Friday, September 02, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week 13

Blue Beetle: Rebirth #1 by Keith Giffen, Scott Kolins and Romulo Fajaroo Jr

This is the Blue Beetle relaunch at least some DC readers have been anticipating since at least 2013, when writer Geoff Johns introduced Ted Kord into the post-Flashpoint DCU in the pages of Forever Evil. As promised in the pages of the Johns-written DC Universe: Rebirth #1 special, however, this book isn't about the old universe's Blue Beetle II becoming this universe's Blue Beetle II, nor is it a third volume of Blue Beetle starring the old universe's Blue Beetle III, Jaime Reyes. Rather, this is going to co-star Kord and Reyes as different parts of Team Beetle, with Reyes using the scarab-generated suit and Kord working behind-the-scenes as a sort of advisor and engineer.

It's at least something different, which means maybe this will last longer than the last Blue Beetle series. Just to recap, Reyes was introduced as the new, third Blue Beetle during Infinite Crisis, a series that was the climax of a chain of events originally investigated by Kord, who was killed off in a scene that no one anywhere on Earth liked at all. Infinite Crisis was followed by a Blue Beetle series that lasted 36 issues, from 2006-2009. Giffen co-wrote the series at the outset.

After the 2011 line-wide reboot "The New 52," Blue Beetle was relaunched, but this short-lived incarnation lasted just 16 issues. It was written by Tony Bedard, which I point out only because this volume was Giffen-less. I don't think that's the reason it was canceled, so much as that it was competing against 51 other DC super-comics, and a five-year-old character wasn't exactly ripe for a reboot.

So now we start a third volume, with original co-writer Giffen back. He shares a "story by" credit with artist Kolins, while he scripts the dialogue (unfortunately).

The premise seems something like a compromise one meant to appeal to fans of both Beetles, but it's pretty shaky. Reyes goes to Kord, a brilliant billionaire genius with a reputation for having a heart, in order to have him help remove the alien scarab that has attached itself to his spine (and thus transformed him into Blue Beetle). Instead, Kord builds a mobile, blue beetle-themed headquarters (The Bug) and wants to become part of a dynamic duo with Jaime, who hates that idea.

It can't sustain itself like that for very long, as Jaime has no reason to agree to the arrangement, so hopefully Giffen and Kolins write a change-of-heart for the title character into the story STAT. Otherwise, the plot of this issue reads like a weird cover version of Giffen's original series: There's Jaime's big family, his two bickering best friends and there's local super-crime boss, the aunt and guardian of one of those friends.

In this issue, Jaime suits up to fight weird villains Rack and Ruin, who are holding up a Starbucks Sundollars just to pick a fight with him, and a Doctor Fate shows up (I think there's two, possibly three at the moment).

Because I've read much of the 2006-2009 series, much of Jaimie's non-superhero life seemed repetitive to me, and the fact that Giffen gave his friends such annoying, mean-spirited dialogue as they argued made me think of them as I did Giffen's Sugar and Spike in Legends of Tomorrow–I don't really want to be around them at all. (Similarly, Jaime seemed so belligerent with Ted that it only made it harder to suspend one's disbelief regarding the new direction).

As with the Sugar and Spike feature, however, Blue Beetle: Rebirth has some excellent art work...if only the story was half as fun and intriguing as installments of the Sugar and Spike strip.

I really like Kolins' re-design and rendering of the Blue Beetle costume. He looks very close to his previous incarnations, but with a much more expressive face and dynamic body. The eyes and mouth are great, the scarab's antennae are great, the fingers, the toes...I really love the way Kolins draws the title character.

That is easily my favorite part of this issue, and the thing that would most likely make me want to read Blue Beetle #1 and beyond.

Deathstroke #1 by Priest, Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz and Jeromy Cox

This issue made me curious about the rationale that went into choosing which books received Colon Rebirth #1 specials and which did not. In some of the cases, where the more popular characters were involved and the events of those specials would spin out in to multiple books (or storylines, in the case of Wonder Woman), it seems obvious that the specials functioned as deck-clearing exercises, jumping-on points for new and lapsed readers that simultaneously served as bridges to regular readers.

Other books featuring characters in transition from one status quo to another–like, say, Dick Grayson, whose Grayson book ended and who was being relaunched into another volume of Nightwing–similarly make sense.

I'm not so sure about Deathstroke, though. Certainly it's writer Christopher Priest, who is just going by "Priest" in the first two credit boxes, treated the script for Deathstroke #1 as if it were Deathstroke #2, rather than a second #1, following the Deathstroke: Rebirth #1.

Not that I can say I blame him. Starting any new book with two consecutive #1s is like something of a challenge, and it will be interesting (well, interesting to me at least) to see how the specials are collected. Will Batman: Rebirth #1 appear in the first collection of the new, "Rebirth" era Batman or All-Star Batman....? Will some of the collections read extremely poorly, with narratives that start, stop and star again, all within the first twenty-some pages...?

The first Deathstroke collection by Priest, Pagulayan and Paz won't have that problem, at least, although I can't help but wonder if someone decided to skip Deathstroke: Rebirth #1 and start instead with Deathstroke #1 will be a little lost.

Not only is this the second chapter, but Priest isn't exactly doing any hand-holding in the way he tells his story, stringing together a series of vignettes along two time-lines that interact with one another, and leaving it to the reader to sort out exactly who is who.

This issue seemingly ends a 40-page story, with Deathstroke reuniting with Wintergreen, his family life layed-out and his extremely complex moral code demonstrated in almost byzantine fashion. Priest did some extremely cool stuff with Clock King here, although that seems to be the last we'll be seeing of him for a while; the other villain, the African warlord called "The Red Lion," seems to be sticking around though.

Priest infuses the story with a welcome, and somewhat unexpected, sense of humor, and it's very elaborately plotted in a way that can seem challenging, but also makes for a rewarding read.

Visually, I can't remember a time a Deathstroke book looked better, but I know it was more than five years ago.

This past week there was some online titterings that the villain of the next Batman movie would be Deathstroke, which seems like a terrible idea to me (He's such a...normal character, of the sort that could have appeared in pretty much any action movie of the last 40 years, that seeing him fighting a "realistic" Batman who is also rocking body armor and guns and shit just sounds...boring). If that does turn out to be the case (Sorry, Catman! Maybe next time!), then it's a good thing that DC's Deathstroke is in such solid shape at the moment.

Between collections of this and the original series, DC will certainly have enough material to put together plenty of decent trades to put in the hands of new readers curious about the character from the film.

The Hellblazer #1 by Simon Oliver, Moritat and Andre Szymanowicz

After the The Hellblazer: Rebirth special, writer Simon Oliver and artist Moritat's run on the latest volume of the constantly relaunched John Constantine ongoing series* begins in earnest.

It includes a few flashback panels to the previous series, the short-lived Constantine: The Hellblazer, which only serves to underscore how drastic the changes to the character, at least visually, were between the two series. The Constantine: The Hellblazer version, drawn by Riley Rossmo, had short, well-groomed hair and was dressed in tighter-fitting, more stylish clothes...even an actual coat, rather than a trench coat, which made him look like someone you might actually pass by on the streets of New York City, rather than a television police detective. For this series, the character's third since the cancellation of his 300-issue, 1988-2013 book, he's back to looking like the older, rumpled, ill-groomed, Vertigo-era Constantine, who wears a trench coat the way Superman and Batman wear capes.

The plot hearkens back farther still, to Constantine's original appearances as a supporting character in the pages of Alan Moore and company's Swamp Thing, as the big, green guy with red eyes and orange dialogue bubbles grows himself a body in the greenhouse behind Chas' house asking for a favor. He wants Constantine's help tracking down Abby, who is no longer where he (and we) last saw her.

To help, Constantine makes Swamp Thing ride in a cab, and introduces him to his sorceress friend who helped him get back into London in the Rebirth special.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to a pair of very long-lived supernatural beings who look like men and have differing views about how openly to act in history. In fact, when we first meet them, one of them is about to prevent Archduke Franz Ferdinand from being shot, but his brother stops him before he can stop the assassin. They appear at the end, where they exchange words about escaping the notice of the creator (Interesting point that Oliver puts in one of their mouths).

It's an interesting set-up, and Oliver writes nice Constantine/Swamp Thing banter. Additionally, Moritat's art is pretty excellent, and doesn't look much of anything like what one might expect a Constantine or a Swamp Thing comic to look like. All that said, there's nothing so remarkable about the comic to really justify its existence at this point, or to suggest that this comic will succeed where the last three failed. Rather, I would guess that after a few months of a Rebirth-inspired uptick in sales, this will fall back to the same place as the previous series, meeting the needs of the too-few John Constantine fans out there.

Constantine, like Swamp Thing, could probably both use a couple of years off at this point, and Oliver and Moritat could both use better vehicles for their considerable skills.

*It's likely growing tiresome for you guys to hear me constantly repeating the same point, but this is such a salient example that it's kind of hard to pass up. If the premise of DC Universe: Rebirth #1 and therefore the status quo of the DC Universe, is that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen characters are villains who "ruined" the DC Universe by creating The New 52 (in-story), then the most obvious reading is that Moore is in part responsible for the current sorry state of the DC Universe, relative to the pre-Flashpoint DCU. Naturally then the publisher plans to move forward with a slate of relaunches that Alan Moore creation. And one once deemed too dark and mature for DC's superhero line, and had to thus be relegated to asomewhat walled-off mature readers imprint.


Michael Hoskin said...

>Priest did some extremely cool stuff with Cock King here

Freudian slip, I hope.

Caleb said...

Ha, no. Clock King got a very dramatic re-design as part of Rebirth...