The world has been reborn.
Last week’s release of DC Universe: Rebirth #1 kicked off a new era of storytelling for the publisher. The house that gave us Batman and Superman is looking to make up for the mistakes of the New 52 canonical reboot, reinstating old plot points that were erased from their timeline and even bringing back old versions of classic characters that had been discarded in favor of newer, “edgier” ones.
Rebirth #1 promised us character driven stories filled with more heart than fist. Can they deliver? Each week, Kyle Pinion and Alex Lu will dig into the Rebirth titles kicking off DC Comics’ line overhaul to find out. This is week one of DC Reborn.
Batman Rebirth: #1
Writers: Tom King & Scott Snyder Artist: Mikel Janin
Colors: June Chung Letters: Deron Bennett
Alex Lu: Initially, I came away from Batman: Rebirth feeling underwhelmed. Through his work on The Vision and Omega Men, Tom King has become one of my new favorite writers. Batman: Rebirth co-writer Scott Snyder penned a largely enjoyable, albeit safe run on Batman and is doing fantastic work on his creator owned horror series, Wytches. Together, one would expect fireworks, but Batman: Rebirth ends up being an extremely tame and quiet story.
The story revolves around a weather machine that C-List villain The Calendar Man has hidden in Gotham in order to rapidly move through seasons, the endgame being that once the weather moves from winter back to spring, seeds he has planted around Gotham City will hatch and kill everyone. It’s an awfully convoluted plot that is resolved in an amusingly simple way, but what Batman: Rebirth lacks in detail it makes up for in foundation. Each scene is focused around a day of the week and a different season, introducing readers to the structural spine King always builds into his books. We get moments for Bruce Wayne to interact with all the major members of Team Batman including Alfred, Jim Gordon, Lucius Fox, and newcomer Duke Thomas, whose role as Batman’s new don’t-call-him-Robin sidekick seems to be set up as a major focus of the new series.
All that goes to say that Batman: Rebirth #1 is best experienced as a “zero issue” prologue. It’s not the full meal we were promised, but there’s enough to chew on here for me to be hopeful for the run to come. I’d recommend reading it to find out whether or not you’re interested in the style of story King likes to tell, as it may not be for everyone. For those it is for though, myself included, oh boy do we have some things to look forward to. What’d you think, Kyle?
Kyle Pinion: After reading, the first thought that struck me was: “I wonder what the division of labor of writing was between Snyder and King?” Really, very little of it reminds me of what I would normally associate with a Snyder comic, other than the new approach to Calendar Man. On the other hand, King’s formalist tendencies are well on display, particularly in the seasonal/day breakdown. This was a fun, snappy comic and a great start to my Rebirth reading. After coming off a remarkably consistent, but still not really “for me” run with Snyder, it was a exhilarating feeling being able to read a Batman comic that’s more in line with how I like to see the character approached. He actually cracks a smile or two! Stop the presses, Batman smiles! And while we don’t get a lot of real meat on the bone where any sort of arc is concerned, this issue does at least make for a solid treatise on what we can expect from King’s upcoming run: not too far afield from Grayson as it turns out (much like Snyder’s take had its own trial run with Dick Grayson in The Black Mirror), including the rather popular shirtless, sweaty athleticism that Mikel Janin does ever so well. Janin remains my favorite rising star from the New 52 era stretching back to Justice League Dark, and his kinetic layouts and attractive approach to anatomy lead the way for a striking new era of Gotham.
I’m also a big fan of Duke’s new costume, and frankly, he’ll likely be my favorite legacy of the last era. Good start, looking forward to more.
Green Arrow: Rebirth #1
Writers: Benjamin Percy Artist & Colorist: Otto Scmidt
Letters: Nate Piekos
Lu: I’m only familiar with Green Arrow’s history in broad strokes and with his character through small appearances in team-up books and event series, so what really sold me on this book was the art. Otto Schmidt is a relative newcomer to comics. He drew the Korvac Saga Battleworld crossover miniseries for Marvel during Secret Wars, but Green Arrow will be his first credit on an ongoing series and from page one of Green Arrow: Rebirth, Schmidt makes his mark. His linework has a emotive roughness to it that reminds me of fashion drawing. His exaggerated facial expressions and the way he renders hair reminds me of Adrian Alphona’s work on Ms. Marvel. It’s great stuff that immediately distinguishes Green Arrow from the rest of the DC line, and is only further improved by the fact that he does his own colors. Backgrounds and effects in action scenes are rendered in a impressionistic way that contrasts with the linework and lends the moments a strong visual impact. This is most strongly seen in scenes involving Black Canary, whose sonic screech has a fiery and psychedelic look to it.
So yeah, the plot has Black Canary in it. Green Arrow: Rebirth is less a Green Arrow story more than it is a Green Arrow and Black Canary team-up. For those not in the know, the two heroes were romantically linked for a long time until the New 52 initiative reset the DC universe timeline and wiped their romance from the canon. Geoff Johns alluded to the return of their relationship in last week’s DC Universe: Rebirth #1, but I honestly didn’t expect to see writer Benjamin Percy move forward with it so quickly. The amount of interaction and forward movement in their relationship over the course of 20 pages is actually a little too jarring for me. The two of them have a somewhat antagonistic meet cute and then team up to help an orphan find his mom. Throughout their adventure, they argue with one another about their disparate upbringings and how good they actually are as people until they realize that they’re both ultimately great people and sparks fly and…stop me if you’ve heard this all before.
I don’t have a great sense of where Green Arrow is going to go as an ongoing series after reading Green Arrow: Rebirth #1. I did enjoy seeing Black Canary and Green Arrow interact, but if their relationship is going to drive the movement of the series I think they might be burning through the foundation of that romance a little too quickly for my taste. In a final analysis though, I’d recommend this issue with some reservations. What say you, Kyle?
Pinion: In so far as you want one of these comics to give you a solid sense of where the ongoing are headed, this does the best job of doing that. At not point during The New 52 did I ever feel like I was reading the Oliver Queen that I knew and love, even during Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s very entertaining stretch of issues. The “he’s Steve Jobs but a superhero” approach just felt like a very ill-fit for DC’s most reactionary main-line superhero. This was a step in the right direction.
I think Ben Percy has a pretty keen understanding of what makes Oliver tick at the core, and it’s very clear he’s leaning towards a Green Arrow that takes a lot of its cues from Mike Grell. I was impressed with how easily he was able to do that. There’s a slight sense of overdoing it, Ollie referring to himself as a “social justice warrior” was a choice that left me a little confused since that’s more recently used as a pejorative online but clearly Percy is aiming to take back the original intent of the phrase. I wish him luck!
This is a very good comic, by and large. We get a good sense of where the series will go from here, particularly in terms of story-line specifics, Otto Schmidt’s art is THE. JAM. (and reminds me very much of Sean Murphy’s, particularly in how he composes body movements and character faces), and as a huge admirer of the Ollie-Dinah relationship from my youth, this pressed all my buttons. I really appreciated how this Black Canary felt like a natural combo of the initial Team 7 version and the Brenden Fletcher-Annie Wu rockstar. Great job all around, I think Percy and Schmidt have sold me.
Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1
Writers: Geoff Johns & Sam Humphries Artist: Ethan Van Sciver & Ed Benes
Colors: Jason Wright Letters: Travis Lanham
Pinion: Full-disclosure time. While my experience is a bit limited here, I’ve yet to really find a Sam Humphries scripted comic that I’ve clicked with. I certainly want to, given what I know about his influences and how much they dovetail with my predilections as a reader, but that left me in a really curious place before reading Green Lanterns: Rebirth. And more or less, I’d say I enjoyed this fairly well. Much like Batman: Rebirth, this carries the same sense of being a “zero issue” to tease the setup for the ongoing series and I really, really like the idea of reading a GL book that is set primarily on Earth. After years upon years of the Hal Jordan space opera informing basically everything else that was occurring in the line, it’s a nice reprieve to just get your Green Lantern in a position where he/she can just make with a giant pair of scissors against Hector Hammond or somebody. Granted, with the Red Lanterns peeking around the corner, maybe I’m hoping for too much.
Unlike the aforementioned Batman issue, I had a better sense here of Johns’ plotting and Humphries’ scripting (if I were to pitch a totally uninformed guess), and I think both Jessica and Simon benefit greatly from the latter. Simon Baz, from his inception, has been the under-developed Green Lantern – honestly, I couldn’t tell you the last thing he popped up in – and Jessica Cruz hasn’t fared a lot better, but she benefits a bit more in my reading by being someone I’ve seen much more recently. I think Humphries is on the verge of imbuing them with real personalities and character traits and I was fond of the idea that they’ll have more of a bickering sibling relationship. Humphries’ dialogue has a nice zip to it as well, and reads less stiff than I’ve been used to from either character. So, I think I may have finally found the Humphries comic for me!
Also, hooray Ethan Van Sciver pages! I wish we had more of them. Outside of the late Darwyn Cooke and Darryl Banks, I’m not sure there’s another artist who feels more at home in this realm than Ethan. The Ed Benes pages felt like a rough interruption, and I don’t think the marriage between the two worked given how drastically different their styles are, but credit where credit is due, they found a good spot to trade-off in the back half of the issue. Your turn, Alex!
Lu: Blargh. I think having two new Green Lanterns has come back to bite DC in the ass. As an introductory issue to Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, I felt like this issue succeeded in painting their characters in broad strokes but failed to get me to connect with either one of them. Baz is portrayed as a deeply suspicious man who has been isolated from his community because of his background and past who responds by isolating himself further. He’s a classic loner. Meanwhile, Cruz seems to be a socially anxious individual who is completely out of her element as a new Green Lantern. These are strong baselines to build characters from, but Geoff Johns and Sam Humphries never take it further in this issue. Baz’s parole officer says he believes Baz is a good person but the writers of Green Lantern: Rebirth #1 never take the time to actually show him being good. Similarly, we never get a moment to properly empathize with Cruz. We’re told she nearly died trying to help The Flash and is now homeless, but we don’t have a proper sense of how any of this affects her. We get a long internal monologue that tells us about her feelings, but we only get a short perfunctory interaction that shows us how she interacts with others before she is called off to ahead towards a Green Lantern confrontation.
Another thing that gets my goat about this book is how inconsistent the art is. Ed Benes was a last minute addition to the solicitations for this issue, and it’s easy to see why. His work just doesn’t compare very well to that of Ethan Van Sciver. Sciver’s art is definitely house style, but it has such an intense amount of polish to it that it’s hard not to respect. On the other hand, Benes’ linework is loose in a way that doesn’t feel completely intentional and ultimately hurts the impact of certain moments throughout the story. It’s a bit of a moot point in the long run, since Robson Rocha will be the ongoing artist of this series, but it’s worth noting because I feel like the juxtaposition of these two particular artists took me out of the story at times.
On paper, the plot of Green Lanterns is clearly established in this issue. Baz and Cruz both have fear in their hearts which hinders their effectiveness as Green Lanterns. Their power batteries get combined so that they have to work together to overcome their fears and learn to trust other people. It’s an interesting story, but unfortunately Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1 fails to get me invested in the characters that will be driving it. That’s ironic, considering how Johns’ DC Universe: Rebirth #1 promised the exact opposite of what he delivered here.
Superman: Rebirth #1
Writers: Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason Penciller: Doug Mahnke
Inker: Jaime Mendoza Colors: Wil Quintana Letters: Rob Leigh
Pinion: I was not a fan of this for the most part. This new/old version of Superman is the one I’m having the hardest time really wrapping my head around. #1) I find it impossible to explain to the uninitiated, #2) If the idea is to bring back readers who missed pre-Flashpoint Superman, is having him basically be a “fish out of water” in the New 52 universe, where almost none of his established relationships exist and likely won’t ever take on the same dimension, really going to win them over? And to tie it all up with this really angry looking cover…?
Anyway, as for the issue at hand, it looks really good on the inside pages, thanks to Mahnke’s always welcome line-work. He can occasionally get a little too beefy with Superman (see: Final Crisis) for my taste, but his approach to proportions are quite good here. I just regret we don’t get a chance to see him draw the new costume beyond the brief cover glimpse. Tomasi’s script just isn’t able to keep up unfortunately. He’s got a pretty unenviable task admittedly; the need to slot “Dad Superman” into the premiere hero position of a universe that isn’t his. This situation lends itself to some pretty stiff exposition and conversation between Clark and Lana that just doesn’t work. And we get a Death of Superman recap to…catch up new readers? Remind the old readers about the biggest Superman event since his creation? I’m at a loss here.
Even New 52 Superman’s final message is comedically cut-short, highlighting just how much DC wants to wash their hands of that version of the character. I found very little to grasp onto here, maybe you felt different Alex?
Lu: Not particularly, to be honest. I’ve never been a heavy Superman reader and am especially poorly versed when it comes to his Post-New 52 storylines. I have a vague in-story sense of why there are two Supermen, but I think the editorial reasons for replacing one Superman with another are much stronger than the story reasons we’ve been offered. Like you, I feel like DC’s editorial wants to erase New 52 Superman from the canon as swiftly as possible. The character has failed to build an audience, so DC has decided to bring back the original Superman in the hopes that his character will prove more successful. They tease a chance that the New 52 Clark might be reborn like Dad-Supes was, but kill off the possibility by the end of the issue. New Superman is dead. Long live old Superman. Fine, but then we have to ask the question– why are we meandering around the legacy of the dead Superman instead of developing the story of the living one?
I think the long expository recap of The Death of Superman really hammered the weaknesses of this issue home for me. I look to Grant Morrison’s and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman as my ur-text for the character, and I strongly think that Kal-El is at his best when he is being presented as a hopeful person. However, for reasons unbeknownst to me, dad-Supes is wearing all black and sports a mourning beard, which makes him seem like he’s coming out of a depressive episode during the issue. To their credit, Tomasi and Mahnke do make sure that Superman’s motivations and words are fundamentally forward-looking, but they also spend a lot of time dwelling on the crappy things that happened to both Supermen in the past. The tonal disconnect from one moment to the next just undercuts the work as a whole.
I want to be a Superman fan. I like the character and I’ve always had a deep appreciation for writers like Morrison and Kurt Busiek who have told great stories with the character. Superman: Rebirth #1 isn’t necessarily a poorly rendered story– it’s just the wrong story. It dwells too much on Superman’s troubled past and doesn’t provide a solid sense of where the series is going in the future. For those reasons, I can’t recommend this to anyone looking to give the character a try.
Kyle: Week one of the Rebirth relaunch is off to a solid, if maybe unspectacular start. I was hoping for just a tad more story, and really anything that would convince me to stay on with Superman. There’s a nice bit of energy though that’s hard to deny in the better efforts this week, so I’m hopeful Week 2 won’t be a repeat of the “this issue is basically just a prelude” sense that carried through this set of comics, Green Arrow aside.
Alex: I think I came off as a little more grumpy than I intended to. The first week of Rebirth books were a fine start to the newly revamped DC Universe. I wasn’t “wowed” by anything, as I feel like most of these books were more introduction than plot. However, I’d say that that makes them better for new readers looking to latch on to DC’s ship.
I was a fan of two of these books and am very much on the fence about another. 2.5/4 is a pretty good ratio of hit to misses for the publisher, especially considering that among these books I was only regularly reading Batman before Rebirth.
Buy: Green Arrow: Rebirth, Batman: Rebirth, Green Lanterns: Rebirth (maybe)
Don’t Buy: Superman: Rebirth
Buy: Batman: Rebirth, Green Arrow: Rebirth
Don’t Buy: Green Lanterns: Rebirth (worth a browse for Van Sciver), Superman: Rebirth