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.
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.
Wonder Woman #25
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artists: Liam Sharp and Bilquis Evely
Colorist: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Letter: Jodi Wynne
Let’s pull out the way-back machine for a minute and give you a sense of where I was about a year ago. I’ve always been a fan of Wonder Woman, in concept, if maybe not the biggest fan of many of the runs that seem to dramatically misunderstand the character. Outside of the Marston-Peter classics, the amount of Wonder Woman comics I’ve truly loved (Perez, Jimenez, and the first Rucka run being the sum total, give or take that wonderful Busiek-Robbins mini) are relatively few. There are reasons I’ve disregarded other takes, but I’d be here all day trying to tell you why the majority of 90’s Wonder Woman issues were not to my taste. I probably just have a very narrow view of what the character should be – steeped in feminist ideals, loving submission, and Greek myth. Those three Post-Crisis runs were, warts and all, a solid encapsulation of how one could modernize the Marston ethos for a new age. But the ironic thing is, once the New 52 rolled around, I ended up loving that take in spite of myself.
I recognize the core issues inherent within the Azzarello and Chiang era, particularly its take on the Amazons themselves: the change in Diana’s conception flies in the face of the idea that she was the product, even from birth, of a society without men. And of course the fact that Diana only occasionally stars in her own comic is a huge issue. Beyond those glaring flaws though, I thought it was a rip-roaring fantasy tale that represented a sort of Vertigo-ized take on the character and her environment. Sure, it was maybe Wonder Woman in name only to some degree, but it was one of the few New 52 titles that felt like it embraced the spirit of reinvention promised ahead of that relaunch (the other being Morrison’s Action Comics, in a less structurally sound fashion). Cliff Chiang’s impeccable design work didn’t hurt either. But when DC announced the Rebirth relaunch with Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp, and Nicola Scott that would re-frame everything we learned in the previous volume as a “lie”, I was torn. On one hand, I love Rucka’s originalist bent on the character; on the other, I grew rather fond of at least the trappings that surrounded that version of Diana.
I think because of the pitch of the modern day issues, I spent much of the time seeking answers to connect the two runs. If everything Diana experienced was a mirage, or a mass delusion of some sort, did it affect Superman too? Or Orion? Or anyone else that ran afoul of the “fake version” of her pantheon? I spent a year trying to put these pieces together, and even when the answer was presented to us, I still was trying to work all of this out in my head – all the way down to a timeline. (“So Year One happens, then Godwatch, and then the New 52 stuff? When and why did her costume change?”) I’m not sure if anyone else cared about these details, but for 24 issues of this comic, they were driving me bonkers. With Issue #25 on its way, being double-sized and soliciting a convergence for the four major plotlines that comprised this run (“Year One”, “The Lies”, “Godwatch”, and “The Truth”), I waited to see how all of this would be tied together in one neat little package.
The issue opens with Wonder Woman, lacking the Golden Perfect, as it was used to bind together Phobos and Deimos, at a point of anger at her patrons – having been lied to. She easily overpowers the Shaggy Man on a Justice League mission in a show of pure frustration, the likes of which we haven’t seen from her in some time. This is driving concern of the entire issue, and while we get some check-ins with Etta and Sasha (and through them the current status of The Cheetah), a final tête-à-tête between Diana and Veronica Cale underlines where their fraying relationship currently stands, with Steve as the lover waiting in the wings. It’s the emotional journey Diana faces that interests me the most. Once the team recognizes something is “off” with Diana, there’s an intriguing double-meaning there. It can be read as either her caring teammates expressing concern for her emotional well-being, or it be seen as a group of men wondering why the woman isn’t smiling. This is something many of my acquaintances of the opposite sex often have to deal with in real life from men they do and don’t know, so to see it even hinted at in a Wonder Woman comic is a welcome development. Diana faces this head-on in her meeting with Superman and Batman in a call-back to the recent Annual, where she asks them directly “And am I not allowed anger? Or is it my anger is seen as somehow inappropriate?” Though Rucka, no stranger to Batman or Superman, also takes the time to reaffirm that both characters are addressing her feelings as a way of expressing support. These are her friends, and page 17’s panel, drawn so eloquently by Evely, where Diana recognizes that fact, speaks volumes without the need for dialogue.
As the issue continues on, Diana states to Clark and Bruce that it isn’t important why or how the Gods decided to deceive her, but it was that they did it at all, violating the trust she placed in them. This was an interesting way for Rucka to put Diana’s feelings, because it can also be read as the feelings of the audience, perhaps even directed at the publisher to an extent. The details of the changed origin don’t matter so much as the fact that it happened in the first place, when the aspects that went into the genesis of the character are already perfect as is. When she finally confronts her patrons, Diana states that she deserves better, and the response she receives basically lays it all out: “But you have everything you’ve ever dreamed of”. Once again, I think of this in the meta-sense. Thanks to the efforts of Rucka, Sharp, Scott and Evely, Wonder Woman’s core backstory is restored, her relationship with Steve has returned to the forefront, she has reconnected with a version of the Amazons that are more fitting with the intentions of her creator(s), and thanks to the new hit film, she’s become a worldwide cinematic smash that has emotionally hit at the core of so many.
Some may see this as the creative team skirting the details a bit, and as someone who is very continuity-minded, I can empathize with that criticism. But in the end, what does it really matter? This is the version of Wonder Woman we have now, and the one that best reflects her core tenants. I believe one can still enjoy what came before while recognizing that the character is best reflected in another form. And I think there’s something highly emblematic of Diana re-receiving the Golden Perfect just as she finally realizes that her perfection has been restored and her loving, compassionate nature has returned to the forefront.
Heck, Steve even finally got rid of that hideous goatee. All is really right with this tiny corner of the world.
I’m not sure how subsequent years will treat this run in whole. I’ve already seen many celebrate the “Year One” arc specifically as a perfect jumping on point for new readers, but the present day chapters present a bit more of a challenge. For someone who is familiar with what Rucka and Sharp were aiming to do in cleaning up the continuity of the character, it’s a really fascinating piece of reconstruction, but someone coming in cold may be left with a number of unanswered questions regarding what came before. Regardless, “The Lies”/”The Truth” turned out to be a much more graceful solution to the characterization issues that faced Wonder Woman than the quick-fix we saw in “Superman Reborn” just a few months ago. Rucka and team have left Wonder Woman in a much better place than they received her, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
*Looks at solicitations, sees something about a brother*…uh oh…
The Flash #25
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artists: Carmine DiGiandomenico, Neil Googe, Ryan Sook
Colorist: Ivan Plascencia, Hi-Fi, Dave McCaig
Letterer: Steve Wands
For this week’s secondary review, The Flash seems a pretty good candidate as any, as it also comes out with its own oversized 25th issue. With it, Williamson and the trio of artists teaming up with him begin the “Running Scared” arc, which bounces off of Issue #24’s cliffhanger of Iris being kidnapped by the Reverse Flash and goading Barry into following him to where they first met: the 25th Century. From there, we’re treated to a new origin tale for Eobard Thawne – which frankly, is probably necessary at this point. For years now, we’ve seen Flash comics focus pretty heavily on Thawne’s impact on Barry’s life, particularly the murder of his mother; but because so much focus has been laid at the feet of that act, we rarely get a chance to delve deeper into why Thawne hates Barry so much.
Williamson’s script aims to provide that answer in this iteration, pitching him as a Flash fanboy betrayed in his own mind by his hero. He does this in clever fashion splitting some of the first half of the issue, giving Googe the chance to bring Barry’s first interaction with Thawne to life, where the 25th Century is a much brighter, more vibrant place. This portion of the story is told from Barry’s perspective only. To counterbalance that, Sook takes on the flashback that occur during his return trip in chasing down his opposite number, and this is presented from Thawne’s point of view, at least in terms of filling in the blanks that Barry was not aware of. In between all of this storytelling from our warring pairs is DiGiandomenico doing his usual energetic and exciting work.
It’s a fun issue that continues a pretty solid run of comics from Williamson. I’m particularly happy with how he continues to move further away from the tragedy that has defined Barry ever since Geoff Johns retooled the character so many years ago. When the run began, I was getting concerned that in order to line up with television series, we’d see Barry continue to be pushed and pulled by his angst regarding this act. But since the first arc, we’ve seen Williamson and company push into other areas, like playing effectively with one of the richest rogues galleries in comics, and giving Iris more airtime than she’s had in years. I’m pleased to say that, even when faced with the man who killed his mother, Barry barely gives it a cursory mention, and his only major outburst about it is where it’s most appropriate: learning that Thawne caused all this pain in his life (and the lives of others) all over a dumb slight.
I also remain intrigued by the changes that have occurred in the 25th Century between the time that The Flash was first there and when he returned. What caused them? Was it an action of his? Or perhaps does it dovetail with the manipulation of history that Thawne has noticed over the past few outings and explicitly points out by issue’s end? And just what’s going to happen now that the cat is out of the bag with Iris? I’m really into where this is going.
A good superhero comic making great use of a team of artists in ways that make sense. Something that’s actually more rare than I’d like to admit.
- On paper, Batman/Elmer Fudd #1 sounds like your worst nightmare of what these Looney Tunes crossovers should be: a fully grim take on that cast of characters that turns them all into humans (though more in the Chester Gould-mold admittedly) hanging out a dive bar in Gotham City. It sounds particularly unappealing after the fun romps of the previous weeks, specifically the Bugs Bunny/Legion comic and the Martian Manhunter/Marvin the Martian issue that did straighter takes on the material successfully. Thankfully Tom King and Lee Weeks are the creatives tasked with this effort, and it ends up being a good deal more enjoyable than I expected. As a matter of fact, it’s kind of a hoot. Weeks gives it a sort of Year One-esque sheen, and King approaches Fudd as a sympathetic character looking to get revenge on the man he thinks ended the life of his girlfriend, Silver St. Cloud. If you could imagine something like “The Hard Goodbye” starring Elmer Fudd, you might get the gist of it. I found it a little challenging to read his dialogue, which is one of those things that just works better in audio than in text, but I feel the same way about Etrigan, so don’t mind me. It’s a good time, and is probably the only one of these Looney Tunes crossovers that doesn’t feel like it’s stretching to meet its running time. Pick it up.
- Speaking of Batman, I sure do like this Batman/The Shadow crossover. I mean, I knew I likely would, given the talent involved, but I think the idea of tying The Shadow so explicitly into Batman’s origins, specifically his training, is really nifty. Given that Batman was so heavily inspired by the pulp icon, it’s a fitting development. This is also one of the few Joker stories I feel like I’ve enjoyed in some time. I’d like to see Orlando handle that character more, as I have feeling something special could be brewing there. Great week for the Caped Crusader, and I haven’t even had a chance to read Detective Comics yet.
- Teen Titans #9 gets the title back on track after the somewhat derailing Lazarus Contract crossover. Percy continues to have a great handling on Damian, and as a huge fan of Kaldur’ahm, I love that this new arc is focused is specifically on his parentage, and unique abilities. It started to lose me a tad with Beast Boy and Starfire, as I’m not sure Percy has done quite enough to establish her place on the team and her chemistry with the rest of the teammates, but with Black Manta creeping up along the margins, it’s definitely enough to have this Aquaman fan at attention.
- Only somewhat related to this week’s releases, thanks to the recent ComiXology sale, I now have more or less a full run of Astro City to read. I’ve had the first two trades for more than 10 years and never quite made the time to read them. But now I’ve got tons of it, and can’t wait to finally dig in. Hopefully I’ll get to this week’s issue sometime soon.
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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.