In June 2016, DC Comics began 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: We add a new member to our rotation! Loyal readers, let’s give a warm welcome to Beat newcomer Louie Hlad, who will be taking on the DC books every third week as we’ll be switching off between the three of us.
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
Dastardly & Muttley #1
Writer: Garth Ennis
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Rob Steen
Younger readers will be excused if they don’t immediately recognize the title characters in this comic. Dick Dastardly was a villainous antagonist who appeared in multiple Hanna-Barbera cartoons in the 1960’s and beyond. He was a classic Saturday morning adversary during my childhood: a two-dimensional mustache twirling foil for the week’s hero characters. He and his loyal(ish) sidekick, an upright-walking dog named Muttley, never seemed to succeed in their nefarious schemes to win a drag race by cheating or to beat Yogi Bear and friends to a hidden treasure. These episodes more often than not ended with Dastardly blown up and Muttley mocking him via his signature wheezing laugh (which this comic transcribes as “HRCH-HRCH-HRCH-HWEEENN”). My younger self almost rooted for them to win, they were so endearingly doomed to accidental mishap.
DC Comics has been making use of various Hanna-Barbera characters lately, often incorporating them into the DC Universe proper. The Flintstones were visited by the time travelling Booster Gold, and Space Ghost had a team up with fellow space cop Hal Jordan. A version of Dastardly and Muttley even appeared in a gritty Mad Max style remake of the campy sixties cartoon Wacky Races, though they hold very little resemblance to the incarnations presented here.
I’m still waiting for Animal Man to team up with the Hair Bear Bunch. But I digress. Let us focus on this week’s Dastardly & Muttley #1.
This comic is more of a creative remake than a faithful adaptation. I can’t imagine Garth Ennis (of Hellblazer and Preacher fame) got very far with the original concept: evil man does evil things because he is evil, and he has a dog. Instead this comic features Lt. Colonel Richard “Dick” Atcherly and his combat systems officer Captain “Mutt” Muller of the United States Air Force. Colonel Atcherly isn’t the most likeable fellow but he is the more serious of the two and attempts to keep the team focused on completing its assigned mission: to recover the War Pig One unmanned drone that went missing over the Middle East. It’s a departure from the cartoons for sure, but retains some of the essential elements- in their own spinoff series, Dastardly and Muttley flew a plane in a constant attempt to intercept a carrier pigeon that held vital enemy information. Close enough for me!
The strong appeal of this issue is its embrace of the farcical. Dick and Mutt locate the missing drone to find it spewing out an exhaust trail of goofy cartoon sigils, which transform the jet controls into animated playthings. Dick tries his best to regain control of the plane using its new clown car steering wheel and bicycle horn, while Mutt realizes his eyes have literally popped out of their sockets as he watches the ground rush up to meet them. The panicked copilot decides to eject them both by pounding the big red shiny button that has appeared in front of him. Further complications are revealed later in the issue as the result of Mutt allowing his dog to sit in his lap during the mission.
The latter half of this first issue is spent in Dick’s recovery room at the Air Force base. As he tries to make sense of his strange memories, he is questioned by a pair of agents who want to know the location of the Colonel’s plane. The scene turns gradually from rational to nonsensical as we discover that the agents had a similar encounter with the drone and are experiencing side effects. The cloud of cartoon exhaust that emanates from the drone seems to cause reality to warp into something resembling the Warner Brothers cartoon universe. There are mentions of wascally rabbits, the ACME catalog, and even Elmer Fudd. I love perception-bending stories (and classic Looney Tunes characters), so I can’t wait to see where this is headed over the next five issues of the mini-series. Here’s hoping for a Road Runner appearance.
The art in this comic is beautifully rendered by Mauricet and Kalisz. It must have been tempting to depict Dick Dastardly with his trademark protruding chin and pointy mustache, but the team opted for a strong, square jaw and a pencil thin Vincent Price. Strangely they avoided realism altogether with Muttley, who looks like a perfectly normal man if you can ignore the fact that he has the head of a dog. In a series as whimsical as this, it wouldn’t surprise me if both characters morph into forms that more closely resemble their cartoon lineage.
An enjoyable and promising start. The only thing missing is Dastardly’s catchphrase: “Drat, drat, and double drat!”
Bombshells United #1
Writer: Marguerite Bennett
Artist: Marguerite Sauvage
Letterer: Wes Abbott
I’m going to do something here that I probably shouldn’t: attempt to review a team book without having any understanding or history with the individual characters.
I remember when DC introduced a series of collectible statues a few years ago that depicted female superheroes in the style of 1940’s pin-up models. It was an intriguing mix of modern femininity, wartime ambiance, and the golden age of comics. And it worked. Seeing Wonder Woman as a Rosie the Riveter inspirational icon felt natural and I could easily picture Harley Quinn painted on the nose of a WWII bomber. These popular statues are still being released and DC has featured these character images on variant comic covers as well. I even saw DC Bombshells costume patterns in my local fabric store last month. This thing looks to be catching on.
But that’s as far as my knowledge goes. I hadn’t read any of the previous Bombshells digital or print comics when I jumped into this week’s #1 team issue, which made my experience a bit more challenging. Imagine picking up a random issue of Justice League as your very first DC comic and trying to make sense of what was going on. Still, this issue has a #1 stamped on the cover as well as the promise “The fight for freedom starts here!” so I had some expectation that a new reader could jump in and tread water. Let’s see how it went.
The issue begins in 1943 with a welcome bit of exposition as we see Wonder Woman taking on an American platoon of tanks and grenadiers on U.S. soil. This is our first clue that the depiction of war in this series will be more nuanced than the original Golden Age stories of heroes punching nazis and then posing for a photo op. In fact the closest thing to a villain in the story is the US government, acting on FDR’s executive order to incarcerate Japanese American citizens. It’s a somewhat uncomfortable setup that challenges the traditional dialogue around war and America’s role in it.
By page five we realize that Wonder Woman is serving as a cover for the real action- the rescuing of a trainload of citizens headed for internment camps. The four Bombshells that are conducting the raid are all teenagers of Japanese descent, led by a Japanese-American version of Donna Troy. I’m a huge Donna Troy fan: She may boast the most complicated superhero history in the mainstream line (Hawkman fans feel free to disagree), but in this story’s continuity she appears to be a normal girl from Los Angeles who wants to do the right thing. The team pulls off the train heist and escapes with the help of Wonder Woman and a pack of mystical giant eagles.
My apprehension at jumping in without reading the previous 24 issues was unfounded. The story wasn’t difficult to follow and the art style worked gorgeously with beautiful layouts and creative use of gutter space. I initially had some challenges deciphering the ethnic background of each character (such as the blonde haired, blue eyed, part Japanese Cassie Sandsmark or the Native American Dawnstar) but paying close attention to the dialogue on subsequent readings cleared it up. These weren’t the versions of the characters I was used to but all of the information I needed was right there on the page.
I was pleased to find this was a thought provoking read with some real depth, not a halfhearted cash grab based on the popularity of stylized character statues. The theme of the issue was “American Soil”, which was explored through raising serious questions about our nation’s history, trajectory, and underlying values. A surprise character makes an appearance on the last page to drive home the theme in an unexpected and brilliant way, and I can’t wait to see where the creative team goes with this story next. This feels like an important and timely discussion that Dawnstar summarized nicely:
“As a nation or as a people, the things we want most to forget are the things that must be most remembered.”
- And the hits keep coming. In Doom Patrol, Gerard Way proves that he understands that the secret to a team book is to give the characters breathing room to develop. With at least six interesting subplots being developed at once, this series consistently delivers and keeps me wanting more. What effect are Larry’s dormant adventures having on his body and mind? What sort of magical powers is Lucius on the verge of unleashing? And is Casey’s relationship with her cat about to go really, really sour? I’m tuned in for the long haul on this one.
- A revisit of the O’Neil/Adams “Hard Traveling Heroes” storyline is timely as hell and Green Arrow #30 made the most of it. I thought this version (homage? sequel?) was very well balanced. It included enough elements of the original series to trigger some nostalgia but it made necessary adjustments like calming Ollie’s anger down about three notches. The dialogue comes off as natural: Hal and Ollie sound like old friends by not having to say too much. A longer review of this storyline is certainly warranted soon. And I love how Ollie calls out the Green Lantern power ring for being “a cheat”. We were all thinking it.
- The art team of Benes, Kirkham, and Tan made Superman #30 an enjoyable display. All those yellow constructs reminded me of the GL books in their Sinestro Corps War heyday. The characterization was dead on as well, with Sinestro throwing in a reference to the “insufferable” Jordan and Superman lecturing the avatar of fear about the unplumbed depths of humanity. Wait…the Weaponers of Qward took down Superman with a few thunderbolts?? Okay, sure.
- The Bane Conquest series reminds me of the days when I was a voracious collector of all things Batman. This is not a compliment. My collection ended up being a rambling combination of books I was proud of and read over and over again, mixed with random Bane miniseries that I didn’t remember and didn’t care to revisit. Usually guest starring Catwoman. With DC’s line feeling revitalized and exciting again, this comic is the fat that forgot to get trimmed. In a word, unnecessary.
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