Monday, September 26, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week 17

Cyborg #1 by John Semper Jr., Paul Pelletier, Tony Kordos, Scott Hanna and Guy Major

I found the first issue of the new, second volume of a Cyborg ongoing solo series to be surprisingly strong...although I must confess that was in large part because of how low I set the bar after the rather dull and predictable Cyborg: Rebirth #1, which simply ran through his origin one more time and introduced yet another iteration of the whether robots have souls or not issue (As I said at the time, it struck me that comic book writers only tell such stories about robots, cyborgs, androids, synthezoids and other artificial people, when really it's a pretty fundamental human concern. I worry about that kind of thing, and the only metal in my body is a filling where a cavity used to be).

After two pages of foreshadowing the threat that appears on the last two pages to engage Cyborg in a fight, the issue opens with Cyborg stopping some (relatively) petty crooks, then having an elaborate diagnostic run by his father and his friend Sarah at STAR Labs, and then she takes him out for ice cream and jazz music.

If this marks the end of his newfound worry whether he is a real human being with a real soul who has a bunch of robot parts, or if he is an elaborate machine that thinks it has a soul, then it would be a fairly satisfying conclusion to that conflict, even if the scene in which he rediscovers his soul could be viewed as rather trite, depending on how cynical vs. how generous a reader wants to be (It involves a blind jazz musician named Blue, who would stand out as a magical negro type if this comic weren't mostly populated with black folks).

To pencil artist Paul Pelletier's credit, he manages to sell Cyborg's discovery of his soul or humanity–or at least his realization that he can appreciate improvisational live jazz–really well with a few drawings and shifts in facial expression. He likewise handles all other aspects of the book pretty well.

As for the villain that picks the fight with Cyborg, after being awoken by the other villain, the one revealed at the end of the Rebirth special, it's yet one more instance of the Dan DiDio Era, worst-of-both-worlds approach to continuity. It's Kilg%re, a Flash villain from 1987 who played a role in the JLI-era Justice League comics and hasn't been heard from since.

Semper Jr. resurrects the character here, where so far it is simply a big scary robot, but if that name or history is at all attractive to you, then you've been reading DC comics rather voraciously for decades now, and are unlikely to be too terribly interested in the re-booted New 52 universe and this Cyborg comic, and if you're attracted to the NEw 52 universe because it's young, fresh continuity, then you're not really going to feel anything when a writer name-drops a minor 30-year-old character.

Kilg%re, it should go without saying, is a pretty bottom-of-the-barrel antagonist, so it's not like there is some core, timeless element to it that a rebooted version of it can accentuate to the degree that even a rebooted version of, say, Ultraman (evil Superman from an alternate, opposite reality) or Kite Man (guy who commits crimes, with kites!) might possess.

Nice art though and, as I said, I was actively worrying this would be much worse than it actually was.

Trinity #1 by Francis Manapul

One thing I've been curious about for a while now is where, when and with whom the term "trinity" originated in reference to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. I know Matt Wagner's awkwardly titled 2003 miniseries Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity is the first time the three shared a book with that word in the title (a title later used for the excellent but underrated Kurt Busiek-written 2008 weekly series and now this new monthly), but I have to imagine the term pre-dates Wagner's series.

I suspect that the idea of the trio as the three greatest heroes in the DC Universe is a fannish concept, and it certainly figured in the epilogue of 1996's Kingdom Come by fans-turned-pros Mark Waid and Alex Ross. You'll recall the series ending with the three of them having lunch together, and deciding to raise Wonder Woman and Superman's child together, as a trio of parents.

It certainly seems like a rather millennial idea. In the Golden Age Batman and Superman (and Robin) shared a book, while Wonder Woman was part of the Justice Society. In the Silver Age, Batman and Superman (and Robin) continued to pal around, and were only occasional members of the Justice League, which was originally essentially all of DC's Greatest Superheroes Who Aren't Batman and Superman (and Robin)! And if by the Bronze Age Wonder Woman was seen as a peer to the World's Finest, 1985-1986's Crisis On Infinite Earths scuttled all that by re-introducing Wonder Woman into the rebooted DC Universe as a newcomer whose career was beginning something like 10 years later than the careers of the World's Finest (causing no end of problems for poor Wonder Girl, and necessitating her replacement in Justice League history with Black Canary).

Because these characters really do have a life of their own to some degree, the idea of Wonder Woman as Batman and Superman's peer rather than a sort of superhero ingenue gradually gained gravity as the years passed, so that by the time of the continuity re-shuffling of Infinite Crisis/52, she was again a Justice League founder.

As I mentioned the other day, there's something of a flaw at the foundation of the new Trinity series, though, at least on a conceptual level. In the post-Flashpoint continuity realignment, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all began their careers around the same time, all met one another almost simultaneously and all founded the Justice League together. However the Superman that is starring in Trinity is not their Superman; he's the pre-Flashpoint one, so what we have here are The New 52 Batman and Wonder Woman, who have known one another and worked together for a good 5-8 years, teaming with an older, wiser Superman from a different reality, who they have just met.

Francis Manapul, who writes, draws and colors this issue, has chosen to embrace this peculiarity to DC
s trinity, premising this first issue on Lois Lane (also from the pre-Flashpoint DCU, her New 52 counterpart having been conveniently killed off shortly after New 52 Superman died) inviting this universe's Batman and Wonder Woman over to their Hamilton County farmhouse for a surprise dinner. Her thinking being that her husband, now going as "Clark White," needs friends. So she turned to this dimension's versions of his two best friends from their home universe.

It's all a lot more complicated than it needs to be, and is unfortunately going to be something that is more-or-less constantly being referred to, as there will always be a wedge between Superman and the other points of the trinity...probably. The mysterious Mr. Oz, who doesn't appear here, has repeatedly mentioned in other books that things aren't exactly what they seem with the Supermen.

So In this issue, Manapul introduces us to the trinity in double-page splash lay-outs, as Wonder Woman and Batman converge on the White farmhouse to have dinner with Clark, Lois and their son Jonathan (who accidentally blasts the visitors with heat-vision). Their basic relationships are established pretty quickly, and Manapul writes off a further New 52 complication to the idea of these three as best superfriends (the fact that New 52 Wonder Woman and New 52 Superman were an item).

There are some cute moments, including Batman being forced to wear plaid after Jon accidentally heat-visions his shirt off, and Wonder Woman bringing a wild boar to dinner (Jesus Diana, just bring a bottle of wine; you expect Lois to clean, cure and cook that thing in order to feed her family of three? You better hope they have a meat cooler somewhere on the farm). As to where it's all going, there's some coy allusions to Jack and the Beanstalk, and it ends with the three heroes looking into a mirror where a young Clark Kent is looking back at them, his father behind him.

It's a pretty classic, pretty effective "What the heck is going on? Find out next issue!" ending, really. While there's nothing wrong with the writing, the book's great strength is Manapul's artwork. He's one of the best artists DC has working for them these days, his design style looks like a compromise between that of Cliff Chiang and Time Sale, and his coloring is particularly effective at the sunset, bucolic world of the rural parts of the DC Universe (as he ably demonstrated during his too-short run on Adventure Comics with Geoff Johns (I'd heartily recommend their Superboy: The Boy of Steel collection, if you haven't read it yet).

I'm not entirely sure of where the book is going, and what might keep it going after this initial outing. With a small, focused Justice League team–just these three and five other characters–it seems somewhat odd to have a comic book starring half the Justice League (I'd kind of like to see Aquaman force Flash, Cyborg and the Green Lanterns to hang out with him once a month or so, and they can all get together and kvetch about the "Trinity" who are too cool to hang out with them unless the world is ending and they need their help).

Given Manapul's artwork though, this should be a particularly easy "Rebirth" book to keep an eye on.

1 comment:

Jer said...

Actually a Flash/Green Lantern buddy book sounds pretty cool. If it's Wally and Kyle at least. A Barry/Hal buddy book would probably be a cure for my insomnia. (A Barry/John book, on the other hand, in the hands of the right team might be pretty good).

An Aquaman/Cyborg buddy book would be kind of hilarious and I am ready for it. Any incarnation of Aquaman. Any incarnation of Cyborg. Let's get this book done.