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.
All-Star Batman #6
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Jock and Francesco Francavilla
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: Steve Wands
I really enjoy the idea of this All-Star Batman set-up. For one, you get an opportunity to see a line-up of great artists flex their muscles on the Bat, artists that probably couldn’t commit to the monthly (much less the biweekly) rigors of the regular Batman title. Secondly, it gives Scott Snyder some much needed breathing room from the needs of that Batman title being the “event book” of the line. A role that I’m not sure really played to his strengths, as the New 52 run was constantly a wellspring of tie-ins and crossovers and the like. Some of them worked well, some of them didn’t, but it was good to see DC keep their best-selling writer on the character and allow him to do the kinds of things he wants to do, rather than worry about an entire line. While I’m not sure every issue of the initial arc of “My Own Worst Enemy” landed with me, it’s hard not to admire watching Snyder try new things and write almost exclusively to the kind of storytelling that works best with the artist he has on board, in that previous case the muscular-action driven panel work of John Romita Jr. And by god, that book sure did look great. Easily Romita’s best DC work to date, and maybe longer than that. In those five issues, you could really feel a sense of creative re-invigoration occurring with the writer as well towards this character and his world. There was a sense of exhaustion that seemed to lurch off the page during the “Superheavy” arc just prior, and it seems like getting to play a little deeper in the Batman toybox and a little more idiosyncratically has been very helpful to Snyder. Or rather, it seems to show that way with All-Star Batman #6.
This issue kicks off a new storyline entitled “Ends of the Earth”, which, rather than focusing on one villain, turns the reader’s attention towards a different Batman foe, in this case Mr. Freeze. In his only other story with the character, Snyder didn’t seem to quite find the rhythm of Victor Fries, having to also do double duty as a tie-in to an event, and that, combined with a-then fairly green James Tynion IV co-writing, led to a less than satisfactory annual. Here, Snyder gets a better leg-up, because he pitches Freeze into a mold that fits better: horror. Not “jump-scare” horror, but more of something out of the creeping Lovecraftian mold.
Reuniting with Jock for the first time since the quite good Batman #44, and their creator-owned horror collab Wytches, the duo is able to re-conjure some of the old magic from “The Black Mirror”. Batman heads to Alaska, and attempts to confront Freeze before he unleashes a bacterium that will wipe out all life on Earth, allowing his army of “frozen dead” to become the new inheritors of the planet. It’s a cleverly structured story that bookends itself with Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice,” a poem I’ve always found a bit trite, but its application here ends up paying off by issue’s end. Snyder and Jock also begin the story in medias res, with little in the way of setup. The armed forces are headed to Alaska to firebomb Freeze and his minions, Batman has to stop him. That’s about it, and that simplicity works well and is refreshing.
The technical aspects of the issue are also admirable as Snyder, for his part, takes a very literary approach (though not quite as heavily imbued in prose as his recent A.D.), providing an opaque introduction that leads one to believe the narration is about Batman, but as the story moves forward, our expectations are turned on their head with what turns out to be an all too obvious, but welcome, reveal. Jock’s art is beautifully eerie here, and again plays against reader expectations. The device that introduces this group of “frozen subjects” that serve freeze is awfully clever, playing cryogenics for all of its horror potential: creating a new form of mid-death/unknowable type of horror and inventively connecting Mr. Freeze as the obvious fulcrum for which they’d rise. At the same time, while Jock creates an aura of unease at the fear-inducing imagery of what Freeze has wrought, he then alters that perception when it’s Batman who in turn becomes the agent of terror, pumped full of a viral agent and looking as monstrous and blood-thirsty as I’ve seen the character appear in sometime.
This issue is a perfect little blend of script and visuals working in lock-step with one another, and it’s worth noting how arresting these images produced by Jock and Matt Hollingsworth are. Various shades of black and blue bring to life the frozen tundra that marks the environs that Batman has to travail and face off with his intended enemy. Steve Wands snakes his text around the near photo-realistic imagery, through various colors and shades of text, some in boxes and some without, that add to the isolationist mood of the piece. As a total package it sets-up the first part of this new arc in a sterling fashion.
“The Cursed Wheel” back-up tale also continues, with Batman and Duke taking on the Riddler with the other half of “The Black Mirror”, Francesco Francavilla, on art duties. I’m still not totally sure I follow where the color wheel aspect is headed, but beyond that, it’s a sumptous continuation thriller aspect of this tale. Batman and Duke attempt to free hostages ensnared by Nygma in a building on the verge of blowing up, leading to a flashback to two days prior when they attempted to interrogate Nygma before his next scheme could come to fruition. There’s even a good callback to “Superheavy”, continuing the thread of promoting Duke’s personal growth with the reader, possibly creating a new arch-nemesis for the young hero. It’s Francavilla art, it’s never going to not look good, it’s even a bit less orange than usual!
This is my favorite issue of All-Star Batman so far.
Final Verdict: Buy
New Super-Man #7
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Penciller: Billy Tan
Inker: Yanqiu Li
Colorist: Yanfeng Guo
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
I thought Gene Luen Yang’s first arc on New Super-Man was a largely successful first set of issues, that both presented one of the few “new” heroes of the Rebirth era in an environment wholly unique to the DC Universe, while also giving Gene Luen Yang a better venue upon which his unique blend of YA-focused adventure storytelling and his ongoing interests related to his own Chinese ancestry could thrive. The initial six issues did an effective job of world-building, imbuing the DC Universe with its own Chinese iterations of teams like the Justice League, The Freedom Fighters, and even a Lois Lane counterpart for the emerging hero Kong Kenan. There were a few bumps in the road, particularly where the underwritten Bat-Man of China was concerned, but with each succeeding issue, you could see Yang growing just a bit more comfortable with monthly comics.
This second arc opens things just a tad, keeping the focus largely on the title star while also taking a worthwhile B-plot aside into the inner-workings of Wang Baixi aka the aforementioned Bat-Man. It’s the Lunar New Year, which sees New Super-Man‘s trinity split-up for the first time with Wonder-Woman and Bat-Man leaving to spend time with loved ones, while Kenan is focused on trying to get a foothold on regaining his powers and discover who murdered his mother and destroyed his family. Wonder-Woman and Bat-Man visit the facility in which Baixi was trained: The Academy of the Bat.
In learning more about his background, we encounter his old rival Feng Rongpei, who Baixi beat out to take on the cape and cowl. Rongpei challenges Bat-Man to a sparring session at the risk of that very same cowl. It’s nice to have this extra history for one of our supporting characters, which enrichens Kenan’s surroundings just a little more – deepening this unturned over corner of the DCU. While this is occurring, Kenan is off undergoing greater character growth as part of his continued hero’s journey; beginning his training with Master I-Ching. It’s a bit of your standard “blind master” trope, but hopefully Yang will find an interesting way to subvert this relationship in an interesting fashion before he inevitably becomes a better Super-Man.
Billy Tan fills in on art duties this week, and his somewhat more action-oriented pencils are a solid fit for an issue that spends much of its time centered on characters other than Kenan. Though this breather looks to be short lived, it’s a fun change of pace, and some nicely rendered work from an artist whose previous DC work didn’t really befit his talent. I would enjoy seeing Tan do more work on any sort of spotlight issue on the rest of the Justice League of China.
Oh, and there’s a short Lex Luthor cameo, with some pretty humorous attempts to utilize his rudimentary Mandarin and communicate in English with Kenan. It’s a promising start to the second arc, and hopefully will continue this title’s path towards telling slightly differently pitched stories within the DCU. Not many Rebirth books attempt to break too much away from the typical superhero mold, which is understandable, but New Super-Man is playing just a bit more to a younger crowd and I think that sort of effort should always be welcomed, especially when done in an entertaining fashion.
Final Verdict: Buy
- Titans #7 was a nice surprise this week. I wasn’t expecting Lee Weeks to take over art duties for an issue, but it was a lovely little book to behold. It also made for a nice done in one story, setting up the new status quo for the team in Manhattan and strengthening one core relationship. I also was happy to see Weeks didn’t bother to draw that awful tattoo on Roy’s arm. But the best two bits? A return to the classic Superman-Flash races of years past, with a nicely touching discussion between the two characters. And secondly, the reason the team decides to move to their new location, which is probably the most clever usage of this Rebirth/Watchmen mega-story yet.
- Justice League of America: Vixen Rebirth #1 did not win me over sadly. The premise of the issue is workable, Mari McCabe is spurred into action from her lavish celebutante lifestyle thanks to the peril experienced by a young girl, whose mother was kidnapped. This in turn, flashes the story back to Mari’s own childhood and the traumatic experience she faced after the death of her own mother at the hands of her uncle, and then the subsequent killing of her father, over the Tantu Totem. Yet, despite that strong jumping-off point, the story is just a bit too rushed with a character evolution that doesn’t quite seem earned. On the other hand there are some nice explosions of color whenever Vixen utilizes the Tantu Totem, and allows Jamal Campbell to have fun with the panel layouts. But nothing else about the issue made me yearn for more tales of Vixen, perhaps once JLA kicks off, I’ll be singing a different tune though.
- Suicide Squad #9 was easily my favorite issue of that entire run starring the original incarnation of the Squad in a mission predating Waller’s usage of “controllable” super-criminals for the project. Si Spurrier and Riley Rossmo join Rob Williams for a comic that reads the most like an old Ostrander-McDonnell comic than the title has seen in years. Speaking of, we also get a better sense of why Rustam is involved in the current event storyline at all, give his relatively low power levels compared to say…Johnny Sorrow and Emerald Empress. I’d also like to state that between this issue and this week’s installment of Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, I’m finally digging Lobo again – something I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to say. Honestly, based on last week’s Justice League and this week’s Suicide Squad, I wouldn’t complain if Tim Seeley and Spurrier jumped in on those two titles a bit more regularly.
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