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 Beat’s 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’s back! Let’s talk about Wonder Woman’s twin brother, and then we’ll check in with the King-Eastman issue of Kamandi Challenge
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.
Wonder Woman #31
Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Carlo Pagulayan
Inkers: Sean Parsons, Jason Paz, Scott Hanna
Colorist: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
Approaching this issue comes with a bit of a balancing act. Long-time readers know that I’m a rather big Wonder Woman fan, though admittedly open to a number of different interpretations of the character. I was delighted that Rebirth brought back one of the title’s strongest writers in Greg Rucka, with a dynamite pair of artists in Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott to collaborate in bringing their shared vision of the character to life, in a way that’s true to her intended core, but also easy to jump aboard for the curious reader coming off this year’s megahit film. There’s a trio of trades by that team out right now that a number of non-regular comics reading friends of mine have already picked up and enjoyed. To say the least, Wonder Woman, as a title, got off to one of the best starts of the entire launch back in June of last year (right there with Deathstroke).
But trouble quickly abounded in the past few months when the celebrated creator of DC Super Hero Girls Shea Fontana come on board for a 5 issue arc that just about sunk the entire endeavor. Fontana’s “Heart of the Amazon” story had its intentions in the right place, in that it centered its focus strictly on Diana and Etta, and was a story completely driven by women on both ends of its conflict. It’s just that it was unbelievably boring, and seemed to get increasingly so with each successive issue. Within a span of just a month, one of my favorite DC books quickly tanked into becoming one that I dreaded trying to worm my way through.
So, with Wonder Woman’s 31st issue, the title welcomes James Robinson and Carlo Pagulayan to tell the story of Wonder Woman’s twin brother Jason. Okay, let’s break these down one by one here. Twenty years ago, Robinson co-created one of the few comics I was reading in those days when I was obsessively listening to the Deftones, played bass in an awful high school garage band, and cheated my way through Chemistry. Starman was, along with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my superhero escape hatch from the real world. I can’t say he’s written much since that I’ve been terribly fond of, but he’ll always evoke some pretty warm memories for me of a bygone time. Pagulayan has been a reliably strong contributor to the best, most consistent core DC book on the stands in Deathstroke, and his very clean, lithe but muscular, art is a very good fit here. He reminds me a bit of Jimenez or maybe more akin to Ivan Reis to a certain degree. But the elephant in the room is Jason, Diana’s heretofore basically unseen but spoken of twin brother. This is the story that Geoff Johns and company have clearly been wanting to tell for some time, given that it was the very last revelation – more or less – of his and Jason Fabok’s “Darkseid War” storyline before they closed out their Justice League run. But because Rucka had a very different story in mind, this thing got put on the back-burner until they could find somebody willing to take it on. Enter Robinson, enter Jason.
Frankly, I’m fairly agnostic regarding the existence of this character. I’d rather it not happen, given how much I value Diana’s “sculpted from clay, no man was involved in her conception” origin, so his introduction stirs up two major concerns in me right away. Number one, on paper, this seems to shift attention away from Diana any of her women costars over to that of a male character, which frankly leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Secondly, what exactly is going on with her origin? Is Diana still the daughter of Zeus regardless of her altered beginnings? It was a curious thing to leave hanging in earlier issues, and it’s a query that’s still a bit of a Sword of Damocles given the return of not only Jason, but also of Darkseid’s daughter Grail – both of which seem intrinsically tied to the New 52.
You’ll note I haven’t even touched the contents of the issue, and frankly some of that is because not a whole lot happens from this new arc’s outset. Robinson does craft up a clever little thing where we’re led along in the first half of the issue following a very Henry Cavill from Man of Steel looking fellow that we think is Jason only to have the rug pulled out from under us with the reveal that he’s actually Hercules (of Hercules Unbound fame, talk about a concept I wish someone would revive). As it turns out, Grail isn’t just seeking out Jason, as the cliffhanger to “Darkseid War” indicates, but all of the children of Zeus in order to restore Darkseid to his full adult form. Not a bad conceit, as it makes good use of the idea that Zeus spread his seed pretty far and wide in Greek myth and could give Wonder Woman a number of new and interesting characters to collide with. The second half of the issue makes the curious choice of catching its star just as she’s laying a knockout blow on Giganta, kind of a shame, but I can appreciate just getting on with business. And from there we learn that she’s the heir to Hercules’ fortune by way of their shared father.
And with that, that’s basically covers the entirety of the first chapter’s plot. The decompression here reminds me a bit too much of Robinson’s writing on Earth 2, which I felt rarely had a single chapter that was wholly satisfying as a unit – though I think his writing is at least a tad sharper here. And he’s working off a not bad idea for a long-running (in this case, I believe it’s a 6-month) storyline. At the very least, you have Wonder Woman and Grail in what looks like it’s shaping up to be a race against time, and with art this attractive, I could definitely find myself cracking open subsequent chapters of this story first amongst my already prodigious pile. It’s also just such an about-face as a reading experience from the arc that preceded it.
And the art is really good, I have to really stress this point. I think Pagulayan is bringing his A-game here, especially in how tremendous his line work is regarding Diana herself, and his balance of action and scenes with talking heads. I’d honestly like to see more of these types of quiet moments, as I think his characters conversing are just that visually pleasing…and given Robinson’s respective strengths as a wordsmith, that could be a promising combination.
So in all, I think it’s a case of the jury still being out. This issue is another example of a longer graphic novel being basically cut up into smaller chunks, which is something that absolutely drives me batty. On the other hand, at least I wasn’t banging my head against the wall trying to get through the issue. At this point, that might be all I can ask. I’m still not convinced that this is a story that needs to be told, but I’m at least more willing to hear the argument, which I think maybe says a good deal about either the quality of the issue or my general desperation for readable Wonder Woman comics.
Kamandi Challenge #9
Writer: Tom King
Artists: Kevin Eastman and Freddie Williams II
Letterer: Clem Robbins
Last time I wrote one of these articles, I bemoaned the fact that I didn’t cover Kamandi Challenge, which treated us to a full issue of gorgeous Steve Rude art, and a pretty fun Keith Giffen tale, with some satirical elements. This time around, I knew I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me by again, as Issue #9 brings us the most unique creative team of the entire series in Tom King and Kevin Eastman. Obviously, Alex and I have talked about King a lot over the course of the almost year and a half that we’ve been doing this series, and I’m sure in the future we (including our new recruit Louie) will have more to say. He’s basically the company’s most in-demand writer, and with good reason. But what really grabbed my attention this time was Eastman’s involvement. I’m sure someone with better knowledge of his career can chime in, but I can’t recall the last time he did interiors on a major mainstream project that wasn’t TMNT related, but I admit that my knowledge of his Heavy Metal tenure is about a puddle deep.
Just as a creative nucleus, this brings some unique energy to the lineup of talent that populates this sort of “relay race” style of series. A series that it must be noted has been fairly hit and miss. Certainly more entertaining than DC’s original Challenge series, but some of the talent involved seem more at ease within the confines of Kirby’s world than others. The past couple of issues, as I think I noted in my last round-up, have seen an uptick in the overall quality of the series and with this issue we get not only the best issue of the entire run, but also a stand-alone experience that transcends the stated aims of the series. King often does his best work in shorter bursts, from the set of 12 issue minis he produced for both Marvel and DC last year, to the current Mister Miracle limited series, to that gobsmackingly great Green Lantern one-shot he did as a part of the aforementioned “Darkseid War” story (didn’t think I’d be talking about that so much this week); King excels when he pours all of his ideas for a concept into a compressed amount of pages. And in this case, Kamandi is no exception.
Pitched as a sort of Twilight Zone episode, but in the Post-Apocalypse, Kamandi is tossed into a cavern filled with various forms of smaller humanoid animal species. Each day, a huge robotic guard comes in and grabs one of the residents of the cavern, dragging them off to some unknown fate. This lasts hundreds of days, with Kamandi trying his best to stop the abductions from occurring, but he’s thwarted each time. Over the course of nearly a year, he convenes with his fellow captives with each holding different beliefs about where this dragging may lead them. Some believing it’s a terrible fate that awaits them (Kamandi himself holds such thoughts from the outset), while others think perhaps this may prove to be a form of salvation, including one Elephant prisoner that holds a special sort of significance to the tribute King and Eastman are building.
Adding to claustrophobic, Rod Serling-inspired atmosphere is how Eastman and Freddie Williams II work the entire issue in sepia-tones, and never leave the enclosed space that Kamandi finds himself in. It’s an issue, that while featuring an action beat here or there, usually involving its star failing to save the vulnerable; is built more around character work building its characters that we’ll never see again through short, but impactful moments before meeting their fate. While with Kamandi himself, we see a growing sort of weariness invade his utter being. The toll of the events of this series have physically and mentally deteriorated him, even to the point where he finds the twists and turns of his ongoing adventuring from the past 8 issues taking on a sort of ridiculous quality: “first this happened to me, and then this and then this, and then I had all my organs taken out” etc…King has occasionally played with the metafictional aspects of the characters he works with, the conclusion of Omega Men or the ongoing way he and Tim Seeley toyed with the audience in Grayson, but this is one of the more outright bits of commentary coming from his characters that I can recall. Kamandi knows there’s a puppet master pulling his strings, and while the Elephant reflects a sort of stand-in for the creative philosophy of Kirby, it’s pretty incredible to see King, Eastman and Williams change the timbre of those statements to almost reflect a sort of horror movie. These characters are being put through the wringer for our enjoyment. Not a new idea, I read Animal Man, but contrasting that tone with a Kirby quote in a tribute series is a just a tiny bit subversive – and it’s hard for me not to appreciate that.
- I’m still a tad bit behind on my reading, due to my SPX trip and a few other comics related distractions that grabbed me this past week. Perhaps the most exciting of which was my recent bin-diving fixation on some of the odder DC 80’s cult-classic books that I had never read as a kid. While I’ve always kept titles like Thriller and Ambush Bug very close to my heart, the oddball, lack of commercial appeal series like Underworld and Slash Maraud completely escaped my reading eyes. Needless to say, I trolled eBay a bit a picked the former up (the latter I got at SPX), along with a full run of Vigilante, the Helfer-Baker Shadow, and Tailgunner Jo – all joining my recently acquired set of Wasteland issues. I’ve got some fun reading ahead!
- As for new comics, I read this week’s Action Comics #988, which gave a little more background to the revelation on Mr. Oz, except for why he’s called Mr. Oz in the first place…I guess that’s another tale for another day…which I hope is next week. It’s a strong issue though, as Jurgens pulls together some of his better, more compelling scripting, to give a solid sense of why Jor-El would have such a change of heart regarding the people he sent his son to live among. At the same time, the art supplied by Ryan Sook has a more Kevin Nowlan-esque appearance than I’m used to from his rare interior work. Might just be a change in his inking approach, it definitely works wonders on the issue.
- Detective Comics #965 also goes hand-in-hand with the Mr. Oz inspired shenanigans, giving us our first return to Tim Drake in quite some time. We get a restored origin for the character, which brings us back to the new arc’s namesake in “A Lonely Place of Dying” or “Living” in this issue’s case. It’s a little lighter on answers than its sister title Action, but for those who have been aching for a good Tim Drake story, this’ll scratch that itch. Especially with the developments that occur towards the end of the story. Good one-two punch from a couple of series that have been dragging just a tad these past few months.
- The other big issue I read this week was the Metal tie-in centered on the evil Cyborg version of Batman, The Murder Machine. While I think it was an improvement on last week’s The Red Death, it was all just a bit too grim for me. Granted, I don’t know what I expected from a comic called “The Murder Machine”, but I just found the whole thing a relentlessly dour affair, beginning with Alfred being killed by a cadre of Batman’s villains to Cyborg being torn to shreds by the Dark Multiversal Batmen. But at least it felt like a more complete story than its preceding Flash-based tie-in. Still, whereas Metal itself has been a blast to read, these tie-ins really kind of wallow in the muckier stuff that all this Dark Matter/Dark Days/Dark Nights subheadings seem to advertise on the tin. It’s exactly what you expect it to be, I’m just not the audience for it. Ah well, onward! I look forward to the next big moment in this event.