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.
Writer: Tony Bedard
Penciller: Tom Derenick
Inkers: Trevor Scott and Sean Parsons
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Superhero comics are one of the purest distillations of capitalist art. As anyone privy to the constant reboots and marketing tricks can tell you, characters ranging from Captain America to Batman to Flex Mentallo are as much symbols as they are fictional people. They’re a shorthand for a particular idyllic archetype that many people aspire to mold themselves into. That makes their brands marketable on everything from t-shirts to mugs to keychains. And as much as they are symbols to us, they’re also symbolic of a brand greater than themselves. The biggest superheroes are, by and large, company mascots– just like KFC’s Colonel Sanders. And so could it make any more sense that a team-up between the Colonel and DC’s greatest heroes would be one of the greatest superhero comics of the modern age?
For the past three years, DC Comics has released an annual special that sees Colonel Sanders team up with DC’s greatest superheroes. The first issue saw the Colonel team up with the Justice League to take down his Earth-3 doppleganger, Colonel Sunders. The second comic saw Colonel Sunders and Colonel Grodd team up in order to erase parts of KFC’s secret fried chicken formula from the many Colonel Sanders of the multiverse. Now Colonel Sanders has returned with a new plan: to establish KFC franchises across the universe. To do this, he’s teamed up with the Green Lantern corps to send probes containing KFC “zinger” sandwiches to planets across the distant stars. However, things go awry when the probes reach their destinations without their tasty fried samplers.
There’s something incredibly innocent but also disturbing about how earnestly these comics portray Colonel Sanders as a hero of the multiverse. This comic begins with the Colonel rescuing one of his probes when a test launch from Earth goes wrong. Isn’t it strange that the owner of an international corporation has his own space program? Isn’t it even weirder that Colonel uses his friendship with Hal Jordan to rope the entirety of an intergalactic police force into helping the Colonel establish KFC franchises across the universe? Don’t get me wrong– I love fried chicken and I grew up on KFC biscuits– but seriously, this plan has got to set a new standard for cultural imperialism.
Does the dangerous morality make Green Lantern co-starring Colonel Sanders a bad book? Honestly, I think it depends on the perspective you approach it from. It’s hugely problematic that the morality of the Colonel’s actions isn’t questioned by anyone. Then again, this book is the product of a corporate partnership, so there’s no way anything critical of the Colonel’s capitalist empire was going to make it past the censors, anyways. But that’s why I am here– to point these things out to you and to say that while I think the core ideology of the book is off-base and should not be taken at face value, I think this crossover book is surprisingly enjoyable nonetheless.
I get that this opinion might spark intense disagreement– indeed, stories have immeasurable power over the way we think and feel. But I think that, in addition to being a superficially entertaining book, the overly earnest presentation of Green Lantern co-starring Colonel Sanders makes the book oddly provocative. I think we often forget, in our fandom and love of our superheroes, that the core reason why we keep getting stories featuring our favorite characters is because it keeps us buying. We’ve been getting Bruce Wayne Batman stories for over 75 years because our society’s love of the character is so intense that printing Batman comics is tantamount to printing money. However, it’s easy to ignore that faction behind the veneer of a solid story. Not true here, though. Unlike Bruce Wayne, Colonel Sanders is far more of a symbol than he is a fictional person. We’ve seen his brand infinitely more than we’ve seen his character. Thus, to see him characterized is actually a jarring and revealing journey because it lies opposite to our expectations and thus forces us to reconsider the entirety of the universe around him– in this case, the DC universe. Never is the corporate nature of the superhero machine more naked than when its heroes are working in tandem with a corporate mascot who basically never gets any characterization outside of these stories and some 30 second commercials.
Should you buy into the ideology of Green Lantern co-starring Colonel Sanders? In my opinion, no. Should you read it, though? Absolutely. Every one of these free crossover titles has been an enjoyable read and inspired a fascinating think about the culture we find ourselves mired in.
Writer: Tom King
Penciller: Clay Mann
Inkers: Danny Miki with John Livesay & Clay Mann
Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
There’s no way to talk about this book without spoiling it, so let’s get that out of the way right now. This is the Batman comic I’ve been dreaming of since the start of this run last year: it’s “the Ballad of Kite-Man.”
For months now, I’ve been watching this goofball pop up in Batman issue after Batman issue. He’s a villain who has no powers to speak of and very little proficiency in anything related to crime. He just has his kites and an adorable penchant for repeating his name as he gets his teeth kicked in by Batman again and again. And that’s great and innocent fun– or at least…it was. In this Batman story, we get the origin story of my favorite Batman villain. It’s far more tragic than anyone could have expected.
At the start of the War of Jokes and Riddles, Charles Brown (yes, like the Peanuts character), is a relatively normal guy surrounded by forces far more dangerous than him. At some point before the war, Charles, who “studied wind” in college, worked on the aerodynamics of the Joker’s Jokermobile. He was the only one of four collaborators to survive the partnership with the clown prince of crime, which has made him a target for a Batman desperate to end the War of Jokes and Riddles before it takes any more lives. Before he knows it, he’s caught in the middle of three hurricanes– the Joker’s, Batman’s, and the Riddler’s. He’s blown this way and that way over and over. He’s useful so he keeps surviving the run-ins with these forces of nature, but he’s powerless to exert any control over his own situation.
In many ways, Batman’s story is a pure power fantasy. When he was a child, Bruce Wayne was ripped from the comfort of his wealthy nest and exposed to the sheer chaos of the world– money could do a great deal for the Waynes, but it couldn’t stop the shots that rang out in Crime Alley that night. And so Bruce trained. He studied and traveled and learned to fight. He mastered his own body and mind in the hopes that he might be able to take control over human nature, which he views as fundamentally selfish and cruel. To change the course of nature, he shirked his manhood became a force of nature himself– taking the form of a bat to strike fear into the hearts of the men beneath him. And when Batman is soaring through the clouds from rooftop to rooftop, all men are beneath him. So why would he pay any more mind to Charles Brown than he needed to? In the end, Charles is a pawn at best and collateral damage at worst.
Of course, when Charles’ son is murdered by the Riddler, Batman sympathizes. He promises to capture the Riddler and end this war– but how often has he used this line? How often has he failed? Bruce means every word that he says, but why would Charles believe him? He’s just one more pawn, after all. Like the kite he flew with his son, Charles is completely subject to the whims of the wind. He was such a powerless subject that his own son died and there was nothing that he could have done to stop it. Only the kings and queens– the hurricanes sweeping across the board– have power here.
So what’s a powerless man who’s been rendered impotent by cruel and angry gods to do? What can you do when you’re just a subject in this kingdom of feuding lords? Well, you do what Bruce did– you become a lord yourself. Or, at least, that’s Charles’ train of thought as he assembles a kite in his basement and later proudly declares his supervillain name to the Joker. He thinks a costume and a gimmick will allow him to take some of his power back.
The sad thing is, though, even Kite-Man’s gimmick is self-defeating. He’s not a bat– he doesn’t fly. He’s not the Joker– the card that upends the rules of every game it’s played in. He’s not even the Riddler, preying upon the subjectivity of language and truth. Charles is still a kite, only able to fly at the whim of the winds that surround him. His costume is a safety blanket. It’s a comforting delusion. A walking tragedy who is doomed to forever have the football ripped from under him at the moment he least suspects it.
It’s a beautiful story, isn’t it?
Final Verdict: Buy
- Unfortunately I’ve gotta wrap things up early this week because I’m busy with prep for SDCC, but stay tuned to the Beat all week long for all the coverage you know you’ll be craving.
- A quick shout out to Batwoman #5, which is kicking off a new arc this week; Aquaman #26, which continues to feature Stejpan Sejic doing some of the best work of his artistic career; and Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye #10, which is still one of the coolest looking comics in the DC lineup.
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