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: Ponders a double-dose of Dan Abnett’s current Aquaman work, and dabbles a tiny bit in Bryan Hitch’s final Justice League issue
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: Dan Abnett
Art, Color, Cover: Stjepan Sejic
Letterer: Steve Wands
So…let’s talk Aquaman first. This week is one of those release weeks where your favorite DC reviewer had to squint his a little bit to figure out what the big highlight of the week was. And to be very up-front, I know I’ve talked about this in the past over the last year and a half, but I’ve been a really big admirer of Dan Abnett’s Aquaman run. So, at the very least, when there isn’t an issue just screaming to be written about (like last week’s Michael Cray – which was awesome), I tend to default to the stuff that I either want to check back in on, or just want to spend some time praising. Lucky for me, Abnett has THREE comics out this week, all of which I was excited to read on some level or another. Since two of these are Aquaman related, which I think has been generally stronger output, we’ll stick with that. Also, talking about both books at once saves me just a little bit of redundancy, given how they share some common themes – no surprise.
It was pointed out to me by one of my colleagues at another site, that Abnett’s fortunes on Aquaman really veered back and forth dependent upon who the artist was he was working with. And to some extent I agree with that. I thought the initial early going on that book was a little rougher, given how instead of the standard rotation between two artists that most of these biweekly titles were experiencing, Aquaman actually had to split its duties between three. And sadly, we never really got many issues of just Brad Walker, who was announced as one of the launch artists. That lack of visual consistency certainly ailed Abnett’s efforts to try and develop Atlantis, Mercy Reef, and the regular supporting cast that surrounds Arthur. Still, as the title continued to move forward, beyond its initial Arthur vs. Black Manta fight, the political machinations at work behind the title were slowing piecing themselves together into what was shaping up to be a highly satisfying read as the title was reducing its run into monthly status. You had a budding war between Atlantis and the US by way of Atlantis’ terrorist-like element, a mysterious prophecy floating in the background regarding Mera, a sort underwater take on the rise of Atlantean nationalism as Arthur was forcibly removed from the thrown via a coup, and then suddenly things went into the stratosphere by Stjepan Sejic jumped on-board for the “Underworld” arc, giving a uniform look to every issue across an entire arc for the first time since the Rebirth run began. I’d like to stop short on the hyperbole here, but Sejic combined with Abnett has been a bit of a minor revelation really.
Each thread that Abnett has so expertly built throughout his previous issues have come to some approximation of a head here, with four different subplots being maneuvered about, but still finding an adequate amount of narrative space to be a satisfying read in of itself…which to be honest is a rarer in superhero comics than I’d like. Between Dolphin and Arthur we get a really fascinating discussion regarding the ever-present theme of Arthur trying to be both Orin and Aquaman, and as this arc is the first time he’s ever been presented as “Aquaman” within the Atlantean context, some of his preconceived notions regarding his own place within this submerged depths have been turned on their head. Given that Dolphin does not verbalize her communication, it requires an extra amount of physicality from the artist, and this as it turns out is a real specialty of Sejic’s, giving the reader enough of Dolphin’s intent without a word spoken from her side. Equally visually splendorous is his portrayal of the battle between Garth and Mera and the High Adepts of the Silent School. There’s quite a bit of eye-popping and colorful fireworks on display in this magical parlay outside of the Crown of Thorns, but Sejic is able to give the reader a sense of the sheer scale of each combatant’s respective abilities, while not getting too precious with the panel layouts. Sometimes reading these fight comics, I get a little bewildered regarding panel order, especially in the digital format – but Sejic keeps it very clean and straightforward allowing me to never make that all-too-common mistake of jumping to the wrong panel at the wrong time and spoiling the order of things. Abnett also gets a chance to drop some pretty salacious hints regarding Garth’s past, which given his control of his appearances here and in the Titans series, could lead somewhere pretty interesting (despite the trouble I have with the art, I have a generally good time reading Titans as well).
And this issue also picks right back up where the last left off for Vulko and Ondine, as they found themselves face to face with a faceless ghost. Abnett defies your expectations for a horror-filled encounter though, and instead provides the issues’ source of comedy, with Vulko and Elder Null have some pretty good banter back and forth. Just from the visual of Elder Null, I kept flashing back to some of the horror comedies I grew up loving like The Frighteners. So between these three subplots alone, you have high caliber action, comedy, and some heart-warming thematic heft. But that’s not all, because here comes Murk with a pretty great turn that we surely all expected was coming, but it’s hard to not think King Rath is about get a serious comeuppance from the inside as well as out. Just a really fun issue all around from a consistently enjoyable run.
Batman: The Drowned #1
Writer: Dan Abnett
Aritists: Phillip Tan & Tyler Kirkham
Colorist: Dean White & Arif Prianto
Letterer: Tom Napolitano
And then we have this week’s Metal tie-in. So, much like Alex and I have both stated in previous articles, we’re enjoying the Metal event proper. What Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are up to in that book is a great celebration of DC mythos, larger than life storytelling, and some earnest attempts at wrapping them up in heavy metal iconography. With a book titled “Dark Nights: Metal”, you’d think it’d be a grim dark affair, but thankfully that hasn’t been the case. Well, with these tie-ins sadly, my worst fears regarding the event have been largely realized. Not that I expected these backstories of the dark multiversal Batmen to be wonderful walks in the daylight, but an issue with Alfred getting murdered here, and another with Joe Chill getting eviscerated there just within their opening pages was just a little much for me – on top of the fact that it just feels like there’s not a whole lot of story here for your moneys-worth. Each successive issue basically gives you a little background about the respective “evil Batman”, how they got the powers of whatever Justice League teammate they stole from, and then “The Man Who Laughs” pops in, tells them about how their world is dying and they need to strike out against Earth-0, recycled in a few different permutations.
While I don’t think these comics have been especially good, they’ve also been a bit of a lost opportunity on the imagination side of things. These are supposed to be dark reflections of other worlds within the Multiverse I assume? Otherwise, why have particular negative designates? But, up to this point, every single Earth presented have basically just been like ours, but Batman got a Green Lantern ring, or he stole Flash’s powers, etc…like I get the idea that these are supposed to be Bruce’s fears come to life, but it feels like an opportunity gets lost when these worlds are basically just Earth-0 with a wrinkle here or there. So in that regard, The Drowning is a nice change of pace, as it’s a gender-swapped earth, with its central hero Bryce Wayne, ruling over a world that’s been covered over by the seas. We get a nice flashback to how all this came to be, how Bryce is particularly tortured by the loss of Sylvester Kyle, and her eventual execution of Aquawoman after engineering herself to withstand the coming of the seas. I also find I preferred the narration of this comic to the others, as Abnett brings just a tad of his Aquaman writing chops to this tale, acting as a sort of cautionary for what would happen if all of Atlantis would go wrong as they ever threaten to do on a regular basis.
But, all this fairly worthwhile stuff is buffeted by a fight between Bryce and Aquaman and Mera, which just reeks of going through that motion because Abnett and team have to. Bryce takes over Mera with her vomit/Dead Water magic and once again Dr. Fate whisks away a hero. Once again, this is probably the best of the four Dark Nights tie-ins, but it’s still not very good…because it just feels like nothing happens. A fight, a little background on this character for a very limited time for the next few months, and then more fighting, and done. And sad to say, I can’t really recommend it for its visuals either; I think Tan’s murkier/horror vibe is a bit more appropriate for this kind of story, but it’s always just a little too 90’s extreme for me, and sometimes even lacks clarity…though I think he largely gets away with it here, barring a page or two. I believe Kirkham handles the flashbacks, and he’s got a bit of a Kubert vibe going, but it only lasts for a few pages…it’s a clever way to use him at least.
Anyway, another tie-in that really just doesn’t add much. At this point, just stick with the main Metal book, and I’ll let you know if these ever become a necessity…right now “signs point to no”.
Justice League #31
Writer: Bryan Hitch
Penciller: Fernando Pasarin
Inker: Andy Owens & Oclair Albert
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterers: Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy
For this week’s shorter review, I thought about dropping in on Green Lanterns with Tim Seeley taking over writing duties, but I thought revisiting Justice League would be a better bet, as Bryan Hitch and Fernando Pasarin, a more recent addition, are giving way to Christopher Priest and Pete Woods. Quite the new arrivals if I say so myself, especially when you consider that Priest has been scripting the most consistently great Rebirth title in Deathstroke. I can’t wait to see what he and Woods bring to the table in December (November will be a set of Metal tie-ins). But back onto the subject of Hitch. Outright, I think this run has been a pretty big disappointment. I remember two years back, reading his JLA, which ended up serving as a sort of prequel to this series and thinking: “Okay, this is some good new energy for these characters…neat concept here and there, we might have something”.
And then, for arc after arc, Hitch was kind of just doing the same thing over and over again, or it seemed that way to my eyes. The Rebirth issue that kicked off this series really should have been seen as an overture for what Hitch was going to do from there: the League battling some omniscient alien threat until they beat it, with some minor flirting between Barry and Jessica, and that’s about the score of it. I think the series got a decent little bump during the “Timeless” arc, when the League was spread out across time, and there were a few little winks and nods to DC history, especially a very welcome appearance by a young Brainiac 5.
This was also where Pasarin came on board, and helped solidify the look of the title. But I could never escape the feeling that Hitch was trying to recapture some of that magic he and Warren Ellis captured during their run on The Authority, but utilizing characters from the Justice League. A nebulous, previously unheard of, world-shattering threat is okay every once in a while, but sometimes you just wanna watch the League fight the Royal Flush Gang or Despero. Still, the final arc held some promise as a potential glimpse into the Leagues future through their possible children. Not bad, and Pasarin came back after a string of fill-ins the knock out the whole arc.
Even then, I’m not sure this storyline added up to a whole lot beyond some really nice designs on these prospective off-spring. As with every Hitch arc so far, it’s heavy on the action and concepts, but light on actual characterization and the truth is, this is an arc – given that it’s playing on emotions and the relationship between parent and child – that really needs to hit that element out of the park. For what it’s worth, I feel like I know very little about this future League despite spending a number of issues with them. And as a story, it still ends up relying on the same sort of ethereal adversary in the end, despite a not so bad reveal concerning Hippolyta last issue. Instead, we’re given a whole spiel from her about how this the hatred of all humanity given life, or some such and so on, and we just get a whole lot of telling and very little show. My eyes especially started to glaze over during Aquaman’s speech to Serenity.
Eventually, after a whole lot of fighting and speechifying about these shared pasts that are surely never coming to be, Jason and Jenny Allen turn all that hate into a big ball. And Aquaman and Hippolyta run off with it in a Boom Tube. And thus ends the book in pretty quick fashion and Hitch’s run. It’s certainly not what I’d call a terrible run, or issue, or anything close to the torture that we’ve had to experience with the truly wretched books of Rebirth like Cyborg or Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, but it’s just a routinely forgettable book and certainly not what should be representative of the flagship of the entire line.
But that art though…if you take out the word balloons, it’d probably almost be worth it. Let’s get Pasarin on something really good. Stat.
- I can’t believe it either, but I’m finally all caught up on my DC reading this week, and the backlog I had from previous weeks that saw me fall super behind. Now I expect my trip to the UK in a few weeks will probably land me right back where I started with tons of stuff to catch back up on. But I’m feeling pretty accomplished right about now!
- King gets back to Batman in modern day this week, and kicks off the “Rules of Engagement” arc with Issue #33. I wasn’t a big fan of this “War of Jokes and Riddles” storyline that just concluded and thought its big revelation ended with a total thud. But beyond the always akward “Cat” and “Bat” stuff, this was more of the kind of King-scripted narratively exciting stuff that I’ve been looking for. Also Joelle Jones is really bringing it here, with a final reveal that has me hungrily awaiting the showdown that’s coming. I was wavering a bit, but this series has once again piqued my curiosity.
- Tomasi and Gleason finally return to Superman after a month of fill-ins, and a few issues before it that weren’t much better (no more vacation stories, please). But with Issue #33, we find this team returning to some of the strands left behind by Geoff Johns during the “Darkseid War” and maybe even revisiting some of their own stomping grounds from the “Robin Rises” arc. With King and Gerads doing a very insular kind of take on the New Gods, it’s interesting to see someone else stomp around its more physically present aspects. I’m never a huge fan of Superman vs. the hordes of Apokolips” kind of stories; even when Kirby had to use him, it always stuck out like a sore thumb really. But much like with the current arc on Wonder Woman, I’m just glad to see some momentum resumed. I’m not sure this kind of conflict plays to Tomasi and Gleason’s strengths, but for a first issue, it’s a strong enough start. Not to see what they’re doing to their God of Apokolips.
- With The Wild Storm #8, I think that series is finally catching me in a groove, or at least Michael Cray has kind of energized my reading of it a bit. I still find myself forgetting who is who, and what IO and Skywatch are both individually up to, but I’m starting to appreciate this book as a quieter sort of talky drama, but with heavy sci-fi elements. Also, while I’m not really up on my Wildstorm mythos, even I recognize this issue’s big reveal – plus I was really into the delivery device for that information. More so than any other book right now, I’m looking forward to re-reading all eight issues so far, all in one go, and seeing how it sits.
- I think I’m starting to realize I just really don’t like the current run on Nightwing much. Between Raptor, Defacer, and this crew of ex-criminals with interchangeable personalities, Seeley has a lot of darlings he just doesn’t seem to want to kill and instead foists them on the reader. I just find all these characters relationships with Dick to be utterly unearned, Raptor and Defacer particularly, and then to create drama between Defacer and Nightwing he puts him together with Huntress for a couple of issues, and then causes them to break off their newly established relationship out of nowhere – probably just to clear the decks for Sam Humphries before he takes over. It’s too bad, the Javier Fernandez issues (the opening arc, the Nightwing Must Die storyline) were really enjoyable, as they played off of the Batman mythos in a clever way. But all of this Bludhaven, Blockbuster, relationship business really just stalled the momentum of the whole run.
- Speaking of Seeley, he jumped into Green Lanterns today, and I think things may be looking up a bit for that title. That’s not to say I don’t think Humphries’ run didn’t improve as it went, but I think he struggled to capture the inter-family dynamics that are at the center of Jessica and Simon’s relationship (though I give him so, SO much credit for keeping them both platonic). Humphries also had some pretty solid overall story ideas, he just struggled a bit with the dialogue. Seeley has less of an issue there, as light-hearted character voices tend to be his forte. And I think he does a pretty solid job with the Earth-bound sequences this issue, while the space adventure stuff hasn’t quite hooked me yet. We’ll see where it goes though. I certainly would like for this to be my go-to GL comic, given my general excitement around the promise of Simon and Jessica as a team and the more intimate nature of their character arcs.
- Oh and with Rebirth ending soon as a branding, I guess we need to come up with a new name for this article! Believe me when I say I’ll be happy to save the characters in the title.
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.