Friday, July 15, 2016

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

Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps: Rebirth #1 by Robert Venditti, Ethan Van Sciver and Jason Wright

Ethan Van Sciver, who has collaborated with Geoff Johns on Green Lantern: Rebirth, Flash: Rebirth and DC Universe: Rebirth, obviously really like Green Lantern. Given the artist's talent, prestige and past sales, one assumes he could pick whatever titles he wants to work on for DC, and yet he keeps returning to various Green Lantern comics, most recently a minor miniseries about John Stewart, Guy Gardner and other members of the GLC lost in an alternate universe.

And here he is again, teamed with Johns' successor on Green Lantern, writer Robert Venditti.

This particular Rebirth one-shot is more of the bridge variety than the sample of what to expect variety (as is the Nightwing special, below, actually), essentially moving us from where Venditti left Hal Jordan (rather abruptly, it must be said), catching us up on where everyone else in franchise is at the moment and then having a rather pivotal, if slightly silly scene altering Jordan's current status quo.

That status quo? Well, last time we saw him, he was battling a version of his post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint self (the "Emerald Twilight" Parallax from the pages of Convergence who made it into the New 52-iverse much like a Superman, a Lois and their son Jonathan did). He won the fight, but in the process turned himself into a being of pure green energy.

In this special, in an event that is both kind of awesome and kind of stupid at the same time (something it shares with the best of Johns' Green Lantern writing), the big, green, energy version of Hal creates energy constructs of a rock, an anvil and a huge hammer, and then forges his own Green Lantern ring, each blow knocking him back into his flesh and blood form and sending ripples throughout the extended cast: The Corps, White Lantern Kyle Rayner, Agent Orange Larfleeze, Star Sapphire Carol Ferris and so on.

Naturally he's successful, he says his oath and he wills away his trench coat in favor of his traditional GL costume and flies off and towards the pages of Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps #1. Venditti seems to be now doubling down on business from Johns' run, with all of the variously-colored Lanterns and a mysteriously aged Sinestro (who, after goring gray, looks remarkably like a pink Vincent Price) in a Parallax-powered Warworld taking Oa's place in the center of the universe.

The continuity is a little glitchy if one tries to match this up with various other books. For example, I guess there are still two Hal Jordans and two Parallax entities in the universe (The Convergence Jordan will have a Parallax entity semi-possessing him too, right?), and I have no idea how this matches up to what we've been seeing the pages of Justice League in the "Darkseid War" arc, or even Green Lanterns...although I suppose this issue could be set before Green Lanterns: Rebirth...?

That aside, I imagine if you've liked Johns' Green Lantern, particularly from about the "Emotional Spectrum" business on, then Venditti and Van Sciver have successfully set the stage for a new comic that you will more than likely also like, although do be warned that Van Sciver was here for the special and not the ongoing, which will be drawn by Jordi Tarrogano and Rafa Sandoval.

Nightwing: Rebirth #1 by Tim Seeley, Yanick Paquette and Nathan Fairbairn

The Grayson iteration of the Dick Grayson character--who became Agent 37 of super-spy organization Spyral after having his secret identity outted to the world and faking his own death--was never built to last, and, personally, I never thought it made a whole lot of sense if you thought about it for too long (like, a minute), but co-writers Tom King and Tim Seeley managed to tell some really surprisingly great stories during the two years or so of that particular status quo, and had a great handle on the character of Dick Grayson.

It's something of a relief then to see that Dick is reclaiming the codename and costume of Nightwing (even if how they put the secret identity genie back in the bottle was fairly cheap), and that Seeley is sticking with the character in the new, upcoming Nightwing book.

For the Rebirth special, Seeley's paired with Yanick Paquette, and the pair devote themselves to tying-up various loose ends left over from Grayson and other Dick-specific storylines (like "Robin War"), as Dick narrates (pointing out, on the first page, where he got the name Nightwing) his way through a hang-out session with Damian Wayne and, later, Batman, all the while saying goodbye to various characters from Grayson. He attempts to say goodbye to his former Spyral boss "Matron" (Helena Bertinelli, who is about to become The Huntress and, in fact, is shown suiting up; she'll be in next week's Batgirl and The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1), he hangs out with Midnighter in order to defeat "Project: Killicorn" (My favorite part is when Dick says that Midnighter refers to them as "arch-frenemies" or "nemesisters," although the Killicorn is, of course, a close second) and runs one-last mission with Tiger, who is the new leader of the new and less-evil Spyral.

Finally, there's some more Court/Parliament of Owls stuff, which looks like it will dominate at least the first story arc of the upcoming Nightwing.

As I said, I wasn't a big fan of the entire Grayson milieu, despite what King and Seeley were occasionally able to pull off with it, but this particular issue does a pretty good job of filing all that stuff away without blowing it up, so that characters and concepts can be returned to if needed in the future. That's wise. I particularly liked Dick's interactions with Midnighter who, remember, was created as a sort of Batman parody, and is always defined in relation to Dick's first and greatest partner.

Like, um, every comic book DC has published in the post-Flaspoint DCU, this would be a hell of a lot better if there weren' a reboot accompanying the introduction of The New 52. For example, prior to that reboot, we knew that there was a legendary Kryptonian hero named Nightwing, we knew that Dick had a long-time relationship with Superman, since he was Batman's junior partner throughout their entire "World's Finest" relationship and Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty even wrote a nice scene in their 2005 "Year One" Nightwing story arc in which Superman suggests the name to Dick.

In the New 52, I can't recall if Superman and Dick Grayson ever even met until after Grayson became Agent 37.

Also, the climax involves Dick looking at his original, retconned Robin costume in its glass case in the Batcave and, I don't know, maybe it's me, but I just can't get used to seeing that costume and thinking "Dick Grayson's Robin" costume, as it looks more like a Tim Drake costume from some videogame adaptation.

When he does finally suit up as Nightwing, it's worth noting that he's wearing a new costume, this one with the blue and black color scheme he wore for most of his career as Nightwing, only with an abstract "bird head" shape to the blue V element, like that of his costume from Batman: The Animated Series. I think the costume from the Dixon/Scott McDaniel run of Nightwing is his best costume, and this is close enough, certainly better than the red and black costume of the first New 52 Nightwing series.

Please note that Nightwing will be drawn by Javier Fernandez, so if you love Paquette's art here, don't expect to see it on a monthly basis.

New Super-Man #1 by Gene Luen Yang, Viktor Bogdanovic, Richard Friend and Hi-Fi

DC has moved Gene Luen Yang from Superman to a brand-new book, featuring a brand-new character of his own creation, and rather than a demotion, it seems like this new book will have the potential to make far better use of Yang's writing talents (His time on Superman was bogged down with telling one-third or so of the story about Superman losing his powers and secret identity, which was never really resolved satisfactorily).

This new Superman, er, Super-Man is Kenan Kong, and he is a Chinese teenager. Not a Chinese-American teenager, mind you, but a Chinese teenager. Living in China. This immediately promises an unusual direction for a superhero, especially a Superman, narrative, as a character known for fighting for "Truth, Justice and The American Way" doesn't transplant directly into a non-American country, let alone one that is still Communist and currently America's next most powerful economic and military rival.

Kenan's father lists a different set of ideals when ranting against the corrupt government in one panel: Truth, justice and democracy.

The other interesting choice is to take a more Spider-Man origin route, and make Kenan an arrogant jerk who, one assumes, will learn in future issues that with great power comes great responsibility...or that he will at least stop being such a jerk as Superman's powers more-or-less transform him into a more Superman-like figure (Remember at the climax of All-Star Superman, when Lex Luthor gained Superman-like powers and found himself more-or-less infected with empathy and goodness, as his new super-senses unlocked a new understanding of humanity?).

When we first meet Kenan, long before he's super-powered, he's not only an arrogant jerk--which one could say of the 1994 Superboy, whose personality Kenan's reflects in several aspects--he's also a bully, stealing the lunch from a smaller, chubby classmate who can't fight back.

In a moment of stress, he acts heroically, and is basking in newfound fame until his father deflates him, and we learn about a tragic event in his life, one that is an intersection connecting his father's political views, his lashing out against that particular target and even Superman. By book's end, Kenan has volunteered for an experiment conducted by a mysterious Dr. Omen to grant him super-powers.

Naturally it works, or else there would likely be no second issue, and Kenan becomes the Super-Man of China. And, in a last-panel reveal, when he seems out of control, he's faced with The Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman of China.

Yang's story, from conception to dialogue, is all on point. Superman's been around in every medium imaginable for just about ever, so pretty much any time someone comes up with a new take that can explore little-seen aspects of the character deserves at least a slow clap, and while putting Superman in different countries and cultures has been done in short, imaginary stories before (most commercially successfully by writer Mark Millar with 2003's Red Son), but Yang's story has the advantage of being "real," and, by not using the Superman character himself in a Superman story he has the opportunity to do things he wouldn't otherwise be able to do.

I admit to being pretty disappointed by penciller Viktor Bogdanovic and inker Richard Friend's art in the designs. I really like the design of the new Super-Man costume (which I've mentioned before), and i particularly liked the way that it substituted one of the other primary colors in the original Superman's costume as the primary primary color--although, because I am dumb, it didn't occur to me until I read this issue and saw the little stars like those on the Chinese flag on his shoulder that it likely had as much (or more) to do with red being China's color than it did with making a striking opposite to Superman's own blue-dominated costume.

The Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman are similarly cool designs. The Batman is big and blockly, like the Dark Knight Returns Batman, colored with the blue, gray and yellow that American Batman abandoned so long ago. Wonder Woman on the other hand, is in green, and doesn't look much of anything like any other Wonder Woman, save for the fact that she also has a luminous lariat (pink-ish rather than gold). All three costumes have the stars on the shoulders, and matching borders around their chest sigils.

But Bogdanovic's art has a generic quality to it, so much so that it is not immediately his and, were a reader presented with it in a comic with no credits, it would be impossible to assign it to him rather than any of another dozen or so artists that have worked regularly with DC in the past five years or so. This book, despite the high-profile author, despite the unusual and unusually compelling premise, just looks, stylistically, like any other DC comic.

As I said the other day, that may be a deliberate choice, to make the entire narrative more subversive by making it look more like every other DC comic, but I think it is instead just a poor pairing of art team and writer. Once this is collected into a graphic novel, it will sit very uneasily alongside all the other books Yang has written that fill library shelves, both those he illustrated himself, those he collaborated with other artists on and even the licensed, franchise comics he's done, like Avatar: The Last Airbender.

It's a good comic book, but it really should be a better one.

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