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 checks out two titles on the opposite ends of crossovers, Supergirl #8 details some of the aftermath of “Superman Reborn”, while The Flash #20 is the last regular issue before “The Button” begins.
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.
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Matias Bergara
Colorist: Michael Atiyeh
Letterer: Steve Wands
I can’t say I envy anybody that’s writing an ancillary Superman family title right now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s probably the most exciting set of books that aren’t overseen by Gerard Way at the publisher currently, but this “Superman Reborn” business basically required everybody to take an issue or two to explain away the new status quo, whether the details themselves are particularly clear or not. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the two supporting books most affected by the big “Superman is different now” change are Superwoman and New Super-Man, the latter of which came out this week and basically disregarded that anything was particularly different beyond Superman’s costume. I guess that’s one way to do it.
Supergirl, on the other hand, doesn’t quite have that same amount of breathing room due to Kara’s pre-existing relationship with A Superman, who is now THE Superman. This Superman wasn’t her cousin, and now he is. Steve Orlando and Matias Bergara have to provide that background on these changes for anyone that may only be reading Supergirl, which given the relative popularity of the tv show, there’s a good chance there’s a bookstore market for the title. But at the same time, they also have to keep a few other plates spinning, and the inelegant way these things all get smashed together makes for a bit of a tough and perhaps jumbled read. There’s a lot that’s good here, but because it has to cover so much ground, trouble spots do spring up.
Orlando and Bergara have three tasks ahead of them with this issue:
- Re-establish the Clark and Kara relationship, while clearly defining the new status quo for the uninitiated
- Make good on the cover promise of a fight with the Emerald Empress
- Pick-up on the strands that Hope Larson and team left in the most recent Batgirl annual, while also tying that into on-going CatCo plot of the book itself
It’s a lot to have to shove together into one issue, and the book somewhat feels that weight. The fact that Orlando is able to make hay with this and make most of the individual parts work as well as they do is a testament to his great skill as a writer of these four-color tales. The best bit of the book is where Kara and Clark are connecting as part of a family. The title of the story is “Family of Tomorrow”, and those sorts of real, lived-in relationships are Orlando’s specialty, between the romantic longings of Midnighter and Apollo and the squabbling “family you choose” of Justice League of America. Here, he takes the iconic cousin pair that honestly have always played out more like brother and sister, and despite the narrative hoops it took to get them here, a beat barely feels missed between the two. The issue’s strongest bit is where we get treated to a day at the park between Clark and Kara, as they discuss her recent run-in with Cyborg Superman aka Zor-El, and their respective mastery of the Kryptonian syntax. That then leads into a lovely little dinner set-up between the pair, Lois, and Jon, where Kara gets a little bit of face-time with the other two members of the Kent trio, establishing her relationship with them both in one fell swoop. There’s something especially fun about Kara and Lois commiserating about Cat Grant.
Of course, with the good tends to come some bad, and that’s when the “Superman Reborn” clumsiness rears its head. I’ll be honest, if I hadn’t been reading the event itself, Clark’s description of what’s happened to him would sound like gibberish. And frankly, Kara takes the idea that her memories have been altered more in stride than I would in the given scenario. Then again, it’s still not clear what anyone remembers, and most likely, editorial is probably leaving it all pretty vague on purpose. Between how Action Comics, Supergirl, and New Super-Man approach everything this week, and Superman last week, there’s a real palpable sense of “let’s get this out of the way, so we can get back to telling regular Superfamily stories”, hazy details be damned. It needs to happen obviously, but it’s really a no-win scenario in the micro-sense of the individual chapter that’s on stands right now.
What’s happening on the fringes is a little more inconsistent. Namely, I can’t help but be a little disappointed in how the Emerald Empress showdown resolved itself. The ongoing concerns of where this Saturn Girl/Emerald Empress/Legion subplot that’s been building across a few titles has been one of great interest to me personally, as probably one of the biggest LoSH fans you know. I’d been eagerly anticipating this week’s issue, though I’d begun to get a little confused after Supergirl and Batgirl already ran into an imprisoned psychic just a few weeks ago in the Batgirl Annual. And indeed, the Empress portion of the book basically comes and goes, with this new revelation that it’s not Saturn Girl that she’s after any longer, but instead Supergirl, and then she vanishes just as quick as she appears. What gives? Did something change behind the scenes? Certainly something had to when the original solicit placed such an emphasis on the character, as well as a dinner in the Wild West that never occurs in the book. Weird.
Anyhow, scooting past that personal bummer, and back to where things work a little better. Orlando sets up a nice hook for the next issue, with Batgirl sneaking around spying on Kara, as well as Cat and an upcoming investigation of Tychotech that’ll surely make up the thrust of next month’s issue. I don’t quite see how that lines up with the Phantom Zone plot of the Batgirl Annual that already put these two heroines together and is supposed to continue into next issue per that very book, but I’m wondering how much of a possible Legion-related shift to another title may have impacted just was being written here. There’s a real sense of reworking throughout that, again, makes the job that much more difficult for the creative team. They make the best of it that one can in this kind of situation, I particularly admired Begara’s pencil work that fits perfectly side by side with Brian Ching’s from the previous arc, but it’s a case of far too much being promised and some editorial haranguing in order to meet the overall big picture that creates a struggle that’s pretty clear on the page, where you never want it to be. Come for the great Clark-Kara stuff and what should be a pretty fun team-up next issue, just don’t expect much of what the cover tries to sell you. Regardless, the good here is definitely good enough to keep me going, but your mileage may vary.
The Flash #20
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artist: Neil Googe
Colorists: Ivan Plascencia
Letterer: Steve Wands
Well, what do you know? Iris West finally gets a shot in the spotlight.
The past few years prior to Rebirth had been a little tough if you’re a fan of the Flash’s long-time paramour. Iris had been perpetually backgrounded in the Manapul/Buccellato run, playing the supporting reporter and the struggling sister of Daniel West and all that entails, and correct me if I’m wrong, I can’t recall her doing a heck of a lot more than that up to the launch of Williamson’s turn on the title. Even then, she took on the role of the doting aunt to the younger Wally, until the writer finally pulled the trigger on the relationship, at least providing her with more of a compelling reason to even be in the book. It wasn’t much, but it’s something.
That turn somewhat coincided with the improved nature of this new volume thus far. When it first kicked off, The Flash was okay, built on a decent hook (lots of people get super speed and Barry has to train them) but it just sort of dragged along and introduced another flat love interest for its star. But, there’s been a real noticeable pattern with Rebirth that I’ve pointed out a few times in articles past, but subsequent arcs in almost every title have shown significant improvement as its creative teams have begun to settle into their bi-weekly shipping schedules (unless we we’re talking about the no-longer bi-monthly Cyborg, of course, but we covered that pretty thoroughly last week). The Flash is absolutely one of those books that has really skyrocketed in quality, and has turned into a comic I read close to first in my pile, and one that I’m actively excited to read on par with Tom King’s Batman. Good thing they’re about to crossover I guess.
All that being said, two good things converge within these pages, as Williamson’s improved approach to the character collides with a better role for Iris in an issue that completely focuses on her and is told from her perspective. Iris begins an investigation into the missing bodies of many of Godspeed’s victims from the first storyline, and to get an upper-hand on this expose, she asks Barry about Meena Dhawan, the above mentioned, not terribly fleshed out previous love interest of the Flash’s. Hers is the lone body that was unaccounted for, at least before these bodies started disappearing. And so, Iris heads to the seemingly abandoned Speed Force Training Center where she comes face to face with Black Hole and the evil Dr. Huskk, in the midst of gathering the very bodies she’s hunting. This all leads to some fun undercover Iris action and team-up with our title hero.
As The Flash is on the precipice of entering a two-part crossover that’s going to put everything on hold, Williamson has to make the the most of the narrative real estate here, and he does so pretty expertly, giving a relatively fresh angle on the current goings-on in Central City by way of Iris’ journalistic perspective, as well as her budding relationship with Barry. It’s not exactly going to give you any new insights into her character, but for a book that’s been so burned into Barry’s anguish related to the loss of his parents, the betrayal of one of his best friends, and his only just recent building of trust with Wally, any kind of perspective shift is a good one – especially for a generally well adjusted character like Iris.
Williamson does leave things on an intriguing hook related to Iris’ suspicions as to who Black Hole’s contact at S.T.A.R. Labs might be, and a last page twist that may finally redeem one of the weakest new additions to the Flash’s supporting cast, if that fairly rare flaw in what’s been a very enjoyable run can be smoothed over, I’ll be delighted to return to the environs that kicked this run off despite some initial hesitancy.
On the art side, Neil Googe isn’t quite as flashy (har-de-har) as Carmine Di Giandomenico, who is one of my favorite Flash artists in quite some time, but Googe provides a slightly differing approach to his artistic tag-teammate’s raw energy, playing more to character. It’s almost as if his issues are the places where Barry slows down a bit to take a breath and just enjoy the company of others, which is in start contrast to Di Giandomenico’s “never stop moving” approach, even when Barry is standing still. I’ll say this for Rebirth, on some of these titles, there are some really nice pairing in the bi-weekly lineup.
Anyhow, onward to “The Button”. King and Williamson are two of my favorite DC superhero scribes right now, so let’s see how it goes. No pressure.
- I’m leaving for Italy for the next two weeks, so you’ll have Alex’s company until I return at the beginning of May. Thusly, I’ve been in the middle of a crazy amount of packing, but I was able to collect some thoughts about a few titles in brief in the middle of the inevitable chaos of international travel:
- This week’s Action Comics, which I mentioned above, was okay. I think it’s mostly recommendable for the really great Ian Churchill art, which perhaps gave me the best possible flashback to my Superman reading days in college. The story itself was fine, Dan Jurgens is aiming to retell Superman’s origin for the umpteenth time, but this is the one that “counts” now. Though the issue spends a lot more time on the Krypton rocket launch than I thought it would. Not a whole lot has changed from just about any other origin for the Man of Steel, other than Jor-El looks kind of like Russell Crowe now. I’m kind-of sad to firmly lose some of the neat additions that Grant Morrison added during his Action Comics run, especially those eerie “Ha-La-La” chants, but this is a completely solid origin story for the post-Reborn Superman. More to come in two weeks though.
- Bilquis Evely might finally be the artist to unseat Liam Sharp as the better of the two Wonder Woman artists, her line is so lovely and crisp in this latest issue, and Rucka’s script plays to all of her strengths, especially once the deliciously conniving Circe appears. And the way this storyline is locking together with the present day chapters, particularly with the final cliffhanger, has me wanting to read more RIGHT NOW, like any good comic should. Veronica Cale is about to unleash the worst possible thing on Diana, and I couldn’t be more excited about those storytelling possibilities.
- Finally, Justice League of America closed out a really fun first arc with the JLA coming out on top of Lord Havok’s Extremists and firmly settling in as a functional team. But I’ll be honest, the moment that had me absolutely giddy was the appearance of a character right at the very end, who has very deep ties to the world of Angor and Justice League history in a few different eras. If this person ends up joining the team, I will be a happy boy indeed.
- See you all in a few weeks! Be good to each other!
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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.