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: The Dark Days are upon us! Let’s talk about The Forge and all of its mysterious contents. And then, we’ve got a couple of DC/Looney Tunes crossovers as well!
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.
Dark Days: The Forge #1
Writers: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV
Artists: Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr.
Inkers: Scott Williams, Klaus Janson, Danny Miki
Colorist: Alex Sinclair with Jeremiah Skipper
Letterer: Steve Wands
Prior to the release of this prelude chapter to the upcoming Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo reunion event entitled Metal, I was having a difficult time wrapping my head around what exactly it was about. I get that the creative team was trying to keep it fairly vague in respective interviews, surely to avoid spoiling too much, but it also tempered my excitement a tad. And then when the Dark Matter spinoff line was announced, I was really struggling to maintain interest, especially if that lineup was the real end-goal of this event; which again, not having much to go on, it leads one to that logical leap.
But then I heard Snyder talk about how the event itself would tie in the Multiversity, which is still my favorite thing DC has done in the past 5-6 years, and add new wrinkles to the map that Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes crafted, which acts as a sort of backbone for the DC Universe’s cosmology. All that talk of actual dark matter creating an ocean of possibility – the visual there clicked with me and my curiosity was piqued where it hadn’t been before.
So, with Dark Days: The Forge #1, we’re not really at Metal just yet, but it’s a prelude chapter that teams Snyder with his most regular collaborator James Tynion. Providing the visuals for their collaborative script are some of the artists pulling together that very Dark Matter line in Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, and John Romita Jr. On it’s face this is a book with an eye both on its immediate plot concerns (everything Batman is doing), while also priming the pump for what’s to come, certainly in a visual sense, but within the text in some small part too.
The first thing that comes to mind when flipping through this comic is what a deep continuity dive it is. Honestly, if you’re not familiar with the intricacies of Snyder and Capullo’s Batman run, you might be scratching your head just a bit. That’s not necessarily a pejorative. I think the great strength of superhero comics is its depth of history and how it uses it as a grander template from which to work. You just might want to know what you’re getting into up-front.
The Forge opens with a flashback to the Thanagarian ship crashing in Egypt, which, most notably for DC fans, marked the arrival of Hawkman in his current Geoff Johns-led reincarnation-based origin (I recognize the irony of a big continuity-heavy event utilizing the character who has been the biggest victim of a very confused and conflicting history). But perhaps even more pertinent to this story, it introduces Nth Metal to the world, which then bleeds into the secret mission that Batman is currently undertaking, scouring the world for various elements that are hidden deep in the crevices of the DCU. From the depths of Atlantis, to the Fortress of Solitude, Batman has been collecting metals: Electrum (from the “Court of the Owls” storyline), Aquaman’s trident, Doctor Fate’s helmet, Wonder Woman’s bracers, the Dionesium from “Endgame”, all of which share a common energy signature that has sent Bruce on a mission to determine the secret connection between them. In between each scene change for Batman, we get another flashback to Carter Hall, indicating that he too careened down a similar path which led him to destruction of some kind. A path Bruce is all too quick to follow, potentially hastening his (and everyone else’s) doom. Not only that, but Green Lantern Hal Jordan gets involved as well, sent to the Batcave by Ganthet on a secret mission to find what Batman has hidden with the cave, and well…it’s possible the skeletons in Batman’s closet are worse than we imagined.
On top of all that, we even get some set-up for the upcoming Immortal Men. While that series is going to be written by Tynion, with art by Lee, it’s probably the one moment in the book where I got a little eye-rolley at its set-up for a future series, with only the teensiest bit of connection through Duke’s mother. The happenstance on all of that, unless I’ve just completely forgotten something regarding her character, is a stretch. Thankfully it’s only about a page, so it’s easily forgiven, because everything else surrounding it is wild in the way only superhero comics can be.
Snyder and Tynion tie major threads of the former’s Batman run, which then spin off into this much broader superhero story than I was expecting. While the title “Dark Days” is seemingly reflective of some grim and gritty piece, in reality what we have is a bombastically big superhero romp that dovetails the secret beginnings of civilization, the restoration of Hawman to his Pre-New 52 status quo, a mysterious energy signature that ties together Earths 1 and 2 (and perhaps more), the return of Plastic Man, the return of the original Outsiders, the Blackhawks popping back up from recent All-Star Batman issues, Mister Miracle, Mister Terrific, the Joker, and lastly the big yellow tuning fork/tower from Crisis on Infinite Earths, and later Infinite Crisis when it was made up of the body of the Anti-Monitor. There’s no sign of that Crisis baddie here, but the tower is around, so it leads one to wonder how Batman got it in the first place. So many questions! But the fact that I’m interested in asking them speaks to the cool universe-spanning mystery the creative team has slapped together. It’ll either be glorious or gloriously dumb, but either is totally a-okay with me. I love big ridiculous DC events, and reading this evoked the same feelings I had the first time I read Zero Hour at the tender age of 11. Escapism is an underrated trait in cape comics, and this comic has it in spades.
Of additional interest with this issue, and it’s follow-up next month; Kubert, Lee and JRjr split penciling duties. Kubert handles all the Hawkman flashbacks, which works very well, but there isn’t a lot of cohesion between how the artists are delineated. On the one hand, it’s kind of neat to see how JRjr handles a scene between Batman and Mister Miracle vs. Lee’s approach to that same set-up, but for those looking for a smoother Rebirth one-shot/Countdown to Infinite Crisis type feel, the art is just a tad more jagged in how it swaps between pencils in the middle of a beat. All the same, I’ll never complain about more Romita art, and I always have some great affection for Lee too (he renders a hell of a Batman especially). I’m less hot on Kubert, but I think he does some really nice work on the Hawkman pieces, and his Aquaman looks great.
It’s funny, I had some real trouble reading this the first time. I’m not sure what it was. Maybe I was too distracted or had a million other things on my mind. So, at first, I was a little non-plussed and couldn’t piece together how these two stories (the various metals and the dark multiverse) had anything to do with each other. But a re-read helped me solidify a lot of what Snyder and Tynion are going for. Even to the point where it has me wondering if we’re looking at the potential for an Anti-Matter multiverse, something I’d been wondering about the existence of ever since I first read Crisis on Infinite Earths.
I went in not knowing a thing, and I’m coming out now far more excited than I imagined. Can’t do much better than that!
Legion of Super-Heroes/Bugs Bunny #1
Writer: Sam Humphries
Artist: Tom Grummett
Inker: Scott Hanna
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Letterer: Josh Reed
Backup by: Juan Manuel Ortiz
Martian Manhunter/Marvin the Martian #1
Writers: Steve Orlando, Frank J. Barbiere
Artist: Aaron Lopresti
Inker: Jerome Moore
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Backup by: Jim Fanning and John Loter
I decided to go the lazy way out and cover both of the DC Superhero/Looney Tunes crossovers in one chunk since I thought they both diverged in how they approached their respective WB brethren. Truth be told, I approached these with some trepidation because the recent Hanna-Barbera crossovers were rather lousy and undercooked, Booster Gold’s crossover with The Flintstones aside, and even it didn’t really match up to the quality of the regular series. Also, on a personal note, these two titles are a little controversial in my house as the DC sides of the equation are my (LSH) and my partner’s favorite (Martian Manhunter) DC properties, and to have their post-Rebirth returns be relegated to this type of crossover left us pursing our a lips a bit. Her more than me though. At the very least, I’d finally get a new Legion story, and I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth where that’s concerned.
The two books take a very different tact in how they blend the two worlds. In the Legion/Bugs Bunny crossover, Humphries and Grummett lean more towards the wacky Tex Avery mold. Bugs is imported into the 31st Century by mistake, as the Legion tasked Computo 2.0 to find Superboy in order to revive Supergirl. Bugs shows up instead and all manner of hilarity and fourth wall breaking ensues. What’s especially fun about this take is that you can tell Humphries really has affection for both ends of this crossover, with a particularly Bugs-like voice in his scripting and some rather irreverent pokes at the (for most, not me, nope) impenetrable back-history of the Legion. The multitude of editor notes are especially funny. Not every joke lands, but once the multiple teen-angst driven thought bubbles pop up, you know this is a writer who has studied his Jim Shooter/Cary Bates era of the team, which is the line-up that gets represented here. Provided you’re not afraid of your darlings getting lampooned a bit, this is a book that most hardcore Legion fans should enjoy. It’s also fun to see Tom Grummett penciling the Legion again for the first time since a couple of chances with the “Archie-era”.
God, I could talk about the Legion all day.
The only nagging flaw in the book is the backup story, which I thought at first might be a riff on the backups that appeared in Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes, but instead it sort of retold the story that we just read. It might have been funny if it displayed a little more self-awareness about this fact, but it just seemed like a shorter, more kid-friendly take (ie less in-jokes) on the tale that preceded it. Nice art though, as Ortiz draws an especially vibrant looking and on-model Bugs Bunny.
As for the pairing of our two favorite Martians, Orlando and Barbiere veer a bit more serious, as the driving focus of Martian Manhunter/Marvin the Martian is set on J’onn’s own loneliness and his attempt to ease those pains through the utilization of the Erdel Gate, responding to a distress call that he hopes will connect him with another of his race. Through it, out walks Marvin, or as J’onn takes to calling him: M’arvinn. Of course, Marvin has very different thoughts, as he wasn’t sending out a distress call at all, but more a call to arms for any Martian across the Multiverse that seeks the destruction of their respective Earth. This misunderstanding carries through the entire issue, as J’onn has to chase after Marvin, stopping him from his attempts at destroying the planet with all of the wonderfully zany technology he’s known for, such as spaceships that pop up out of pills once water is added. And what Marvin the Martian story would be complete without the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator?
J’onn has to balance this onslaught, along with the prejudices of humans against him, humans whose fear drives them to believe the two Martians are in league. J’onn’s ennui and Marvin’s own incredulous faith that J’onn will thank him for what he’s trying to do make for a humorous, action-packed story, which proposes a nice little hopeful ending for J’onn and his ongoing quest for happiness in a home not his own. As you can tell, this comic is a bit more serious, and forgoes some of the outright wacky elements of the LSH/Bugs Bunny issue. It’s more of a superhero story that happens to have Marvin the Martian in it, rather than the other way around. It also comes with a backup that is more germane to the issue that preceded, supporting it with a story of J’onn discovering Marvin out in the middle of space, which reads like a brand new Chuck Jones cartoon in panel form. You can practically hear the music and sound effects as you read it, it’s so on-point.
In all, I’d recommend both issues, especially if you’re looking for something to hand off to a younger person in need of a fun, kid-friendly comic.
- Issue 2 of Bug! was a delight, which finds us getting really into the meat of the story of Forager’s ongoing odyssey through Jack Kirby’s contributions to the publisher. This time he’s teaming up with The Losers, easily the least appreciated effort the King undertook for DC, along with the 1940’s version of The Sandman, Sandy, and the original Blue Beetle. It’s cute that this is actually a team of characters Kirby revamped rather than created, but it provides a neat connective tissue for these war-time compatriots. On top of that, the Allreds are in fine form here, pitting this squad against a much younger version of General Electric, furthering the plot of the mysterious transdimensional element that will potentially be the catalyst for a line-wide “crossover” for the Young Animal titles, and they introduce the other villain. Not bad for a day’s work! Another feather in the cap for one of the most impressive imprints in mainstream comics right now.
- I dug into the Suicide Squad/Action Comics crossover this week. Both books were solid, though I veered a bit more toward Action, probably just because I read that first, and this budding Superman Revenge Squad lineup interests me a good deal more than whatever is going on with Harley Quinn, Amanda Waller, etc. Honestly, I’m at the point where I feel like I’m reading Suicide Squad more out of obligation than anything else, as it’s clearly one of the important comics; but it’s rarely a book I feel strongly about one way or the other. Action, on the other hand, is quite often a great time. As has been the case for a year, it’s really great to have the *my* Superman back.
- And just to close out, Wonder Woman #24 breaks away from the typical set-up of the title, where flashback stories populate the even numbered issues. Instead, Rucka and Evely pick up where #23 left off, with Diana leaving Themyscira and Veronica Cale’s daughter behind. There’s quite a bit of attention paid to Barbara Ann and her return to villainy that will likely be the last word on her in this run, but I am curious where Rucka, Sharp and Evely will be headed with the double-sized #25. I’m not sure how much payoff I should be expecting here, or really what to expect at all. I’m hoping for maybe just a little more where Ares is concerned perhaps? Or maybe just some further elaboration on the fake reality she had been experiencing for years now. But the not knowing where this will go has me excited. You’ll know what I think in just a few weeks.
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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.