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! Kyle is gallivanting around Italy right now, so Alex is in charge for the next two weeks!
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: Joshua Williamson
Artist: Howard Porter
Letterer: Steve Wands
Hot on the heels of last week’s Batman #21, the mystery of “The Button” continues with this week’s issue of The Flash. It’s interesting to juxtapose these two books together because while the idea makes sense from a narrative perspective, these titles have almost nothing in common stylistically. This makes The Flash #21 an incredibly jarring read that is equal parts exciting and frustrating.
While if you are going to put Batman and The Flash into a crossover, it makes sense to keep these series’ respective writers, Tom King and Joshua Williamson could not be operating on more discordant frequencies here. Where Batman #21 functioned as a prologue to “The Button,” decompressing its 24 pages into what essentially amounts to a single fight scene, Williamson makes an active effort to pack as much as possible into The Flash #21. Every page in this book is simply stuffed with captions. Barry’s thoughts about Reverse-Flash. Barry’s thoughts about the mysterious force looking over the DC Universe. A recap of Barry’s life and even a small recap of the DC Universe Rebirth special. It’s all in this book and man, it is a lot to digest– not all of the exposition feels necessary, either. I’ve always felt like Williamson was needlessly wordy on his run on The Flash, but my problems with his writing style are exacerbated when he’s co-writing a story with King. Or perhaps co-writing is the wrong word– these two issues are so differently paced and written that they feel like they’re reaching for two totally different audiences.
The discordant feeling isn’t contained to the writing, either. In last week’s issue of Batman, artist Jason Fabok visually structured most of the issue in homage to Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbon’s work on Watchmen. The pacing and usage of the nine panel grid structure felt well-considered and was quite effective. Even colorist Brad Anderson got in on the Watchmen homage game, heavily incorporating the smiley face button’s red, yellow, and black into the general palette of the issue. All that consideration has gone out the window in The Flash #21.
While I like Howard Porter’s artwork and Hi-Fi’s colors, they’re stylistic opposites to Fabok’s and Anderson’s work. Fabok’s art is representational whereas Porter’s art is more haphazard and sketchy. It seemed like Anderson paid special attention to the colors in Batman #21 to lean into the Watchmen vibe while Hi-Fi used his traditional effervescently neon color palette in The Flash #21. Even the layouts in The Flash #21 feel like they come out of a typical issue of the series rather than a special event. While this doesn’t necessarily make The Flash #21 bad, I can’t help but feel like the more atypical feel that Batman #21 strikes when compared to the issues of the series that came before it make it a much stronger read.
And that’s a little sad given how much actually happens in The Flash #21. We get to see the Cosmic Treadmill make a return in all its glory. We get to see Batman and The Flash travel through time and encounter some incredibly important moments from DC Comics’ long overwritten past. We finally get to see one of my favorite characters from Flashpoint make a return. The ideas in The Flash #21 carry a lot of momentum, but the execution feels so distinct and arguably flawed when compared to Batman #21 that it makes me feel like I’m reading two fundamentally different but tangentially related stories rather than a single united one.
Finally, it’s interesting to realize that we’re already a year out for the DC Universe Rebirth #1 special that proved to be the catalyst for this crossover mini-event. It shows us how far we’ve come, yet how little we’ve actually traveled from a narrative perspective. You could pick up Batman #21 and The Flash #21 immediately after reading DC Universe Rebirth #1 without reading any of the other issues in either superhero series and the storyline would make just as much sense. It forces me to question: how much do the events of these individual DC titles matter to the grand scheme of the universe? Does it actually matter if they don’t effect things on a grander scale?
Final Verdict: Browse
Writer: Gerard Way
Penciller: Nick Derington
Inker: Tom Fowler
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain
Letterer: Todd Klein
All cards on the table: I’m a huge Gerard Way apologist. My Chemical Romance was my favorite band growing up and The Umbrella Academy was one of the first American comics I ever read– the series remains one of my favorites to this day. That said, when I say that Doom Patrol #6 marks a stunning end to the first arc of a great series, I don’t say it lightly. Over the course of six issues, Way and artist Nick Derington along with colorist Tamra Bonvillain and letterer Todd Klein have crafted a story that will be known for its weirdness, but will ultimately resonate because of the compassionate heart that lies at the series’ core.
Make no mistake, Doom Patrol is not a very accessible title. A large part of its strength lies in a sense of continuity with previous runs on the property, with Grant Morrison’s and Richard Case’s run playing a particularly important role. However, even new readers who may find themselves a bit out of their depths at times will find something to love in lead character Casey Brinke. As a totally new character to the Doom Patrol universe, her perspective is the perspective of all new readers. It’s easy to imagine her feeling as distraught or confused by concepts like Dannyland or the Muscle Man of Mystery as some readers might be, but her enthusiasm for new opportunities and excitement for life is infectious. It encourages the reader to stick with the title even in its strangest periods if only so we can see how Casey will use the challenges she’s faced with to grow and improve herself. Over the course of the first six issues, Casey has grown from an above-average EMT ambulance driver to a way-awesome superhero and if nothing else, her journey has been one worth watching.
However, for readers more familiar with the world of Doom Patrol, the end of this arc marks the reunion of the vast majority of the Doom Patrol’s core team. We finally have Robotman, Jane, Larry Trainor, and even Flex Mentallo in the same room again and that’s huge. However, the way they were ultimately reunited was a little off-putting to me. Over the course of the last five issues, the series built to a pretty stunning climax that focused on Casey’s relationship with Danny and the world at large, but that journey isn’t even allowed to conclude in this issue before the Doom Patrol finds themselves in the middle of a dessert compound where one of Jane’s many personalities has started a cult and concocted a grand plan to gain full control over Jane’s body. This conceit feels like a full second arc, but it begins and ends within the confines of this chapter. All in all, this little adventure feels somewhat rushed, but it also does fit into this arc’s goal to reunite the Doom Patrol. And hey, it’s a wonderful feeling to know that the core team will finally be going on adventures again.
Nick Derington and Tamra Bonvillain continue to do an incredible job with rendering the world of Doom Patrol. I don’t know if I’ve made this comparison before, but reading Doom Patrol feels like I’m watching a Saturday morning cartoon. The book is packed to the brim with pastels and bright colors that give Derington’s relatively exaggerated art style a childish and wondrous flair. Even at the book’s darkest and most dramatic moments, the whole affair feels like it’s more interested in having fun than building tension. While that’s not a winning formula for all series, I think it definitely works here.
Those who follow the comics news cycle will know Doom Patrol has been plagued with more delays than any other Young Animal title. There were even rumors that it was being cancelled. However, while these scheduling issues have made it difficult for me to keep up with the series at times, based upon what I’ve read over these first six issues, I hope Doom Patrol goes on to have a long and happy tenure with this creative team. This book is madness mixed with unbridled joy. It’s the product of minds who know that comics should be fun and that anything is possible. It’s the perfect uplifting title for an uncertain time.
Final Verdict: Buy
It’s been a long week for me so I haven’t had the chance to dig into as many of this week’s books as I would like to, but I do want to take a moment to recommend Supergirl: Being Super #3, which is out today. Earlier this week, I interviewed series writer Mariko Tamaki about the book and I gotta say– this is one of the best titles DC has released over the course of the last year. It presents a very different take on Kara Danvers’ teenage years than what we’re used to, but this version of Kara is incredibly relatable. Her story here is moving and vulnerable in ways that we rarely get to see in comics about people with these Herculean powers. If you buy one book this week, make it this one.
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