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.
Dark Days: The Casting #1
Writers: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV
Artists: Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr.
Inkers: Scott Williams, Klaus Janson, Danny Miki
Colorist: Alex Sinclair & Jeremiah Skipper
Letterer: Steve Wands
Last month, I reviewed Dark Days: The Forge #1, the opening shot of the Scott Snyder-led Metal event, a seeming culmination of everything he’s been doing with Batman since the beginning of the New 52. I had a good time with it, though with the caveat my opinion needs to be taken with a grain of salt on these things – I love deep, deep continuity scavenger hunts. I had a few friends I spoke with after the fact that didn’t speak as highly of that initial issue, but I was really puzzled by that reaction in general. Granted, the $4.99 price tag is steep, and it requires quite a bit from the reader to keep up with all of its minutia, but it had to be the most fun I’ve had with a DC related event comic since…Final Crisis? That Metal itself is picking up on threads from The Multiversity, which is more or less a sequel to Final Crisis, which basically just means I really love anything that spawns out of that far too underappreciated event (remind me to go on at length about that someday).
Anyway, The Casting…it’s hard to not basically repeat myself from last month, as the strengths of The Forge are still present here, the creative teams are exactly the same, and the structure pretty much continues at a similar clip. I still have issues with the slight randomness at which Kubert, Lee, and Romita are all employed, though even that is fairly tight for more than half the issue (Kubert on Hawkman almost exclusively, Lee on the Duke/GL/Joker bits, and Romita covering Batman’s journey), in the backhalf it gets a little sketchier, though thematically you could make the argument that because all three threads are coming together in some way, each artist should contribute that last third. I kind of doubt that much thought was put into it, but I’m willing to accept that read on it.
The Casting differs from The Forge just a tad in terms of text as it’s a bit more of an explanatory issue. Where The Forge was a lot of strum and drang and rising action, The Casting is… also a lot of strum and drang but with more falling narrative momentum. There’s a bit more time taken to explain away some of the mysteries presented earlier on, Hawkman unveiling more of his discoveries to the reader, Batman and Wonder Woman trading prophetic warnings to one another, Talia revealing even more intrigue to Batman, and even the Joker gets in on the act – standing around with his hand in his pocket, just to tell Duke and Green Lantern why he’s in the batcave in the first place. I jest a bit, but this is the “sit down, I’ve got things to tell you issue”. I think that might be the missing factor with where the previous issue may have fallen off with a number of people. The Forge was all about action and doing, The Casting is explaining and talking. In a perfect world, you’d probably have sold these two books together as a 64 page one-shot, where I think they would likely balance one another out better. I haven’t tested this theory myself, but it’s my running hypothesis. Regardless, because I’ve read the previous issue, this secondary installment is wholly more satisfying.
Again, what Snyder, Tynion and company are aiming for here is the nerdiest, most granular stuff like: re-establishing Hawkman towards the Geoff Johns template (I’m presuming the guy that died in the recent Andreyko-written mini was just a different fellow altogether), finally providing an answer for how the Joker’s face was healed in time for Endgame, tying together characters like Ra’s Al Ghul, Shazam, presumably Etrigan, Vandal Savage and others under the Immortal Men banner, merging Greek Myth with Thanagarian elements, bringing back Cadmus and Dubbilex, finally perhaps, finding a superhero identity for Duke…something perhaps a bit more fitting than the Lark name we all figured was in his future; and at the heart of it all, the very mystery that is driving both Carter Hall in the past, and Bruce Wayne in the present.
I think what I’m admiring most about both this issue and the one that preceded it, is that it’s attempting to find a connective through-line for a number of different concepts that make sense, without an overly forced revamp that might, for example, make the Challengers of the Unknown more relevant to the times. Whereas something like the Marvel universe was very organic in its construction and its seeds were the braintrust of a few individuals…so much of DC’s lore is a collection of mostly original, standalone characters along with a lot of properties they purchased along the way. While I think a lot of the charm of the DCU is just how workshopped quite a bit of their mythos is, a lot of the D-level properties like the Blackhawks often end up untouched because they don’t quite fit into the go-to puzzle pieces and conflicts. But, ever the good concept man, Snyder (and Tynion and Lee and so on) are working overtime to “Wold Newton” – there’s a word I haven’t used in a long time – together a common thread that places together a number of these characters all within the same breathing space. It’s not that this is the first time this sort of thing has been tried, but this is also one of the better attempts at it I’ve seen. Maybe I’m just a big DC mark, but I get tickled at the idea that someone thought to tie together Hawkman and the Blackhawks, and took advantage of the idea of the Halls’ constant reincarnations beyond just a way to fix Hawkman’s continuity woes.
And he even adds to it all, finding a way to rope Batman, and even what I think is Barbatos/The Hyper-Adapter, into this ancient conflict of Hawks vs Bats. Once you start to think about the ramifications of Batman possibly being inspired by this dark force of nature on the terrifying backend of the multiverse, it really gets the brain working overtime. That sort of comic-booking is my bread and butter.
The book isn’t without a few minor kvetches, namely I really could have done without that Silencer namedrop from Talia, which screamed DARK MATTER SPIN-OFF!, but these two issues taken together as an even stronger whole have got to be the most promising lift-off for a mainstream comics event I’ve seen in quite a while.
And hey, in a turnaround from last month, the Kubert pages were my favorite this week. What do you know?
Wonder Woman #26
Writer: Shea Fontana
Artist: Mirka Andolfo
Colorist: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
Coming right off the just completed Rucka-Sharp-Evely run, I figured I’d hold off on writing about Wonder Woman for the foreseeable future, but with a new creative team coming on board in the form of DC Super Hero Girls creator Shea Fontana and Mirka Andolfo, this seemed an easy enough thing to wrap my very tired pre-SDCC brain around. This was my first exposure to Fontana’s work at all, though I had some second-hand familiarity through a buddy of mine who enjoys reading DC Super Hero Girls with his young daughter, which incidentally had a book called “Finals Crisis” (bringing it back to the same subject matter I need to one day return to, as stated above).
Fontana has the unenviable task of following an all-time great run of Wonder Woman comics, but somebody always has to, and she picks up the torch by pulling Diana in a completely different direction than her predecessor. Instead of shattering revelations and mythological figures, Fontana and Andolfo turn their focus on an internal voyage of a sort. With Diana now having come to grips with her past, she has returned to her role as a sort of Ambassador of Peace – working alongside the US Government and Steve Trevor to assist in refuge camps like the one in Greece that opens this story. We then follow along, as Wonder Woman talks through the struggles of war with an unnamed General, before running into Etta Candy who invites her to her brother’s wedding. One ominous visit with a seemingly overworked doctor later and we get to join Diana in a rare sight – a social situation by way of those very nuptials. But it’s not long before the tranquility of that moment is disturbed by an all too unwelcome sight.
That sums the major present day action, the issue also includes a flashback, which is likely where the main thematic meat of this burgeoning “Heart of the Amazon” story will continue to build. We see a very young Diana being forced to learn an early lesson regarding her mother’s expectations for the girl she currently is and the woman she’ll become. Growing up as the only girl within an island of warriors is surely a difficult prospect, with the expectation that she’ll pick up weaponry and not dolls, and explicitly Fontana frames it as such, though it’s not wholly clear how this flashback will necessarily connect to the larger context of whatever conflict Wonder Woman will be facing next. More to come. This could go somewhere fairly intriguing, but having just sort of worn through the path of 24 issues of redefining Diana, with two arcs worth of flashback, it’s hard not to be a little exhausted at the prospect of more the same ground being covered.
While the idea of Wonder Woman tackling a more grounded threat, and dealing with the existential issues of war as it impact humanity and the role she plays in it, appeals to me, there’s just something about this issue that I had difficulty connecting with. It’s a very decompressed story that I think would have served better at a longer length, say as its own Supergirl: Being Super style mini. You can tell Fontana has something worth discussion on her mind regarding the character and her role within the world at large, but this first issue doesn’t really scratch enough beyond the surface to give a reader much of a sense of what that might be. Andolfo’s art is clear and appealing, reminding me a bit of today’s Chris Bachalo, but she doesn’t get a lot to really chew on either.
First issues are probably the toughest thing in comics, and maybe even doubly so when that first issue falls in the middle of a run of superhero comics that come loaded with their expectations and hopes from a pre-existing fanbase. Sad to say, this just isn’t one of those books that inspires much passion out of me at all, nor do I really feel much urge to make a return visit. I’m certain I will, as I read just about everything Wonder Woman related, but this initial chapter doesn’t fill me with much hope that this’ll be more than a brief pit-stop before the next big event in the character’s evolution.
- I don’t think there’s any part of the DC lineup that’s fallen further in my estimation than Superwoman right now. While Phil Jimenez was running the show, I thought it was the unsung hero of the Superman titles. But since he left, K. Perkins and Stephen Segovia have been left with the quagmire that is this character that only sort of fits the current Superman status quo, though it hasn’t really been explained how (which I guess is finally coming next issue? Who knows?). In the meantime, we’ve been treated to this fairly droll story about Steel’s brother and his hatred for Skyhook, with John Henry, Natasha, and Lana all filling in the middle. It frankly just has just meandered for the past few issues, and mercifully came to a close this week. Perkins was one of the later New 52 highlights I thought, with her blink and you’d miss it stint on Supergirl, but she and Segovia were given a thankless job here in trying to continue the story of a character whose origin as a superhero is deeply tied into an event that didn’t happen anymore. There’s probably a really cool story to be told with that idea, actually, but what we’ve gotten the past few months feels more like a placeholder. Regardless, I’m happy to see this is a book that’s being continued, perhaps once this issue is done away with next month (hopefully), we can finally see some forward momentum for the character again. She’s facing Maxima per the solicits for September, that sounds fun!
- I absolutely adore Bug!: The Adventures of Forager and I think about it often, but I have trouble putting those thoughts into words because such a unique little comic. Far be it from me to try and summarize the thing with any clarity. To say the least, I’m always up for an appearance by the old Kirby character Atlas, and along the way we get a bit more of a look into the emotional journey and discovery of self that Forager is undertaking. Also the twist regarding Chagra’s identity is great! Just about all these Young Animal comics are worth the price of admission, this one just happens to have that great Madman vibe, that it gets a little extra oomph every time I read a new issue.
- I also found this week’s Justice League of America and The Flash to both be recommendable, the former is especially neat since its got bit of a Twilight Zone premise, but with superheroes crashing into it. That Steve Orlando knows his way around a comic.
- I’m out for the next two weeks due to SDCC, though you’ll see a number of other updates from me on this very site as per usual. Don’t burn the house down while I’m gone.
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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. He really loves the Legion of Super-Heroes a lot.