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, entertainment editor Kyle Pinion, and contributor Louie Hlad are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
THIS WEEK: Milk Wars begins! Kyle has things to say! The Silencer also makes her debut! Kyle has more things to say!
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/Doom Patrol Special #1
Writers: Steve Orlando & Gerard Way
Illustrator: ACO (with Hugo Petrus)
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain & Marissa Louise
Letterer: Clem Robins
And here we are, at the comic in this new year I found myself most curious about. 2017 was really a year where I pretty hard for the Young Animal line, particularly the incredible Shade the Changing Girl, which was inarguably one of the stronger comics of the year, superhero or otherwise. But even in the titles where my feelings were a bit more mixed, they still had a creative momentum line-wide that was hard to deny. Sadly, the ever hanging Sword of Damocles on any critically acclaimed monthly comic is going to be its sales figures, and that was an area where Young Animal tended to struggle to find its way.
And so, built up in overt ways – through Doom Patrol‘s second arc – and more subtly – such as brief nods in Bug!, the first big crossover of the line has arrived. It’s weird to imagine comics with such strong individual identities falling into the ultimate crevice of superhero IP: the dreaded event-crossover, but even early Vertigo did it (1993’s The Children’s Crusade) and the corollaries between that era of the once towering “House that Alan Moore built” and the Gerard Way-curated imprint are pretty clear as Gen X to Millennial mirrors of one another. And so again, the crossover…Milk Wars, where the Doom Patrol as envisioned by Way and Nick Derington cross paths with the psuedo-CW inflicted iteration of the Justice League of America that’s been overseen by Steve Orlando. It’s an unexpected blend, that ends up making more sense the more you unpack it and get a great awareness of just what Orlando and Way have cooked up, and how it builds towards the shared themes of both titles.
Basically, the gist is, due to whatever happens in the non yet released Doom Patrol #11 (a whole other conversation could be had about that subject), Casey, Cliff and the rest find themselves pursuing a rocket that leads them to Earth Prime, where step foot into a very Stepford neighborhood that’s fallen victim to the pastel aesthetic and conforming ways that the brutish Milkman Man has infected upon its environment. Of course, the moment these oddball heroes are noticed by the residents they immediately contact their neighborhood watch, which is comprised of a very conservative looking/early 50’s take on the JLA, known here as the Community League of Rhode Island, of whom Milkman Man got his hands ahead of the Doom Patrol’s arrival.
The first half of the book is driven by its action, heroes arrive, twisted heroes then show up, they fight, which probably doesn’t sound all that appealing on its face, but that’s where bringing in Orlando’s old Midnighter collaborator ACO back into the picture is a tremendous stroke of visual aptitude. One of the things that made previous series sing was how these partners balanced Orlando’s heartfelt essaying of a (very violent) gay superhero with a pretty tragic back-history with ACO’s ability to perfectly conjur on the page just how that same hero’s powers work from his own perspective. God, I loved that book. And they get to do quite a bit of that here, but formatted to the themes and fantastical abilities of the Doom Patrol and JLA. From the long-missed DC YOU, there’s an always returning thought that books like Midnighter (and to an even greater degree, Prez) played as a sort of precursor to the Young Animal line, and now all of those key creators have been enlisted into its ranks in some form or another.
One of the other things I’m often left wondering is just what degree of split-duties do we have when two writers are on board a comic like this. Sometimes it’s really clear when one scribe is writing all the dialogue and other provides the plot and sort of supervises the final product, a common practice as one writer kind of gives way to another on ongoing superhero titles. But I’m a little unsure here just where Way ends and Orlando begins, to the issue’s credit. When the comic deals specifically with the outsider aspects of the two teams, my guess is that we’re reading a good deal of what Orlando is bringing to the table, but then there is such a strong strain of mythos in the backhalf of the comic that is clearly birthed from Way; particularly his conception of Casey and how she is the driving focal point of everything that is occurring within the narrative machinery of the current Doom Patrol volume. So, good job guys, I have no idea how the division of labor really panned out here. I just like to pretend that Way wrote all the Doom Patrol dialogue, Orlando the JLA stuff, and they collaborated on the plot.
But what strikes me the most, beyond how it provides some level of closure for questions that haven’t totally been asked yet thanks to dreaded delays – but man am I ever glad Doom Patrol #10 came out recently – is how this team-up really sticks the landing on the idea of the differences between us and the value that holds. The JLA is comprised of an incredibly diverse team ethnically and sexually, whereas the Doom Patrol has always been a team that, to my mind, has been representative of traumatic injury and the empowerment inherent in living with a physical or emotional challenges. To that end, there’s a unifying spirit between these two titles, especially when these teams are the vanguard pushing against the homogenized reality formulated by Retconn and their progeny of Milkman Man and whatever they’re about to do my dear, dear Rita Farr (you leave her alone!). It speaks to the idea that our individual and unique qualities are what make us special, and the diversity of people, culture, thought and tastes are what make this a world well worth living in. And to the latter two items directly, beyond the social strata, there’s also an element to which the comic addresses the idea of mainstream vs. indie, something that Way particularly has been straddling in his tastes; this is a guy who is equally influenced by both Grant Morrison and Los Hernandez Bros. And as someone who has always tried to balance my own love of two seemingly warring sides of the medium, it’s thrilling to have Way and Orlando so succinctly cast their own sort of Morrisonian chaotic magic spell when we hit that beautiful Crazy Jane two-page spread.
Everything is art!
And there’s a place where fans of well-written superhero fare and alt-comix with an X can indeed share the same breathing space. Given how the story here even pits Gerard, and his brother Mikey, into the story itself and even launches Larry Trainor into the life of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, there’s a sense that this may be a clearing house of everything Way has been wanting to say during his time with the imprint and DC Comics itself. I have no idea what the future may actually hold for Doom Patrol, but were Way to fade into the background while the other books carry on (CARRRYYY ONNNNN) without him actively involved, it’s hard to feel like he went out without a nice closing act. We’ll see what the closing chapter of Milk Wars brings when he’s back on the credits page. In the meantime, Cave Carson’s appearance here opens up the first real Young Animal cross-pollination, and lends us to Jody Houser’s Mother Panic/Batman crossover next week.
And, in the very brief back-up, we get a quick look at Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew’s Eternity Girl, with Liew in full pastiche mode, echoing the old science fiction turned superhero comics of late 50’s DC and eventually early 60’s Marvel. I sure want to read more, especially given the meta-aspects of the character presented right up front and just what form part 2 might take, given Liew’s aptitude for echoing various forms and permutations of popular comic forms throughout history.
Damn, there’s quite a bit of meat on this bone. It’s this week’s must-read.
The Silencer #1
Storytellers: John Romita Jr. and Dan Abnett
Inks: Sandra Hope
Colors: Dean White
Letters: Tom Napolitano
I’m not sure what to think of DC New Age of Heroes line so far, though admittedly we’re only two books deep into it. There’s a lot to admire in the effort, particularly when one considers how few *new* characters and concepts are ever really introduced at the Big Two. Not that anyone can be blamed for that trend given the issues surrounding lack of ownership and/or ancillary media rights, but it’s led to superhero comics basically recycling its core ideas even with hit characters like Ms. Marvel. Everything is an antecedent to something else basically. So when DC started to roll-out a line of brand-new characters and teams, the majority of which not having pre-existing relationships with their recognizable superhero families, that’s something worth taking notice of.
But last week’s Damage, while an attractive comic with a storytelling sensibility that feels like it was ripped right out of early 90’s Image (two-page splashes galore!!), there wasn’t a lot really there beyond a very Hulk-like character that the government is trying to get under control…just like the Hulk actually. Which is funny, I haven’t kept up with Marvel’s current status quo in some time, but it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that DC would offer a Hulk-like book, or their own take on Spider-Man or Fantastic Four when those titles have undergone significant chases from the baseline. A sort of, “if you’re looking for this, we’ve got it on offer!”. Neither here nor there, but it’s an interesting thing to muse on. The Silencer, on the other hand, really gets away from that idea.
Pitched as a sort-of cross between Vernita Green from Kill Bill, Chuck Forsman’s Revenger, and a naming convention that’s a bit similar to The Punisher, this John Romita Jr. and Dan Abnett co-created assassin, named Honor Guest (woof), is basically your Taken/John Wick retired killing machine now living a quiet, domesticated life, until that life comes roaring back at her – first in the form of imposing Killbox, and then later when Talia al Ghul arrives at her home to drag her back into the old life before it comes back for her. Pretty straight-forward stuff, but the book suffers more due to the way its constructed than anything else.
I’m a huge fan of JRjr’s art, which I think I’ve mentioned here a number of times, and throughout you can tell he’s having a ball here, really playing up the over the top elements of the character – including having her draw a gun in the in medias res opening page on someone with her kid sitting right next to her while playing with his toys, or when she utilizes her powers, which are create a bubble of silence around her and the intended victim…in order to not attract attention I guess, though it’s unclear if they can still actually been seen. The trouble is that I’m not totally sure Dan Abnett is on the same page as Romita, and that’s where a lot of the unsatisfying nature in reading this title comes in. This line is, as I understand it, all written Marvel-style, with dialogue inserted after the pages have been drawn up. It’s a great method if you’re willing to hang back and let your artist’s work speak for itself, but there are a number of moments here where Abnett just can’t let go, and there’s an element of overly stiff conversation or exposition that creeps up constantly. For example, in the battle with Killbox, you could cut almost every one of those dialogue boxes and still understand everything that’s occurring on the page – Romita’s art is certainly clear enough. And when Talia, he has to shove so much awkward discussion into their word balloons in order to parlay just why Honor is vitally important to one of DC’s master villains. It’s just a really haphazard reading experience, and hey, first issues are hard…but this is a pretty rough one that could have been made much stronger by doing less I think. Writers again, artists are good, trust them! Honestly, I almost kind of wish Romita had scripted this himself, given how well that worked out on his one fill-in Superman issue from a couple of years ago.
Still, there might be something fun here regarding the future of Leviathan and Honor’s role within it, but Abnett and Romita need a gel a little more as a team, otherwise, this is going to be one of the first entries in the New Age to come to an early conclusion.
- It’s a fifth week, which means a really thin selection of comics, though I was impressed that this time around there were a number of titles that had me excited to crack it open. I saw Astro City hit #50 this week, and here’s what that prompted me to do over the weekend…to finally sit down and read this current volume. I’ve read that title in fits and starts, always enjoying it, but getting distracted by something else along the way. This time around I’ve decided to read the new volume all the way through, especially to get caught up before it ends at issue #52 (ahead of its new OGN release schedule). Maybe just maybe I’ll have it all read in a couple of months. Root for me! And then I can go back and read The Dark Age, which I got on sale months ago.
- The Flash had its first annual, which is surprising, as I figured we had one already, but this one kicks off Flash War – giving Williamson a chance to play fully with the older Wally West and in turn find a way to build a fairly believable way to drive a wedge between he and Barry (and the other Wally). I’ve found this run, by and large, to be a reliable producer of solid superhero comics over the past almost two years. It’s never spectacular, or at the top of my to-read pile, but I rarely come away thinking that I’m exhausted of reading it in the way I feel about something like Green Arrow or the current run on Wonder Woman. The end twist of course really sets things into motion and has me really anticipating where this big storyline is headed.
- I quite enjoy the manic energy and ridiculousness of Dark Nights: Metal #5, and it brought back my girlfriend’s favorite superhero of all time. That’s a book that’s going to be in my good graces no matter what, but that it continues to play with the darker side of the musical intonations of The Multiversity makes it feel like the proper follow-up to pre-establish Morrison ideas that my friends and I complain we never get makes me enjoy it all the more. Also, lots of good Wonder Woman here, especially right at the end when she and Kendra have a big moment of pure badass together. I love how nuts this book is.
- Mystik U #2 is my favorite Zatanna story since Seven Soldiers and the best attempt at the Harry Potter meets superhero idea that I’ve seen yet. Of the prestige mini-series line that DC is putting out, it’s inarguably among my top 3 (Mister Miracle and Batman: Creature of the Night are tough competition). But it’s a wonderful little tribute to the magic side of the DCU, and a perfect way to rope in those YA fans who were into Gotham Academy are curious to see what the best possible follow-up to it might be.
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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.