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! This week, Kyle takes the helm.
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.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #8
Writers: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Kenneth Rocafort
Colorist: Dan Brown
Letterer: Taylor Esposito
The other day, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about our current reading habits and I mentioned the fact that I am reading literally every DC book currently. That friend was astonished, “Even Titans? Even Red Hood?” to which I responded in the affirmative. As a long time DC fan, there’s something particularly appealing to me about everything the publisher is doing and attempting to do with Rebirth. The excitement that makes Batman and Aquaman two of the books that I’m loving to read week in and week out has also acted like a rising tide lifting all boats for some of the lesser books. But there’s always going to a be a few that are at the bottom of my pile, for example Cyborg, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, and the aforementioned Red Hood and the Outlaws.
This week I thought I’d take a look at one of those titles that has given me some trouble and see if its perhaps improved a bit, or is basically worth completely giving up on. Keep in mind, I’m still reading this stuff and probably will keep on, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
When we think of questionable comics, it’s best to start with the guy who generally catches most fans’ and critics’ ire: Scott Lobdell.
Much like every other comics reviewer, I’ve taken my fair share of shots at Mr. Lobdell’s comics. And the last time Alex and I dug into the Rebirth issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws, I recall specifically citing that Dexter Soy’s art was literally the only reason to read the book. Yet, somehow, I kept coming back to it. I’m not sure if it was out of affection for Jason Todd, or some sort of admiration for the novelty of the “Dark Trinity” or whatever it might be, but I started to come around on this book. Then last month’s issue happened, where Jason and Bizarro have a basically issue-long heart to heart convo, and I realized I was maybe reading Lobdell’s best issue (that I’ve read) since his tenure at DC. There was actual emotion and engaging dialogue, and I found that I actually cared about Bizarro’s plight and Jason’s own change of heart. In that moment, perhaps, I became Jason Todd, no longer with a gun pointed at the back of this title’s head but with a begrudging appreciation for what its creators were trying to do.
This, of course, now leads up to this week’s Issue #8, which kicks off the “Who is Artemis?” storyline. I don’t have a ton of grounding in the character, so I welcomed this spin on the “Who is Donna Troy?” type story we seem to get regarding Amazons every 10 years or so. Basically this is a tale that picks up the ongoing Bow of Ra subplot that’s been percolating in the background of Red Hood since Artemis first popped up on the scene.
The majority of the issue is framed through a bar conversation between Jason and Artemis after capturing the (long-missing) Bat-foe Cornelius Stirk – a guy that was nightmare fuel when I was a pre-teen reading Knightfall. Artemis then regales her partner with her background, and her place within Amazonian culture. I found this to be a neat little pocket of unturned continuity, the idea that there was a splinter group of Amazons living in the desert in a “holy land” type of setting that informs the sort of warrior that Artemis is, while also setting her firmly apart from Wonder Woman. We also meet her friend from adolescence, Akila, who was both her closest confidante and biggest competitor for the title of Shim’Tar aka the champion of their people. Eventually they’re parted due to the machinations of the gods, Artemis leaves for a nomadic existence, and then all heck breaks loose causing her to come back and come face to face with Wonder Woman, a possessed Akila and the very Bow of Ra that has been driving her intentions throughout this series thus far.
This issue seems to present both the best and worst of Lobdell writing tendencies. When he’s dealing with the tougher, more brutish dialogue of the Amazons, you can sense him struggling a bit to balance that sense of regalness with his typical sarcastic side. It makes for an odd mix, and throws off what could be a pretty interesting little tale. On the other hand, the writer has a real knack for Jason, his manner of speaking and his general personality in terms of bouncing off the straight-(wo)man in Artemis. The back and forth between both leads is pretty fun to read and highlights what works best when this title clicks into place. The Wonder Woman confrontation really doesn’t work at all, falling into cliché pretty quickly. Also, Kenneth Rocafort hops on board for this issue (maybe even the whole arc, I haven’t bothered to check the solicits), and often I’m a fan of what he brings to a book – especially where a more celestial sort-of action is involved. Here, we see him in a bit of a different mold than I’m recently used to, and I think he adapts well to the confines of a narrated story. The bar scenes have some well rendered presentations of conversation and I’m especially fond of how Jason personality shines through in his repartee with Artemis. Things tend to take a turn for the south whenever he’s enlisted to handle the action sequences, especially in that already struggling confrontation between Artemis and Wonder Woman. There’s a very Aspen/male-gaze vibe that I think could have been approached better, though I’m not wholly certain who might be the blame for that unfortunate choice.
It also just kind of ends suddenly and haltingly in order to move on to the actual first part of the story (which this is the prelude).
I have to admit, my nit-picks aside, I do enjoy reading this book more than I should. Jason Todd, as the sort of “extreme” Batman character is a decent fit for Lobdell’s scripting, and now that he’s relegated to just that character rather than working with the original Outlaws line-up that populated the initial New 52 series, he’s seemed to have found a solid niche. It’s not high art, but I’ll take it.
Final Verdict: Browse
Writer: Phil Jimenez
Artist: Jack Herbert & Stephen Segovia
Letterer: Josh Reed
While the Superman line is easily the “most improved” of the entire DC Rebirth relaunch, I feel like Phil Jimenez’s work on Superwoman has flown under the radar. This little tale of Lana Lang and her dangerous powerset and the emotional toil it takes on her already existing personal demons has proven to be one of the most compelling DC titles offered.
Jimenez and his roster of artists that have hopped in whenever a fill-in is required, basically presented a really fun two-prong story that focuses a lot on the outskirts of the Superman mythos. You got your Atomic Skull spotlight, an army of Bizarros, easily the best Lex Luthor story of the past year (including a terrific new wrinkle to his family’s backstory through the introduction of a frightening nemesis that eclipses his own brand of menace), and of course a further fleshing out of the great work that Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder began through the relationship of Lana and John Henry Irons. In short, it was a beautifully dense superhero tale that I think did wonders for those of us that want to just wallow in the Superman cast without the grand shadow that he all too often casts – plus there’s a really good Superman title currently that gives you all you need of him, let’s be real.
I’m getting all weepy about it because Issue #8 is Jimenez’s last go-round with these characters, and while I understand he’s leaving a little earlier than he initially anticipated, his send-off is a lovingly crafted capper that leaves the incoming creative team some intriguing places to go with all aspects of its ensemble cast.
The issue is advertised as a Superman Reborn tie-in, and it is, in that Lana – still in a coma from the events of the preceding issue, is faced with the “literal” specters of her past, specifically the younger deceased Lois and the long-gone New 52 Superman. While there’s some level of back and forth regarding the nature of their relationship and Lana’s emotional well-being, the most intriguing bit is how Jimenez pitches Lana as someone who is aware that the universe is literally conspiring against her for the benefit of Clark and Lois, who constantly nab the spotlight away. It’s a really nice metafictional touch for a character who has always played second fiddle to Lois and in a larger sense Clark, no matter the medium. Sure, we all know that Superman is the star of the show, and occasionally Lois and Jimmy get their own spotlight (and/or title), but it’s neat to see a character that is actively angry about that status quo and expresses that outwardly even if she’s powerless to do anything about it.
This is later countered with two sets of confrontations, one between the New 52 Lois and Lana, battling back and forth about Lana’s struggles and how much she echoes the sort of self-pitying attitude of Lena Luthor. That scene is then buoyed by one that finds Lex and Lena having their final tête-à-tête, where Lex and Lena are completely unable to reach an understanding of one another, leading to a pretty dark decision made by one sibling toward another. In contrast, Lana has to come to self-actualization through this presence of Lois and Clark. It’s an ending that produces a number of questions: Are they really there within Lana? Are Lois and Clark now one with the red energy powers? They seem to indicate as much, but where exactly did they come from and how does this tie into the events of Superman Reborn? Perhaps those answers will come in the next few weeks as that status quo changing story continues to unfold, but the larger point that’s germane to Superwoman’s ongoing concerns is that for once, Lana was allowed to be the star of her own show and was able to fly as equals with Lois and in some ways, get a chance to even eclipse her. She’s a new person now, and perhaps all of this will be undone or revamped, or rethought for better or worse with incoming writer K. Perkins (I enjoyed her Supergirl run, so I expect good things), but for one bright shining moment, Lana was the most important superhero of Metropolis.
What a wonderful adventure it was.
Final Verdict: Buy
- The biggest issue to hit this week was Action Comics #975, which finally brought to bear the reveal of the Clark Kent that had been floating about in the periphery of that title, and had grown increasingly erratic as the issues ticked on. By the time you read this, his true identity may already be spoiled for you. I’m not going to do that here, I know we’re generally pretty open about spoilers in this article, but this is a reveal that’s been building for almost a year, so I refuse to ruin it. Needless to say, it’s a satisfying reveal, though made moreso by the backup tale written by Paul Dini that provides the context that it needed whereas the main story upfront with always welcome Doug Mahnke art is quite action heavy, with multiple full-page splashes that are really impressive on their own, but I might have felt a little cheated if that backup didn’t follow. Kudos to all involved for keeping that secret under wraps so well and keeping us all guessing.
- While I don’t imagine I’m going to give up on a Young Animal title just yet, I think Mother Panic is really pushing its luck with me. Rather than the controlled chaos of Doom Patrol or the smooth psychedelia of Shade the Changing Girl, Mother Panic #4 continues the trend of jagging random story elements together inelegantly and creates a reading experience that’s tough to get engaged in. I’m certain to see this arc to its conclusion, but I’m not sure if I can take too much more without some kind of sustained reason to stick around beyond “Batwoman, but not that fun and with f-bombs”. And as much as I love Phil Hester’s art, that back-up story is not my cup of tea at all.
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