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.
Justice League of America Rebirth #1
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Ivan Reis
Inker: Joe Prado and Oclair Albert
Colorist: Marcelo Maiolo
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Alex and I have gone over this a number of times, so I won’t belabor the point very much, but Steve Orlando is my favorite writer at DC right now. While you can make great arguments for Tom King or Scott Snyder or Greg Rucka or Christopher Priest (feel free to suggest anyone you’d like), there’s just something so appealing to me in how Orlando expertly balances action, dialogue that never feels cumbersome or forced, and a deep understanding of DC mythos in a way that aligns perfectly within confines of the story he’s telling. Orlando has the goods, bottom line. And while I certainly enjoyed the recently completed Justice League vs. Suicide Squad crossover, they seemed completely overshadowed by the high quality Justice League of America one-shots that were released at the same time.
Over the past month, Orlando (along with co-writer Jody Houser and a number of artists) teamed to reintroduce a diverse line-up of heroes including the Ryan Choi iteration of the Atom, Vixen, a newly heroic if morally complex Killer Frost, and The Ray (who is now gay, owing a bit to the version that popped up in the Mastermen chapter of The Multiversity). The keen-eyed among you will also note that these characters each play a significant role in the continually growing CW-television universe/Arrowverse – though the animated take on The Ray has not yet debuted. So, in effect, this new team does double duty for the publisher, as much like Green Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl all take on an approach that’s friendly for the tv-audience, there’s a bit of a Legends of Tomorrow-type element to this initial line-up of the newly formed Justice League of America. Toss in Black Canary, Lobo, and of course Batman – whose reason for being here is a fairly solid, and you’ve got a relate-able and diverse line-up that can provide the basis for a staggering run.
As a debut issue/introductory prologue, this Rebirth chapter is probably one of the most successful of the lot. Whereas long-time readers will remember how much we bemoaned the toss-off nature of most of those kick-off issues – and frankly, many of them read as if they were written after the first issues proper, this is a Rebirth installment that plays a integral role in that it uses its narrative real estate to provide details on how Batman has gathered this unlikely band of heroes.
The story picks up where the Killer Frost one-shot left off, with Batman overseeing her release from Amanda Waller, and their subsequent revitalization of the old Happy Harbor facility, which hasn’t been seen since Forever Evil, which will serve as the headquarters for this new Batman-formed team under auspices that “everyone deserves a chance to be a hero”. It’s from that message that Batman glommed off of Killer Frost from the concluding events of Justice League vs. Suicide Squad that provides the spark for everything that occurs next. From there, we see a sheer relay of character recruitment, with Batman overseeing the lot: Killer Frost recruits Black Canary, Black Canary recruits Lobo, Lobo recruits The Atom, and it continues from there until the team holds its first meeting which sets up some intriguing character conflicts (Black Canary and Lobo’s antagonism, the team’s distrust of Killer Frost, and even a callback to the Batman/Guy Gardner butting of heads in the first issue of JLI).
I’m sure the argument could be made that little actually “happens” in this issue, but I think that somewhat misses the forest for the trees. Orlando major aim is to finally pull his various pieces into place, and then make the argument for why this team exists in the first place. All too often we’ve heard that DC heroes like Superman have a relate-ability problem. Even longtime comics readers, usually of the Marvel variety, have told me that very thing where these monolithic heroes are concerned. Superman and Wonder Woman are particularly very god-like. Orlando tackles that idea head-on in the text, with the character that most fans seem to warm to in Batman literally stating that very issue with the main Justice League team: “the world needs heroes the can know, not gods…to inspire them–show them they can be heroes”. It’s both a rebuke of the Big 7, but also an embrace of the idea that heroes that look like our multi-cultural population has tremendous value, both in-universe and for the readers that keep these books afloat. It’s a blunt message, but one I personally appreciated a good deal. I can’t wait to read more of this book, as Orlando’s handle on these characters is right on course from the outset, and the final page provides and really enticing preview of what’s to come. Sword of the Atom, anyone??!?
And, forgive me, I could talk about Ivan Reis’ art, but you know what his pencils are like. They’re basically are DC’s house-style, particularly since he was one of the artists that helped set the pace for what this new relaunch’s aesthetic would manifest itself as with his work on the initial DC Rebirth 80 pager. He continues to veer favorably towards a Neal Adams-esque approach, but smoothed out as per usual by Joe Prado. One thing that really struck me, since this was basically a book of conversations and conflicting personalities, was how many quarter page facial shots he utilized in his panel layouts. Each team member gets a lovingly drawn showcase in the bottom right hand corner of the page, creating a nice artistic pattern that seems to hit when each character achieves their moment of self-realization.
It’s a great start to the new wave of three debuting DC books this month. I highly recommend getting on board this series from the outset, it looks to be going really wild places within the margins of the DCU.
Final Verdict: Buy
Detective Comics #950
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artists: Marcio Takara, Alvaro Martinez,
Inkers: Raul Fernandez, Eber Ferreira
Colorist: Dean White, Brad Anderson, Adriano Lucas
Letterer: Marilyn Patrizio
Okay, so next time it’s my turn to review, I’m making a promise to all of you readers: I will do my darndest to not talk about Batman even once. It’s difficult to do in some respects, because I think he continues to be the character that DC has its greatest interest in and some of the most intriguing comics the publisher produces feature him and/or his family. From the radically unpredictable, in a very exciting fashion, Tom King/David Finch/Mikel Janin run on Batman, to Scott Snyder and company’s artistic showcase in All-Star Batman, there’s already an attention grabbing pair of titles occupying shelf space.
But surprisingly, I’m not sure I’d call either the best of that respective line as James Tynion IV/Eddy Barrows/Alvaro Martinez’s revamped Detective Comics may take that crown. It’s a book that I initially had some trouble with, as Tynion seemed to be trying to find a rhythm to his storytelling in the early going, particularly to establish the reasoning for this new Batfamily to be together in the first place while giving equal time to developing subplots that would make following this cast worthwhile (something that really never came together in the two weekly titles he oversaw that led to this new status quo). But somewhere in the middle of his first arc, everything started to click, and suddenly Detective Comics became one of the most enjoyable Batman books I’ve read in some time, hearkening back to my late 90’s-early 2000’s fandom for these characters. Batman was no longer the brooding loner. stuck in an oppressive relationship with the city he calls home. Instead, he’s effectively a “Bat-Dad” again and paired off with Kate Kane/Batwoman who is every bit his equal, though approaching their mission through different methods and means. Throughout the past two arcs, we’ve gotten nice spotlights on Spoiler and Clayface as well, both we unique perspectives on their place within this team. Finally with Issue #950, our focus turns to Orphan/Cassandra Cain.
I can imagine Orphan isn’t the most appealing character to write, particularly for someone who is as dialogue focused as Tynion. The silent/emotionless assassin archetype can probably be tough to meld ongoing stories around, though it’s been managed to some degree when she was in the Batgirl role under Kelley Puckett and Damion Scott, back in the day. But up until now, Tynion has shied away from her; yet, based on this issue I hope he breaks that habit, as his knack for the character is apparent right off the bat.
Comprising the majority of this oversized issue, Tynion and Marcio Takara unwind a tale of Orphan that keeps her within the shadows. She’s a silent observer of her teammates and of other people, though she longs to be able to connect through both physical and emotional expression. Cassandra is battling between how she was raised and the kind of person she now surrounds herself with regularly. There’s a particularly nice throughline of her observations and brief interaction with a ballet dancer that she admires. Her physicality is her language the ability to create art through those means is something that immediately appeals to her. Granted, the ballet instructor does not understand why this stalkerly costumed figure is in her vicinity, but that difference between intent and action posits the inherent tragedy of Orphan as a character. Even when faced with a Batman who is trying his best to get her to open up, she can’t do it, as it’s a struggle for her to even fight off the programming that’s been with her since childhood. Still, as readers, *we* have the good fortune to ascertain some understanding of what makes her tick via inner monologue and Cassandra is all too willing to share her thoughts on Batwing, Azrael, Clayface and Batwoman, adding one more very important, and up to this point, missing detail for the makeup of this team.
If there’s one detractor about the book, it’s that I’m not the biggest fan of Takara’s art here, which goes really heavy on the inks – to the point where some of the art looks a tad more rushed than others, particularly in the action splashes. I’ve also never loved his approach to faces, which don’t look terribly distinct enough for my taste. But it’s all clear enough on the storytelling front, so I can’t complain too loudly here.
The rest of the issue is made up of two shorter stories, one of which stars Batwing and Azrael, at first holding a training session in their equivalent of the Danger Room, and then jawing about the mechanisms of the Suit of Sorrows that Azrael dons and the usage of AI via the Order of St. Dumas. It’s nothing to really write home about on the storytelling front, but it does set up a future conflict that’s likely to come post-League of Shadows and that sort of seed-planting is appreciated. Also, Alvaro Martinez’s art is far more suited for this kind of material with particularly crisp figure work.
The very last few pages sets aside some time to flash back once again to Batman and Red Robin in an untold moment in the current run’s first arc. Tynion and Eddy Barrows take the opportunity to do just one more bit of table-setting, with Tim outright asking Bruce what he’s up to, between his machinations for Nightwing, Red Hood, Robin and Duke in the various titles that he’s set each of these characters off on their own respective missions. Tim even hints at what’s to come via the now developing Justice League of America title. It’s a bit of an on the nose interaction perhaps, but it’s impressive to see all of these separate events be tied together as a part of some grand plan for the coming year. Just what are these “dark days” that are ahead for us in 2017? After almost a year of really fun Batman books, with Detective at the head of the class, I can’t wait to find out.
Final Verdict: Buy
- This week I’ve had my hands full on another project of mine (spurred on by my excitement surrounding last month’s Kamandi Challenge #1, I’ve started to collect lots of Jack Kirby work. I’m currently digging my way through his Romance comics with Joe Simon, as well picking up the hardcover edition of The Losers that DC collected a few years back. I’m in comics heaven right now basically, but it has caused me to slow down on my generally faster pace of Rebirth reading – BUT – I did make it a priority to jump on the latest issue of Suicide Squad, which features art from John Romita Jr. It’s funny, much like it took a light going off in my head regarding the genius of Kirby’s work, I’ve come to really enjoy Romita’s pencils. Nothing has really changed, though some feel he’s doing much stronger and focused work at DC than he was at Marvel (I couldn’t really say), I really enjoyed his take on these, from my perspective, typically overly busy looking Suicide Squad characters. I thought Rustam was especially well suited to him. I’m still not wholly sure I’m feeling where Rob Williams is taking this book, but at least there’s a sense of forward momentum that’s spinning out of the first arc and the fallout from the Justice League vs. Suicide Squad event. Sadly, JRjr doesn’t draw the entire issue, as Eddy Barrows takes over the backup, which is more traditionally “pretty” but does contain some of the same dramatic flourishes that Barrows brings to Detective. Returning to the structure of the first arc unfortunately retains the choppiness that was inherent in those issues, and still makes this series a vexing read at points. Still, with some settled character dynamics and an intriguing enough ending, Suicide Squad could finally be finding its footing.
- A few other titles that I’ve enjoyed thus far include the conclusion to the Cyborg Superman arc in Supergirl #6, which has quickly made Brian Ching a favorite of mine, and set up some nice threads for where that book is headed going forward (Hank Henshaw appearance!). I was also sort of surprised that I didn’t hate Red Hood and the Outlaws #7, a book that I generally treat with indifference, but to my shock, Scott Lobdell writes Bizarro with some fairly affecting pathos. And lastly, Wonder Woman #16 and Action Comics #973 both kick off new storylines, and bring in some strong art – the former hosting Bilquis Evely full-time on some gorgeously lush pencils, while the latter features Patrick Zircher, my favorite current Action artist. Both are worth a look for their aesthetic pleasures alone.
Miss any of our earlier reviews? Check out our full archive!
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.