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, and contributor Louie Hlad are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
THIS WEEK: Kyle checks in with the latest issue of Justice League of America and takes in the debut of the newest Etrigan-starring adventure
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.
Justice League of America #19
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Hugo Petrus
Letters: Clayton Cowles
The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine…and this was actually during my trip to London. More specifically, I was in York, walking through the winding streets of the “Capital of the North” as I was taught by my partner’s grandfather. Anyhow, I was talking to this very smart friend, who I often bounce ideas about comics off of whenever we find the time, and he told me how much he really enjoyed the previous issue of Justice League of America. Specifically, this person said that it reminded him of those prime issues of Grant Morrison’s tenure on JLA, a run that I have some very strong fondness for (frankly, I like that entire volume, even what comes after Grant’s run, give or take that not so hot vampire story by Claremont and Byrne).
So I went back to the hotel after a long day of traveling, and after pulling together a few other writing assignments I had, I popped open my digital reader and took in the newest effort by Steve Orlando and this arc’s artist Hugo Petrus, and no surprise, he was absolutely right. And with issue #19, you can basically pump that up to 11, as the set-up is basically out of the way and we’re down into the nitty-gritty of Prometheus’ plans, which involve trapping Killer Frost in a freezing room, making The Atom incorporeal, pitting his henchman Afterthought in a brutal contest against the team’s two brawlers Black Canary and Lobo, and the arch-villain himself using mass media and the mob mentality to drive a wedge between Vixen and the public that had at that point adored her.
I’ve talked about much I adore Orlando’s work by and large at DC, and I will say it again, I truly think he’s the most talented dialogue writer in superhero comics. The guy knows how to craft a character voice and allow his cast to really breathe on the page. They never feel anything less than fully-formed and they each have dynamic interior lives that are made apparent through their actions, what they say, and how they say it without the need to explain to the audience every five seconds about those very details. It’s just all intuitive, written by someone who knows how to craft effective drama and adventure comics.
But when I think about what I enjoy most about this run so far, is how Orlando mixes the best of Morrison’s high concepts with a number of approaches from the Giffen-DeMatteis era, both in terms of its use of conflicting personalities to build tension between teammates but also in how it is consistently building the next story right behind the current one. In this case, we return to the heroes of Angor, or at least Bluejay and just what he’s been up to since we last saw him falling into oblivion. It turns out he found his way with Ray Palmer in the microverse and is recruiting his fellow multiversal brethren in Dreamslayer for…plans that are yet to be revealed. But this is what is so exciting about this book, how Orlando crafts out his long-term plans, but never fails to deliver on the excitement of the arc that got you to buy this issue in the first place.
And if you’re looking for exciting, this issue fits the bill in spades. I was especially fond of the juxtaposition between this bloodied-gross fight between Lobo, Black Canary, and Afterthought and how Vixen and Prometheus are literally just having a stare-down without a punch ever being thrown. But taken as a whole, this is an issue about the team being torn down utilizing their base weaknesses as established in the earlier entries in the series. Some are more literal than others, this is especially true for Killer Frost, but Orlando makes use of a well-worn trope in order to hammer home these details about his characters and their individual priorities.
It’s also worth mentioning that the issues Vixen faces in these past two issues are particularly prescient, as Orlando likely wrote them a good deal before we began to live in an era where every day brings the downfall of a new celebrity and their public persona.
The Demon: Hell is Earth #1
Writer: Andrew Constant
Artist: Brad Walker
Inker: Andrew Hennessy
Colorist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: Tom Napolitano
With the release of this series, we finally get another spotlight at one of Jack Kirby’s more iconic creations for DC. I have to admit, even as a dedicated Kirby obsessive, I’ve always had more fun looking at Demon stories than actually reading them. It probably has a lot to do with the rhyme scheme of his dialogue. For some readers, I’m certain that kind of thing is a blast…for me, total nails on the chalkboard. But ignore me, I also hate Zatanna’s spell dialogue for similar reasons. But still, those old stories sure look beautiful, and it’s hard to not find a lot of appeal in the plight of Jason Blood. I thought Paul Cornell’s use of him in the New 52 was especially inspired, if a bit short-lived. As far as in-continuity appearances go, I’m sure he’s appeared since then, but I can’t keep track of the comings and goings of every DC character despite my best efforts – so this may very well be his most recent appearance since.
Constant, a writer I can’t say I’m terribly familiar with, and Walker, an artist I have a deep affection for, bring Blood into modern day for a tale that centers on the mystery of a young girl who is faced with danger, the vision of which draws Blood into Death Valley to await answers to the ongoing nightmares that plague him. At the same time, he’s pursued by Madame Xanadu who continues to have similar visions of Etrigan and the same child. And in the third leg of the story, that child is traveling to Death Valley with her family on vacation (is that a popular vacation spot?? I’m amazed there’s a kid that would ask for that…) and suffering from nightmares of Etrigan herself. So everybody is dealing with the same shared vision.
Eventually they all come together as a missile is launched from a testing range with a nuclear payload, and it unleashes literal hell on earth and forces Jason together with this child, as well as causing Etrigan to emerge from his long dormant state, at least physically. But he’s in for quite for a surprise as the payload also separates Etrigan and Jason to some extent, with the Demon now having to be accompanied by a spectral version of his counterpart.
Honestly, that’s the probably the only exciting development of the issue, as it’s a story that puts mystery ahead of character, and in a first issue I think that’s a bit of a problem. Imagine if you walked into this having never read a Demon story in your life. You’d probably wonder what this guy’s deal is, same for Madame Xanadu, but this comic has no interest in introducing you to them or providing much background at all. In theory, this is a choice I can get behind: generic exposition is often a pitfall in introductory stories. But when you decide to omit that exposition completely, the story underneath has to be well-executed, which it isn’t. So instead of feeling like a conscious storytelling decision, that lack of exposition comes across as a little sloppy, because the mystery presented isn’t all that interesting either. This leaves the reader with nothing to grasp onto. Giving the creative team the benefit of the doubt, it’s possible this may form into a cohesive and worthwhile narrative with well developed characters sometime down the line, but you can’t withhold on both fronts in the single issue comic – that’s not how the medium works.
I still like Walker’s artwork though! Not worth the price of admission here, but it’s something to grasp onto.
- Doom Patrol #9 finally brings that comic back to shelves, and despite not being able to remember almost anything that happened in the previous issue (other than Casey getting it on with her now humanoid cat), I enjoyed it a lot in that sort of half-dazed cursory read that I gave it. I’m sure someday I’ll re-read this entire run to give it a fairer shake and think harder about its controlled madness, but right now I’m just kind of excited to see Flex Mentallo really spring into action with “Hero of the Beach” powers in tow, and the return of Mister Nobody, one of my favorite villains of all time.
- Both Action Comics and Detective Comics were keeping the pace with their fairly consistent and enjoyable runs. Tynion’s work in Detective remains probably the most solidly fun Batman comic on the stands. It lacks the formal inventiveness of Tom King’s Batman, but its strengths lie more in building an ongoing, compelling story with its new Batfamily, with the previous arc being a real high point for the run in general. This week’s issue isn’t quite as strong, with Joe Bennett’s pencils lacking the appeal of Eddy Barrows and Alvaro Martinez’s efforts. But there’s a fun bit with Killer Moth, and I’m typically always interested when Killer Moth shows up and basically gets clowned pretty quickly. Not so crazy about Tim being a dick boyfriend, which will surely come to roost pretty quickly, and drive Steph back to Anarky (gross). Action, on the other hand, brings Rob Williams in to fill-in for Dan Jurgens, and covers the aftermath of the Oz Effect storyline. It’s pretty good, though its cliffhanger is probably where a lot of my excitement is borne from.
- I’m really enjoying Chris Sebela’s issues of Blue Beetle, which in contrast to non-stop magical throwdown that Giffen and Kolins subscribed to, takes the tact of dealing more specifically with Jaime’s relationships with his friends and girlfriend. Sebela has a nice knack for that kind of material, and I like how the issue jumps through various horror movie type settings and wraps them all up together in a pretty fashion. He’s got a really cool idea at play here regarding time travel and aging, and for the first time in a while, I’m really looking forward to the newest issue of Blue Beetle…and I liked the previous run.
- Oh, and the big release of the week…how could I forget? The new trade of Kirby’s Challengers of the Unknown! I’ve had the hardcover of this for some time, but as somebody whose completionist tendencies just won’t back down, I had to get the new collection to match up with my recently acquired Mister Miracle and The Demon trades so they all match up on my shelf. The contents in of themselves are kooky 50’s science hero fun, and it’s neat to see Wally Wood inking over Kirby and how much he was able to alter Kirby’s line to match the demands of DC editorial of the time. The stories aren’t must-reads, but are worth having on your shelf as a precursor for what was to come.
- Oh wait, you thought I was talking about Doomsday Clock! Alex covered both our thoughts pretty well in his review I think, but as per usual with Geoff Johns’ brand of popcorn comics, I find them pretty exciting to read and this one didn’t disappoint. I’m not sure I really the book’s politics up-front though, and I’ve kind of felt Johns to be a bit of an apolitical writer anyway, so that part really stuck out to me. Perhaps it will be made more clear in future issues. On the other hand, adding the Watchmen version of Punch and Jewelee was a really clever touch. And no good guesses right now as to who the new Rorschach is, but maybe it’s…an unseen son of the psychiatrist from the original series?
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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.