In June 2016, DC Comics began 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
Manhunter Oversize Special
“Bring Me A Dream”
Story/Layouts: Keith Giffen
Scripter: Dan DiDio
Artist: Mark Buckingham
Colorist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: A Larger World’s Dave & Troy
“The Demon And The Infernal Prisons”
Writer: Sam Humphries
Artist: Steve Rude
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Todd Klein
This week, if you’ll forgive me the indulgence, I’m going to concentrate on just one title in the main body of the article – my choice in doing so has become a bit of a weird confluence of events in my life. Primarily, I just have very little time over the past few weeks between personal and professional commitments in my non-comics related life. It’s getting to be harder and harder to square away the time to read every comic I want to/need to read, which is sadly compounded with this terrible bout of writer’s block that I’ve been struck with for the past three weeks.
The other area that’s slowed me down tremendously is that I’ve found myself only getting passionate about old archival works, rather than much of what’s new. Don’t get me wrong: I jumped into reading Metal pretty darn fast, and books like Mister Miracle and Doom Patrol are titles I will voraciously devour on their respective release dates, but I’m having a difficult time getting engaged in reading new comics now, no matter who the publisher is. They’re all pleasant enough diversions, and I try to read at least one or two DC Comics before bed each night, but lately my eyes have been more peeled towards the new edition of Kirby: King of Comics that I just got and have blown through in just a few days or The Art of the Simon/Kirby Studio (which I got for 15 bucks on Amazon!!). With the Centennial approaching next week, I’ve been taking in as much work from The King as I can. I’ve done this very thing in smaller doses in the past, but now I’ve become a kind of fiend for Golden Age comics. Let me tell you something, I knew nothing about the work of Bill Everett, except in the scantest of details, until these past few weeks.
I approached this week’s article with all those scattered and conflicting thoughts all poking around in my noggin. I tried to read the new Nightwing: The New Order miniseries with the intent of pulling something together on that. Well, that went awry, because that book sucks – your bog standard X-Men dystopia clone with some painfully sluggish pacing. I remember liking McCarthy’s art on Batwoman okay, but he’s basically slotted with something that reads like a bad FOX pilot. I thought about pivoting into the new issue of Kamandi Challenge, but after that first really fun issue, I think that experiment has not come together as one would have hoped – with many a promising writer being felled either through the concept of picking up someone else’s plot strands or just being dwarfed within the confines of the world itself. I will try to read this week’s though, probably while I’m in the middle of drafting this very piece, since Keith Giffen is scripting. And if you all know anything about me, I’m a full-fledged Giffen fanboy.
With that said, all my current interests gravitated, as they have for seemingly both Alex and I these past few weeks, towards the next installment of the Kirby 100 one-shots. This is a series I appreciate immensely as an effort to pay tribute to perhaps comics’ most staggering and influential figure, certainly at least stateside. But the actual product itself has been not a lot to write home about. Last week’s Sandman at least had the benefit of playing around with a rather underdeveloped Kirby-Simon concept in the 70’s Sandman, though the star of the show for me was that staggeringly good Jon Bogdanove art. I can’t quite say as many kind things about the two installments that preceded it, with Shane Davis’ New Gods being quite the bore and my distaste for Howard Chaykins’ Boy Commandos/Newsboy Legion was something I exposited about at length two weeks ago. So, now we come to Dan DiDio’s shot at Manhunter, one of the oddball Simon-Kirby reinventions of the Golden Age. It’s a character that, unlike the aforementioned Newsboy Legion and Boy Commandos, has never had the benefit of a reprint collection, for reasons completely unknown to me. As a matter of fact, Kirby and Simon only did about 8 stories with the character before leaving him behind. He popped back up for a quick Kirby written and drawn dalliance in First Issue Special in the 70’s, the same series that birthed Atlas, but really Paul Kirk’s biggest legacy is his design scheme, which eventually gave way to the look of the Green Lantern villains The Manhunters.
This issue finds DC’s co-publisher taking the scripting reins but still collaborating on the story with rather frequent partner Giffen. While I know many tend to roll-eyes anytime DiDio’s name appears on a cover credit, I’ve often found his writing to be earnest enough to never really get too worked up about, and sometimes it can really surprise me. The most notable example being his excellent work with Giffen on OMAC, easily one of the New 52’s best titles. I could have read 100 issues of that, but it was too beautiful for this world I guess. Here, the notable change is that instead of penciling, Giffen is on layout duty and instead we have Mark Buckingham on art. The story is pretty straightforward stuff, Manhunter is breaking up a criminal cartel at a warehouse, while delivering some exposition about who he is, first in caption boxes and then in outright in the dialogue itself, before all of a sudden the Sandman and Sandy decide to intervene before Manhunter can be “judge, jury and executioner” on his intended prey. The rest of the issue is basically dedicated to a fight between these opposing vigilante forces, and it basically plays out like any other time you’ve seen Daredevil fight The Punisher or some other noble hero vs. anti-hero equivalent. It’s a clear line of a narrative, and super meat and potatoes, with DiDio doing his best to copy the exact intonations of how Simon would approach his superhero scripts. Regardless of whether or not such an exercise is really *necessary*, I can’t deny a tiny little thrill watching a Golden Age Kirby-Simon crossover throwdown happen before my eyes.
While DiDio’s script is a solid approximation of the source material, if unspectacular, its Buckingham’s art that helped elevate the reading experience as I flipped through its respective pages. It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything he’s drawn, probably a Gaiman Miracleman reprint, or a random issue of Fables; but here I get the impression that working with Giffen, he himself *highly* influenced by Kirby among other artists, particularly his layouts, has surely informed how he approached character design and action choreography in this issue. Honestly, I might make the argument that this almost looks more like a Giffen tribute comic than a Kirby one, which again, is not a wholly bad thing. The layouts are holding very tightly to Giffen’s recent go-to six panel grid, and there’s a number of facial zooms that remind me of some of the artist’s work during his Munoz-influenced period. It does get to a point, especially in the back-half of the story, where Buckingham is a bit strangled by the script, which is literally just a punchfest for six pages, and I wouldn’t have minded at least see maybe half that battle broken up as a chase through the period New York-setting instead. But, it’s a quick little scofflaw of a comic that at least gives that character more attention than he’s had in a very long time.
It’s followed by a short Sam Humphries-penned, and Steve Rude-drawn Demon tale. I’ll never turn down a chance to get Rude drawing DC characters, especially on the horror side of things, which if memory serves, is a bit of rarely charted territory for him. The story, again, basically exists for its artist to flex all over the page and for just six of them, Rude shoves quite a bit of action into a number of tiny panels and inventive layouts. I’m particularly taken with the sequence which sees Jason Blood taking the Priest’s potion and it transitions into revealing his benefactor’s true nature. I would also like to give credit to Humphries for not succumbing to the temptation that is writing Etrigan’s dialogue in rhyme.
Finally, the one-shot wraps with the requisite Kirby reprints, still maybe the big thrill of the whole she-bang for me. A Herron/Kirby thriller with a twist ending from Tales of the Unexpected, and then a couple of Simon-Kirby speculative pieces from Real Fact Comics. All in all, quite the grab bag of material spanning quite a bit of the artist’s contributions to the publisher, even that which is usually tossed into the more forgettable chunks of his output.
It’s not a must-buy, especially given the 5 dollar price tag, but on artistic merit alone between Buckingham, Rude, and Kirby, if you’re looking for some top-notch pencil work, this is a fun diversion – especially as an academic exercise. Next week brings the two I’ve been waiting this entire project for: Reginald Hudlin/Denys Cowan’s Black Racer & Shilo Norman and Mark Evanier/Scott Kolins’ bow on Darkseid. Now we’re talking!
- This week saw a new creative team hop on board The Hellblazer, a book that I thought started off pretty strongly at the outset of its Rebirth run but then quickly derailed in its second arc and found its way at the bottom of my reading list. I approached having to trudge through those issues with some amount of dread, and even after Phillip Tan exited, the momentum of the earlier Moritat-drawn chapters just never quite affixed itself again. Issue #13 finds the series injected with some new energy as Tim Seeley and Jesus Merino step in for a quick filler arc, and it’s basically a “John gets drunk and doesn’t remember what happened” story, which is not a bad hook for a Constantine arc. There’s a clear tie to Norse mythology in the villains they’re introducing and there’s a not uninteresting angle pitting Constantine up against a former love interest police detective. Hellblazer isn’t my strong suit, so this is probably some character from deep in his history. I’m not gonna google it, I’ll take y’alls word for it if you tell me that’s the case. Good issue, Merino’s art runs a little modern superhero for my taste at times for this kind of story, but it evokes the right kind of mood and is clear, which again, beats the pants off of what preceded him.
- Batgirl #14 is a lot of fun. I think Larson’s writing has really hit a stride in the past 7 or so issues on the title, and getting paired with Christian Wildgoose has been quite the coup. I’m not sure where he came from, or what his past work is like, but here, his near animation quality pencils really help sell the feel of Burnside while also expertly portraying both action and rendering some very emotive characters – all of which enables a very good Larson Dick and Babs team-up script to come to life. I always enjoy stories that flash back to the early days of this once romantic couple and with both characters single again, this opens up some good narrative real estate for Larson and Wildgoose to establish just where they both stand as friends…or more. I was especially thrilled with the flashback bits that gave way to Barbara trying to fit in to Gotham after her family moved into town, and her parents’ separation. Very good coming of age stuff present here, along with a past is coming back to haunt them angle. I’m not sure if there’s another book I’d pick, but this definitely enters into the conversation Most Improved title of the line.
- Damn it, why didn’t I read Kamandi Challenge #8 first? Giffen AND Rude! That’s what I get for not paying close enough attention. The story is really good too, which pits Kamandi in the middle of an ongoing conflict between a tribe of wolf-people and goat-people who have built their entire belief systems on the two pivotal works of Homer. I’m happy to say I think between last month’s Marguerite Bennett and Dan Jurgens chapter and this week’s, we’re starting to see this series maybe entire a nice high-point, just in time for Tom King and Kevin Eastman (!!) to enter the fray.
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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.