Sunday, October 09, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week 18

Batman Beyond: Rebirth #1 by Dan Jurgens, Ryan Sook, Jeremy Lawson and Tony Avina

This is one of the "Rebirth" launches I was most perplexed by. Not because it's such an unusual concept or unlikely character, but simply because it seems like DC has already given the book plenty of time to run its course. That, and it just strikes me as odd that of all the excellent DC cartoons to keep trying to make into an ongoing series, they keep pushing Batman Beyond, which whatever its original charms seem fairly limited to something like, I don't know, Justice League Unlimited (Hey, what if all of DC's superheroes were on one big, All-Star Squadron-sized super-team?), or Batman: The Brave and The Bold (Hey, what if Batman hung out with Aquaman and Plastic Man all the time, and oh yeah, Aquaman was Marvel's Hercules?).

Admittedly, I've also kind of lost track of what's what with the publisher's Batman Beyond efforts. There were a few books set in the original cartoon's continuity, and then after the year-long New 52: Future's End series (the second-to-last hurrah for WildStorm character's in the DC Universe), a near-future version of Tim Drake traveled to a further-future where he assumed the mantle of Batman from Terry McGinnis and...I lost track after a couple of issues, because I was pretty sick of Batman Beyond after Future's End. (Double-checking, it looks like that 2015-launched series lasted just 16 issues, but, given the timing, it was likely to have been canceled as part of "Rebirth" rather than for any other reasons.

So I was a little surprised at how straightforward this book was.

Still written by Dan Jurgens, who is also writing Action Comics for DC, he's joined by artist Ryan Sook for a rehash of Batman Terry McGinnis' origin story, which may or may not vary too much from that of the original cartoon, which I only saw in fits and starts in Cartoon Network repeats. It seems like pretty much the same story, although there seem to be more Jokerz around. They are, in fact, the major threat, and what Terry busies himself fighting when not flashing-back to his origin. The big cliffhanger ending? The Jokerz are trying to resurrect the original Joker...I want to say "again," as there was a direct-to-DVD Batman Beyond movie entitled The Return of The Joker.

I suppose if this particular milieu is of interest to you, then this comic will be as well. What I've found most appealing about it in the past is the aesthetics, and while Sook is an unquestionably great artist and his work here is great, it doesn't really look or feel like Batman Beyond, either the cartoon or the pre-Future's End comics.

I'm afraid this is one I'm just not interested in at all. The first official issue of the series will debut at the end of the month, with Jurgens remaining on as writer and Bernard Chang, who drew the previous volume of Batman Beyond, taking over the artwork. Sook will still be around though, providing covers.

Teen Titans: Rebirth #1 Ben Percy, Jonboy Meyers and Jim Charalampidis

As I've mentioned in this feature repeatedly, 2011's Flashpoint/New 52 reboot of the DC Universe had some pretty harsh consequences for the characters of the previous iteration's first, third and fourth generation of superheroes (That would be the Golden Age heroes, the first crop of sidekicks and the 1990s-era second crop of sidekicks). Collapsing the fictional timeline from decades down to just five years had the effect of wiping out entire generations of characters, and those that did remain did so in forms that were somewhere between tinkered with and hideously mangled, and often in ways that didn't make sense if you stop to think about them for any length of time (i.e. Batman's four Robins, two of whom had grown to adulthood, in just five years).

While the Justice Society's generation was simply wiped out (with versions of those characters appearing in a series alternate reality series all sharing the title Earth 2), the Teen Titans franchise was apparently marketable enough to keep around, even if it meant they would be hideously mangled. Of the original Teen Titans, only Robin Dick Grayson and Speedy Roy Harper were still extant at the point of reboot, but new versions of Aqualad, Donna Troy and Kid Flash would eventually be introduced.

Of the Marv Wolfman/George Perez era Titans, the ones who have anchored Cartoon Networks' Teen Titans Teen Titans Go cartoons, Cyborg and Starfire were aged up to young adults, with the former being snatched up by Geoff Johns to be a founding member of the Justice League and the latter relegated to Red Hood and The Outlaws for some reason. Raven and Beast Boy, meanwhile, were introduced as teens, and would eventually find their way into the pages of the ever-troubled Teen Titans book.

As launched, that book was sort of picking up where Johns' run on Teen Titans had ended, with the core of the Young Justice team now the Teen Titans. September 2011's first issue was written by Scott Lobdell and penciled by Brett Booth, and featured on the cover Red Robin Tim Drake, Kid Flash Bart Allen, Wonder Girl Cassandra Sandsmark, Superboy, Solstice, Skitter and Bunker–you know, the Teen Titans.

That series lasted 30 issues (including #0, #23.1 and #23.2, because comics), with Lobdell, a veteran of 1990s X-Men comics, writing until the very end, getting assists from Fabian Niceiza on a trio of issues. Booth was the primary artist for much of those issues, while Eddy Barrows had a short six-issue run and Tyler Kikham a slightly shorter five-issue run (Ig Guara, Ale Garza, Angel Unzeta and Robson Rocha each drew one or two issues as well). While 30 issues seems like a relatively short run for a book starring that franchise in the second decade of the 21st century, it managed to survive several cullings of the the moribund New 52 line...and would be immediately relaunched anyway (as was done with Suicide Squad).

The second, post-Flashpoint volume of Teen Titans lasted just 24 issues, but it was canceled in order to make way for the third volume, which I will get to in a moment here I swear. This second New 52 volume launched under the new creative team of Will Pfeifer and pencil artist Kenneth Rocafort, and started with a more recognizable team: Red Robin, Wonder Girl, Beast Boy, Raven and Bunker. Pfeiffer wrote the first sixteen issues, and was then followed by Greg Pak for three issues and Tony Bedard for four issues. Rocafort drew seven issues, but the art was pretty inconsistent; Ian Churchill drew eight issues, and at least eight other pencil artists drew between three and one issues a piece. The book grew increasingly messy as it went on.

And that, finally, brings us to the third and (hopefully) final relaunch of the Teen Titans, in this one-shot special by writer Ben Percy and artist Jonboy Meyers. As I mentioned when writing about this issue for Good Comics For Kids, the great thing about this book is you don't really have to have read or even know anything about the previous 50+ issues of New 52 Teen Titans comics. Red Robin Tim Drake is pretend dead, which is why the old team has scattered and why there isn't currently a Teen Titans, and that's all you really need to know–maybe it would also help to be aware of the fact that current Robin Damian Wayne has a big red bat-monster...?

For the line-up, the creators have chosen a pretty instantly recognizable team, one that could certainly pass for the Teen Titans if you're only familiar with them from mass media adaptations: Robin, Beast Boy, Raven, Starfire and Kid Flash (Wally, the other Wally West). As I mentioned at GC4K, that's the team from the cartoons, if you swap out Cyborg for Kid Flash, or the team from Justice League Vs. Teen Titans, if you swap out Blue Beetle for Kid Flash.

At first glance at the cover, it might be hard to wrap one's head around this particular team–Damian's never met these guys, Starfire's not a teen, etc.–but Percy cleverly uses Damian as his proxy. Why this particular team, exactly? Because Damian wants them, so he rounds them up and forces them into the same place at the same time against their will. This is going to be the Teen Titans now because Damian says so, apparently.

This is loosely one of the "bridge" format Rebirth specials, but it's less concerned with wrapping up old business from the previous Teen Titans than it is collecting a few of those characters from where they ended up (Starfire's own solo book was also canceled at about the same time as Teen Titans).

Percy and Meyers show us the four non-Damian Titans going about their business, and then each being captured by an mysterious hooded figure via elaborate traps (Spoiler: It's Damian).

In LA, Beat Boy is trying to party his troubles away and restart his acting career. In the Caribbean, Starfire is trying to break up a slavery ring. In New York City, Raven's trying to find some peace and quiet (I'm not sure how this fits with her own miniseries, which has her attending high school in San Francisco, but I didn't like the first issue of that and have no interest in the rest of it, so personally I think I'll just ignore it, if that's okay with you guys). And in Central City, this universe's Wally West (not to be confused with the pre-Flashpoint Wally West, currently appearing in Titans) is fighting crime and getting used to his new powers while wearing the classic red and yellow Kid Flash costume.

One by one they all get shocked or drugged into unconsciousness, only to awake in their costumes (I guess Damian undressed and re-dressed a few of them?) in a big super-villain trap. And out steps everyone's favorite arrogant little bastard:
What next? Well, Teen Titans #1, naturally. Where's it going? I don't know. But credit where credit's due, this is an inspired line-up in that it both looks like what one might expect the Titans to look like, while simultaneously introducing brand-new characters to the franchise (the Damian version of Robin, this new version of Wally West) and characters who haven't had an in-current-continuity association with the team or with one another.

It's a pretty great jumping-on point, introducing all five characters quickly and efficiently and spending the minimum amount of effort wrestling the team into place so the storytelling can start. Whether that story will be interesting or not remains to be seen, of course, but Damian is such a strong character that generally just putting him in a scene goes a long way towards filling it with conflict.

Additionally, the more out-there redesigns the characters suffered have been abandoned, and while they're not exactly in their most familiar costumes, either from the comics or the cartoons, Raven, for example, looks like Raven, Kid Flash looks like Kid Flash, despite the color of his skin being darker than Wally or Bart's (gone is the silver costume he debuted in).

This is only the second issue of a Teen Titans comic I've been able to read cover to cover since 2011 (the other was the last issue of the previous series), so from design, to rendering to storytelling, this is maybe the best the book's been in for pretty much ever.

I'm excited for Teen Titans #1, which will launch the last week of October and be by the same creative team as this issue.

Blue Beetle #1 by Keith Giffen, Scott Kolins and Romulo Fajardo Jr.

I don't really have anything to say about the first issue of this series that I didn't have to say about the Rebirth special; this very much reads like #2 of an already in-progress series.

Keith Giffen's bickering characters are all inherently unlikable, to the point that I can't wait to get away from them all. Jaime's indulging Ted doesn't really seem logical, if his only motivation is to get the brilliant billionaire to remove the alien artifact from his back. The superheroes-fighting part is pretty dull, as Blue Beetle takes on a member of a metahuman street gang, only to have the rest of the gang appear on the last page to presumably fight him some more next issue. Something more interesting is going on in Jaime's dreams, in which a Doctor Fate battles a giant version of the scarab.

I continue to love co-plotter Kolins' art, and particularly his version of Blue Beetle, the scarab and the bug, but there's not much here that's much fun, beyond Kolins' rendering of the title character. That's probably enough of this series for me.

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