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.
UPDATE: With a new year comes change. Going forward in 2017, Alex and Kyle will be alternating articles weekly in order to give each other a breather after 7 straight months of going tandem. A little break is always good! This week, Kyle takes the helm.
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.
Action Comics #976
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Artist: Doug Mahkne
Inkers: Jaime Mendoza, Christian Alamy, and Trevor Scott
Colorist: Wil Quintana
Letterer: Rob Leigh
I have weird, mixed feelings about the New 52 iteration of Superman. While many of my friends bemoan that hot-headed version of the character with his mandarin collar and overly busy armored outfit, I somewhat admire what DC tried to do with the character in terms of reinvention. He’s got a pretty ugly and unforgiving design but there were a few spurts of creative energy that I think get unfairly forgotten in the shift back to more familiar confines within Rebirth’s status quo (I personally think he got as good a start as any character during the New 52 with the Grant Morrison/Rags Morales/Brad Walker run). But when fellow comic readers tell me that character just didn’t feel like Superman, I can sympathize, because quite frankly, he never really did, despite the best efforts of a few stand-out creators. His return in last week’s penultimate chapter of “Superman Reborn” revived a lot of specific old complaints I had about this take on the character as well as my general disdain for his garish aesthetic.
The Rebirth version of Superman, who I will call “Superdad” for the sake of shorthand, traded off a general ease of understanding implicit to the rebooted New 52 “Superbro” in order to restore the optimism and sentimentality that form the core of Clark Kent’s character. The biggest recent challenge I’ve had is trying to explain the current Superman situation to my non-superhero comics reading partner. “You see, the young Superman died, but he got replaced by this other version of him that’s married to Lois and has a kid, but he’s not actually from that version of earth, etc etc”. That’s not to say I don’t love the current Superman books– I really do and have said so ad nauseum in these pieces. But it’s very clear to me that the backbone of “Superman Reborn” is to set everything back to an easier to understand fashion, while also walking back what DC probably considered a big mistake in the initial re-imagining of Superman.
For the record, it’s a story I’ve enjoyed. I know Alex mentioned having a little bit of trouble with the Mxyzptlk reveal as a newbie, but as someone with a long-standing affection for that character; I found his usage to be utterly inspired and much preferable to that of internet-rumored Superboy Prime, who I could live my whole life without having to see again. My problem with this storyline isn’t the villain. It’s the really vague way this whole storyline is being explained away.
As far as story summary goes, there’s not a lot to sum up, really. Superbro and Lois make their return thanks to the red energy that Jonathan released in last week’s installment. They both face down with Mxyzptlk while also trying to come to grips with this child that’s claiming to be their son. Then, all of a sudden, some blue energy shows up that Jonathan fires off at the 5th dimensional imp causing him to vamoose and then we quickly come to the end result that Superman fans have been waiting for. It’s a quick and energetic shot of vivid Supermania, but I’m still somewhat tripping over how this has all been elaborated upon.
We are told that at some point, a mysterious force split Superdad and Superbro into two separate beings. When did this occur? Who knows? The story doesn’t really bother to explain any of that except to sort of vaguely play with the notion of Superman Red and Superman Blue. That’s a clever device to work with that pulls deep into one of my favorite Silver Age stories, but there’s so little explanation given for why they were split, why those specific colors map to each side of the Clark/Lois duo, and why these characters are so dramatically different from one another (even in age). Obviously, we know the real world reasons for all of this, but in-story, the reader is given very little go on. Without proper context, the device holds little weight. So it’s hard for me to say if I really enjoyed reading the comic, or if I just enjoyed the end result of said comic. I’m wrestling with that right now.
That’s not to say I think it’s a badly written or composed comic: Doug Mahnke rules, and is easily one of my favorite artists working the superhero beat. This issue in particular looked a lot sharper than I’ve seen his work inked in the past few months whenever he’s dropped in on a Superman comic. And as Jurgens goes, I maintain what I said months ago when we first started talking about the relaunched Action Comics— he’s doing some of his most enjoyable work since his days on Thor. Sure, he maybe struggles a tad to find the right voicing for Jonathan, sometimes sounding a bit like what an adult thinks a child sounds like, but he’s utterly in his element with Clark and Lois, and additionally he has a great handle on Mxy. To be honest, I can’t recall if he ever wrote for the character before, but here he expertly balances his playful regard for Superman with the real danger he represents. Really, the only problematic element was the constant references to Dr. Manhattan, both by Mxyzptlk and by the finally returning Mr. Oz who drops a groan-worthy bit of dialogue about true love conquering all.
Regardless of my gripes about the lack of clarity on continuity and the never-ending Watchmen teases, most readers are going to want to nab this for what it finally does accomplish: yes we have a spoiler warning up top, but I’m giving you one last chance to turn away just in case…
Superbro and Superdad are merged into one to create what is basically the pre-Flashpoint Superman, but now he’s been retroactively inserted into the continuity of the New 52– at least that’s what I gleaned from the beautifully arranged two-page layout by Mahnke, which overviews Superman’s new history. You get all the highlights here, a Jor-El and Lara that look like his parents from Secret Origin, he went to high school with Lex, he works at the Daily Planet, revealed himself to Lois, was killed by Doomsday, married Lois, they had Jonathan, and Perry and Jimmy are well aware of that child. And yes, he gets his snazzy new costume, which is basically the old classic duds sans the red underwear/trunks and a somewhat more over-busy belt. But really, please don’t ask me how that affects any of the history of the rest of the Justice League and their individual interactions with Superman if this new one is indeed retroactively inserted into continuity. I’m admittedly already getting a bit of a headache thinking about it. The next issue’s story is entitled “The New World”, so we’ll getting our first taste soon enough.
For the sheer exhilaration of seeing the character’s proper history fully restored, more or less, I’d say this is worth a buy. Just don’t expect a ton of answers beyond hand-wavery on the specifics of how we got here or how the pieces all fit together.
(Really though, there’s no way Superwoman or New Super-Man could still exist as is, given how specifically tied they are to the events of “The Final Days of Superman” just ahead of Rebirth.)
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #17
Writer: Robert Venditti
Artist: Ethan Van Sciver
Colorist: Jason Wright
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
The cover outright gave the game away, but it also provided a nice sense of anticipation that built up in this reader. You see, I was one of those kids whose first GL comic was that one where Hal beat up Guy (and if your comic shop was really on it, you got a little plastic ring…I may still have that somewhere around here). That said, I’ve only intermittently followed Green Lantern stories over the years: an issue with the Predator here, fighting Evil Star there, maybe a JLE back-issue. It was only with the Emerald Twilight/introduction of Kyle Rayner stuff that I was really turned onto the Corps. I’ll never forget my excitement looking at that great Darryl Banks art bringing to life Ron Marz’s tale of the last Green Lantern. The endless promise of that premise is why I’m so attracted to the idea of a GL that isn’t completely bound up in the traditional GL mythos, and why Kyle has such a hold on my heart. Well, that and we share the same name.
For a while, at the outset of the Rebirth launch, I was having some trouble with both Green Lanterns and Hal Jordan & The Green Lantern Corps. Both books basically defaulted to re-telling conflicts that already felt like they had been beaten to death at the end of the Johns run. I liked that run just fine, but I really didn’t want to relive another bunch of showdowns with the various color corps. I won’t say the books have completely corrected themselves, but I think they’ve both become more comfortable reads with Sam Humphries zeroing in on the breezy relationship between his pair of rookie Lanterns, while Robert Venditti gets to play with all the more established players. It’s here that Venditti is maybe a finding a new avenue to approach the pretty stale back and forth between the warring Green Lantern and Sinestro Corps: turning it into a (space) cop drama. You see, each of the four main Lanterns kind of fall into an archetype: John as the hard-edged boss trying to run things effectively, Hal as the hot-shot/does whatever he wants star of the department, Guy is the officer who is about to blow his stack at a moment’s notice and isn’t afraid to get a little too rough, while Kyle is the idealistic youthful recruit that admires the big star.
And of course, their entire “department” has been merged with another, with full-fledged rivalries occurring between the two factions. There’s more going on with the book itself, but that’s the bit I’ve gravitated towards, this exercising of the relationships between these four characters in a way that isn’t being overshadowed by some heretofore unknown secret of The Guardians or some such.
Venditti is doing that while also combining it with his interest in DC’s cosmic who’s who. I felt like the fortunes of this title really turned around the moment Brainiac showed up in the previous arc. Plus, now that we’ve gotten a number of issues with Space Cabbie as an informant for Guy, I look on with heightened delight as to what may come next out of the corner of DC’s eclectic cosmic offerings (rooting for Tommy Tomorrow is probably asking for too much).
But again, it’s his usage of characters and the compelling arc he’s beginning to build between them that’s making me much more interested in the adventures of this crew than I’ve been in some time: John and Hal are constantly at odds, Guy’s self-discovery after putting Arkillo in the infirmary, and the heart to heart between Kyle and Hal all underline what the most effective elements of this title currently are. Not that having Ethan Van Sciver on art hurts at all either. While typically his work on the franchise tends to revolve around the big epic space battles, it’s nice that we get a decent bit of calm here and there, as he gets an opportunity to display those quieter chops.
Plus, like I said, by issues’ end, Kyle is fully back with the Corps and the crab mask is back! I repeat, the crab mask is back! Again, like the Superman issue before it, there’s an element of hand-wavery in how we get there. For some nebulous reason, the Blue Lanterns HAVE to be restored, and in order to do so, it breaks Kyle’s White Lantern ring up into its component parts. But still, for the reader that’s awaited this moment (me in particular) how it happens isn’t all that important so much that it just happened. The torchbearer is back, and it’s pretty darn exciting.
- I’m away on a business trip this week, so my grab-bag of thoughts this time around are going to be a little thinner, please forgive, I’ll do better next time!
- I think Teen Titans is such a blast right now, this week’s issue kicks off “The Rise Of Aqualad” storyline which brings Kaldur’ahm back into the spotlight after his brief appearance in the Rebirth 80-pager last June. He’s bleached his hair, so he resembles his Young Justice version a good deal more, but also gives us a peek into his family life and relationship, both of which become challenged by the continued growth of his abilities. On top of that, you get lots of great Percy-Pham Titans action and humor, with these outsized characters all bouncing off one another in a way I find utterly delightful. It’s the title I find that I most recommend for those friends of mine that aren’t typical DC diehards, along with Super Sons. Really, how could you not be charmed by a comic that sees its heroes cooking dinner for one another on a rotation each weekend?
- I think if I had bothered to re-read the previous issue of Doom Patrol, I would have stood a better chance of falling under this week’s issues’ spell a little harder. It’s still a beautiful comic and its remains as “take no prisoners” as ever in how little it cares if you can keep up with its goings-on. But at the same time, I just could not remember a thing from the previous chapter. So when you pick this up, and you should, just make sure you do a better job than me of re-familiarizing yourself with what happened last. This is a great book, one of DC’s best, but the schedule really is killing the momentum and the issues don’t quite stand-alone enough to overcome that. Nick Derrington though…still a rockstar.
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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.