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: Louie attempts to describe the zany conclusion to the Milk Wars crossover event in human readable words, in addition to heaping some more Aquaman love on the new miniseries starring Mera.
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.
Doom Patrol/JLA Special #1
Writers: Steve Orlando & Gerard Way
Illustration: Dale Eaglesham & Nick Derington
Colorists: Tamra Bonvillain & Marissa Louise
Letterer: Clem Robins
Hoo boy, here we go. I’m going to start this review with two disclaimers.
Disclaimer #1: This comic isn’t for everyone. If you’re more traditional in your tastes you might find it too off the wall. If you haven’t read any of the Young Animal titles you might get overwhelmed at all of the unfamiliar characters and their bizarre powers and backstories. This one is targeted at folks with a love for the zany, who can set aside logic and expectation somewhat and enjoy a story that embraces weirdness for weirdness’ sake. Comics come in so many flavors- this one happens to light up my pleasure centers, and I’ll attempt to explain why. Your mileage may vary.
Disclaimer #2: I’m completely unqualified to review this comic. I haven’t read all of the Young Animal titles and have no idea who Cave Carson is. I’m not sure I caught all of the references or even followed the entire story. Which is one of the reasons I liked it — I’m attracted to stories that feel just slightly over my head. Frank Herbert, Grant Morrison, James Freaking Joyce. I like a story that grows with my experience and withstands several rereads. This one’s like that.
Where to even begin? There are a lot of levels to this “Milk Wars” story arc, each chapter revealing a new facet. It started with the introduction of Milkman Man, violently stamping out any “strange-os” for the crime of being too different (or violent). We were then introduced to Father Bruce who was systematically converting children into perfectly behaved little sidekicks. Wonder Wife struggled to only allow the proper emotions to surface in her new life of domesticated bliss. In this odd world that feels uncomfortably familiar, homogenization is the ultimate virtue. Same is good, different is the ultimate enemy.
It’s fitting that the Doom Patrol finds itself at the center of the fight for weirdness, isn’t it? They have stumbled into a world very similar to the main DC Universe, but where diversity has been eradicated by a reality-shaping corporation called RetConn. If you haven’t caught on, this entire arc is a thinly veiled metaphor for the dogged normalization of comic books over the years. Any fresh idea or bold new direction gradually returns to the classic, safe brand standard. Dick Grayson can’t stay Batman forever and Wonder Woman has to give up her jacket and pants. Electric Blue Superman never stood a chance.
But to think that this crossover event is only a commentary on the stagnation of the comics industry is to miss a more important point. It’s also about the world we readers live in and the widespread fear of anything different. Something like RetConn is alive and well in society and working tirelessly to control and contain the beautiful weirdness, lest it change something. Wonder Wife feels she must give up her voice and true feelings as her identity is absorbed into her husband. Father Bruce wants you to drink from the cup of tradition and conformity. And Milkman Man is always there to lecture us about the dangers of thinking outside the established lines of brand standard thought. It’s a little close to home, isn’t it?
Wait, it gets weirder. This comic also plays with the idea of reality, in the vein of an early 90’s Grant Morrison. You can feel the fingerprints of his influence all over this one, which I personally find extremely gratifying. The concept here is that the Doom Patrol & friends have found an alternate universe, with an implication that there is something larger than (and outside of) that universe. Which invites a conversation about the nature of our universe and what delightful weirdness it might be hiding. I love to see an artist playing with the form factor of a comic — characters peeling themselves off of a panel and walking over to explore another part of the page, or a life that exists entirely in the margins. There’s a magic here that opens the story up to something transcendent.
To appreciate this angle, try to imagine the characters as real lives in a comic book universe. As readers we exist outside of this setting altogether. Superheroes played by the “rules” of their comic book physics for so many decades, moving dutifully through their lives, left to right one panel at a time. It is only relatively recently that they have begun to discover that maybe they can step outside the boundaries of these rectangular cells. They can play in more than two dimensions and even speak to their creators through the fourth wall of their flat existence. It’s a heady concept, but it’s executed expertly through the Rita Farr passion sequences in this issue. Just when all is lost, Rita realizes what she really is and that comic book death doesn’t hold any terror at all when you’re larger than the page. There’s a metaphor for you.
Ultimately this comic works for me. It’s a mashup of Morrison era Doom Patrol and Giffen era Justice League. I love that it derides DC’s “crisis” reset button as nothing more than a last ditch failsafe when you’ve written yourself into a corner — and then relies on that very same trick to get out of its own story mess. The scene with Casey forgiving her son is a tearjerker and the stuff with Flex Mentallo is completely goofball. This crossover encouraged me to shed outdated images of myself and reminded me that comics are supposed to be fun.
Verdict: Buy the trade, reread often
Mera: Queen of Atlantis #1
Writer: Dan Abnett
Pencils: Lan Medina
Inks: Richard Friend
Colors: Vero Gandini
Lettering: Simon Bowland
This feels like a win, doesn’t it? Mera has her own comic. No, we don’t need to celebrate every time a female character headlines a series, but look at this one. You just know that if this title came out ten years ago it would have been called “Aquaman: Mera” and also would not have come out at all.
She isn’t being called Aquawoman. She’s not sharing the cover with Batman (thank Barbatos) or anyone else. Aquaman doesn’t even appear in the story apart from silent flashback images. It’s just Mera’s story, as she claims the title of queen according to the will of her people. Not wife of the king — queen.
Storywise, the fact that she is being placed on the throne is momentous. Mera is an outsider. She is technically Atlantean, though she comes from a long-banished colony called Xebel. She was originally sent to woo and kill Aquaman, but it obviously didn’t work out that way.
At the start of this miniseries, Mera is stuck on dry land. She was wounded by a magical artifact during the recent battle and can’t breathe water until the magic fades from her system over time. So she’s relaxing in the form of fighting off an aquakinetic assassin.
Dan Abnett has written 33 chapters of this story already over in Aquaman, and this feels like a natural continuation as well a self-contained tale. Really his story has branched into two threads that will undoubtedly rejoin at the conclusion of this series in issue 6. If you want to catch up on how we got to this point in the story, start at Aquaman #31 (better yet, catch the phenomenal arc in #25-30 as well).
Naturally this first issue provides a recap of the Atlantean political climate. Sometimes I almost forget how rich the Aquaman mythos is. In a nutshell, a rebellion has been brewing for some time in Atlantis with the goal of overthrowing Rath- an opportunistic bully who holds the throne by force. At this point the rebellion is nearly complete. Rath’s defenses have pretty much fallen but his butt is still physically sitting on the throne. Aquaman has gone to take care of that last detail while Mera heals and prepares to assume her new duties.
As part of the new job, she meets with the US Secretary of State to open diplomatic relations between Atlantis and the surface world. This Wonder Woman type of role suits Mera. She is direct and fair, as befits a woman who grew up in a royal family. I love how she wears the full Atlantean garb to the State meeting, gold-finned tiara and all. Don’t ever change, Mera.
It’s worth a read. This is an underappreciated character in a rich political drama. I’m genuinely intrigued about what might happen next. Despite the title, I feel there’s a good chance she doesn’t take the throne. She’s not the only one with a claim and these things tend to get messy.
- For a book called Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, Kyle Rayner sure steals the show sometimes. In this issue, he’s got Hal’s ring stuck on his finger and it’s making him act all Hal-like. It’s amusing how disgusted he gets as he catches himself saying things like “Let’s bend the throttle off!” I’ve said it before, but this creative team is nailing it. All of the GLs have distinct voices and the dialogue remains witty and unforced. Lots of action and compelling villains. Just keep doing more of this.
- It’s a solid debut issue in The Terrifics #1. We get to see Metamorpho’s classic supporting cast of Simon Stagg, Sapphire, and even Java. The Ivan Reis art is sci-fi fun filled with yellow-green crackling energy. And Plastic Man is FINALLY out of his egg form. We missed you, stretch.
- “The Trial of Batwoman” in Detective Comics #975 shows how the various members of the Bat family react to Kate’s recent murderous actions. Barbara, Tim, Dick, Damian…even Jason Todd gets a say. I was surprised to see the flashback of Bruce and Kate interacting as children, as I wasn’t sure their relationship was very clear (despite the Kane name connection). I probably missed a retcon or explanation at some point, it seems that they are perhaps first cousins?
- Action Comics #998 has Booster Gold lecturing Superman about the danger of changing the past, posturing about the “first rule of time travel”. And then guess what he does two pages later. Since we didn’t get to see the terrible consequences of Booster’s actions in this comic, I’m guessing it might be a part of the story that they’re cooking up for issue #1000. I hope so, and I hope it’s epic.
- There are at least six speedsters in The Flash #41. That’s kind of excessive.
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