In June, 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.
Note: the review below contains **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.
Cartoonist: Francis Manapul
Alex Lu: Few settings are as deceptively conducive to conflict like the dining room. While sharing a meal, everyone at the table is a captive audience member. For the best of friends, there’s nothing like bonding over a shared culinary experience. For the worst of enemies, there’s nothing more uncomfortable or terrifying– just look to It’s A Disaster! or any number of Quentin Tarantino films for examples. Similarly, in Trinity #1 written and drawn by Francis Manapul, we see the Batman and Wonder Woman of Earth Prime join the Lois and Clark Kent of an alternate Earth for dinner in an attempt to resolve the bonds of trust that were broken when this Clark revealed himself to the world following the death of the original Superman of Earth Prime.
The most attractive part of Trinity #1 is how understated the plot is. Where the majority of DC superhero books feel like marathons of violence, Trinity #1 feels much more like a leisurely stroll through the park. This feeling is emphasized by Manapul’s lighthearted art style. The primary pencilling method he employs is distinctive and defined by its simplicity. The leads all have an innocent look to them because Manapul uses so few lines to define their facial features. The warm hues of the gradients and watercolors that dominate the coloring scheme of the book are breathtaking to look at.
Even more astounding is the variation in style that Manapul employs throughout the work. At several points in the story Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, and Diana Prince exchange stories about their relationships with one another. Manapul’s extreme versatility is on full display when Clark’s story about the Bruce Wayne from his world is rendered with a noir flair, dominated by halftones and stippling. Diana’s story, which focuses on the events of the current run of Wonder Woman “The Lies” by Greg Rucka and Liam Sharp, has an astoundingly realistic painterly feel to it. The contrasts between these moments and the rest of the story leave me feeling extremely excited to see what else Manapul might dazzle us with as the series moves forward.
To return to the plot of the book, Diana’s and Bruce’s dinner with the Kents is as eventful as you’d expect it to be. Initially, things go south after Jon, Clark’s young son, accidentally blasts Bruce with his heat vision, exacerbating Bruce’s distrust of the new Kents. However, while by the end of the issue Bruce and Clark aren’t singing kumbaya, Manapul smartly gives them a quiet moment to bond over putting Jon to bed. As much of a loner as he is, Bruce is incredibly paternal towards the Robins, so I thought it was smart choice for Manapul to use that fatherly instinct as a way for the two men to find common ground.
On the other hand, I was not as big a fan of the scene Lois and Diana shared at dinner. When Bruce, Clark, and Jon go to fetch dessert, Diana tells Lois to stop looking at her like a “wounded animal” and that she is not here to “rekindle old feelings” for her dead beau. Perhaps it’s me just wanting to forget Wonder Woman and Superman ever actually dated, but that particular interaction rang hollow to me. The accusation came out of left field with no setup. There was no hint Lois was putting off any sort of vibe before Diana called her out on it. It was oddly tropey and uncharacteristically weak for this issue. What’d you think of the moment, Kyle?
Kyle Pinion: I’m really torn about Manapul in general; I think he’s a wonderful artist and all of your praise for his layouts and color choices and the tone he’s able to set with the latter, are something to which we can concur on. I just think he often struggles to produce capable scripts. Sometimes, when paired with Brian Buccellato, particularly in the early New 52 Flash run, we get to see the strongest of his writing efforts. But one need only look at his two tie-ins to the Darkseid War arc in Justice League to get a sense of where his attempts in that arena can go terribly awry.
The lone aspect of this comic that really appeals to me is that it’s all narrated by Lois, and it provides her only real POV in all of Rebirth. I could add that I have some issues with the fact that her concerns are all centered on Clark, and securing Clark’s place within this new group of super-friends, but I’ll take what I can get at this rate. But it’s these Lois narrated portions where Manapul’s storytelling works best. I still don’t feel like I *know* this Lois, but trying to imbue her with some characteristics and allowing her to speak to the audience at least helps a little bit. Making her the common denominator in this initial arc is a good choice, and I could see where subsequent issues in the next arcs that focus on say…Steve Trevor’s perspective, or Alfred’s, or Gordon’s, or Etta Candy’s, could really provide some valuable insight into deepening the connections between these characters and break down what often feels like a sort of siloed set of worlds between these three that happen to cross-over every now and again.
So in theory, this is a book I welcome a good deal, especially as it’s a Superman and Wonder Woman team-up book that involves no kissing between the two! What a concept!
The problem is that this book isn’t very effective in its actual interactions between its title stars. I think the problem lies in that Manapul very much wants to get his ideas across but is giving himself limited space in which to do it, because he’s prioritising flashy two-page spreads over economizing his space for storytelling. So instead a more realistic conversation, which the dinner table setting would certainly demand, you have Clark instantly bursting into a diatrabe about how much he admires Bruce’s dedication to his young sidekicks, and then Bruce doing the same with a discussion about how well he got along with the dead version of Superman (along with some really clumsy “he may have wanted to kill me, but…” dialogue). This is then followed with Diana giving a speech to Lois about the vaguest possible thing ever, that only tangentially relates to the matters at hand, if at all. There’s little in the way of actual back and forth conversation here, instead it would be the equivalent of me giving you a speech and then walking away.
Given that none of the other Rebirth comics that have endlessly introduced and reintroduced this version of Superman to Batman or Wonder Woman – Justice League, Superman, Action Comics – have really done much to establish their actual friendship, the overall approach that Manapul employs is a welcome one, but the actual methods to get there feel really unearned and rushed. Compare if you will, to what Phil Jimenez is doing over in Superwoman, with lots of panels and dialogue, and earned beats. It’s a dense read, but a rewarding one because character motivations feel so much more logical there. With Trinity, we get about…15 pages of story in total? This feels like an extended preview more than anything else, and while it’s a pretty one (as all Manapul art is), you’re not getting much value for your dollar unless the aesthetic pleasures are all you’re seeking.
There’s promise of course, that’s inherent in the concept itself and that alone is an improvement on the previous Batman/Superman and Superman/Wonder Woman comics, but I wouldn’t recommend this beyond the lovely art.
Final Verdict: Browse (Alex buys, Kyle passes)
Writer (Batman #7): Steve Orlando, plot by Orlando and Tom King | Artist (Batman #7): Riley Rossmo | Colorist (Batman #7): Ivan Plascencia
Writer (Nightwing #5): Steve Orlando, plot by Orlando and Tim Seeley | Artist (Nightwing #5): Robe Antonio | Colorist (Nightwing #5): Chris Sotomayor
Alex Lu: Excuse me Riley Rossmo, did you just show me Hugo Strange booty? Also, since when is the man a heavyweight champ?!
Following the deaths of Tim Drake and Gotham, Batman and the rest of his ragtag vigilante family are on edge. A dangerous incoming hurricane compels them to evacuate the city but their plans are further complicated when Hugo Strange, whose actions in Tom King’s first run on Batman directly led to Gotham’s demise, unleashes a horde of mutated giant corpses upon Gotham City. It’s weird, wacky, and a lot of fun. With “Night of the Monster Men,” which takes place in this week’s issues of Batman and Nightwing, Steve Orlando stakes his take on Batman as the polar opposite of Scott Snyder’s and Tom King’s. While the latter writers often take Batman to dark, introspective places, Orlando takes his audience up from those powerful but murky waters for a welcome breath of absurdist fresh air.
To say that Orlando’s Batman is simply different from King’s or Snyder’s is an understatement. The character, while still fundamentally in a constant state of anguish, feels much closer to being a well-socialized person than a aesthete with a mission. In Batman #7 and Nightwing #5, Bruce actually banters with his teammates and got me to laugh– and then feel stunned that I had. This slightly more lighthearted take on Batman may not sit well with everyone, but I found him feeling more vital in these issues than I normally do.
Speaking of vitality, Riley Rossmo’s art in the first part to this crossover event is simply astounding. His wild linework is perfect for the monstrous task he has been assigned. All the thin, contorted rippling details that define the flesh of the various monsters attacking Gotham add to the papable sense of horror bursting from the issue. From giant bulbous babies to writhing dragons– this book has it all.
On the other hand, I wasn’t as taken with Roge Antonio’s art on Nightwing #5, the second part of the event. While I think the art itself is mostly decent in a vacuum, his art does not aid the horrific aesthetic of the series in the way that Rossmo’s style does. Antonio’s work in this book is defined by thick outlines and bold expressions. The size of the lines on the various people and monsters forces Antonio to work at a lower level of detail than Rossmo does. This leaves the creatures feeling less defined in this issue than they do in the previous.
However, despite my artistic quibbles with Nightwing #5, both it and Batman #7 tell a very compelling story. Orlando’s scripts have a nice balance of character development and action that allows us to get into the heads of the various Batfamily members in the wake of Tim Drake’s “passing.” I particularly appreciated the understated way in which Spoiler gets to grieve for her boyfriend when Detective Bullock asks why Spoiler seems so distraught during the evacuation of Gotham. Instead of giving her an overwrought line or a defensive, tearful pose, she silently pulls up her hood and defiantly looks out at Gotham City. It’s a powerful moment that carries a surprising amount of subtextual information.
Kyle– what did you think about the start to this event? How does Orlando’s first outing with the big Bat characters fare for you?
Kyle Pinion: A nice solid-double if I do say so, myself. The concept of Hugo Strange’s Monster Men is a little retro throw-back to one of the original Batman stories (in the very first Batman #1 specifically) and then Matt Wagner did his own delightful take on it as a sort of pseudo-sequel to Batman: Year One, which really fleshed out the story beats of that Finger and Kane original. Here, Orlando has turned the concept on its head a bit and turned it into a full-blown comics crossover, making the Monster a sort of kaiju-like threat and putting Batman and his cadre up against a threat that is wholly unfamiliar to them. And indeed, it really pumps the superheroics up to 11, with Batman utilizing all the gadgets at his disposal in order to tackle this threat that would typically be under the auspices of the Justice League. In the Batman chapter, with Rossmo’s art in tow, we get a lot of really good bits action, especially with Batman utilizing the jet against the big head baby looking monster and ejecting into the combat capsule. There’s a fluidity there that I think has been lacking in Batman issues, as Rossmo has a really tremendous of sense of mobility in how his characters bounce from panel to panel.
While I do think Orlando (teamed with both King and Seeley) highlights the larger than life nature of the Batfamily, I think this is really a logical extension of the lead-up to this story. King’s Batman is much grander sort of figure than what we saw at the outset of the New 52, and Tynion’s Detective Comics is re-establishing the Bat-family into a suitable fighting force. With Seeley doing the good work of returning Dick to his superhero roots, we now have the three main pillars of this new iteration of Gotham in place, and Orlando is getting an opportunity to play with these toys as they’ve been newly arranged. I don’t see a radically dramatic difference, just an enhancement of what was already there and the direction that the line was clearly heading.
I was equally fond of the Nightwing issue, which I felt had maybe just a tad more meat on the bone, in how it tackled, at least in small part, the shifting dynamics of the Bruce and Dick relationship. One of my favorite approaches to the original dynamic duo is less-so when they’re treated as father and son, but more like siblings and we get some of that here with Bruce struggling to let go of his full level of command in what Dick is doing to investigate the source of these monsters. What’s also helpful is that this threat is a fairly anonymous one. Sure, Hugo Strange is pulling the strings behind the scenes, but all too often Batman stories tend to get overwhelmed by the personalities of the villains that are being faced, with the monster men basically being a sort of stock unstoppable force, Orlando gets a good deal of room to allow his three cornerstones of the crossover to breathe. Additionally, this issue gives a sense of how well this conflict was seeded in the previous King-written chapters, back up to the crashing plane scenario that so impressed us the first time out.
And on Antonio’s art, I’d agree that it’s a little bit of step-down, especially in terms of clarity of action, from what Rossmo offered. But I might counter that Antonio’s character design and facial expressions more than make up for it. I tend to think that “acting” is an underrated trait in an artists’ repertoire and I love how he draws out emotions on each spotlighted characters’ face as they are absorbing the insanity that occurring around them. Also, I was a huge fan of that panel where the Gotham citizens were turning on Orphan in the cave. I was reminded a bit of Nick Dragotta, which is a very good thing obviously.
This is largely, an awfully fun adventure so far, and I’m looking forward to King’s take on what I hope will be a Batwoman/Spoiler/Orphan centered issue with Detective Comics next week, especially with Gotham Girl jumping into the fray and becoming what I hope will be a full-fledged member of the Batfamily, or at least the first steps of such being taken. I’m really enjoying how this story is being doled out, and if this pace continues, it has the hallmarks of being the first DC crossover I’ve enjoyed without reservation in some time.
Final Verdict: Buy
Outside of the very strong start for the “Night of the Monster Men” crossover, I thought it was bit of a ho-hum week all told for the DC lineup. However, there were at least two big highlights that I think are worth your attention when you head out to the LCS:
- Superman #7 is great fun and a nice little stand-alone story that sends Clark, Lois and Jonathan out to the local carvinal. Nothing overly eventful happens, but it’s the first instance of this family getting a chance to just be a family and enjoy time together, without concerns about being outsiders in this strange new world. Jorge Jimenez makes his return to the book as well, and continues to showcase why he’s headed to big things in the comics industry. I was especially fond of the last two pages. Just tons of heart and warmth throughout, something that had been in short supply in Superman comics prior to Rebirth.
- Green Arrow #7 is also, no surprise, another winner. The spotlight story on Emiko comes to a close here, with a continuation of both the story taking place one year ago (Ollie and Emiko vs. The Clock King) and the present day tale (Emiko taking on “The Dragon” and coming to a reckoning with Shado). This is a fine little conclusion for a welcome tale, giving Emiko just a little more time at the center of the reader’s attention without the concerns of Ollie’s current status quo. I was a big fan of Stephen Byrne stepping in for this two issue stint, and I hope this isn’t the last we see of him on this book, even if it’s just for some semi-regular Emiko-starring tales.
- Unfortunately I can’t really say much in the way of positive things about Cyborg, which suffered from many of the same issues as its Rebirth chapter, nor Justice League, which looks nice, but is just so overloaded with “blockbuster” storytelling, that it never really makes much time for character at all, though I do think Hitch has a pretty solid take on Aquaman bubbling under the surface there. I could go for more of that.
- I was also sad to see that Doctor Fate #16 was the final issue of Sonny Liew’s tenure on the book, but he went out in a pretty gorgeously drawn fashion, with a big blowout between Khalid and Osiris. I thought this title overall was one of the big bright spots of DC You and some of the best Paul Levitz scripting in quite some time. It was quietly racking up some nice good will among critics, and was chugging along even after basically every other DC You launched book (Earth 2: Society aside) had fallen away, but you can’t beat the forces of demand for too long. I’m heavily anticipating the final set of Brendan McCarthy drawn issues and will keep my fingers crossed that the immensely talented Liew winds up on another DC project very soon.
One notable miniseries that started this week that we didn’t cover above is Raven #1, a story about the eponymous sorcerer written by her creator, Marv Wolfman. My feelings about this title are complex and divided. Upon a second read, what strikes me about it most is how stunning the art is. Alisson Borges has done some art for DC series such as Batman: Arkham Knight and Earth 2: Society: Planetfall, but this is my first experience with his work and it’s incredible. Featuring Blond’s always noteworthy colors, Borges does some great emotive figure work that is strongly reminiscent of Patrick Gleason’s work on Superman. The supernatural demons and magic that periodically pop up throughout the work are creatively designed and surreal to see rendered on the page. I think he’s a real talent and this book might be the vehicle he needs to break further into DC in a big way. In a way, it’s hard not to recommend Raven #1 based upon the strength of Borges’ work alone.
Unfortunately my recommendation for Raven #1 is complicated by Wolfman’s script. I think I tend to cut him more slack than many do because Crisis on Infinite Earths, as hokey as it reads now, is really a marvelous story to flip through. However, while Wolfman is as good at capturing a sense of whimsy and wonder on the pages of Raven #1 as he was in Crisis, his work here feels incredibly uneven. I certainly appreciate the premise of the asocial Raven attempting to assimilate into everyday society in order to appreciate her humanity in a way she has never been able to before, but the trappings of her new normal life ring incredibly hollow. At the start of this story, Raven moves in with an aunt that her mother had hidden from her. This aunt and her family are decidedly loving in a Stepford Wives kind of way, but never receive any definition beyond that. They’re very religious, as Raven notes a couple of times, but beyond that we never learn who these people are even though they’re the bedrock for her new life. They’re just the “normies” Raven lives with. The same is true of her high school friend group, all of whom weirdly glom onto her after her first class for some reason. They’re generic “friends of Raven” rather than unique three dimensional characters.
In addition to the undercooked emotional foundation of Raven #1, the cliffhanger is also a little too strange for my taste. There seems to be some sort of gate to purgatory in California and one of her friends gets lost in it at the end of the issue, but I’m not really certain if that’s what is actually happening. It’s hard to decipher and I think that’s a problem. It leaves me more confused rather than excited about what’s up next for the series. I’d recommend giving it a browse for the art, but I don’t think it’s one for me.
Buy: Batman #7, Doctor Fate #16, Green Arrow #7, Nightwing #5, Superman #7
Browse: Raven #1, Trinity #1
Pass: Cyborg #2, Justice League #5