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 opens up the new Damage #1 and checks in on the King of the Seas in Aquaman #32.
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.
Storytellers: Tony S. Daniel & Robert Venditti
Inker: Danny Miki
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Tom Napolitano
I can’t figure out what Dark Nights: Metal is. At first I thought it was a standard company crossover event like so many others we’ve seen before. The event this year was focused on Batman. Or maybe Hawkman. But then it spun off into a tangential mini side event to showcase various elseworlds in some kind of Multiversity tie-in. And this month the Dark Nights banner is appearing on a “New Age of Heroes” line of books that aim to introduce brand new characters using more of an artist-driven concept (note that Daniel gets top credit here). Do these new books actually have anything to do with the Dark Nights Metal story? I’m guessing no. But let’s not dwell on marketing.
In this debut, Ethan Avery is a soldier who volunteers for an experimental program in the hopes of becoming a hero, but ends up as a monster instead. For one hour of every day Ethan transforms into a grotesque behemoth called Damage, raging out of control and smashing everything in sight.
At first blush, it would be easy to dismiss this book as simply D.C.’s version of the Incredible Hulk. Looking at the upcoming Terrifics book in this line, whose titular heroes bear a clearly intentional likeness to Marvel’s Fantastic Four, it’s almost certain that the Hulk was in mind during the design of Damage. But having read the story, it’s more layered than that.
There’s the obvious parallel to Captain America’s Super Soldier program. The timing aspect of Ethan’s powers also lends a distinctly Hourman feel. In the 1940’s one of the Justice Society’s founding members gained superhuman strength for exactly one hour every time he popped one of his miracle pills. Damage could be described as an Hourman who gets dosed every day against his will. The way that Ethan and the monster seem to switch places and can speak to each other from the netherwhere calls to mind the dynamic of Jason Blood and the demon Etrigan. I personally don’t mind these creative borrowings. Let’s be honest — when you boil it down, they’re all Jekyll and Hyde anyway.
But even if you dismiss this as DC copying one of Marvel’s properties, this would be a solid way to start a Hulk book. And I love me a good Hulk book.
In this first issue, we open right on the action. Ethan has escaped from the military, his allies turned captors, in the midst of one of his berserker rages. I appreciate the subtle nod to DC’s original character named Damage, Grant Emerson, by opening the story in Atlanta. Ethan proceeds to destroy the city as his former unit attempts to take him down in an explosive fire fight. The first few pages have plenty of two-page spreads to let Tony Daniel show off the raw emotions of the monster in full rampage mode, flipping cars and smashing through buildings. The ticking clock and constant destruction give this book a frantic pace that keeps the pages turning. Damage is being pursued by a fellow soldier in “intercept armor” (*cough cough Iron Man*) who has worse emotional control than he does.
The raw emotions are ultimately what connect us to the story. However often we explode into a rage (Ethan does it promptly at sunset every day) or simmer with jealousy or feel some other uncontrollable urge, we become less like the hero we had hoped and more like Damage. We can relate to the monster just as well as we can to the human voice inside convincing the monster to hide itself and curb its destruction. Two halves trying to reconcile their coexistence, just wanting to be left alone — which is what I suspect the fugitive Ethan will strive for in future issues with (one imagines) little success.
As an introduction, this issue does its job. I’m listening. The trick now is to keep my attention and build a character who is more than just a big guy who smashes things. But, you know, have him smash a whole lot of stuff along the way, too.
Story: Dan Abnett
Artist: Riccardo Federici
Color: Sunny Gho
Lettering: Steve Wands
Cover: Stjepan Sejic
The best Aquaman stories have magic, that old Atlantean sorcery. The best Aquaman stories have prehistoric sea beasts that lurk in the ocean depths. They also have palace intrigue, shadowy religious factions, and a whole lot of ass-kicking. And the current series has got it all.
I’ve read Aquaman off and on for several years. The story being told in Aquaman’s solo book is usually pretty self-contained. Arthur spends his time in and around Atlantis, far away from the setting or influence of any other DC story being published. Sure, other writers can use Aquaman in their books as long as they have him mutter a gruff “This is taking time away from Atlantis!” But for the most part, writers of Aquaman have stayed underwater. This means that the fictional city of Atlantis has had regular stories told about for, what, almost eighty years now? Lots of time for it grow a rich history. I hope Aquaman never comes up for air.
These days? There’s a new king on the throne, who killed our beloved Arthur Curry to take it. Except Aquaman didn’t really die (for reasons unclear), he is instead riding at the head of a rebellion like some kind of zombie ghost king. If it sounds very Game of Thrones, it is. The new king has gone mad from using magic too carelessly and the rebels are attacking his magical barrier in an attempt to place Mera on the throne. Aquaman is fighting at her side where he belongs, though he knows that her as queen means that their dream of a quiet life on the surface will remain only a dream.
Wait there’s more. In the poorer parts of town, a gang war is brewing among the genetically mutated taint-bloods (though they don’t like that term). Mera’s been playing with old magic and has gotten into some trouble. The sisters of the widowhood have planted a spy inside Arthur’s rebellion. And then there’s this mysterious white-haired girl named Dolphin. There’s a lot going on and it’s a lot of fun.
Issue #25 was something of an inflection point, as the book welcomed Croatian artist Stjepan Sejic, who handled the art, coloring, and covers himself for six beautiful issues. Sejic was able lend an ethereal quality to the underwater ghosts and magic spells throughout the series, and his covers are downright gorgeous. After November’s issue, Sejic relinquished the interiors (but remained on covers) to Italian artist Riccardo Federici and Indonesian colorist Sunny Gho. These guys are nailing it. Aquaman today is so detailed and stunning. The facial expressions are realistic and the light glints off of Aquaman’s armor just right. Dolphin’s hair even floats naturally around her head reminding you that the story takes place underwater. The art has a scratchier quality than earlier issues and everything is washed in a muted blue tint, with tiny little bubbles drawn everywhere. Every panel looks like a photograph from a movie set and it works.
Aquaman is the kind of book that rewards you if you stick around for a while. It always is.
- There’s a hint of Batman/Wonder Woman romance in Batman #39. He’d better hope Selina doesn’t find out. To be fair, Bruce was stranded with Diana for ten years in a hellish alternate dimension of endless war before he started cozying up to her. But still.
- Kate has an encounter with the delightfully creepy Professor Pyg and his Dollotrons in Batwoman #11. One of the endearing things about this story is the difficulty that Kate is having in coming to terms with her emotional past. Like any member of the bat family, she has some heavy stuff rolling around in the recesses of her mind. It’s rare that an issue goes by without a mention of her father or her twin sister — or the terrible thing that Kate witnessed as a child. It lends the book a feeling of emotional authenticity, which is appreciated.
- One of the Green Lantern books that is currently being published features Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, Kyle, John, Kilowog, the entire GL Corps, the Sinestro Corps, Mogo, and the Guardians. It’s wonderful. The other one has Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, both of whom you’d be forgiven for not recognizing. It’s an admittedly impossible task, but Green Lanterns just doesn’t have enough recognizable pieces to feel like a true GL book. I’m a huge fan and even I’m skimming at this point.
- There’s been an awful lot of heartfelt, feel-good Superman stories ever since Lois and Clark had a son. Not complaining. This week we see Superman and the Justice League spend the day with a group of terminally sick children in Superman #39, as well as a heartfelt talk between Clark and Jon in Super Sons #12. I like the positioning of Superman as a family-oriented book. It is especially fun to see the childhood interactions between a boy raised by the wholesome Kents and Batman’s son Damian, who was raised by the League of Assassins. There was always something missing in the New 52 version of Supes, and this was it.
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