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: Kyle takes a look at perhaps the strongest Young Animal title, Shade the Changing Girl, and the latest issue of Cyborg, two titles that reveal untold secrets regarding their stars.
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.
Shade the Changing Girl #7
Writer: Cecil Castellucci
Artist: Marguerite Sauvage
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
I get a bit despondent when I think about the Young Animal line’s relative lack of sales success in the direct market. Looking at fellow Beat contributor David Carter’s month to month sales charts for the line, you can see that the nascent titles have continued to suffer from reader attrition, with Doom Patrol being the leader of the pack at a mere 26k copies shipped for its fourth issue. I’m sad to report that the title that’s the subject of this review is actually performing the worst at just a little over 11k units shipped for its fifth issue. Granted, sales expectations are likely lower for this line than they are for the more well-known books; Young Animal is effectively a pre-Vertigo niche after all, but those small number remain a little disappointing given just how enjoyable the majority of these books have been, with two of them being the most exciting comics DC has to offer. I’ll go one step further, I think Shade the Changing Girl is currently the best comic published by the Big Two and after sort of waffling around about how I feel about it, this issue has firmly cemented that for me.
Issue #7 plays to a transitional period for Loma Shade, having just cast out Megan’s personality for what she thinks is the final time (we know better), she prepares with her two best friends Teacup and River for the big dance and her first real shot at normalcy in her new Earth environs. In the day leading up to that big event, the trio go out shopping for the right attire and in the effort, end up unveiling Loma’s entire backstory. This is important, as up to this point we’ve gotten snippets of the sort of life that Loma led before embarking upon her quest for Rac Shade’s M-Vest. We learn why her original body is avian in appearance, how she and Lepuck became entangled emotionally, and most importantly, we get a glimpse of her first interaction with Rac Shade and begin to understand just why she held in high enough regard to kick off the inciting event of the entire series in the first place. And perhaps just as vitally, this issue presents Loma’s backstory as one of general abandonment, by her biological parents, her adoptive parents, and then by issue’s end, an unexpected yet equally devastating betrayal.
This is a beautiful spun tale, which is no surprise, as this is a comic that seemingly gets better with each issue. While Shade the Changing Girl didn’t quite come out swinging with its first issue like Doom Patrol did, it laid out a very specific storytelling groove and mode and has really committed to occupying a nice space between superhero comics and coming of age/teenage drama. It continues to play to that vein here, particularly in how it utilizes song lyrics to underscore the mood of its lead trio. In my initial review of this series, I referred to it as the shoegaze answer to the overall Young Animal mixtape, and that seems all the more prescient here, as music, lyrics, and poetry all play a significant role in the narrative shape of this comic. Castellucci continues to present Shade’s adventures with a sense of otherworldliness within the ordinary, while effectively presenting the thought process of teenagers who are still trying to understand their growing bodies, minds and needs – whether metan or human.
Of course, the biggest change for this month’s book is the arrival of guest artist Marguerite Sauvage, who is probably best known for her work on the DC Comics Bombshells title, though she made a hell of an impression on me with her short story in the all too briefly-lived Sensation Comics. Here, whereas regular artist Marley Zarcone’s take of these characters lean a little more towards the longer-limbed awkwardness of pubescence, Sauvage presents the characters as a tad bit more developed physically – which is fitting given the focus of the story. Where else do we start to resemble the adults we’ll become than when we’re dressed to the nines for the high school dance/prom/ball? While that may not be the intention, it’s a visual shift that works very well for an issue meant to bridge the gap between the first two arcs – especially as this emotionally high point for Shade is dashed, and her physical reversion back to the mean will resume next issue. I love both approaches and the beautiful synchronicity that’s inspired here. And Sauvage even expertly carries over all of the dream-like visuals that Zarcone has made a trademark of the title.
This is such a good book, why aren’t you reading it? You should be reading it. I’m willing to bet it’s better than whatever you have next in your stack. Open up your mind and let this one just wash over you. It’s worth it, I promise.
Writer: John Semper Jr.
Pencillers: Will Conrad and Tom Derenick
Inkers: Will Conrad and Tony Kordos
Colorists: Ivan Nunes and Guy Major
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Now, shifting over from one of DC’s most enjoyable titles to what I think is probably the worst book they produce. Cyborg has proven to be a challenge for the publisher to figure out what to do with. Ever since the idea came along to make Cyborg a founding member of the Justice League, no one has quite figured out the right angle to take with the character. Geoff Johns barely did much with him, beyond a cursory friendship with Shazam and a blink and you’d miss it Metal Men subplot. When he finally got a title, initially under David Walker and Ivan Reis, it never quite gelled and was quickly shuttled away as one of the multiple DC You books that just didn’t work out. But, and this cannot be understated, because Cyborg is going to be such a prominent member of the upcoming Justice League movie roster, there was no way he was going to go without a title.
And I gotta tell you, under Semper’s purview, it’s been a rough go. That’s not to say I think all of Semper’s ideas are bad. Quite the opposite really; the Alan Moore-esque approach to Victor Stone – am I human or am I a machine? – is a good jumping on point, and has the potential to really explore existence, our relationship to technology, and how AI continually evolves in an almost frightening way. On top of that, Semper has aimed to make Detroit a character in of itself, providing the potential for Victor to finally have the kind of rich playground afforded to all of DC’s other top-tier heroes. And even his focus on the relationship between Victor and his father Silas is the sort of thing that could pay off serious dividends, particularly when you consider the ongoing skeletons that are and could continue to be revealed from his efforts in the Red Room.
The plotting isn’t the problem, it’s everything that pops up in the caption boxes. If you told me that Semper hadn’t read a comic since the early 80’s, or even late 70’s, I’d be hard pressed to disagree with you. His approach to dialogue and exposition is something ripped right out of the Bronze Age, and while I believe I lodged this complaint a few times before, it shows literally no signs of letting up. Throughout this 11th issue, Semper’s voice Vic as someone who tells you literally everything that’s on his mind, as its happening, going into specific details about even the most obvious event. But overwrought internal captions are one thing that are potentially forgivable, I’ve read a ton of comics where the writer doesn’t seem to trust their artist to convey their intentions.
But it’s the dialogue where things really get dicey. The problem with Cyborg is that everyone talks like they’re in a comic book, or rather what the mass media always portray comic book characters as sounding like in basically parodical fashion. I mean, look, we’re talking about a comic book where the villain calls himself “H8-Bit”. I’m pretty sure that even when I was in middle school, doodling potential Legion of Super-Heroes teammates, I would have considered that a bit on the nose – and keep in mind, this was during the era of ReBoot.
Again, the plotting itself isn’t necessarily repelling, there’s an entertaining scenario painted out here with Victor unable to control his Boom Tubes that send him at first on an internal struggle, and then face to face with one of the great mistakes of his past – introducing his friend Keiji to information that he couldn’t resist hacking into, which in turn ruined his life and left him to rot in prison. That sort of hubris in light of all the righteous indignation he’s felt in regard to his father’s well-kept secrets gives way to the idea that the apple doesn’t fall that far from the tree. Through his thoughtless actions, he created his own monster. It’s revelation that, in the right hands, would pay off quite well for an eventual level of understanding between the book’s two key leads. And really, if this issue had 75% fewer caption boxes and tighter dialogue, this book would basically be where it needs to be, but as it stands, this remains a pretty cringe-worthy read. Once Keiji started creating a new world out of a Gameboy, I was getting visions of that all-time cinematic classic Chappie, which featured souls being transferred through daisy-chained PS4s.
Where the writing falters, the art continues to pick up the slack and much like their partner Paul Pelletier, Will Conrad and Tom Derenick continue to do great work together, with styles that don’t contrast so heavily that it becomes any kind of major distraction the way early issues of Aquaman faced the same page-sharing troubles. They take the smart tact of splitting duties, with Derenick on the opening and close and flashbacks, while Conrad handles all the action taking place in…Perilandria (…ugh).
If nothing else, this book makes me long for another Bronze Age go-to: the old “Plot by/Dialogue by” writing split. It’d make a world of difference.
- I’m trying to decide if I’m mad at the latest issue of Batman or not. In it, we get the inevitable and final (for now) confrontation between Batman and Bane, which is as brutal as I’ve seen David Finch’s art in sometime. But I couldn’t help but be a little annoyed at how much of the issue Tom King dedicates to basically reiterating everything we’ve already seen in previous arcs. At the same time, I realize he’s trying to tie all the themes of all three acts together in a bow. So I guess I can forgive him the indulgence just ahead of the upcoming Watchmen crossover where the decks need to be as cleared as possible for all the new readers that will be hopping on-board for that one. I was also pleased to see the twist on the identity of the narrator, as it lead to a very touching scene that again, tied back to a line from the first issue of their run. As I’ve said in reviews previous, I’m fairly certain this is the kind of overarching story that would hang together better in larger chunks, and perhaps this an ending I’ll find more satisfying with that immediate sense of context and resonance, rather than parsed out over almost an entire year. Again, though, the thrill of this Tom King/David Finch/Mikel Janin Batman run is that you just never know what you’re going to get issue to issue, and that unpredictability makes for wonderfully exciting times every other week.
- As for Nightwing this week, well, I’ll just say this was a final page where I outright exclaimed: “Holy Sh*t!”. I’ve kinda vacillated between REALLY enjoying Tim Seeley’s work on the title, and verging on some fatigue, though when Javier Fernandez is on-board I find I’m having a much better time. This Dick and Damian arc has been especially fun, with all of its call-backs to the best parts of the Morrison days, while also finding a pretty inventive way to bring back Deathwing within those confines. I still have trouble with the Dick and Shawn relationship, which even to this point doesn’t feel particularly earned. Sad to say, all of that relationship build came out of the worst arc of the run so far, so that doesn’t help, of course. Regardless of my misgivings towards Dick’s emotional struggle, this ongoing adventuring between Dick and Damian is a nice walk down memory lane. And based on where it goes from here, I think I’m definitely in my element.
- I’m still trying to make heads and tails of Superman‘s new continuity, but I assume next week’s Action Comics will handle all of that – at least I hope so. Right now, I’m just trying to understand why they would be living on that farm if they were always the Clark and Lois of this world and worked at the Daily Planet. But the issue this week itself is pretty fun, with some nice moments between the Kent family and Batman and Robin. It’s hard not to get a little mirthful chuckle out of seeing Batman sitting at the kitchen table in full costume just after Lois’ chastising. Also, as a fan of the old Jeff Lemire Superboy run, I always welcome more weird Smallville stuff and this looks to be an element that interests Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason as well, given how frequently they keep hinting at something occurring beneath the surface. This is another delightful read, just avoid that temptation to try and put any continuity pieces together just yet.
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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.