Monday, August 22, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week 12

Supergirl: Rebirth #1 by Steve Orlando, Emanuela Lupachhino, Ray McCarthy and Michael Atiyeh

DC Comics sure took its time getting a Supergirl comic–any Supergirl comic–on the stands in time to meet the demand of the fairly well-received Supergirl TV show. It wasn't until late in the season that they managed a digital-first series that tied directly into the show (a sort of comic book cul-de-sac that never interested me, and always struck me as counter-productive), and showed the general lack of care that goes into the creation of pretty much all of the publisher's digital-first comics (Here, as in most cases, there were too many artists drawing in too many divergent styles). Now that the first season is completely over, and ratings have dipped enough that the show is moving from a network to CW's superhero ghetto in order to be more cheaply produced, there's finally a new, ongoing, canonical Supergirl comic, designed with one eye towards appealing to viewers of the show (Viewers who wanted a Supergirl comic, like, last year and then patiently waited until this week to get one, I guess).

It's...kind of weird, actually.

I confess to complete and total ignorance of what the publisher did to the character during the course of their 2011 New 52 reboot, aside from remembering that her costume was redesigned as a one-piece with an awkwardly-placed red panel that made it look like she flew off forgetting to put on her skirt.

This proved somewhat challenging, as writer Steve Orlando's approach to the Supergirl: Rebirth special is the "bridge" one, essentially moving the character from where she left off (Her last monthly, launched as part of The New 52, was ironically canceled just months before the debut of the Supergirl TV show, rather than simply being retooled to appeal to a different and broader audience, a la Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr's not-a-reboot recalibration of Batgirl) to where she's going. This means there's a lot of business that seems a little out-of-left-field, like the Department of Extranormal Operations helping the powerless Supergirl regain her lost super-powers, for example.

Knowing next-to-nothing about this Supergirl and her origins means I don't know where she came from, what the deal with her family is, how she escaped Krypton, why she was sent to Earth, what her relationship to Superman is, what she's been doing on Earth all this time and, oh yeah, what the deal with red Kryptonite is these days. After so many reboots, rejiggerings and resets, Supergirl is one of the handful of DC characters–The Legion of Super-Heroes, Hawkman, Donna Troy–where all of the particulars of her stories just register like white noise to me.

What's most interesting–and weird–about this series is how Orlando adopts elements of the TV show and attempts to ground them in the current DC Universe and the result feels awkward, as if the premise here is from an earlier, abandoned draft of the story bible for the show.

In Argo City (labeled here as "Survivor of Krypton's Destruction...Soon To Meet Its Own"), Supergirl's dad Zor-El is a judge sentencing a criminal of sorts to the Phantom Zone (on the show, her mom had a similar role). The DEO director is Cameron Chase (created, like the DEO, for the short-lived but promising 1998 series Chase by Dan Curtis Johnson and J.H. Williams III), whereas on the TV show the director was Hank Henshaw (Spoiler alert: Who was really a superhero posing as the late Henshaw), while Chase appeared in just a single episode as an FBI agent. They have assigned Kara Zor-El, who is going to work with them to repay them for helping her get her powers back and basically because she could use the support, to two married agents who will pose as her foster parents, Eliza Danvers and Jeremiah Danvers. Both characters on the TV show in small roles, although it is Kara's foster sister who is a DEO agent, not her foster parents.

They are all based in a facility in a desert outside of National City, like on the TV show, where Supergirl has been assigned the human identity of high school student Kara Danvers. Her costume is patterned after the one from the TV show, but with New 52 seams, no tights and a field of yellow behind her S-shield.

This issue is basically all set-up, the conflict being Supergirl having to deal with Lar-On, the Kryptonian werewolf that her dad sentenced to the Phantom Zone in the flashback, who was released from the Zone on Earth when Supergirl's power-restoration rocket was fired up.

Despite how much of this scanned like set-up white noise to me, I have to say, I do like the sound of "Kryptonian werewolf." (Much more so than "Cyborg-Superman," a version of which will apparently be involved in the ongoing series that will follow this).

The artwork by pencil artist Emanuela Lupcchhino and inker Ray McCarthy is quite strong, but having all three women in the narrative be identical-looking ones with shoulder-length blonde hair probably wasn't the smartest of choices. Lupucchino and McCarthy do great work giving the characters expressive faces, but their style isn't the sort that's devoted to giving them distinct faces.

Structured as it is, this is a difficult book to judge as anything other than a potential jumping-on point. Personally, it read as too little, too late to me (this is pretty much exactly what DC could have come up with just by watching the first highlight reel of the pilot episode, or reading descriptions of the series), but far better to have a so-so Supergirl series than not have one at all, I guess. I'd have to read another issue to know if this is a series I want to read regularly, but at this point I'm more mildly curious than excited.

Batgirl and The Birds of Prey #1 by Julia Benson, Shawn Benson, Claire Roe and Allen Passalaqua

Counting Batgirl and The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1, this issue marks the first 40 pages of the new Birds of Prey book, and it just doesn't seem to be working. Again a chunk of the issue is devoted to Batgirl Barbara Gordon's time as Oracle, working as Black Canary's partner from her clocktower base...none of which ever happened, as per the Flashpoint/New 52 reboot. This sort of soft, title/s-specific reboot can occasionally work in small doses here and there, but is particularly frustrating here and now, given how frequent DC's reboots are (this could have occurred in the wake of Convergence or Multiversity, for example, or the upcoming Watchmen crossover of some sort that DC Universe: Rebirth all but promised).

Grafting the old Helena "The Huntress" Bertinelli's origin and characterization onto the new Helena Bertinelli's not really working either; co-writers Julie and Shawna Benson just seem to be writing her as is she was the previous continuity's Helena, rather than as the entirely new person with an entirely new background that she is, with only a token nod or two to the fact that she used to be the leader of an international super-spy organization.

The plot of the special continues here. Someone is using the Oracle name for nefarious purposes, and Barbara Gordon wants to stop that person, with Black Canary at her side for old time's sake. Meanwhile, The Huntress wants to murder the very same people Batgirl and Canary need info from, as they all conspired to kill her entire family a long time ago. After a very confusing fight scene involving a guy who controls snakes, in which an exploding couch is randomly drawn in background of one panel for no reason, the three women decide to strike up an uneasy alliance.

Claire Roe's art remains good in terms of draftsmanship, if it can be difficult to make sense of at times (see above), but this premise just isn't working for me at all...even if it does seem an improvement over that of the New 52 series. What makes this disappointment all the more disappointing is that the last Batgirl cream team spent so many months putting together an even bigger and far better team that was apparently sadly shelved in favor of this (and, I suppose, elements of the "Rebirth" version of Detective Comics).

Suicide Squad #1 by Rob Williams, Jim Lee, Jason Fabok, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair

After the tinkering with the premise of the New 52 Suicide Squad to bring it more in line with that of the original incarnation (and that of the film, which seemed an amalgamation of the two eras of the team) in the Suicide Squad: Rebirth special, writer Rob Williams now launches the new series in earnest, and it is essentially a canonical, comic book extrapolation of the film.

The current line-up lines up pretty much exactly: U.S. military guy Rick Flag is Amanda Waller's new field leader, superhero Katana is his lieutenant and this first mission calls for the talents of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc and one June Moon. Each of them are kept in shipping containers in Belle Reeve prison, which looks like he has been redesigned to maybe be submerged under the water of the Louisiana swamps (Legion of Doom-style), but Jim Lee's double-page splash establishing shot isn't too terribly clear on this matter (a big single image like that shows import and detail, but no movement, and buildings aren't exactly things that can be drawn with enough dynamism to suggest movement).

After the team is assembled–via a neat sequence where large, mechanical arms pluck their shippint containers up and move them to surround a meeting room of sorts, their doors sliding open to allow them entry–Waller gives them their mission and off they go, entering hostile territory via some kind of weird ring of car seats that requires them to wear space suits. When something goes wrong, Flag heroically tries to save one of their number, which endangers them all to the point that their only hope for surviving this early part of this mission is for Moon to turn into her powerful other self.

And that's it. That is the whole first chapter of this story. If you were among the many who was wondering just how on Earth notoriously slow–and presumably quite buys–artist/DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee was going to manage drawing a 20-page book on a monthly basis, the answer is, he's not. He just drew the first 13 pages. The book is apparently going to be divided roughly in half-ish, with Lee drawing the the lion's share and the remainder being filled with character-specific back-up stories by another artist (here, Jason Fabok). not ideal, but I imagine that it is well worth a less-than-satisfying issue-by-issue read in order to keep Lee art in each issue, and thus sales appropriately high. It will likely read much better collected, particularly if they put the Lee-drawn team story all together in the front of each volume, and the back-ups in the, um, back.

In this issue, that back-up is entitled "Never Miss," and is both a kinda sorta run-through of Deadshot's origin (in broad strokes) and a team-up with Batman. When a Kobra cultist kidnaps his daughter, who doesn't know her dad, in order to force him to work for them, he instead turns to Batman for help, promising to use rubber bullets. He keeps his promise, until he stops, and surrenders to Batman after they save his daughter.

I'm not sure how much, or even if, this differs from the New 52 origins of the character, but Fabok at least draws Floyd Lawton to look like Floyd Lawton, so it's already head and shoulders above the last Suicide Squad #1 from 2011 (despite forgetting Floyd's mustache on the cover, it's worth noting that Lee and Williams do remember it in the interior art).

I was a little disappointed that so few of the character/costume designs matched those of the film, which, in general, were far superior to their New 52 costumes. Deadshot is still wearing his dumb New 52 costume, rather than a pared-down version of his original, as his movie costume basically was. Katana's basically wearing what she was in her short-lived solo series (again, I liked the movie costume better, which looked both more realistic, more functional and sexier, thanks to the bared abs, rather than the bodystocking). Boomerang's wearing the same basic costume he has for a decade or so now (I don't like the hat). Enchantress, who had the most striking and scariest fucking movie redesign looks like she did during Shadowpact, really; just a green bustier and pants and a hood, making her resemble a green Raven (we only see her on the cover, though). Harley most closely resembles her movie self, but then, she went through a redesign to match that design in her own comic series recently.

Of the last two Suicide Squad #1s I've read–three, if you count the Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1 too–this was by far the best, but, again, I suspect it will read better in trade.

Two quick, anal-retentive nitpicks, before I go.

First, I thought it weird that they were apparently all incarcerated with their costumes and weapons, given the pains taken to keep them isolated from one another and the prison staff, including Waller. Deadshot and Boomerang could so easily come shooting and boomeranging, for example.

Secondly, I wasn't aware Killer Croc was arrested again after the last time I saw him (the Bat-office has been transitioning him to sort of a bad-ass good guy over the last couple of years, making him more of a Catwoman-like character), or why he went to Belle Reeve instead of Arkham Asylum. Personally, I like knowing details like that (which, I suppose, could be explained in a forthcoming back-up, particularly if they are all going to cover similar ground to the back-up in this issue). Likewise, it's weird to see Harley in such a high-security prison here, whereas she's free and gainfully employed in New York in her own series. Having not been following New Suicide Squad too closely after the first issue or two, I just kind of assumed she had some very liberal work-release policy, or was volunteering with the Squad of late, but it's really hard to square Harley Quinn #1-#2 with Suicide Squad #1.

As a comedy series, the Harley monthly has a bit more wiggle room with continuity–and her Little Black Book team-up series even more so, as it's seemingly completely out-of-continuity–but given the character's popularity, it seem like DC might want to encourage readers of either series to read the other, and thus a little work to align them more closely would make some amount of sense (At present, there seem to be two Harleys with two different status quos and personalities).

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