Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initaitive, week nine

Red Hood and The Outlaws: Rebirth #1 by Scott Lobdell, Dexter Soy and Veronica Gandini

This book is probably the one that I was most confounded to learn that DC would be relaunching as part of their "Rebirth" initiative. The reason? The market and the audience seem to have pretty resoundingly rejected the idea of a Scott Lobdell-written book about Red Hood at this point.

Red Hood and The Outlaws was launched in September of 2011 as part of the New 52 initiative, written by Lobdell and starring the rebooted Jason Todd, Roy Harper and Starfire. It lasted a respectable 40-ish issues, with its sales seeing regular bumps thanks to its tenuous Batman connections, which were, of course, strong enough to tie into events like, say, "The Death of The Family."

Then DC relaunched it as Red Hood/Arsenal in 2015, with an altered line-up reflected in the title, and a different artist, but Lobdell still attached.

So here's Red Hood and The Outlaws volume two, still written by Lobdell and set to feature a third line-up of characters, who can be glimpsed on the cover, reflected in Red Hood's gun sites–some version of Bizarro* and a new version of the post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint Amazon character Artemis. In this first issue, however, the only one of the three characters who actually appears is The Red Hood, Jason Todd.

Given the connections to Batman, I suppose it's understandable why DC keeps trying to make a Red Hood book happen, although I'm uncertain why they keep trying to make a Lobdell-written Red Hood book happen, given that he wrote the last two versions and hasn't had much success in either keeping books afloat (see "DCYou" launch Doomed, or have you already forgotten that book even existed?) or staying on books long enough to suggest they were terribly successful (Superman, Teen Titans). The fact that DC has tinkered with every other aspect of this book–the artists, the title, the line-up, the costumes–but not the guy writing it seems strange to me.

I've personally never "bought" the return of Jason Todd or his taking up of the name "Red Hood." I thought his resurrection was a bad move that took more away from Batman than it added to the character and the mega-story (I similarly wasn't pleased with the return of Barry Allen, or, later, the restoration of Barbara Gordon's status as Batgirl). I particularly didn't care for the way the return was handled, as Todd went back and forth from being a Punisher-style killer vigilante to an outright super-villain to an anti-hero in league with Batman, though a couple of the things he did along the way should be deal-breakers for Batman (i.e. killing people with guns, attempting to kill Tim Dake, attempting to kill Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, etc).

The New 52 reboot did nothing to make a living Jason Todd calling himself "The Red Hood" anymore workable. Even with the excuse of the hard reboot of Flashpoint, DC stuck with the old resurrection story (Superboy punches and a Lazarus Pit, apparently) but the time compression makes the character's story hard to swallow, and Lobdell pretty liberally re-wrote his characterization and his relationship with other characters in his orbit, particularly those that appeared in the book alongside him.

The result is a pretty classic modern DC frustration, wherein the publisher wants to rely on the readership's familiarity with a character to help endear that character and sell that character's comics, while simultaneously telling the reader everything that they though they knew about the character was wrong, and here's a brand-new history and characterization for that character.

Not to get too far into the weeds here (too late, right?), but Jason Todd was Red Hood by "Year Five" of the current DCU timeline. Assuming Batman takes in Dick Grayson and trains him and makes him the first Robin in the first year of his career and Grayson is only Robin for a year, then we're already somewhere in Year Two or Year Three when Batman meets juvenile delinquent Jason Todd, takes him in, trains him, makes him Robin, adventures with him as Robin II, loses him to The Joker in some altered and updated version of "A Death In The Family," and then Todd is brought back to life and some form of the events of "Under The Hood" occurs. That's a lot of ground for two-to-three years...and consider that Batman has to squeeze two more Robins in before Year Five.

Lobdell reviews all of this in this one-shot, so none of that has been soft-rebooted away as part of "Rebirth" (It occurred to me while reading this book and, even more so, while reading Titans #1 that perhaps the "Rebirth" initiative should have waited until after DC does whatever it plans to do to restore their universe/continuity; DC Universe: Rebirth #1 intimated that ten years of time were stolen from the DCU and the New 52-ivers was created to weaken and fuck with the fabric of reality, so it will be presumably restored at some point...which will make necessary another reboot in the near-ish future anyway).

So in this issue, Red Hood narrates another re-telling of his origin story on his way to the presentation of what appears to be the premise for this newest Red Hood series.

There are seven pages about his first meeting with Batman (when he tries to steal the Batmobile's tires), and how be came Robin and how, even at a relatively young age, he was a bit more wild and violent than Batman was comfortable with.

This section benefits greatly from colorist Veronica Gandini's work, which keeps keeps the palette muted enough that it almost looks washed into black and whtie, save for the striking red of Jason's hoodie (Oh! A red hoodie! I get it!) and, later, his Robin costume, with yellows and flashes of flesh coloring or dull yellows breaking the blacks. It's very moody and very effective.

Then cut to the present, where Jason fights Batman, who is attempting to stop him from apparently gunning down a bunch of cops and the mayor of Gotham. Improbably, Jason wins the fight.

He retreats to what appears to be an all-villains bar, where he reminisces over the next phase of his back story–"A Death in The Family" through "Under The Hood"–over a large mug of beer which, hilariously, he doesn't remove his mask to drink. Not sure how that works, as he doesn't even have a little mouth hole to insert a straw into.

He's approached by another guy in a full face mask and jacket, and he has the gall to tell the guy who is dressed so similarly to himself, "Sorry, Pal. S&M's not really my thing..." That guy tries to recruit Jason into Black Mask's False Face Society (I thought Catwoman just did that story...?) Apparently the battle with Batman and the apparent shooting of all the city employees ingratiated Red Hood to the local bad guy scene (No one seems to notice or remark upon the fact that Red Hood wears a bat-symbol on his chest, of course).

Finally, we end in Jason Todd's current Gotham City base of operations, which Batman has of course found, and is standing there waiting for him. We learn that Todd had actually injected the mayor with a cure to some goofy super-villain weapon that had infected him, and that he had sedated the cops rather than shot them with bullets.

During the course of their discussion, Todd tells Batman he wants to follow up with the False Face Society, and go undercover as a bad guy to help fight crime within. That's a fine premise, even if it seems pretty similar to the premise of the current and previous Dick Grayson books and seems like a better one for a Red Hood comic launching on the heels of "Under The Hood" or even Batman, Incorporated rather than his third team book in five years, but whatever.

Artist Dexter Soy's work looks better here than I can remember it looking at any point in the near past and, again, I think a great deal of the credit goes to Gandini's coloring. As an introduction to The Red Hood character, I think this one-shot works perfectly well and, in fact, it probably serves better as an introduction than a re-introduction, since if you've been reading the character since Todd came back to life and took over that name and adopted that costume in 2005 or so, you'll know all of this (and be aware of how fluid and almost random his characterization has been in all that time).

How the book will incorporate "The Outlaws" Bizarro and Artemis will have to remain to be seen in the pages of Red Hood and The Outlaws #1 on August 10, when Lobdell and Soy launch the "Dark Trinity" storyline.

Batgirl #1 by Hope Larson, Rafael Albuquerque and Dave McCaig

(Quick note: This is the exact same review that I posted as part of last week's "Comic Shop Comics" column, included here for the sake of making this column a complete review of the the Rebirth specials and the launches of all their new titles). After how great the previous creative team of Cameron Stewart, Brenden K. Fletcher and Babs Tarr's run on the second half of the previous volume of Batgirl was, how luke-warm I was on the new team of Hope Larson (whose older work I've enjoyed, but whom I've only encountered as a writer/artist doing her own thing, not a writer of super-comics) and Rafael Albuquerque (a great artist, but not one with a style I personally found as exciting, unique and as much of a break with the rest of DC's line as I did Tarr), and how confusingly poor last week's Batgirl And The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1 was (scroll down for a pair of reviews), my expectations for this issue were set pretty low.

It did manage to surpass them though.

Perhaps wisely, Larson takes Barbara Gordon out of Burnside, and Gotham City altogether. The rationale proffered in the last issues of the previous volume seemed a little weak, but, here in the real world, it does allow Larson and Albuquerque a way to avoid direct comparisons with the previous creative team. If Babs is journeying to Asia to re-find herself, well, it allows the new creative team, and the book itself, to find themselves before plunging back into the more familiar Barbara Gordon milieu of Gotham City (Although it may be worth noting that she is in Gotham in Batgirl and The Birds of Prey, which is set after the first story arc of Batgirl, and she was also there in the first issue of Nightwing, which also shipped this week).

She's gone to Japan, in part to interview 104-year-old former (?) bat-themed crime-fighting vigilante Fruit Bat, given the fact that the average lifespan of a superhero is 40 (Actually, I don't know how many superheroes have actually died in the post-Flashpoint DCU yet...and, of course, stayed dead. Damian died at 10, so if the average is 40, then that means someone really old must have died at some point too, but since there's only been a single generation of superheroes now, at least not that Barbara would know of, since DC Universe: Rebirth intimated the existence of the Justice Society's heroes. Batman and Jason Todd both died young, and came back to life. So maybe they, like Damian, don't count, since they didn't stay dead. Superman's dead, but he was also pretty young, somewhere in his twenties, right? Actually, let's not even think about it, okay?)

Babs gets to see the very old super-lady in action, as she takes on and frightens off a girl in a sailor suit and dumb face-paint (you can see the pair on the cover). She also meets an old friend from Chicago, who is coincidentally staying in the same room at the same hostel she is.

Larson's plotting and script are just fine. Albuquerque's artwork is also just fine. Babs appears a lot less stylish than I'm used to seeing her now, as she's dressed the entire issue as is she were out hiking, and I wasn't crazy with the designs of the new characters (Like, it always strikes me as a little weird when heroes in other cultures or countries dress in traditional or stereotypical costumes; it's not like all American heroes dress like Uncle Sam or cowboys, you know?).

The book does seem to be off to a pretty good start though, and I'm certainly planning on reading #2.

Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps #1 by Robert Venditti, Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona and Tomeu Morey

In the first official issue of the new volume of Green Lantern, the Rebirth special's artist Evan Van Sciver is replaced by pencil artist Rafa Sandoval and inker Jordi Tarragona, for what appears to be something of a retreat from writer Robert Venditti's somewhat off-the-beaten path take on Hal Jordan and Green Lantern during the course of the book's "DCYou" period.

The Sinestro Corps is ascendant, as we saw in the special, and Sinestro has regained his youth (and a snazzier new yellow Parallax-style costume) by charging his ring directly from the imprisoned Parallax entity itself, apparently sucking the whole entity into his ring.

Meanwhile, Hal Jordan is looking for leads as to where the hell the Corps has disappeared to–and is temporarily affected by fear, which I think turns part of his recently regained corporeal body back into green pure will energy(?), and The Corps reappears from...wherever they were exactly during their last two miniseries.

So Hal, Guy, Kilowog, Arissa and Mogo are all back in the universe. And...that's this issue, really. Venditti seems to be re-setting the board for another Sinestro vs. Hal Jordan, Yellow Lanterns vs. Green Lanterns showdown.

I've seen it before, so am not terribly interested in what happens next, although I wonder if a certain segment of Green Lantern fans will be happy to see the franchise return to something more familiar after the last year or so of the unfamiliar.

Sandoval's art is fine, although the thing I like most about these Green Lantern comics with various armies of variously colored Lanterns is the designs of particular aliens in the ranks of each. As I mentioned previously, I like the fact that one of the new (or newer? I wasn't reading Sinestro) Sinestro Corps members is apparently just a giant gorilla with a power ring, and, looking at the GLC, I see there's a raccoon now, apparently distinct from B'dg or the late Ch'p. Maybe this is the Rocket of the DCU...?

I think this Green Lantern book is probably better written, and the characters seem more consistent with themselves, but of the two currently on the stands, I prefer Green Lanterns, which has an Earth setting (which seems novel after about a decade of Green Lantern comics set almost exclusively in outer space), two newer characters with interesting backgrounds, the intriguing promise of a "Phantom Ring" (presumably not the skull ring The Phantom wears to brand guys with skull-shaped bruises when he pounds it into their faces) and, of course, Dex-Starr, the napalm blood-vomiting Red Lantern house cat.

Nightwing #1 by Tim Seeley, Javier Fernandez and Christ Sotomayor

The first issue of the volume of a Nightwing monthly, still being written by Grayson co-writer Seeley, covers some similar ground as the Nightwing: Rebirth special, in which Dick Grayson decides to move on from his super-spy work and resume his Nightwing identity for another, similar mission: Infiltrate the new, international iteration of the Court of Owls and destroy it from within. Along the way, he checks in with old allies, including Batgirl Barbara Gordon and Batman and current Robin, Damian Wayne (These are both rather nice moments, in which he interrupts a Batman/Robin sparring match by advising Damian how to get past Batman's defense, and when he meets Batgirl in plain clothes thinking it was a date, not a team-up).

Seeley is setting up a war of sorts between Kobra and the black-masked Parliament of Owls, in which the Owls want Grayson to get increasingly offensive, ultimately pairing him with another bird-themed operateive, Raptor. They naturally don't get along so great.

I'm not terribly fond of Raptor's costume, which features a mask that is at once evocative of a luchadore mask and that of Hawk from Hawk and Dove, and a tight-fitting, sleeveless coat with a zipper and hood. The closest thing he has to a power is an elaborate, somewhat steampunk-looking claw that is somehow able to provide him whatever he needs in any particular situation...a little like a magical answer to Batman's utility belt.

I don't love Nightwing's current costume either, which features a too-small blue chest symbol and blue highlights in unusual places (strips on his calves, blue knuckles and palms on his gloves). It's a big improvement over his Agent 37 costume and his previous, red-and-black Nightwing costume, but I don't know, it's not quite there yet.

In the "Rebirth" era, DC seems to be retreating from The New 52 designs into the direction of the pre-Flashpoint designs, but not going so far as to just give characters versions of their classic costumes. So like Tim Drake's new duds, I think the new Nightwing costume is a vast improvement, but not quite there just yet.

Titans #1 by Dan Abnett, Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse

Sigh. Okay, so this is the first issue of the new Titans ongoing series, following immediately on the heels of Titans: Rebirth #1, which reflected both the events of DC Universe: Rebirth #1 (in fact, this book seems most directly concerned with the follow-up to that universe-shaking revelations of that one-shot) and Titans Hunt, the Dan Abnett-written miniseries that was a sequel of sorts to Convergence.

So yeah, good luck!

After a brief, four-page recap of DC Comics: Universe #1, we're back in Dick Grayson's apartment, where the (new) original Teen Titans team of Robin-turned-Nightwing, Aqualad-turned-Garth, Speedy-turned-Arsenal, Wonder Girl-turned-Donna Troy and Lilith-turned-Omen are trying to help Kid Flash-turned-Flash Wally West figure out just what the hell is going on with DC continuity. They all remember the old, pre-Flashpoint continuity, or at least a new version of it, where they all had updated, post-Flashpoint versions of their original Silver Age costumes or whatever.

And I honestly can't wrap my head around this whole premise. I mean, I saw the creation of Donna Troy some five-to-seven years into The New 52-iverse timeline; how could she have existed before? When Dr. Manhattan and/or Pandora re-make the universe and reboot characters, what do they use as their raw material? Isn't New 52 Superman, for example, made out of pre-Flashpoint Superman...? (Apparently not, based on Convergence). This all just makes my head hurt.

And Booth's artwork doesn't do anything for my eyes.

It's not just his style, which I'm not a fan of, or his stylized, '90s take on anatomy, but the very lay-outs, which are all irregular, oddly-shaped panels presented at angles.

So in this issue, while Lilith/Omen tries to magic stuff clues to help them out of Wally's mind, Arsenal and Troy decide to go looking for Mammoth (which has something to do with Titans Hunt), and Nightwing and Garth decide to just hang around his trashed apartment.

Meanwhile, a pretty cool, classic Flash villain is reawakened somehow, and, like his foes, seems to know who Wally West is, and we catch up with New 52 Linda Park.

I would love to like this book, as I like almost all of these characters a whole lot, but these days they are really jut familiar names, as when you take away a character's history and relationships, what you're left with is just a name. I'm not quite sure I even follow Abnett/DC's plan here, to have these re-booted characters semi-remember some aspects of their old histories which, visually at least, seem to have been heavily altered so much that they aren't being de-rebooted (er, restored is probably a better word), just changed.

As mentioned previously, I think this book would be a better one had it been launched after whatever the endgame is for DC's Watchmen vs. The DCU storyline they've foreshadowed. That, or maybe set on a different Earth or continuity. That way the characters could at least remain themselves.

On the positive side, I do really like the way Booth drew the absurdly silly mustache on the villain and, while she doesn't appear in the issue at all, look, Bumblebee is on the cover! I like Bumblebee.

*We've had at least two since the last reboot so far, the Frankenstein's monster-like "B-Zero" from the pages of Forever Evil that died, and the one that starred alongside Jimmy Olsen in the Bizarro mini-series that launched during the "DCYou" initiative.
Based on the variant cover for this issue, this Bizarro is wearing a version of the current Superman costume, blue boots and all, with a backwards S-shield. It remains to be seen if it will be a third Bizarro or if the second one just changed clothes.

1 comment:

Hyle Russell said...

"And I honestly can't wrap my head around this whole premise. I mean, I saw the creation of Donna Troy some five-to-seven years into The New 52-iverse timeline; how could she have existed before? When Dr. Manhattan and/or Pandora re-make the universe and reboot characters, what do they use as their raw material? Isn't New 52 Superman, for example, made out of pre-Flashpoint Superman...? (Apparently not, based on Convergence). This all just makes my head hurt."

I think it all makes loose sense, but it's clear that DC doesn't have a set Bible in place for how their cosmology works. Geoff Johns thinks one thing, Morrison thinks another, and everybody else just tries to best interpret it however they can. It's a bit of a mess, but you can work it out all if you squint hard enough.

I'm pretty sure according to most sources, all of the New 52 characters are the same as their Pre-Flashpoint predecessors but with their histories altered. Ergo, the New 52 Superman who just died is supposedly the same guy as Earth 1 Superman dating back to the 1960's. Characters like the Post-Crisis Superman and Lois Lane who are running around are Hypertime echoes (despite what Dan DiDio says, it's clear that writers at DC have never abandoned Hypertime) who were plucked from a Hypertime lane before their respective universal reboots. This seemed to be the only logical way Convergence could work as a story.*

As far as the Titans go, it's a really convoluted storyline they've committed too. The Titans are trying to figure out why Wally was forgotten in the New 52 timeline, but then there's the larger implications of the Flashpoint reboot that seem to be operating independently of that mystery. When Wally was sent into the Speedforce in the New 52 universe, he got his memories of the Pre-Flashpoint universe back. However, there's still the matter of why he was "erased" from the New 52 universe in the first place.

*Note that this is all dependent on how the Mr. Oz storyline goes, as I think they're going to pull the rug out from underneath that pretty soon by revealing that the New 52 Superman was some artificial creation who was never the "true" resident of the timeline. Comics!