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, Alex 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.
Justice League of America: The Ray: Rebirth
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Stephen Byrne
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
When you have a secret that nobody can know, the easiest thing is to hide in the dark. If you keep yourself locked away, you’ll never have the opportunity to slip up and accidentally reveal your true colors to the world. In JLA Rebirth: The Ray, Steve Orlando and Stephen Byrne follow Ray Terrill, a boy who’s been kept inside his mother’s house all his life due to a purported sun allergy. Through unsent letters and short vignettes of poignant moments in Ray’s life, Orlando and Byrne weave a beautiful story of self-acceptance. It’s one of the best DC Comics out this week.
When we meet Ray Terrill, he feels as emotionally isolated as his physical circumstances might lead you to believe. Ray’s mental state is conveyed to us through Stephen Byrne’s composition, which provides us with a near birds-eye view of Ray draped only by the light of his TV. The entire page is covered in shades of blue and heavy black inked shadows, giving the whole page a sullen feel and evoking sympathy for Ray. Even the birthday cake his stressed mother buys him can only muster a dulled shade of pink. The one source of warmth in this entire sequence is Silverblade, a movie playing on the TV about a buff swordsman, clothed in orange, declaring that “a man with hate in his heart can never win, Leatherwing!” This opening scene immediately draws us into Ray’s world, giving us contrasting images of the distraught boy he is and the heroic man who he wants to be.
From there, Orlando and Byrne take us through a series of vignettes that showcase important moments in Ray’s life. Orlando chooses to narrate these vignettes using an epistolary device where Ray writes unsent letters to Caden, a childhood friend of his who was exiled from Ray’s house after he accidentally flashed a camera bulb at Ray, causing his allergy to light to flare up. This narrative device proves useful because it gives us a look at Ray’s state of mind while Byrne’s art showcases the external actions Ray takes as a result of those thoughts. We see the Silverblade poster and superhero comics that inspire him but are hated by his mother. We read about his desire to find a boyfriend and the longing he feels for his dead father as he shaves his head in defiance of the caretaker he thinks keeps him trapped. Finally, we witness him escape in a literal moment of “coming out” when he escapes his home and discovers that he’s not allergic to the sun but instead has light based superpowers.
However, this doesn’t make him The Ray. As Ray writes, “I’m not sick, Caden. It’s worse. I’m not human.” He fears being judged and wonders why he “should ever let people see [him] again” until he discovers, as an adult, that Caden is up for a mayoral position in Vanity, Oregon. It is here that Ray truly accepts himself by revealing himself to the world. He takes down a man hellbent on killing Caden for his political views and in the process, finds a sense of self-worth that comes from learning that his powers aren’t necessarily a curse. They can be used to better the lives of others just as easily as they can be used to hide from them. Ray learns that other peoples’ values shouldn’t dictate his life. He learns to stand up for what he believes in and in the process, finds a sense of belonging visually echoed by triumphant smile he wears as he soars into the sky, bathed in warm yellows and oranges just like Silverblade.
The Ray: Rebirth is not just a good comic—it’s an important one. It is built to inspire and empower those who might feel different and alone; who feel like the world judges and rejects them for who they are. It reminds them that their beliefs are worth fighting for and that they have unique skills through which to advocate for those ideas. In my opinion, this book is an easy buy.
Final Verdict: Buy
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Penciller: Robson Rocha
Inkers: Jay Leisten, Daniel Henriques, Sandu Florea, & Oclair Albert
Colorists: Alex Sinclair with Jeremiah Skipper
Letterer: Rob Leigh
As Justice League vs. Suicide Squad barrels towards its conclusion, I have found myself surprised at just how much this series as resonated with readers. To its credit, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is a fun and propulsive event that features solid, albeit uneven artwork, and an incredibly amusing core conceit. However, as much as I want to love this series, I simply can’t wholeheartedly recommend it for a simple reason that becomes readily apparent in this week’s release of issue five. Justice League vs. Suicide Squad has a villain problem.
There’s a great video on YouTube that breaks down why Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight is such a compelling villain. In the visual essay, Lessons from the Screenplay breaks three rules that go into making great villains: the antagonist must be powerful, should be “exceptionally good at attacking your hero’s greatest weakness,” and pressures “the protagonist into making difficult choices.” While Justice League vs. Suicide Squad successfully makes its antagonists powerful, it fails on the latter two fronts for reasons both overt and subtle.
First of all, who really is the antagonist of this story? In the first few issues of the book, it seems like the members of the Suicide Squad are our morally ambiguous antagonists. However, they’re quickly taken off the table and usurped in villainy by Maxwell Lord and his group of mystical cohorts. While this group is a much better physical match for the Justice League, nothing about their fight is particularly revelatory. Nothing they do pressures the Justice League into making a difficult choice that reveals character or encourages growth.
Then things become even muddier. Maxwell Lord’s initial stated goal in breaking out the original Suicide Squad members was to gather them to take revenge on Amanda Walller, the leader of the Squad who had imprisoned Lord and the rest of his team. Then, in a twist, Lord revealed that he wasn’t only out for revenge—He wanted the Heart of Darkness, a magical gem that would allow him to use his powers of suggestion to take over the world. While this motivation isn’t one that would cause the audience to invest in the work, it’s an understandable motivation given our understanding of Maxwell Lord and villains in general.
However, in this week’s issue, Maxwell reveals that the reason he took control of the Justice League members’ minds was not to rule the world for selfish gain, but rather to save the world through totalitarian means. This is absolutely mindboggling to me because there’s no explanation behind it. There’s no foreshadowing that Lord has misled benevolent intentions in any way. It just…happens.
It seems like Williamson’s and Rocha’s goal with this story was to create gradations of moral ambiguity. On the far end of lawful good is the Justice League, followed by Amanda Waller’s and the Suicide Squad’s chaotic neutral state, then Maxwell Lord’s lawful evil. Finally, with the reveal of Eclipso at the end of this issue, you witness the far end of chaotic evil—he literally emerges from the “Heart of Darkness.” This is, in theory, an interesting exploration of character, but it all feels very haphazardly put together, especially in these latest two issues. Choosing to focus this book on action over character makes sense from a visual perspective, but it makes moments like Maxwell’s moral turns throughout this book feel unjustified and hamfisted because no time was devoted to setting them up, weakening the book as a whole.
Ultimately, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad is more complicated than it should be. The premise of this title was great and even now, it’s a fun and entertaining read. The action is breezy and generally well-rendered. Unfortunately, the more twists this book piles on, the less it stands out. This book didn’t need to be awesome for me to recommend it, but did need to be consistent and at this point, things are too uneven for me to give it a solid recommendation.
Final Verdict: Pass
This week, Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye #4 is out. I’ve had trouble nailing down exactly how I feel about this book. The conceit, which features an adventurous dad out to rediscover his purpose following the death of his wife as well as a daughter just discovering her purpose for the first time, is emotionally challenging and heady in the way I like my stories to be. Michael Avon Oeming does a great job rendering both the action and the emotion in a unique and visually captivating style that reminds me a little bit of Teen Titans Go mixed with the visual tone of the mid-2000s Teen Titans show. However, the plot, scripted by Gerard Way and Jon Rivera, just doesn’t feel like it’s really building towards anything. There’s a corporate conspiracy related to the underground city that Cave’s wife originates from, creating a grand-scale adventure with personal stakes, but it all falls a little emotionally flat. It’s possible that this series is a little too compressed, as the way it is currently blowing through plot does not leave a ton of space for moments of emotional connection—although they are not totally absent. I’m going to continue to stick with this series in the hopes that it gets better, but it’s also just hard for me to quit anything that has Gerard’s name slapped on it. And that gorgeous Oeming artwork!
Unreservedly, however, I can recommend Batman #15, the second half of Tom King’s collaboration with Mitch Gerads. Obviously, the “big” moment of this comic is Batman and Catwoman exchanging “I love yous,” but most of the pleasures of this issue are more subtle than that. First off, the comic opens with a set of dueling flashbacks where the Cat and the Bat hash out where they truly first met. These flashbacks are rendered in an appropriately retro style by Gerads with a textured newsprint coloring job to match. Gerad’s art his versatile and evocative, effortlessly conveying the shift from thoughtfulness to admittance to uncertainty to comfort as Bruce Wayne mulls over his feelings for Selina Kyle. In a nice formalist touch which I always appreciate in King’s work, there are mirrors between the opening and the close of this book that convey the challenging yet equal relationship these two characters share. Most notably, at the beginning of this issue, Batman swoops down from a rooftop to catch the escaping Cat. By the issue’s end, Catwoman is swooping down to save the falling Bat. It’s really hard for me to fault a book like this one for anything, so just go out and get it already!
Finally, Superman #15 is…wild. Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason along with artists Ryan Sook, Ed Benes, Clay Mann, and Jorge Jimenez continue their big “Multiplicity” storyline, which functions as a continuation of Grant Morrison’s Multiversity. The book keeps the stakes high as the superheroes of several worlds die in errant hopes of saving their respective Supermen from an unknown entity that seeks to steal their powers. There are some fun nods to the kingdom Morrison penned as we witness the return of a number of Multiversity heroes who have bonded together to create an inter-dimensional version of the Justice League. We see brief returns to a number of worlds from that series as well, including the one where the Nazis won World War II. Unfortunately, as Kyle initially pointed out to me, things take a rather confusing turn at the end of this issue when the mysterious bad guy turns out to be…no one we know. From the way this villain was being built, Kyle and I expected the shocking reveal of a character we’d met before. That’s not what we got. It didn’t bother me quite as much, but it is rather anti-climactic cliffhanger for such a grandiose story.
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Alex is the Managing Editor of the Comics Beat. He is also a freelance comics editor with previous credits at Papercutz. He is your go-to fella for creator interviews, conversations about comic book structure, and general DC Comics nerding. Currently geeking out over movies, too.