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 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.
Storytellers: Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Penciller: Patrick Gleason
Inker: Mick Gray
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Alex Lu: The last time we discussed Superman, Kyle, I was about ready to end my relationship with the series. While writers Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason had established an intriguing hook for the series by centering it around Superman’s son Jon, the first arc of the series quickly spiraled into a messy jumble of half-cooked ideas and choppy action sequences. However, since the end of the Eradicator arc, I’ve heard some great things about the series. Indeed, issue 7, a oneshot that focuses on the Kent family going to a carnival and issues 8 and 9, which see Superman and Jon team up with the last Loser on Dinosaur Island as a tribute to Darwyn Cooke, were a fantastic return to form for the title. They focused on the core relationships between Lois, Clark, and Jon that make the series hum. Thankfully, that trend continues with this week’s Superman #10.
The central question that the start to this new arc poses is how Jon relates to other superheroes his own age. In previous issues, we’ve seen him come into conflict and learn from members of his family, an army sergeant, and an alien out for blood. We’ve seen him slowly but surely develop a friendship (that could be something more) with his neighbor, Kathy, but in this issue he comes face to face with Damian Wayne for the first time. The two are immediately at odds with one another, mirroring the conflict between their fathers.
In conceit and execution, comparing Jon to Damian Wayne is a great idea for a story. Tomasi and Gleason make the contrast between the two boys clear at every available opportunity. Jon is polite and grateful towards Wayne Manor butler Alfred Pennyworth for providing him with a root beer whereas Damian impetuously demands to know where his tea is. Damian is capable of running surveillance of Jon on his own while Jon is still developing and learning about his own strength, as evidenced by the accidental discharge of his new freeze breath abilities.
At the same time, however, both boys have a lot in common as well. Both Jon and Damian are devoted to their fathers. Damian starts monitoring Jon because Clark was monitoring Bruce. More importantly, both boys are highly competitive people. This particular similarity forms the basis for their conflict as they jocky for social standing against one another. Jon has compassion while Damian has experience, and the two lord their particular traits over one another before coming to blows over the Bat-Cow Damian keeps in the Batcave, of all things.
Gleason, Gray, and Kalisz do a fantastic job of rendering the story in beautiful detail, as usual. Superman is consistently one of the most beautiful books of the current DC line, buoying the title even when the script takes it to strange and hokey places. In particular, the highlight of this issue is the way the artistic team uses reflections to highlight connection. When Jon first encounters Maya Ducard, a young girl assisting Damian in his surveillance of the Kents, his face is reflected in her pupils, heightening the flirtatious exchange they have on the schoolhouse steps. Later, when Jon loses control of his abilities and nearly sets a forest on fire, he finds himself lifted into the air by something. We see him staring upwards with two symbols that look like Batman’s logo reflecting in his eyes. It’s actually Maya and Damian’s pet demon Goliath, but the reflection is an ominous instance of foreshadowing.
Kyle, what did you think of this issue? I know you’ve been raving about this book for a while now– how does the new arc’s conceit strike you?
Kyle Pinion: I’m still convinced we were reading two different comics during that initial arc of the series. What you saw as a fumbling of the story’s initial concerns, I took as a terrific little romp that restored a lot of needed levity to the Superman line. If I can go on a quick tangent here, the Superman line is easily the most improved segment of DC’s output currently. Granted, I’m primed for this kind of thing, as the rosy-colored glasses of nostalgia are strapped firmly onto my head where late 80’s-90’s Superman is concerned, but it’s pretty telling how often DC had to retool New 52 Superman in order to make him work (“let’s get Morrison on him”, “let’s get Snyder on him”, “let’s get Johns on him”, “let’s get Yang on him”….”forget it, let’s kill him”), and then Tomasi and Jurgens roll out a very 90’s era-indebted version of the character, bright and full of hope, and just a bit older and kinder, and suddenly it all snaps into place. Red underwear aside, this is basically the Superman I grew up and the one I haven’t seen since Jurgens and company left the books. And from there, the two Superfamily books (Supergirl and Superwoman) have equally benefited from this change of pace. Each book is exploring a facet of this corner of the DCU in a way that makes each title feel vital for the first time in a good long while.
This issue serves a dual purpose in that it continues to underline the core Superman title’s preoccupation with the relationship of Superman’s immediate family, and more specifically that of Clark and Jon, while also planting the seeds for the the upcoming Super Sons spinoff that Tomasi and Jorge Jimenez will be working on as part of the next phase of Rebirth. And if there’s one thing that Tomasi is really good at, it’s a sense of the father-son dynamics that mark both paternal pairs. Tomasi and Gleason get an opportunity here to return to that somewhat strained “still feeling each other out” relationship that marked their run on the mostly pretty good Batman and Robin series at the outset of the of the New 52, while contrasting it with how Superman and Superboy approach each other. That sort of light/dark dynamic is nothing new for these characters, but it’s at least a new permutation on the old idea. Now that they’re both fathers is intriguing to see how their parenting methods differ and how they each disapprove of the job the other is doing. I keep flashing back to memories of parents I’ve seen having it out with the fathers or mothers of bullying kids, but in this case, neither Superman or Batman is really “in the right”. It’s a good touch.
Equally so, is this growing sense of “young romance” that’s maybe building up around Jon especially. Before she was revealed to be NoBody, I got a serious Archie-Betty-Veronica vibe from Jon, Kathy, and Maya. Of course that’ll probably pivot some now that Damian is in the picture. There’s some potential for some tension between Jon and Damian on that front, at least as much as kids that are about 11 or 12 get about that sort of thing.
Anyhow, it’s a really strong issue, wonderfully put to page by Gleason, as always – I really am at the point that I just want to crown him as DC’s best artist, though that’s probably been the case for years, he just keeps getting and better. And it’s an a nice little reprieve before the big Multiversity “sequel” that was hinted at in the Dinosaur Island two-parter kicks off in full swing. Gosh, I love this book, I really do. Don’t be missing out on the most affecting Superman stories in years, seriously. Plus, did I mention the Multiversity sequel part? It bears repeating.
Final Verdict: Buy
Writer: Meredith Finch
Penciller: Shane Davis & Igor Vitorino
Inker: Michelle Delecki
Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
“Trigger Warnings” Prez Writer: Mark Russell
“Trigger Warnings” Prez Penciller: Ben Caldwell
“Trigger Warnings” Prez Inker: Mark Morales
“Trigger Warnings” Prez Colorist: Jeremy Lawson
“Trigger Warnings” Prez Letterer: Travis Lanham
Kyle Pinion: Some background about me that you’re probably not aware of, dear readers. When I got out of college, having graduated with a Poli Sci degree, I instantly went to work on a Congressional campaign for the Democratic Party here in Georgia. A month after a pretty tough fought loss, I became a lobbyist for a national non-profit, a role I held for about 5 years. Even today, I’m still working somewhat in Public Affairs. So I say all of that as a lead-in to the premise that I’m a pretty big wonk as these things go, and any comic focused on the election cycle should be something that’s right up my alley.
As it turns out, the Catwoman: Election Day special is a big pile of turds.
Meredith Finch, who finally returns to writing duties after a fairly disastrous Wonder Woman run with spouse David Finch, turns in a script so incompetent that calling it maladroit would probably be underselling the case. She pitches the story as one that finds Catwoman in the middle of Gotham’s Mayoral race between The Penguin and Constance Hill, with the orphanage that Selina Kyle grew up again acting as a fulcrum that spurs her involvement in this unlikely political contest. Cobblepot believes that those sorts of facilities are breeding grounds for criminals and surprise, surprise he wants to build a wall around Gotham (for reasons that don’t really make sense, but darn it, Finch has an obvious metaphor to make). Hill, who might be related to former Gotham mayor Hamilton Hill in some way, does not want the orphanage to be knocked down and Selina can’t seem to shake why this other candidate seems so “shady” despite Cobblepot’s heated rhetoric.
Do you get it?
Notwithstanding that the Trump metaphor really doesn’t work for The Penguin at all, the Hill character ends up having even more nefarious skeletons in her closet. It turns out she grew up with Selina at Miss Kitty’s (yeah, the lady who runs that facility is really called that) and she murdered one of her fellow residents as a child and hid the body.
Selina then, upon realizing her shared past with Hill, interrupts the Mayoral debate and has them both arrested.
So, like…who ends up becoming Mayor? Well, don’t worry too much about that cause the comic never ends up resolving the very subject that the entire book is based around…cause ya know, god forbid. All of this just underscores what a shoddy production this entire effort is, from Finch’s listless dialogue and plotting, to some pretty but mostly uninspired Shane Davis art. The only real loser in this deal will be you if you end up wasting your hard-earned dollars on what has to be the worst comic DC has put out in months. I’d rather be reading Scooby Apocalypse right about now.
My guess is, if you’re REALLY going to buy it, it’s more likely that you’ll want this book in order to find out what Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell are up to with their latest Prez offering. Prez was one of the big bright spots of DC You ended all too soon, so it’s exciting to see this team back flexing its muscles on issues of social relevance.
Here specifically they tackle Democratic support of gun control vs. Republican opposition to birth control. The latter forging an especially poignant bit (shrouded in satirist humor) where there are a number of open carry activists that get involved in a fire fight with a shooter at a hamburger joint and after the dust clears the cops can’t actually figure out who was the shooter in the first place. I also love that Beth basically cribs a Chris Rock bit in the regulation of guns vs. ammunition and the instant involvement of the Supreme Court was cut in a pretty hilarious fashion.
Much like his unheralded work on The Flintstones comic, I’m quite surprised by the things that DC let’s Russell get away with here. But I’m also thankful for it, I just wish Prez was the dominant story, instead of having to slog through the awful 26 pages that preceded it. Heck, let me double down, I wish DC would make Prez the next Young Animal comic. But ya know, wish in one hand….
I’ll take a mentopause here (oof, rough crowd) and turn it over to you Alex, what’re your feelings on the balance of DC’s big November-focused special?
Alex: Yikes. That pun was gross, Kyle. You’re lucky the internet is a forgiving place (let me dream).
Regarding the Catwoman: Election Night lead story, you’ve basically hit the nail on the head. It’s strange to me that this script managed to make it through the editorial process because the end result of this story is so nonsensical and canonically inconsistent with the characterization of certain characters we’ve already come to know throughout the years. The Penguin is particularly mistreated in this book. He’s reduced from a crooked pragmatist with a weird proclivity for the eponymous species of bird to a two-dimensional Trump analog. While Penguin has never been one of the most prominent figures in Batman’s rogue’s gallery, he isn’t a blank slate. As such, hearing definitive Trump-isms like “Sad” and “huge, beautiful wall” rise from Penguin’s mouth feels hamfisted and disingenuous.
As a genre, satire has to tread a fine line. It needs to be somewhat absurd to be effective, as any Jonathan Swift fan could tell you. However, it should not be so obvious as to leave no question as to the author’s intent. Here, Finch’s ideas bludgeon the reader like a hammer. Penguin is Trump. Constance Hill is Hillary Clinton. Penguin is publically gross while Constance has dangerous skeletons buried in her closet. Both have obfuscated goals that are certainly not in the general populace’s best interest. Neither one of them are fit to be preside-I mean, mayor. It’s all disappointingly trite and, more damagingly, offers little new to the conversation. Sure, in DC’s world, a superhero like Catwoman can save the day and take down the corrupt candidates in the race, but who fills the power vacuum now? Finch does not even address the question.
I know you called Davis’ art nice but “uninspiring,” Kyle, and while I don’t disagree I must say that his art is the brightest spot of the lead story here. Excepting the questionable choice to set the climax of the book in a debate hall but not show any of the crowd in attendance, his work is strong in every regard. His figure work is admirable and he renders various metropolitan locales such as the Iceberg Lounge with love. Davis’ style is not particularly auteur, but it’s effective and clear, doing its best to carry the book through its worst moments.
However, in the end, nothing can save Catwoman: Election Night. It’s simply not a well done story. The political rhetoric is nauseatingly obvious and at this point, so close to the election, does not advance the national debate in a meaningful way. In addition, it ends in an incredibly cheeky, trite way: showcasing a young Beth Ross sitting on a couch at Miss Kitty’s Home for Wayward Girls, telling her caretaker that she’ll be president someday. This isn’t necessarily a bad moment, especially in comparison to what came before, but it does raise some weird questions about the timeline of the DCU. If Beth is a girl of about eight or nine, as she appears to be portrayed as here, then this story must be set in 2027 or so, as Prez take place in 2036. That means, in the span of about nine years, superheroes have disappeared, technology has advanced so far that there are new mech drones and weed bears, and oh– this is getting too grouchy, even for me. The moment is just a little too silly for me.
That said, Russell’s and Caldwell’s Prez backup story is a saving grace for this title. It’s meaty, clocking in at eleven pages or so, so you’d be justified in picking the book up for this story alone.
Returning to President Beth Ross’ world is a welcome treat. The creative team has retained all the humor and flair present throughout the original run of the series last year. Caldwell’s art, lovingly inked by Mark Morales and colored by Jeremy Lawson, gives the book a vibrant humorous tone that prevents the events of the story from ever seeming too grim. The burger bar shooter’s deadpan gaze as he takes down customer after customer is incredibly amusing to see, and his exclamation of “?” as one patron tries to fire his hat gun with the safeword “Orangutan” is absolutely gutbusting in its absurdity.
Russell and Caldwell insert wit and biting criticism of the American political system into every panel, filling a senate conference on women’s health care with nothing but men who want to talk about “Today’s Theme; Vagina Stuff,” as they lovingly indicate on a banner printed in…comic sans type. It’s a painful sequence which ultimately culminates with Beth giving an impassioned speech in favor of Mentopause birth control candy to an all-male congressional committee deadset on challenging her over an issue they could never begin to understand. Beth explains how unplanned pregnancies damage women professionally and how birth control allows women to take “control over their lives.” Unfortunately, like so many Americans today who are against birth control and abortion, the congressional committee argues that “it’s not our job to make sluttiness affordable.” They’re willing to condemn a women’s right to choose a path for her life and simultaneously challenge Beth’s executive order banning ammunition sales in America. By juxtaposing these two issues, Russell and Caldwell expose the hypocrisy of so many conservative pundits today. They’re willing to take the freedom of choice away from others, but the moment their own freedom is threatened they fight tooth and nail to maintain the status quo.
Prez has always been a poignant title, but it’s especially so today. Less than a week before the general election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the nation stands on a precipice. Neither candidate is perfect, but one of them has positioned himself as the savior of those who would defend themselves by condemning anyone different from them. Forgive me for grabbing the bully pulpit for a moment, but that’s not a defensible position. As a minority citizen who has been blessed to have been born in, lived in, and loved in America, I know that it’s hard to be different. Not just for myself, but for those who see me as an “other.” However, this nation was built by “others.” Puritans, Catholics, Irish, Black people, and countless other groups that were all oppressed at some point in their history. We’d all do well to remember our past come next Tuesday. We can’t let Donald Trump become the next president of the United States.
Anyways, Catwoman: Election Night #1 isn’t worth your time, but the strength of this Prez backup makes it a buy in my book. And hey, if we could save Omega Men, maybe we can save Prez too, right? #MakePrezABookAgain
Final Verdict: Buy it for the Prez backup. Consider the Catwoman story some extra gravy if you want it.
The Elite Beat Staff is a trained squad of ninja masters.