DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as Young Animal, Wildstorm, Black Label, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu, entertainment editor Kyle Pinion, and contributor Louie Hlad are here to help you with!
THIS WEEK: Wally West was brought back into Rebirth continuity, but does his presence make sense? Louie takes a look at the merging of timelines in The Flash #49. Also: Long live the queen!
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.
The Flash #49
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artist: Howard Porter
Letterer: Steve Wands
I have to say, DC Comics has been doing a lot of things right lately. Sure there have been some lean years recently, but ever since they got settled in their fancy new West Coast offices they’ve been delivering a consistently high-quality product. Is product even the right word? Monthly comics really belong more in the category of storytelling and art. And DC has made some obvious commitments since Rebirth to make their craft sing.
One of the strengths that the DC universe has is its embrace of the reboot. It feels like they’ve got it down to a formula now: big crisis event changes history, old history gets shuffled off to a parallel universe, cleanup on aisle 4. We’ve been through so many of them that we sometimes forget why the reboot is so important. It’s not done to correct small inconsistencies or contradictions that have crept into the story over the years. It’s done to mess shit up.
Case in point: FlashPoint in 2011 was about Barry Allen going into the past to prevent his mother’s death, which of course completely broke time and jacked up reality. We’re talking Amazons at full-on war with the Atlanteans. Not good. The heroes managed to put it all back together (they always do) but the fix resulted in some changes to the repaired timeline (it always does). This particular crop of timeline edits was a spicy one and we ended up with the “New 52” versions of the characters. In this new world, our heroes were younger and less tied down. Clark Kent wasn’t married to Lois, Barry Allen wasn’t married to Iris, Wally West and his family seemed to not exist. It was a big change. Fans grumbled about it, but fans mostly grumble about everything. The experiment would work out just fine if fans would only embrace these fresh versions of the characters for what they are and try to forget about what came before.
But we don’t. We don’t forget. Anything.
I noticed a Radu’s logo on the window of a coffee shop that Wally visited in The Flash Annual a few months ago. And I got really excited. Does anyone know what Radu’s is or what any of this means? Of course not — unless you were reading Green Lantern in 1995. Then you’d also be excited to know that Radu’s Greenwich Village business has grown to the point that he was able to open a second location in Central City. Way to go, Radu! We remember.
More importantly, I’m excited to know that Radu’s exists at all in this timeline. You never know after a reboot. Until you see it on the printed page, you still wonder if everything is the way you remember it. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it is decidedly not.
Anyway, the New 52 was around for a few years and then itself rebooted away via the Rebirth initiative in 2016, and we’re still getting to know the heroes and the world that resulted. Here’s where the trick comes in — Somehow in this most recent reboot DC was able to keep both the pre-Flashpoint history and the events of the New 52 world mostly intact. I can’t explain how they pulled this off. This is what they do, these chrono-wizards that call themselves DC Editorial. They pick the best parts of contradictory stories and meld them into a new one and just keep moving. As a reader, the hope is that the stuff you love all finds its way back into the story somehow.
The other thing DC has gotten right lately is keeping creative talent in place. Nothing is more frustrating than to follow a story that changes hands every few months. The title hero goes from having a job to not having a job to being a god. But today there are a lot of books that have remained under the same writer, like Aquaman which has been in the hands of Dan Abnett and a handful of very talented artists since the start of the 2016 reboot. Same for Tom King on Batman, and Robert Venditti has been writing Green Lantern since the middle of the New 52. Long-term writers means rich, layered, rewarding stories.
Joshua Williamson took over writing The Flash at the beginning of Rebirth. He had a fresh slate and could make sure the stuff he loves would find its way into the story. In the two years since he started, Williamson has unfolded a heck of a tale. He’s made liberal use of the Rogues and explored the depths of Iron Heights Penitentiary. He’s had Barry go through a demeaning job change and deal with a rocky relationship. He’s created a new speedster or two. And yes, Barry spent an issue fighting an evil version of Bruce Wayne. They all kind of have to do it these days.
Oh yeah. And Wally’s back. WALLY’S BACK you guys! Pulled right out of the damn timeline and plopped back into existence. The largest overarching story in The Flash for the past two years has been about how Wally existed before FlashPoint but nobody remembers him. His own wife, Linda, doesn’t recognize him. The life he had with her and the kids is just gone, along with all those years he was The Flash. Barry is one of the only people who remembers Wally at all.
If your reaction wasn’t “Wait, huh, how?” then you haven’t been paying attention. Wally is the poster child for all the great stuff that didn’t fit in the new timeline and got left behind on the editing room floor. This world got built around the fact of his absence; his existence isn’t logical anymore. If he spent all those years as Kid Flash and then as The Flash, why doesn’t anyone remember him? What about people he saved, did that still happen? Why is he so young? Where are his kids?
The Flash is the book that is still telling the story of Rebirth. We’re not done exploring how the universe was rebooted and what exactly got broken along the way. It’s also a story about family, for better or worse. Built into every character interaction is a certain tension. Let’s call it friction. Iris isn’t speaking to Barry. Barry snaps and chews out his boss. Barry tries to pass down a legacy to the new Kid Flash who’s not always receptive to the lessons. Half the time you’re not sure how any of this situation can hold itself together. You know, family.
The Flash is a book that feels both new and familiar in the most strange and direct of ways. In issue #49, Barry and Wally are having a fight that could destroy the world. Wally knows he can bring his kids into this timeline and is willing to risk anything to do it. Barry has made the mistake before of trying to change the past and has seen the damage it can do to reality. There are always going to be characters like Wally’s children, Iris and Jai, who have been cast aside to make room for something new. They wait just off panel in a character limbo for their next chance to make an appearance, hoping the time eventually comes. Reading The Flash is as exciting for its on-screen superspeed fights and lightning trails as it is for the possibility of world-shattering consequences.
So what’s the take home message to DC Comics? Do we want fresh concepts and new takes on the characters? Or do we want a solid base that we can come back to year after year, like a lightning rod calling us home?
Mera: Queen of Atlantis #5
Writer: Dan Abnett
Penciller: Lan Medina
Inker: Norm Rapmund
Colorist: Veronica Gandini
Letterer: Simon Bowland
We’re almost at the end of Mera’s solo miniseries, and things are getting pretty intense. Mera has been taking a breather (ha!) as she prepares to ascend to the throne of Atlantis. She spent some time with Tula on the surface world as her water-shaping powers were healing. It hasn’t been all pina coladas and suntanning like she wanted, though, as Aquaman’s half-brother Orm has decided to take up his villainous role of Ocean Master once again. The two aren’t exactly on the best of terms and it looks like they still have a few things to work out between them. To the death.
The good news is that Mera’s powers are getting stronger, and this means we get plenty of underwater action in the back half of this six issue series. The past couple of issues have focused on Xebel, the Atlantean penal colony that Mera once called home. The leaders of Xebel are understandably upset with Mera (for totally not killing Aquaman like they told her) so it’s a little awkward that she’s asking them for help to take the throne of Atlantis. Teaming up with Orm and trying to get Xebel to help Atlantis? This was never going to go well.
And it doesn’t! Mera doesn’t have a lot of allies in this book, at least not trustworthy ones. She is supported by the unwashed (ha!) masses of Atlantis to take the throne but there are an awful lot of folks who have other ideas about the future of the kingdom. The surface world is wary of her, the powerful in Atlantis are scrambling for power, and her hometown holds a grudge. Aquaman is no help either as he’s busy with a five month long fight scene over in the main title.
Side note: The main Aquaman title has hit a bit of a lull since the beginning of this miniseries. For so many months it was a twisty plot of palace intrigue and kingdom-wide class struggle, almost certainly influenced by the best parts of Game of Thrones. Issue after issue was filled with thoughtful character development and genius plot twists. But back in issue #33 in February, the story split into two parallel branches — Mera came to the surface world to gather her strength as Arthur dove back into the ocean to go kick the usurper off her throne. You’d think the fighting-over-the-throne plot line would be more interesting than the beach vacation one, but it’s really been the opposite. Mera is learning more about her potential allies and enemies and positioning herself for victory while Aquaman has been caught in a never-ending battle that he doesn’t even seem to be winning. Hopefully when these two stories come back together the main title will stop treading water. Oh, and ha!
Will Mera actually take the throne of Atlantis? I honestly don’t know. The prophecies revealed at the end of Dark Nights: Metal tell us that the underwater city of Atlantis is about to be raised back up out of the oceans. So we know that times are about to get rough in the kingdom. For their sake, I hope they have a ruler who is wise, just, strong, and looks great in a gold-finned tiara.
- The Teen Titans are putting together a new team in Teen Titans Special #1, and it looks like they might not be as opposed to violence as their mentors. I’m pretty sure Damian just killed a bunch of bodyguards and then murdered a (technically innocent) man while taking a steam bath. It’s gonna be that kind of book.
- Bendis’s The Man of Steel is somehow both exciting and slow-paced. Five issues in, I still don’t know who the bad guy is or what he has against Kryptonians. I also don’t know where Lois and Jon disappeared to, though it has something to do with Jor-El. But it’s a solid Superman tale so far and I’m looking forward to much more. The Kent family dynamics are very well written. My favorite line of dialogue was Jor-El dismissing one of Lois’s tirades with a simple, “Yes, I understand your position.” You can hear the Kryptonian disdain dripping from the page.
- Mother Panic: Gotham A.D. has a been a fun little ride. It’s set in the future, some kind of future, where most of the heroes and villains in Gotham have either hung up their masks, died gruesome deaths, or are working for new players. There’s a stabby new Joker who meets Violet’s stabby new sidekick with predictable results. Nobody seems to know what happened to Batman.
- Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #47 is on the shelves, so you knew I wouldn’t leave it out. In this issue: Guy reveals that he actually had a plan all along, Hector Hammond is still as creepy as ever, and Mogo is under siege. You can feel this series marching toward its conclusion now. All of the pieces are in place for the final fight between the Darkstars and the Lanterns. Get your popcorn.
- Me, reviewing The Terrifics #1 back in April: “Ten bucks says the Orb of Ra makes an appearance by issue #20.” Okay, I was WAY off. It pops up in issue #5.
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