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, entertainment editor Kyle Pinion, and contributor Louie Hlad are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
THIS WEEK: Kyle loves Justice League and wants you to know all about it, and then he tosses out a few New Year’s resolution for the publisher in 2018
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 #36
Art: Pete Woods
Letters: Willie Schu
I know guys, I know…Alex just did Justice League #35 two weeks ago. But having just now come off the long holiday and having a day to sit down and figure out which books actually inspire me to blurt out 500+ words, this week came up a little short in comics that I felt like I had anything to say at all about (admittedly, I haven’t had a chance to touch Dastardly and Muttley #5, which I’m really enjoying – and I may circle back on that when the series is complete if that’s my turn at the bat next month); Batman and the Signal debuted this week, I thought it was fine, with Cully Hamner’s art being the most exciting thing about it and Tom King’s latest Batman issue was interesting, but what else can I really say about Tom King at this point? I’ll spare you that and instead focus in on something else that I’m really excited about: the on-going work of Christopher Priest at the publisher.
You see, I’ve made this argument before, but I firmly believe that Priest is putting the best main-line superhero comic on the stands right now in Deathstroke. Keep in mind, I’m not counting my beloved Young Animal line in that equation (Shade The Changing Girl 4 lyfe), but as for bog-standard superhero work, Priest’s ongoing deep-dive into the potential redemption and soul-searing journey of Slade Wilson has been endlessly captivating without sacrificing the essential driving force that brings readers to superhero comics in the first place, ie lots of bad guys getting their asses kicked, but it also treats readers to a discussion of the nature and definition of evil. Comics had been a much poorer place without Mr. Priest.
And now he’s on Justice League. It’s no mystery to anyone how I felt about the previous Bryan Hitch-led run, which I thought had a number of worthwhile ideas, but they never really quite came together as Hitch was constantly drowned in bigger and bigger impersonal threats and plastic bonding between his teammates. Let’s just say that romance between Jessica and Barry, the most notable character interaction of that entire run, seems terribly unlikely to go anywhere. But on the heels of a big (poorly performing) motion picture, it was time to get things in gear for what should always be DC’s premiere title. This is the comic that, as the legend goes, urged Martin Goodman to direct Stan Lee to get back into superheroes. There’s never a moment when this book shouldn’t be the #1 must-read comic that DC produces. And now that they’ve brought on one of their Eisner nominees onto the post and teamed him with a dynamite artist in Pete Woods, what you have is just that.
Issue #36 drops right back into the middle of Priest and Wood’s “The People vs. Justice League” storyline and this is where the action really starts to take shape. While the previous two issues focused on the dynamics of the team within the sphere that Priest is pitching them and finding a rather inventive way to turn public opinion against these popular heroes, this third chapter is where everything starts to come to roost. Opening with a tough Congressional hearing that has Superman on the ropes regarding the ongoing question of the team’s self-appointed place as the world’s guardians, to the surprising next scene that sees a Batman impostor murder that same Congresswoman that was providing the inquisition. It becomes one more major blow against the League with a citizenry that has already begun to turn against our heroes. And in turn, the growing sense of doubt within Batman that the creative duo introduced in the opening issue of the arc, has festered even further, with Bruce actively questioning why he donned the cape and cowl in the first place, or at least took it to such worldwide (and beyond) extremes. As he says “it’s going to get bad, now”.
Much of the rest of the issue is dedicated to the League trying to prevent a potential international incident, through the removal of nuclear warheads inside a US sub that is sitting 12 miles outside of Chinese waters. Of course, the sheer act of attempting to remove these warheads not only pokes at a worsening wound between the League and US Government, but also it begins to splinter the team itself. With Aquaman choosing the sovereignty of his rule over Atlantis as a point that will overule his membership on the team, with he and this particularly worn-down version of Batman coming to logger-heads over what the team’s actions should be at this point. It’s rare to see Batman this acquiescent to the whims of the state, but Priest and Woods are carving an intricately human take on DC’s marquee hero, and like every human, there’s a point to which they will break and give in.
Aquaman’s choice then opens a line of questioning from Wonder Woman regarding her own mission and if the team stands, if not in direct opposition, then as a barrier of sorts, to its completion. In a meta-sense, Priest and Woods are almost asking, not only if the Justice League as watchmen that answer to no one have stepped too far, but also call into question if the existence of the team (and its stringent charter) is preventing these characters from pushing forward their much more ambitious aims as individuals. This has been a running theme in the book so far, as the previous issue found Cyborg being questioned as to why he even bothers to act as a part of humanity when he could very well see himself as their next evolution. In the overall picture, it’s a hell of a question to ask, and while I can’t imagine how one actually addresses this interpersonal struggle in a satisfying way, but if I trust anyone to stick the landing right now, it’s Priest.
And then of course, we return to the impostor by the end. Who is it?? Why is he wearing Batman’s pre-Flashpoint costume? And who is his accomplice that dragged Simon into the position he’s in right now? So many questions that I must have answered right away. Which is a heck of a chance of pace, it feels good to be excited about the Justice League again.
- This week, since we’re at the start of a new year, and the start of our *third* year pulling these articles together as a team, I thought I might throw out a few resolutions…well…not really resolutions since that applies to me personally…let’s instead call them hopes for DC’s publishing plans in the next 12 months.
- Keep the current Justice League creative team together for a very long time: Priest’s tenure on this book has been long overdue, and while I know the publisher picked up a BIG name just a few months ago, it would be a real shame if this initial storyline was his only turn at bat with this title. Something very special is coming together here, and I’d love to see it continue on for 100 issues.
- Speaking of that big contract signing: Put Brian Michael Bendis to use where he’s most needed. I realize that’s a dumb and obvious one, and I cringed a little bit when I typed it actually. But this is the biggest DC “get” since they stole Jack Kirby away from Marvel back in the 70’s, or since Miller and Byrne came over in the 80’s. And while I adore every title “The King” created during that tenure, there’s always a sense of “what could have been” had he been deposited directly on any of the core titles within the DCU. With that said, a Bendis run on Superman could be just what that line is needing; I enjoyed the first year and some change of those titles setting up the new status quo, but since “Superman Reborn”, the wheels have felt like they’re spinning a bit. Bendis could provide some vital new energy and ideas before stagnation starts to really set in. The sales boost will be hard to resist.
- Resist the idea of events for at least 12 months: I’ve enjoyed the few DC big events that have marked the Rebirth era such as Justice League vs Suicide Squad and Metal (the core books anyway), but given that Metal has stretched out over a pretty significant amount of time, being just past the halfway point currently, the New Age of Heroes line hasn’t even begun, and Doomsday Clock will be in full swing through the entire year, I’d love it if DC opted to avoid any further major events over the course of that time. Let the mainline saturate within their own respective spaces over the next year, as well as give these new properties a chance to develop without interruption. One of their biggest criticisms of their chief competitor is the never-ending event cycle that they’ve been mired in for years now…doing the exact opposite seems like the right approach to me!
- Re-introduce the Justice Society, Legion of Super-Heroes, and the Shazam family: This has been teased along for almost two years now, at least in the case of the first two, and at some point, there has to be a resolution to the long-simmering plotline that’s been dangled regarding Saturn Girl, Johnny Thunder, and most recently Jay Garrick throughout a few DC titles. I recognize and appreciate Dan DiDio’s stated reluctance to bring these titles back too early without the right creative teams in place, and these are indeed books that will need big names to hit with the kind of force DC is looking for, but I can’t help but think another year of waiting is going to drive fans insane. So in other words, let’s make that Jonathan Hickman Legion comic happen! And Shazam…well, there is a movie set to come out in 2019 after all. Chances are, this would fly in the face of the previous bullet-point, but in this case, the ends would justify the means.
- Bring Animal Man back through the Young Animal line: This is just a bit of fun really, but I hate that there’s a imprint at DC called Young Animal without an Animal Man book attached. I’ve always thought that character worked best during the Morrison-Delano days, slightly off in his own world, having crazy adventures about the nature of existence. It feels like it’s the key missing ingredient, but then again we’ll see how the Post-Milk Wars status quo alters the line beyond the newly relaunched titles, and the direction of what sort of books are introduced next.
- The old DC Unlimited chestnut: I’ve said it before in years past, and I’m going to bring back this same old request, but I’d be so delighted if DC finally introduced a “streaming comics” platform to rival Marvel Unlimited. It is the one thing that Marvel still holds the advantage on in securing new customers who want to delve into these rich universes, or long-time readers that want to take a deeper-dive into the archives. I imagine the devaluing of the digital market is probably one of the big reasons why this hasn’t happened (with Marvel Unlimited around, I never buy Marvel digital titles anymore…what’s the point?), but by golly, it sure would be nice to pull some Jack Cole Plastic Man issues in the middle of the night, or those Steve Ditko-drawn Legion comics, or Matt Wagner’s Doctor Mid-Nite whenever I feel the urge. It may be a pipe-dream but it’s my pipe-dream!
- I have a few other minor thoughts, such as potentially culling the Batman line a tad – Batgirl and the Birds of Prey and Batman Beyond are both under cancellation levels at this point and neither book is really lighting the world on fire – and urging for improvements for the Green Lantern side: Robert Venditti, when paired with the right artist, has a solid book on his hands in Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, but Green Lanterns remains a tough read currently. It might also be time to re-think how they approach Hellblazer, if at all.
- Have thoughts of your own? Share them below! I’d love to read them. Happy New Year everyone, and here’s to another great 12 months of comics reading!
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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.