Friday, June 10, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week two

Aquaman: Rebirth #1 by Dan Abnett, Scot Eaton, Oscar Jimenez, Mark Morales and Gabe Eltaeb

The new Aquaman writer is going to be...the same guy who took over the previous volume for its last four issues? Writer Dan Abnett is teamed with artists Scot Eaton and Mark Morales, who pencil and ink the 15 pages between five pages worth of framing sequences by Oscar Jimenez.

While I haven't read any of the New 52 Aquaman since somewhere during writer Jeff Parker's run, the status quo introduced here doesn't seem to be all that different from what it was during Geoff Johns' initial run: Aquaman is torn between two worlds, many Atlanteans don't like him, most surface-dwellers think he's a joke, it's stressed that he doesn't "talk to" fish but psychically compels them, and so on.

Abnett's script, like Johns' early issues, seem weirdly defensive about the very subject of Aquaman, stressing how incredibly powerful and bad-ass he is, and that he's greatly feared...while also pointing out that he's laughed at and not considered a real superhero like his Justice League peers.

The comic still has a chip on its shoulder, then. There don't seem to be any major changes in the supporting cast, and the villain who narrates this issue and who Aquaman will apparently be fighting in future issues of the new Aquaman series will be his archenemy, Black Manta.

Somewhat tiresomely, Manta lays out his plan to the readers–he intends to fridge Mera, because "without her love, I believe he would I will being with her. That will be a mortal wound."


If this issue is indicative of the upcoming Aquaman series, then I wouldn't be at all surprised if this book gets canceled and relaunched at least one more time before teaser trailers for an Aquaman film begin appearing online.

Flash: Rebirth #1 by Joshua Williamson, Carmine Di Giandomenico and Ivan Plascencia

Given the role that The Flashes played in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 (and in the history of DC's multiverse and crises in general), it is perhaps little surprise that this particular Rebirth one-shot ties so directly to the cosmic continuity shenanigans.

After a pretty quick re-telling of The Flash Barry Allen's origin (as established by Geoff Johns in a series entitled, um, Flash: Rebirth) brought about by a murder case eerily similar to that of Barry's mom, we get to see the Wally West/Barry Allen scene from the Rebirth one-shot again, this time somewhat abbreviated, and from Barry's point-of-view.

While Wally runs off to check in on his fellow Titans, casually mentioning that he'll have the Speed Force make him a new costume when Barry tells him that he can't be "Kid" Flash anymore, but should just be a Flash, Barry runs to the Batcave to talk Watchmen with Batman.

The mega-plot involving the true nature of The New 52-iverse isn't advanced all that much, really; we just learn how exactly The Comedian's bloody smiley-face pin came to be embedded in the wall of the Batcave, and that Barry and Batman are going to work on this mystery together...and keep it from everyone else until they can make some headway.

I rather liked Di Giandomenico's art, colored by Ivan Plascencia, as it seemed to combine elements of the original New 52 Flash art team of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato with a more solid, bolder superhero comic style.

One of the questions that hung in the air after the final pages of Johns' Rebirth one-shot was just where the Alan Moore-ruined-The DC Universe plot was going to be continued. Well, here it is...although it doesn't get continued very far. Does that mean The Flash will be the book to watch going forward? Maybe. Like I said, Flashes are always fairly central to such stories (Wally, by the way, will be appearing in Titans, another good bet for future comics relevant to this nebulous plotline).

The downside of this issue's focus on the events of DC Universe: Rebirth, however, is that it doesn't give much of an indication of what will be occurring in the new volume of The Flash.

Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1 by Greg Rucka, Matthew Clark, Sean Parsons, Liam Sharp, Laura Martin and Jeremy Colwell

Former Wonder Woman writer Greg Rucka, who delivered a well-respected 2003-2006 run that closed out the George Perez-launched, post-Crisis series, has returned to the character a full ten years later. I know many Wonder Woman fans are pretty ecstatic about Rucka's return, and that it has more to do with affection for Rucka's writing and his take on the character than simply relief that Meredith and David Finch are finally leaving the character and the title, but I wonder if turning to the guy who wrote Wonder Woman 13 to 10 years ago isn't maybe too much of a "Rebirth."

It's a feeling that this one-shot special did nothing to alleviate, as the entire 20-page script can basically be reduced to Rucka shouting "What the hell's been going on around here?"

The first line of the comic includes the words "the story keeps changing," and that is the plot of this comic: Wonder Woman beginning to come to grips with the fact that her origin changed in the previous Wonder Woman title (thanks to writer Brian Azzarello), presumably because of the cosmic intervention of The Flash, Reverse Flash, Pandora and/or Doctor Manhattan and his Watchmen bros.

For the first fourteen pages of the comic–pencilled by Matthew Clark, inked by Sean Parsons and colored by Laura Martin–Wonder Woman narrates her confusion, see-sawing between two, contradictory versions of her origins. The Perez-established one from the 1987-2006 Wonder Woman series, and the Azazarello-established one from the 2011-2016 Wonder Woman series are repeatedly juxtaposed, as Wonder Woman narrates that she was formed out of clay by her mother and brought to life by the gods, or that she was conceived by her mother and Zeus.

She gets in a fight to save a woman from some bad men, returns home and subjects herself to the lasso of truth, essentially interrogating herself to find out which version of her own history is real, and questioning the events of the New 52 series, like her becoming the God of War after inheriting the helmet of the late War/Ares. The sequence ends with her punching a mirror and sending its fragments flying like shrapnel, with each shard of mirror containing an image from a past Wonder Woman story, including scenes from Rucka's run and both The New 52 and pre-Flashpoint versions of Wonder Woman and Superman.

I am assuming this is an intentional reference to Superboy-Prime punching and ultimately breaking the wall of DC comics continuity in the pages of Infinite Crisis (the event that ended Rucka's run on Wonder Woman, and lead to an ill-starred reboot the comic never really recovered from, narratively*). If not, that's a hell of a coincidence.

She then discards her New 52 Wonder Woman costume, and changes into a new, "Rebirth" version, which looks like a more colorful (i.e. not brown) version of the one she wore in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. At this point Liam Sharp, who will be drawing every other issues of the upcoming, Rucka-written Wonder Woman series, takes over for the last six pages, in which she visits Olympus in order to find out where she "stepped wrong," and there she fights some Hesphaestus-created "automatones" (read "robots).

Not unlike the Geoff Johns-written DC Universe: Rebirth #1 one-shot that kicked off this initiative, then, Rucka's Wonder Woman story is a sort of meta-criticism of DC Comics, here specific to the character with her name on the cover. This is the story of how The New 52 got Wonder Woman wrong, and how she/Rucka will fix it. I'd really like to hear what people new to the character might think of this particular issue, and its value as a jumping-on point, because as I was reading I was wondering just how impenetrable it might be as it flashes back to an almost 30-year-old comic repeatedly.

The last panel includes a "Next" box, reading:
Follow Wonder Woman in two alternating stories--as she untangles the mysteries of her present...and her past!

In Two Weeks: Wonder Woman #1! "The Lies" Begins!

And On Sale July 13: Wonder Woman #2! The Start of "Year One!"
While a definitive origin of Wonder Woman coming out the events of Flashpoint and Rebirth might seem necessary-ish, I don't envy the task before Rucka. His origin will be playing at shortly after Grant Morrison's excellent reimagining of it in the pages of his Earth One graphic novel (which would work just fine as her DCU origin...were it not for a few details that don't match up, like Steve Trevor's appearance) and just as Renae De Liz is approaching the climax of her retelling of Wonder Woman's first year in the pages of The Legend of Wonder Woman, which is made unofficial by it's 1940s setting (Marguerite Bennett has also been telling a particularly strong Wonder Woman "Year One" story set in the 1940s in the pages of DC Comics Bombshells, even though it's only one thread of several in that ensemble book).

At the very least, then, Rucka has to re-present an origin story for Wonder Woman and explain away the previous one. Ideally, he has to come up with one that will stick, so that the story doesn't keep changing. And he has to come up with something that is better than what Morrison, De Liz and Bennett have done. So, you know, no pressure.

Rucka at least has the advantage of working with two excellent artists–Sharp and Nicola Scott–and the good will of readers who have either suffered through or been unable to read Wonder Woman for a while, as it's been horribly written and horribly drawn.

Action Comics #957 by Dan Jurgens, Patrick Zircher and Tomeu Morey

One of the first things that made me question DC's collective sanity during their "New 52" relaunch/reboot was that they had decided to cancel Detective Comics and Action Comics, which had been around since 1937 and 1938 respectively, only to begin new volumes with new #1 issues.

The argument that Dan DiDio had made at the time was that after some discussion they decided they had to relaunch these two foundational books as well to signal just how serious they were about this being a brand-new start for the entire universe. Less than five years later, of course, we see they weren't that serious after all, and so they're resuming the old number.

Kind of. Action ships issues #957 and Detective ships issue #934 this month, even though the previous volumes were cancelled with #904 and #881; they've decided to retroactively make issues #1-52 of each of those books part of the old numbering systems, for maximum confusification. Hopefully, no reader will ever attempt to find Action Comics #905-956 or 'Tec # -933, since they don't exist.

Mainstream superhero comic books are so fucking dumb..

This first issue of the now bi-weekly Action picks up on the events of Superman: Rebirth #1, itself a continuation of the plotline from the Super-books involving the death of The New 52 Superman. As expected, he is immediately replace by the "spare" Superman, the older version from a divergent timeline of the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe who sent a year in a bottled city on Talos and 5-8 years in hiding in the post-Flashpoint DCU.

What draws him out of hiding is seeing Lex Luthor wearing a new set of blue and red armor, complete with a red cape and S-shield–something he was more or less forced into if he wanted to keep his position of power on Apokolips in the pages of Justice League–declaring himself the new Superman, intent on carrying on the legacy of the dead one.

Old Man Superman quickly shaves, throws on a Superman suit he's apparently just had lying around (it's not the pre-New 52 one, but a much less dumb costume than the one his New 52 counterpart wore), and flies off to confront Luthor. And then Doomsday attacks.

The Superman story is still extremely complicated, and seems to necessitate an at least passing familiarity with a whole raft of other comics. It's not an ideal jumping-on point, but then, it's not completely alienating either. If you are young and adventurous and really want to read a Superman comic, this will be something you will gradually get into, I think. I'd recommend Superman over Action though, as while Zircher's artwork here is fine, it's certainly not as strong as that of Doug Mahnke and Patrick Gleason in the pages of Superman.

This issue doesn't answer the questions that have been bugging me since the fact that Old Man Superman would be replacing New 52perman as the one true Superman became apparent, namely what they were going to do with the secret identity problems and how they were going to solve the two Lois Lanes problem. Jurgens seems to be approaching answering the first here, although at this point it's more mysterious than anything else: Clark Kent just shows up in the office of The Daily Planet and then rushes off to cover the Lex Luthor vs. Superman conflict. Since even Superman can't be in too places at once, well, something mysterious is going on here.

Detective Comics #934 by James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira and Adriano Lucas

Writer James Tynion has previously been heavily involved with two weekly series spotlighting the many Batman supporting characters who don't have their own titles to star in, the 52-issue Batman Eternal and the 26-issue Batman and Robin Eternal. With the first issue as the new writer of Detective Comics, it seems like he's going to be able to continue that focus.

The issue opens with Azrael (introduced in Batman and Robin Eternal getting the stuffing knocked out of him by someone who he believes to be Batman. From there, Batman goes to visit Batwoman (who once starred in Detective for a while, between her introduction in the pages of 52 and the launch of her own book) and lays out the premise of the book. There are a lot of new-ish teen vigilantes in Gotham, and he had hoped to take them in for intensive one-on-one training ("I've already taken in one, Duke Thomas," he says, referring to Batman: Rebirth #1).

His time-table has been screwed up by some new foe that is monitoring Gotham's crimefighters with sophisticated drones bearing bat-wings and an unseen figure that looked enough like Batman to fool Valley (Hopefully it's not Lincoln March, given that was a plot point in Batman Eternal). So Batman and Batwoman are setting up teen vigilante bootcampe for Red Robin Tim Drake (who, um, shouldn't need it at all), Spoiler Stephanie Brown and Orphan Cassandra Cain. And, completely randomly, grown-up bad guy Clayface. (Bluebird Harper Row seems conspicuous in her absence, even though Tynion did at least temporarily write her out of Batman comics for the foreseeable future at the end of Batman and Robin Eternal. She wanted to go to college and thus take a break from crime-fighting, although given how much she's worked together with the other characters, and that she lives with Spoiler at the moment, that seems like being part of Team Batman would be a particularly difficult thing to give up. I hope she returns at some point.)

At least an element of this series is exactly one I've wanted since Batman Eternal at least; Tim, Stephanie and pals hanging out. Adding Batwoman to the mix wasn't something I would have imagined, but I guess it makes sense given that the character doesn't have anywhere else to go at the moment, and putting the former military woman in a drill sergeant-like role makes sense. Clayface's participation seems way out of left-field to me. If they had to go with a reformed villain, Killer Croc seems the more obvious choice, given the two characters' recent history (Man-Bat would have been a good choice too, actually).

Red Robin finally–finally!–gets a new, less-terrible costume. And while this one's still not good, it's several million times better than the New 52 Red Robin costume, which was the worst costume of all. Cassandra's costume is pretty awful too, essentially looking like an armored, cape-less, ear-less version of her Batgirl costume. Hopefully she gets her ears and cape back eventually, and resumes her Black Bat ID.

The greatest barrier between me and Tynion's story, however, is the presence of pencil artist Eddy Barrows, whose work I have never been a fan of (And some of that work, on pre-Flashpoint Teen Titans comics, has been just plain awful). That said, I was pleasantly surprised by his work in this issue. It was the best I've seen from Barrows, and I didn't mind reading it here one bit. He may not have been my choice to draw this book, but I don't think he'll keep me from reading it either. I'll certainly pick up the second issue of this series...Er, I mean, the 935th.


Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

The first Hawkman comic I ever read was Hawkman v3 #6. It was the culmination of all of the Hawkman plotlines that John Ostrander had slowly been stringing together over his 30+ issue run on "Hawkworld" and "Hawkman." It included body swapping, obscure characters like Bloodwynd and Eradicator, flashbacks to Hawkman's complex family history, and an unfamiliar villain who has never appeared before or since that storyline.

I was ten years old at the time.

I loved it.

I reread that comic many, many times. All the continuity really enhanced the experience, it made it feel like there was a vast universe of Hawkman stories out there (because there was). I didn't know who Bloodwynd or Count Viper were, I didn't know why everyone's bodies were switched at first. But it really didn't matter. Years later I bought all of Ostrander's run on ebay and enjoyed it a lot.

Maybe Ostrander is just a particularly gifted writer. But I've always been skeptical about claims that continuity makes it difficult for new readers, because I was a new reader once, and it didn't make it difficult for me. On the contrary, it enhanced the experience because it gave me way more to think and wonder about than a plain old done-in-one continuity-lite Hawkman comic ever would.

I'm sure if I was ten right now I'd feel the same about Wonder Woman or Flash Rebirth.

Jer said...

I'm planning on just diving into the first issues of each comic I feel like reading myself and skipping the Rebirth issues. So far, nothing you've written yet suggests that this is a bad idea...

I really enjoyed that first issue of Detective comics. I like the idea of the young adults of the Batman family being on a team together. It's a fun bit of nonsense, unlike a lot of the other nonsense we regularly see in the Batman books. Not sure exactly why Clayface is there, but I'm on board. And I don't think I've seen Eddy Barrows's work before, but I mostly liked his work here (outside of a few panels where faces are drawn a bit strangely - he's actually got a decent storytelling flow in his panel-to-panel work, and these days that makes up for odd design choices for me).

Action comics was ... weird. Very 1990s - and not just because of Jurgens's involvement. It feels very much like a callback to the Death of Superman/Reign of the Supermen storyline - a thought confirmed when I got to the ads in the back and saw the big two page "Reign of the Supers" ad in the back. Superman's dead and who will replace him? The genius in power armor? The strange visitor from a previous continuity? The ex-girlfriend who has somehow gotten super powers? A new teenager who calls himself Super-man? His cousin Supergirl? There are enough twists in there to make it an homage or an inspiration instead of a direct retelling or rip-off, but still really weird. And definitely very 1990s.

I'm really sad that we're going to spend a bunch of time on retelling Wonder Woman's origin. Again. The decision to turn her into a distaff version of Hercules was a really bad one, so I can see why they'd want to walk it back. But no matter what Rucka does if the upcoming movie is any good that will become her definitive origin - cause that's how these things seem to work.