Sandoval and writer Robert Venditti on Hal Jordan & The Green Lantern Corps, which launches in July. I don't think Benes has an ongoing "Rebirth" assignment, or, if he does, I've forgotten it.
I would have to see Rocha's artwork before committing, but I could see myself reading this series.
Although I did just notice that Eddie Berganza is the group editor on this book, which made me feel a little gross when I saw his name in the credits. Whether Berganza edits a book or not wouldn't affect whether I review a book or not, nor how I review it, but it certainly makes me stop and think when it comes to buying a book. Having to think about alleged sexual harassment at the beginning of a superhero adventure comic sort of taints the entire reading experience, you know...?
Of the four Rebirth specials released this week, this is the only one that focuses at all on the continuity rejiggering that turned the post-Crisis DCU into The New 52, the subject of DC Universe: Rebirth. That is pretty much by necessity too, since the Superman franchise is the one that has been most confused by the reboot and last week's attempts to re-reboot continuity back to where it was before the reboot (Man, even talking about the continuity screwing-around-with is confusing).
As you may know, Superman had his secret identity revealed to the world last June, during which time he lost and then regained his powers...and, just a few weeks ago, he died. But there's a spare Superman laying around, as last year's Convergence event imported another Superman, another Lois Lane and their son Jonathan into The New 52-iverse, where they have been in hiding for 5-8 years now under assumed names.
So the Superman fix seems easy, right? Just make the other Superman the new Superman. This has problems, though, none of which are addressed here. First is the secret identity issue; the world knows that Superman is Clark Kent, and that both are now dead (Right? Did I miss an issue where they somehow made Superman's secret identity secret again, as they did with Dick Grayson's in the last issue of Grayson), which means the new Superman can't reclaim the name Clark Kent.
Secondly, there are two Lois Lanes, The New 52 Lois Lane and the one from the pre-Flashpoint universe. They have different hair colors and the older Lois Lane has a different name, but she's the "real" Lois, or at least the real-er Lois, right...?
And, thirdly, this means that the current Superman is much, much older than all of his peers, like Batman and Wonder Woman. According to DC Universe: Rebirth, The New 52 is ten years younger than the pre-Flashpoint DCU, and the New 52 has been around for five years (as per Justice League #1), but more likely seven years (as two years passed in Batman), or even eight years, as we just saw 10-year-old Damian Wayne celebrate his 13th birthday in Rebirth.
So if one of the main goals of The New 52 reboot was to make the characters younger, then the new direction for Superman is a complete 180: He's a good 6-9 years older than he was (having also spent a year on the planet Telos before arriving in The New 52-verse 5-8 years ago), making him 16-19 years older than his fellow Justice Leaguers...and he's married (one of the things The New 52-boot specifically undid so as to make him seem younger and to open up new story possibilities, which just meant "date Wonder Woman" in practice)...and he has a kid.
That third point is really just an irony I thought I'd point out. The first two are story problems, and as to how they'll be worked out, the writing team of Tomasi and Gleason, who will also be writing the ongoing "Rebirth" version of Superman, don't address those at all here.
What do they do?
The older Superman, distinguishable by a cape-less black suit with a white S and a beard, visits the memorial of the younger, now dead Superman and narrates to his fallen doppelganger, recapping the events of Superman #52. And then hears something underground, and discovers Lana Lang attempting to steal the body. Lana is trying to fulfill her promise to Clark to bury his remains next to his parents in Smallville, while Bearded Superman wanted to steal the body to stick in a Kryptonian Regeneration Matrix, and bring this Superman back to life in the same way he was brought back to life.
This involves he and Lana having a rather intense heart-to-heart, and his telling her about the time he died and came back to life (this leads to a beautifully drawn seven-page sequence recounting "The Death of Superman" and a scene from "Reign of The Supermen"). I could quibble here, as it was pretty damn clear from the original stories that Superman wasn't dead-dead, simply completely exhausted of all solar energy in a way that made him appear lifeless until he was recharged by the matrix, whereas The New 52 Superman is apparently so dead that he's ashes in a canister that Lana is carrying around, but then, DC seems to have rather gradually retconned Superman's death into an actual death-death over the years.
So Lana and Bearded Superman visit the Fortress of Solitude, where the latter learns that there is no Regeneration Matrix in this continuity, and that New 52 Superman may actually be dead and gone forever.
As I said, this doesn't really answer any of the questions about how to resolve the mess of The New 52, but it at least makes clear that the new Superman will be the old Superman (The Comics Alliance headline "Everybody Is Hawkman" rattled around my skull a lot while reading this issue). This issue is really then little more than a emotional transition from the old status quo (i.e. The New 52) to the new status quo ("Rebirth"). What it does accomplish is show off how great Mahnke's art is, and how much better he's become since the last time he was regularly drawing the adventures of Superman.
The next issue boxes simply refer to the next issues of Superman and Action by number, with no mention of creators, but there are plenty of ads in this issue to let readers know what is going on in which Superman Family book–Superman, Action Comics, New Super-Man, Superwoman and Supergirl–and by all appearances we have a sort of 21st Century answer to "Reign of the Supermen," with Lex Luthor, Lois Lane and a new, Chinese character all attempting to fill-in for the late Superman, while the old Superman will clearly be the new Superman.
Confusing? Yes. But these new books all look and sound pretty good, from a Gene Luen Yang-written Super-Man book, to a Phil Jimenez Superwoman book to DC finally–finally!–getting their shit together enough to release a Supergirl comic to sell to fans of the Supergirl TV show (which, of course, is now between seasons).
All of the Superman Family books look promising, although I'm not sure how I want to proceed with reading them. As enamored as I am with the comic book format, I've recently been forced to reorganize my comics midden, and I'm thinking that putting trades on bookshelves is a hell of a lot easier than bagging, boarding and filing comic books in longboxes...
Oh. And this is also an Eddie Berganza joint, so, you know, you can feel gross while reading this one too...!