Last month, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Welcome to month two of DC Reborn!
Note: the review below contains **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on this book, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Justice League: Rebirth #1
Writer/Penciller: Bryan Hitch
Inker: Daniel Henriques & Scott Hanna
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Kyle Pinion: With DC You, one of the bigger surprises was just what a solid writer Bryan Hitch turned out to be. His run on JLA, which sadly still has yet to be concluded, gave me the fun core-member Justice League book I had been searching for throughout the New 52. Sure, it was a little decompressed, and Hitch was going as wide-screen as possible (even to the point where it was a part of the marketing tag-line), but I enjoyed how essential he made every member, and the different subplots everyone received. It even had some fun time-travel!
All that to say, I was pretty disappointed with this initial Rebirth offering. Hitch’s first effort on the main Justice League title centers on the League once again fighting another world-shattering monster, with citizens being mind controlled. The League has to venture forth inside the alien creature and attempt to destroy it from the inside. At the same time, our new Superman and Lois and debating whether or not he should join the team and assist in their time of need. He does, the League wins, etc etc, here’s the two Green Lanterns as well… let’s have another cup of coffee, let’s have another piece of pie.
This first go at the title suffers from two flaws that I just could not shake in my initial read. 1) How many darn times are we going to have to see Superman struggle with the idea of leaving the house and going to fight on the side of good? Didn’t he already do all of this when he debuted in Action Comics? Perhaps this takes place before all of that, but all of this hemming and hawing is starting to make this version of Clark look awfully indecisive. 2) The “Reaper” threat seemed terribly familiar to me. I’m not sure if Hitch has played the Mass Effect series, but the fact that we have these sort of ancient techno-organic beings coming to raze Earth that in turn mind control other organisms to do their bidding, and that they both share the same name, is a little too close for comfort I think. But I’m surely reading too much into that, as there’s probably a million other similar threats in fiction that have existed before Bioware’s landmark video games. It’s all somewhat Lovecraftian, I guess.
On the whole, the issue was plodding and time biding, and like almost every Rebirth outing shy of Green Arrow, it feels like it was written after the first numbered issue and to fill a publishing gap. Though I’ll never reject Hitch art out of hand, even if it’s a little rushed and/or less rich than his typical work. Alex, what did you think of his latest go at the team?
Alex Lu: Honestly, Justice League: Rebirth is just more of the same old, crisis driven DC the publisher claims they are trying to move away from. I’m not the biggest fan of Bryan Hitch’s artwork, but I have respect for his ability to create dynamic spreads and draw characters in cool action poses. However, like you say, Kyle, his work here is just shoddier than usual. There’s a really painful moment during the fight with the big Reaper where Wonder Woman is lamenting her Bolt of Zeus’ ineffectiveness against the Reaper’s armor. Her jaw looks like it’s become detached from the rest of her skull as she speaks. These anatomically chaotic moments are not omnipresent throughout the book, but they happen frequently enough for me to be taken out of the book and thrown for a loop.
Worse yet is the actual dialogue that accompanies the art. I know that many comics from the Silver Age and before were overwrought with expository dialogue, but I personally find the practice ineffective. Lines like “My Bolt of Zeus could shatter mountains, Arthur, and it’s having no effect” are the definition of purple prose.
The most egregious thing about this book was its conclusion. The fight between the Reaper and the Justice League does not actually end up being much of a battle after Green Lanterns Jessica and Simon skewer all the Reaper’s drones simultaneously, leaving the Justice League to blast the Reaper’s brain to bits. It’s an anti-climactic moment that is punctuated by the members of the Justice League staring at the injured-but-living Reaper’s damaged internal viscera, telling the Reaper to run and let its kin know that it was spared by the Justice League. It’s such a corny moment that’s made even more ineffective by the abstractness of the Reaper itself, as you never get to see how the alien emotionally reacts to these threats. The whole thing is punctuated by a nearly fourth-wall breaking newscast and a splash that evokes the endings of 90s animes!
Perhaps I’m hammering the book too hard for its tone. It’s not inherently bad to make a cheesy work, though I am definitely not the audience for it. I just find that, as a whole, this title does not have much ground to stand on. As you said, Kyle, many of the character beats in this issue are given to Superman, but they’re wasted because these internal conundrums were already resolved in Superman and Action Comics. Emotionally, it’s hard to invest in the big climax because it ends so abruptly and the Reaper has no ability to emote. Artistically, Hitch doesn’t fire on all cylinders, either. The whole thing feels like a B-List anachronism– a comic from an earlier time. Does anything about this book redeem itself to you, Kyle? Perhaps Alex Sinclair’s admittedly beautiful colors?
Kyle: Sinclair’s colors are solid, but nothing that I necessarily found to stand-out among the cacophony of action in the issue, barring some display of Simon and Jessica’s powers, as well as Victor’s. I think Hitch, Henriques, and Sinclair make for a good, modern cinematic comics team, but it’s the kind of team that can’t be rushed or the work is going to appear haphazard. For example, getting back to the very pages you cited, what exactly are Batman and Aquaman doing there? Are they bataranging and tridenting the alien? And that final splash…I’m never a fan of the “end pose” that superhero comics and movies of a certain era used to aim for, and this reminded me a lot of that, except again, I was laughing a bit at the pose struck by Batman especially: where did his other leg go?
It’s just an issue that doesn’t serve a tremendous amount of purpose really. As you say, one could have already connected Superman with the Justice League by way of his own title and just added an editor’s note – just like the Green Lanterns reference – and not created a redundant situation and frankly, the threat itself felt so anonymous that it will likely get greater definition in the actual first issue anyway. Those two problems taken together make this issue inessential reading. Add in some art that’s a bit less up to par and you’ve got a comic that’s tough to recommend.
I do like the five o’clock shadow he gives Aquaman, that’s a nice touch. There’s not enough five o’clock shadow on DC’s big heroes! I’m now envisioning that Arthur is like me and can’t go a day without shaving. I knew he was my favorite superhero for a reason.
I’ll likely give the first Hitch + Tony Daniel issue a go, but this is an easy pass in my book and not filling me with much confidence.
Alex: Same for me. I think most of these Rebirth one-shots have been a bit of a bust, but some at least offered glimpses of a brighter creative future. Justice League: Rebirth doesn’t even give us that. I’m frankly not interested in watching the world’s greatest heroes team up to fight another faceless alien threat– especially when they just recently reprinted Grant Morrison’s epic and creatively fertile late 90s run on the series. Pass for me as well.
Final Verdict: Pass
Stay tuned throughout the day as we post reviews for Aquaman #2, Green Arrow #2, Green Lanterns #2, and Superman #2!