In June, 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.
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.
Batman Beyond: Rebirth
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Artist: Ryan Sook
Colorists: Jeremy Lawson & Tony Aviña
Alex Lu: Ever since its inception, the core concept behind Batman Beyond has been lineage. Stories told in this distant future take the idea of a legacy character in the DC Universe to an extreme, allowing writers to eschew everything readers know about Batman while simultaneously acknowledging the character’s deep and resonant history. The success of a Batman Beyond story is how well it toes that line between new and old. If there are too few references to the past, the story no longer feels like a Batman story. If there are too many, the book feels hokey and too beholden to its past. Unfortunately, Batman Beyond: Rebirth #1 is much more the latter story than the former.
Since DC Comics rebranded its line under the Rebirth banner in June, we’ve seen “Rebirth” oneshots come out for countless series. We’ve seen creative teams use these one-shots to do a number of different things, but in broad strokes most of the stories fall into one of two categories. One type of Rebirth issue tells a self-contained story that focuses on laying out the themes of the series. Batman Beyond: Rebirth #1 is the other type of story, choosing to dive right into the series’ main plot while leading off with some expository introductory information about the series’ concept. While I think the most exemplary Rebirth issues such as Batman: Rebirth have come from the former category, the latter has produced some solid work such as Green Arrow: Rebirth. However, the problem that that book had is the same one that Batman Beyond: Rebirth #1 has– it leaves the reader feeling undersold. By being forced to split the time between introductory narrative and plotting, Batman Beyond: Rebirth #1 tells two stories in broad strokes rather than one in granular detail. This lack of shading isn’t inherently bad, but it forces us to more heavily weigh the story elements that are there and what is there in Batman Beyond: Rebirth #1 is lacking.
The premise of the issue is basically this– the Jokerz, a gang of criminals inspired by the Joker, is starting to aggressively expand their territory. Terry McGinnis, the eponymous lead and dark knight of Neo-Gotham, is capably able to take down a group of them but is stunned when two of the gang members he captures show symptoms of being infected by Joker Gas, which hasn’t been seen since the original Joker died. Of course, this bit of foreshadowing immediately pays off by the end of the issue when Terry’s ex, who has been kidnapped by a villain known as Terminal, reveals that he is planning to bring the Joker back to life. This premise strikes me as false because, as I said before, it looks far too much to Batman’s past in the most direct way. Batman Beyond is a space for zaniness and play in a way that the flagship Batman title rarely can be nowadays, “Night of the Monster Men” excluded. It would be far more interesting to see Beyond debut with a dedication to something new rather than a misplaced reverence for what came before. This is compounded in ways both big and small– I groaned when I saw a giant Joker gang member who had been souped up with venom.
While the storyline was not up my alley, I find myself a bit more divided about Ryan Sook’s art. There are some clear issues with it, as occasionally his facial work feels a bit sparse and there are some strange anatomical issues beyond what’s expected from the venom-enhanced Jokerz member. However, I love the general vibe of of the world he has created. The exterior shots we get of Neo-Gotham showcase a diverse and vibrant city full of neons and glass. The way “ha”s fly off the panel at the reader as the Jokerz members succumb to Joker gas evokes those old 3D jump scare effects in the best way.
Kyle, how did this issue strike you? How do you feel about my argument there is too much old and too little new here?
Kyle Pinion: One of the glaring problems with Batman Beyond since DC has tried to bump it into mainstream continuity is that there hasn’t been a terribly clean jumping-on point. In order to get how the company was trying to make this work, you had to read Futures End (which I don’t think anyone would recommend), and then the most recent volume of title didn’t even have Terry McGinnis in the lead role. So there was little there for those who had fond memories of the cartoon to latch onto. This new series plays a bit like a course correction, with McGinnis back in the saddle, and running down all the major beats of the first few episodes of the tv show.
And it’s fine, as you say, it’s 50% flashback with some inklings of the main conflict baked in. I think given the task at hand, Jurgens and Sook do a solid job of it, but as a full-bore Jurgens apologist at times, I was probably greased to enjoy this more than most. One of the points that you say detracts from the story, I think actively works to its benefit. I love that Batman Beyond (both the cartoon and this comic series) feel nothing like a typical Batman comic. It’s basically Spider-Man in bat-drag with the trappings of his 2099 counterpart. And really, in DC lore, there’s very little like it, so getting something in this Rebirth line-up that scratches that Blade Runner-dystopian itch while still playing pretty firmly in the adventure comics-vein is always welcome. Jurgens lays out the new status quo, introduces all the players effectively without too much clumsy exposition (see this week’s Titans for a bad example of this, and that book is 4 issues in) and produces some nicely eye-catching layouts.
I think I need to specifically praise Sook here, who is certainly one of my favorite working artists but all too underused except on cover work these days. It’s nice to get a reminder of just what a talented storyteller he is, and I think he brings back a lot of that Zatanna magic that he worked over a decade ago. One of my favorite things a comic artist can do is effectively portray a character’s facial expressions “in the moment” and Sook has a real talent for understanding for a person’s face actually looks in conversation (similar to say, Tony Harris). On top of that, his action chops are second-to-none, and as you say, the vivid way he realizes the neon-laced environs of Neo-Gotham along with colorists Jeremy Lawson and Tony Avina is some optic splendor that I simply want to live in…even if I have to deal with some ridiculous Jokerz gangsters in the process. I’ve always enjoyed Bernard Chang’s art, but man, what I’ve give for Sook to do regular pencilling duties on a DC title.
I think this is a case of lush art propping up a “solid on all the fundamentals” script. Jurgens knows how to write meat and potatoes superhero comics and given that that’s the order of the day with Rebirth, by and large (and I don’t think that’s a pejorative), he does exactly what he’s tasked to do. Put Terry back in the suit, return to the basic conflict of future Batman vs the Jokerz, and give readers a sense of each of the major supporting players that make up his closest circle of confidantes (Barbara, his brother, Dana, etc). It doesn’t radically reinvent the wheel, but it’s a decently breezy read and never gets in its own way. Admittedly, I really miss the melding that Jurgens provided in the last run between the world of Batman Beyond and O.M.A.C., setting the two major dystopias of DC lore squarely in conflict, and I wouldn’t dare do the mental gymnastics to figure out how that version of Bruce aligns with the future that the Snyder posited – cloned Batmen and all, I’m intrigued enough to continue on and find out how Jurgens will approach the Joker in this setting. But the art, that’s the real selling point. I’ll call it a browse, but a really pretty one that might just push you into a buy. I wouldn’t blame you!
Seriously though, Morrison provided the best explanation for all of this, putting Damian in the old mentor role (and that remains my head canon explanation).
Final Verdict: Browse
Writer: Benjamin Percy
Artist: Jonboy Meyers
Colorist: Jim Charalampidis
Alex: See now, this is how you do a “Rebirth” issue! Teen Titans: Rebirth #1 and Batman Beyond: Rebirth #1 are similar in certain ways– they’re both very vibrant books that play to your eye as much as they do to your heart and focus on some of the “younger” characters populating the DC Universe, giving the series a teenage YA edge. However, Batman Beyond doesn’t step beyond this point for me. By frontloading its exposition and introducing a twist that felt more like an unwelcome throwback to the past than a look to the new, Beyond failed to get me excited about the future of the series. On the other hand, Teen Titans: Rebirth #1 does a much better job of a striking a balance between prologue and plot and includes a twist that you’ll probably see coming but had me excited for the issues to come.
Initially, Teen Titans: Rebirth #1 doesn’t initially read like a strong book. Writer Ben Percy and artist Jonboy Meyers provides an introductory scene for each of the core members of this new gang of titans– Beast Boy, Starfire, Raven, and Kid Flash– all of which end with the focal character being knocked out and kidnapped. As one reads through the issue, it seems like Percy’s goal is to put the new Teen Titans in a perilous scenario straight out of Saw or Secret Six. It’s an eye-rolling premise and predictable issue structure. However, at the end of the issue Percy and Meyers make a sudden left turn when they reveal that Damian Wayne has been the “villain” in the shadows this whole time!
On paper, this twist has no right to work as well as it does because DC has been very vocal about Damian being the new leader of this group of Teen Titans. He’s even on the cover of this issue. We had every reason to expect him to play a prominent role in the story and it should have set off alarm bells when he hadn’t appeared more than two-thirds of the way through, but I was so engrossed in the way that I thought the story would play out that I was actively shocked when it didn’t. One of the strongest things a good writer can do is turn left when the reader expects the story to turn right, and Percy certainly made a hard left here for the better!
That said, despite my vibrant adulation for Teen Titans: Rebirth #1’s climax, I remain ambivalent about most of the issue’s individual scenes. On the one hand, I believe that giving each Titan his or her own scene allows Percy and Meyers to more effectively establish the individual wants and desires that will drive them throughout the series, it also gives Percy the leeway to overload each page with expository caption boxes. Watching Beast Boy flirt with a girl at his house party only to drive her away with a practical joke gone too far highlights his ability to be incredibly suave yet simultaneously oblivious. The internal narration where Beast Boy quotes Tim Drake saying that that’s his “greatest weakness– as a hero, as a person, as a struggling actor, [his] need for attention” feels redundant and clunky. It’s classic case of telling instead of showing that is repeated from scene to scene with each character. While I accept a certain amount of this type of captioning may be necessary to establish the origin of Beast Boy’s powers or the exact nature of Raven’s abilities, I can’t help but think that the series would be better served if they left these things ambiguous and allowed the explanations to come up organically as the story moves forward. It’s not a severe detriment to the overall quality of the issue, but it’s a poor choice that keeps the book from being an absolute standout.
However, even though I am not completely in love with every story choice Percy makes throughout the issue, I can’t find any fault with Meyers’ art. He has given the book a polished and vibrant aesthetic that I absolutely adore. These characters look young, fresh, and vibrant thanks to Meyers’ emphasis on smoothing out the linework on their faces and giving them large, expressive eyes– they look like they could be dropped right into Gotham Academy without missing a beat. The youthful look this series is going for is further emphasized by Jim Charalampidis’ colors, which constantly stay on the warmer side of the color palette; even the story’s darkest scenes have no tinge of the muddy hues that dominate books like Tom King’s and David Finch’s Batman.
Overall, I must say that I was a big fan of Teen Titans: Rebirth #1. Despite its mechanical faults, Percy demonstrates that his take on the Teen Titans will have a strong emphasis on characters who have very distinctive wants and needs. The premise he’s put together should make for some excellent storytelling which will only be furthered by the stellar Jonboy Meyers art on display here. What’d you think of this issue, Kyle? Do you think I’m being too hard on Percy’s decision to load his prologue issue up with prose-logue?
Kyle: Well yeah, it’s a prologue issue, so some level of introduction is going to be necessary. This is the inherent challenge of these Rebirth comics, they were initially pitched as a line of books that were aimed at the long-time customer…but they’re still working within the New 52 world and its 5 years worth of stories. In order to appeal to that base, reset these characters in a way that will work towards Percy’s ends, and not completely defy the *atrocious* past volumes of this series…well, it’s a herculean task, and I’m willing to grant him a few expository detours to snap everything into place.
I think when you lead-off with a gathering of the team issue, there’s a number of different ways to go about it, but Percy and Meyers dedicating about 5 pages per teammate gives them a chance to play with their very diverse cast and outline their personalities and power-sets in fun and vibrant ways. I can’t say where Gar really left off during the course of the New 52 (last thing I can remember, he was red and tied in with Animal Man’s power source), but I think Percy does a nice job selling this Hollywood brat version of the character. On top of that, he pays nice homage to the previous Starfire title with Kori still in sun drenched settings and even making a slight reference to her previous Florida home as the starting point of the new case she’s following. And after reading the workmanlike but not terribly engaging Raven mini-series, it was nice to get a version of the character I could get on-board with. Even Wally is served a bit better under his pen than I think he has been in the current Flash book (with just a hint of subversiveness maybe?).
All told, I wasn’t sure exactly how Percy would handle teen voices, having only seen him attempt that in smaller doses with Emiko in Green Arrow, but right away he proves that he’s got a great sense of what makes each character tick and their little bits of interaction there at the end proves that this is a book that has fun on its mind. And I get the feeling that zaniness mixed with high adventure is going to be the order of the day. Why else would you pull together what is basically a Teen Titans Go! Inspired line-up? And if Damian isn’t a picture perfect stand-in for that version of Robin, then it’s as close as I imagine we’ll ever get. Of course that makes me miss Cyborg in this book all the more, but Wally looks to add a new dynamic that should make my regrets less palpable.
And yes, I loved the end reveal and how it plays on your expectations but is also perfectly in tune with what Damian would do.
Finally, yeah, Jonboy Meyers is real good. You know how I feel about art that looks like it’s just shy of coming to life in front of me, and that sort of animated quality provides the perfect realization of this new version of the team. And well, for the first time in a good long while, we’ve got a Teen Titans comic that I’m excited about. Since a mini-comic from the Wolfman-Perez run was the first comic I ever read (at the tender age of 5), this is a series that’s close to my heart, and all involved did my heart some good this week.
Final Verdict: Buy
- I think it’s interesting to compare the way Tim Drake’s death has been treated with the reverence Damian Wayne received when he died in 2013. Damian’s death in Batman, Inc. kicked off the “Requium” arc which spun off into a number of different books and showed us a different, more sobering take on the Batman franchise than we normally see. Yes, Batman material is generally dark, but the month following Damian’s death was mournful. The crowning gem of this period is Batman & Robin #18 by Patrick Gleason and Peter J. Tomasi, a completely dialogue-free issue that focused on the emotional turmoil that quietly boils over following the death of a family member. On the other hand, no one gets to mourn for Tim. They’re all too busy fighting monsters to worry about that. The Batfamily’s struggle to keep themselves focused on the mission as their emotions slowly spill over has led to some interesting development for their stories, but leaves me feeling like Tim will never get any sort of catharsis of his own. Sure he “died” (let’s not dwell on his present problematic stint in an interdimensional jail) a hero like Damian did, but Damian’s death felt like the climax of his story where Tim’s death feels like a catalyst for everyone else’s stories. Even characters not involved in the “Night of the Monster Men” like Beast Boy in this week’s Teen Titans who mention Tim seem to do so in a passing manner, never dwelling on what it means to lose a life that they, in theory, value greatly. If I were a big Tim Drake fan, it’d be enough to make me feel more than a little cheated.
- Steve Orlando has given us the blessing of writing a Batman kaiju story. It’s a lot of fun and so tonally distinct from King’s work on the series that it’s easy to miss the fact that this arc can be read as a thematic continuation of the “I am Gotham” arc. King’s first Batman storyline focused on humanizing Batman, taking away the god-like resilience he seemed to build up over the course of Grant Morrison’s and, to a lesser extent, Scott Snyder’s runs with the character. For the first time in a long time, Batman met a threat he legitimately couldn’t handle. His worst fears were realized as he was forced to call the Justice League to help save Gotham City from Gotham and Gotham Girl. Taking away Batman’s sense of control over “his city” is perhaps the most mentally degrading thing you can do to the arguably megalomaniacal character. Now, with “Night of the Monster Men,” we see Gotham being physically broken by literal interpretations of Gotham’s worst nightmares. There are no metaphors here like there are when Batman fights the Joker or Mr. Freeze. These are pure beasts that don’t live in the traditional sense– they’re myth made real and with Detective Comics #941 they’ve started perverted Batman’s family as Nightwing and Gotham Girl are metamorphosized into horrific beasts. “Night of the Monster Men” is a distinctly modern take on American Gothic literature where abstract notions of guilt and fear manifest themselves as something distinctly more real and dangerous.
- I was struck by the sudden realization, and perhaps it should have hit me sooner, that of all the books within the Rebirth line-up, Suicide Squad is the title that feels the most like it still has one foot in the New 52’s sort of grittier style. Lee’s art plays the biggest factor in this obviously, as much of the New 52 was marked with a house-look modeled after his body of work (and character designs), but I also get the sense that Rob Williams is writing a bit to Lee’s approach, much in the same way Geoff Johns did in their short tenure together in Justice League. I tend to like Lee’s efforts more than some, and when the majority of the line is not pitched in a similar vein, and perhaps the tonal differentiation between this and Justice League will bear out in some way during their end of the year crossover. But regardless of intent, I’m still not sold on this title. Of course, the biggest problem remains the lack of real estate the main story is given in between its covers. This week, we only received around 13 pages of the team in action, and while the Katana back-up was fine, these origin tales are starting to grate and the halting pace of the narrative is becoming utterly detrimental to the book. There’s just not enough here to grasp onto. I want to like you Suicide Squad, but you’re not letting me!
- Any week where we get Deathstroke and Wonder Woman, the two best biweeklies DC puts out, it’s a great week. I loved Priest’s approach to Ravager, and the father-daughter back and forth between Slade and child. This arc is really shaping up to be an all-timer and Joe Bennett’s take on the Deathstroke costume is a new favorite. And of course, Wonder Woman keeps on keeping on, with a new little wrinkle at the end that leads wonderfully into the upcoming interlude issue. How much do I love that Liam Sharp art? A whole heck of a lot.
- Batgirl just isn’t coming together for me whatsoever though. I keep trying and keep coming up empty on reasons to keep up with this book. I also noticed that the Burnside costume looks a lot more unappealing if Babs Tarr or Cameron Stewart aren’t drawing it. Maybe it’s just the mask.
- Hellblazer, also great fun, even it dips a bit into some British slang that’s way over my head and has the worst possible Police-joke ever envisioned for the character (oof, it’s bad). For what it’s worth, this is my favorite art from Moritat thus far, and I think maybe just maybe they’ve cracked the code on John Constantine as part of the DC Universe without being some sort of fireball flinging superhero.
Buy: Deathstroke #3, Detective Comics #941, Hellblazer #2, Teen Titans: Rebirth #1, Wonder Woman #7
Browse: Batman Beyond: Rebirth #1
Pass: Suicide Squad #3, Batgirl #3