In June 2016, 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.
This week: Kyle makes his return after two weeks abroad and takes a look the penultimate chapter of “The Button” with Batman #22, and gives Sam Humphries take on the GL mythos another spin in Green Lanterns #22. There’s quite a few twos in that sentence, almost worthy of a Harvey Dent caper.
Note: the reviews below contain **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Story: Joshua Williamson and Tom King
Script: Joshua Williamson
Artist: Jason Fabok
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Deron Bennett
Did you miss me? Probably not, but I sure missed all of you! Before I dig a bit into this week’s DC offerings, I wanted to say a special thank you to my partner in crime, Alex Lu, for manning this article for two straight weeks. While I was gallivanting in Italy, eating far more carbs than one person ever really needs to, you folks were left in the best of hands.
But now I’m back, so let’s undo all that good work Alex did. And where’s the best possible place to start? With a controversial Watchmen-based storyline of course!
While I was away, all of the fun discussion of this Batman/Flash crossover which continues the main thread of last year’s Rebirth 80 page Special had basically been had. I don’t have anything terribly significant to add in regard to the actual ethical discussion of the existence of this story, and I don’t particularly have a strong enough opinion in that area to voice it. On the creative-side, I still have significant concerns, but I do admit that the first two chapters of this crossover have been very entertaining. The opening issue (Batman #21) playing up all of Tom King’s formalist chops and some really nicely composed work by Jason Fabok, and the subsequent comic (Flash #21) counters King’s introspective take on this event with an all out superhero spectacle with as many Easter Eggs as you could imagine one could toss into a single issue and some of the best Howard Porter art I’ve seen in years. Given that seeming back and forth between the two creators (the Batman chapters reflecting the more psychological nature of the current take, and the Flash issues being the wilder and more upbeat follow-ups), I was looking forward to finding out how King would handle the first meeting of Bruce and his father from the altered Flashpoint timeline.
But, things don’t quite work out how you expect and instead, it’s Williamson who is taking over this issue’s scripting duties (though the story is credited to both Williamson and King). This represents the only issue of this Batman volume that King has not written, which is interesting, if maybe immaterial, as Batman #22 is quite a bit of fun. Rather than diving deep into the shared trauma that both Thomas and Bruce have endured, this is a pretty high octane event comic, with the two starring heroes arriving in the Flashpoint setting right as the combined forces of that event’s Aquaman and Wonder Woman are seeking to take out the Thomas Wayne iteration of Batman. Both Barry and Bruce barely have time to get their bearings, much less have much of a reunion between the lost father and son, before this ersatz trio has to square off against a small army of Amazonians and Atlanteans. It’s an issue that’s heavy on action, and just as quick as Barry is able to pull together the Cosmic Treadmill again, they quickly scoot right back out of Flashpoint and back on to the trail of the titular Button which leads them smack dab into Eobard Thawne who is well on his way to his inevitable demise as seen in Batman #21.
It’s a very quick read, as these things go, and that’s sort of helped along by some lovely, but heavy action paneling by Fabok. Honestly, one might feel a little short-changed by the overall lack of familial bonding, but Williamson gets in just enough emotional payoff to make this jaunt worthwhile. He does two things that I think are especially interesting, one of which is the return of the letter from the end of Flashpoint that Thomas wrote to Bruce and somewhat set our Batman’s overall course during the New 52 (or at least seemed fairly prescient in the opening arc of Tomasi and Gleason’s Batman and Robin from six years ago), we get a little bit of further resolution to that character defining development here as Bruce informs Thomas that he’s a grandfather and in turn leads to Thomas making a final emotional plea to Bruce regarding the future of his activity as The Batman. I doubt it will lead to much, but at the very least we get a lovely little epiphany for Thomas that underscores his self-redemption in a way that the original event that introduced him never quite managed.
Secondly, I was really hooked into the idea of just what exactly happens to these parallel worlds and alt-timelines after the prime heroes leave? Generally as readers we assume that these divergent realities are no longer existing once out of sight, but what’s posited here in this issue is a scenario of “what if this alternate reality continues to exist despite being out of sight/out of mind?”. Admittedly, things haven’t changed all that much for Thomas Wayne since 2011 – that we can see anyway – but the premise is still pretty clever. That opening shot of Thomas sitting in the cave, alone, ravaged by his failure to end this nightmare is awfully compelling stuff. I wouldn’t have minded a little more time for character and less for action really, but I think that’s the trade-off we get in the switch between King and Williamson on this issue. And what we get is really enjoyable, and certainly recommendable, despite some tiny pangs I feel towards what could have been if King had manned this brutally emotional subject matter himself.
As for what’s to come, I remain enticed by what’s been offered through these three issues. Really, the Comedian’s smiley face button is just a distraction for me, and frankly, to see Eobard Thawne running around with it…it’s like he’s holding a pristine promotional piece, always centered so the reader knows exactly what it is. Instead of of wondering when Dr. Manhattan is going to show up, I’m far more interested in the developments that continue to pop up along the periphery, such as Saturn Girl in Part 1, Johnny Thunder in Part 2, and here an entire issue in the Flashpoint world. None of these things have anything to do with Watchmen, but I value their returns infinitely more, and based on the cover of the conclusion, we’ve got one more major restoration to come…at least. Now that, I can’t wait for.
Green Lanterns #22
Writer: Sam Humphries
Penciller: Ronan Cliquet
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
For this week’s second review, I decided to take another quick peek at Sam Humphries’ Green Lanterns run, which I was pretty sharply negative on in the early going. I seem to recall at one point, when Alex and I were pairing up on these reviews, that I outright begged him to make it so I didn’t have to read this title again. Yet, somehow I kept trudging through on my own, whether out of morbid curiosity or perhaps even the tendency to just read everything DC puts out (which I’ve noted before in reviews past, I continue to do). I’m sure I’ve also said this before, but I really do want to like Humphries’ work, especially as a fresh new voice on a property that desperately needs it, plus he’s got great taste as a fellow die-hard Love and Rockets fan, but up until recently I’d never been able to quite cross that line that I’d sought.
But let’s talk about what’s happened recently, which has helped me have a bit of a turnaround on his work on this title so far. While I thought the initial arc was a bit of a mess, with Humphries and company struggling to both find a good voice for both Simon and Jessica, while also plopping them in the middle of some nebulous (and rather uninteresting) conflict with the Red Lanterns, the subsequent major storyline that’s built since then from “The Phantom Lantern” on and centering on Volthoom has been much more my cup of tea. And just prior to this week’s issue, we even got a two-part showdown with Doctor Polaris, one of the very things I’d been asking for when this title was launched. I’ll just pretend Sam and I are on a wavelength now. This issue continues the book’s upsurge of quality, taking a break from the very welcome earth-bound concerns of the title, to integrating Simon and Jessica into the new status quo established within the confines of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps. Generally speaking, I’d typically greet that sort of cross-pollination with a bit of disdain, since the outer space cop stuff is already well covered in the other title and I appreciated the niche both books were starting to carve in the franchse. But, Humphries’ approach here specifically jumps on the opportunity to place both Simon and Jessica in a fish out of water scenario, specifically for the latter, who has never actually undergone Green Lantern training.
While Simon has had some limited experience with the Corps already, Jessica is a total novice to her fellow Lanterns, and so we get a quick tour of Mogo after they’ve both been sucked towards the planet by their rings and guided the rest of the way by reinstated Green Lantern Kyle Rayner. While Simon gets reacquainted with some old friends, Jessica is introduced to all of this for the first time, including the new partnership with the Sinestro Corps. After the necessary expository background is done away with, we get to the meat of the matter: Jessica has her Lantern taken away as she’s considered a “white circle” by the rest of the Corps until she completes that training, causing no limited amount of consternation for her. This anguish also provides some good fodder for conversation between Jessica and Simon, who Humphries have built into a pretty wonderfully platonic friendship. We so rarely get a pair of men and women who are just friends in comics, but I really admire the fact that there’s been not even an inkling of anything beyond a chaste partnership between them both. It’s refreshing, and realistic.
The bigger Volthoom plot continues in the margins as well, with the disguised First Lantern still inhabiting the body of Rami, and being summoned by Ganthet and Sayd, who have been fooled by his charade. As this is probably the best element of the book so far, beyond the interactions of the leads, I’m looking forward to seeing where this heads, along with a next issue that promises Simon-Kyle and Jessica-Guy pairings, which have the makings of some potentially interesting conversations, I’m particularly enthused about how Kyle might be able to soften Simon’s harder edges in his more advanced training.
I’m not sure if Green Lanterns is the most improved book over the course of Rebirth’s first year, but it’s definitely in the conversation. I’m glad I stuck with it.
- Originally I had planned to write at length about this week’s first issue of Bane Conquest, Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan’s return to one of their signature creations. But to be honest, I found that first issue fairly underwhelming. Not a lot happens, and weirdly its presentation of Bane doesn’t quite jibe with what we’d just seen in two previous Batman arcs. If this was to be considered a sort of non-canon take, I could see this being a little more workable, but it’s not really sold as such. But as it stands, it just feels a little odd and anachronistic, as if the character never really changed much since the last time Dixon and Nolan worked on him, oh so many years ago.
- Nightwing‘s current arc ends really well, by the way, with a super touching closing page that brings back all my Morrison-era Batman and Robin feelings. Despite a slight bump or two along the way, Tim Seeley is doing some terrific work on this title, blending everything that was great about Grayson in terms of Dick’s personality traits and transplanting them right in the middle of a neat little Bludhaven era + Morrison era synthesis. It’s one of my treasured reads every week it comes out.
- The new issue of Cyborg has Jon Semper attempting hip hop rhymes. This is not a drill.
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Entertainment Editor for The Beat covering film, television and the occasional comic book. His work can also be found at GeekRex.com and can be heard on the GeekRex podcast. Also, your go-to Grant Morrison/Love & Rockets/Hellboy/Legion of Super-Heroes expert.