Graeme vs. DC Rebirth: Weeks 1 & 2

June 10, 2016

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So, the first two weeks of Rebirth books are out for DC — only nine of them, which feels almost glacial compared with the 13-very-week roll-out of the New 52 back in 2011. But how does this latest round of reboots, relaunches and respositionings work, compared with the more extreme makeover of five years ago? Judging by the evidence so far, the answer seems to be “It’s better, and yet…” Let’s go through things old-school, with a round-up, shall we?

366084._SX640_QL80_TTD_BATMAN REBIRTH #1: Considering how much I like each of the creators working on this issue — it’s co-written by outgoing Batman writer Scott Snyder and incoming writer Tom King, with art by Mikel Janin — I was surprised by how disappointed I was with this issue. It’s not that it’s a bad issue per se, but it feels like a fill-in, or one of those post-big storyline issues you used to get in days of yore where the heroes catch their breath. It’s also filled with things that are oddly oblique: what’s with Alfred feeding the bats in the cave with avocado? Why does Duke get a new Bat-outfit but not a superhero name? If we’re supposed to be creeped out by the Calendar Man, wouldn’t it have been better had he seemed like a credible threat and not someone to be dispatched essentially off-panel at the start of the book? It’s a curiously underwhelming opening to King’s run, and I can’t tell if that’s because I had unfairly high expectations, or that it’s genuinely too low-key for its own good.

GREEN LANTERNS REBIRTH #1: Not unlike Batman Rebirth, this issue felt like such a quick read that I started to wonder if the Rebirth oneshots were actually shorter than regular issues (They’re not). Again the product of a co-writing partnership (Geoff Johns and Sam Humphries, with Ethan Van Sciver and Ed Benes sharing art chores), it gets the job done in a way that feels slick and filled with potential — having agoraphobe Jessica Cruz and chip-on-his-shoulder Simon Baz as co-leads forced to work together provides a stronger lead than Hal Jordan solo — but I’m left wondering how this ties in with where the Green Lantern books were pre-Rebirth as much as anything. Color me… cautiously optimistic, I guess? That said, the art on this book doesn’t fit — not just with each other (Van Sciver and Benes are not a good match, stylistically), but also with the material. I find myself wishing for something less fussy and bolder that would feel as different visually from the Green Lantern norm as the characters feel from the Jordan/Corps books era.

GREEN ARROW REBIRTH #1: I’ll admit it, I wasn’t expecting much from this one — Benjamin Percy, who stays with the book from pre-Rebirth had taken the series in an over-written horror direction previously, and the idea that Rebirth would mean more of the same but with added Black Canary was… not thrilling, to put it mildly. So the fact that this is light, cute and… well, almost fun was a complete surprise. It’s helped by some wonderful part by Otto Schmidt, who should really be kept on the series for awhile. It’s not perfect — while I understand what it intended, reading Ollie refer to himself as “a social justice warrior” felt clunky as hell, especially considering the term is traditionally used by trolls as an insult — but it’s so, so much better than the previous Green Arrow series and made me want to read more. Probably the winner of the first week’s worth of books.

b027_-_superman_rebirth_smreb_cv1SUPERMAN REBIRTH #1/ACTION COMICS #957: On the one hand, the Superman books came into Rebirth with a disadvantage — the “Final Days of Superman” storyline meant that there would have to be a lot of exposition for new readers coming into either series, to explain the dead Superman, who this new Superman was, and what the state of play was moving forward. The problem is, Superman Rebirth doesn’t do any of this well — the pacing is shot to hell, it wastes a lot of real estate recapping the 1990s “Death of Superman” storyline, and it never quite gets around to explaining just who this new Superman actually is. As a jumping-on point, which the Rebirth one shots are intended to be, it’s a disaster, buried in old continuity and failing to really throw any teases out there for what’s to come. The first issue of the new Action is much better, thankfully, rushing to hit a number of beats that really, really should’ve been handled by the Rebirth one shot (The Post-Crisis Clark deciding to be Superman again? That should’ve been the end of Rebirth, come on you guys) and set up mysteries for future issues. I’ll be honest; something as simple as “who is this new Clark Kent?” is good enough to lure me back for at least one more issue, whereas the Rebirth mess — with Peter Tomasi, Pat Gleason and Doug Mahnke, all creators I dig! — has me uncertain about whether or not the ongoing Superman is going to satisfy my super-cravings on a regular basis. Rebirth: where everything you thought you knew about DC’s comics is wrong in terms of which ones you thought you’d like!

DETECTIVE COMICS #934: The first issue of the new Detective is just great. There’s nothing revolutionary happening, it’s a simple “getting the band together” issue for the new status quo of Batman recruiting Batwoman to train the new generation of Gotham crime fighters (and Clayface, because… I don’t know; it’s something you didn’t expect?), but it’s solid and well-done, and that’s more than enough for me. That said, this is far from “new” for a Batbook — it feels very much like Batman and Robin Eternal in terms of tone and visuals. That’s neither a criticism nor a surprise — James Tynion IV wrote both books, which share a cast and a “Batman Family” vibe — but if Rebirth is supposed to offer something different from what audiences have been reading for the last few years, that’s definitely not something that’s happening here. Then again, Batman and Robin Eternal sold pretty well, so why fix something that definitely wasn’t broken from the business point of view?

AQUAMAN REBIRTH #1: If you’d said to me a year ago, “Dan Abnett is a great Aquaman writer,” I suspect my response would’ve been, “Dan Abnett? Aquaman? Who cares?” But it works — this issue feels like it does what Geoff Johns was trying to do with his run (Create a sense of stakes and heightened drama and replace the idea of Aquaman-as-joke with Aquaman-as-king) but with less effort showing, even though I admit to being somewhat unconvinced by the last page reveal of the narrator of the issue. (It makes sense on a plot level, I just found myself going, “Oh, him again?”) The art, by Oscar Jiminez and Scot Eaton is serviceable enough, with Jiminez’s work reminiscent of upcoming series artist Brad Walker in places, and like Detective Comics, I feel as if I enjoyed it so much because it really just does the job with the minimum of fuss. I can’t work out if that’s a good sign or not, to be honest; on the one hand, it feels like damning with faint praise, but on the other, I feel like one of the problems with the DC You era of DC’s books was a lack of straightforward superhero comics for those titles to contrast with.

WONDER WOMAN REBIRTH #1: This one was… problematic. Depending on what you’re looking for from the issue, I suspect your opinion on this book will vary wildly. In terms of intent, it’s likely something that many Wonder Woman fans have been waiting for for some times — it includes an obvious (if implied) critique of the last five years’ worth or so of the character’s mythology, as well as a new beginning that nonetheless connects with a number of remaining threads from New 52 chronology — and, on that level, I enjoyed it greatly; I also find that Greg Rucka’s take on Diana (conflicted, angry, yet curiously graceful and resolute, if that makes sense) one that really works for me, and she’s very much present in this issue. And yet… it feels very inorganic, with pacing and exposition that doesn’t really gell, an artist switch (from Matthew Clark to Liam Sharp, when Diana realizes that her existence is a lie) that feels awkward and, it should be said, some coloring that really doesn’t do Sharp’s artwork many favors. There’s a lot of promise here, but I can’t help but admit that this issue didn’t really work for me. Perhaps what’s to follow will be better.

b045_-_flash_rebirth_flsreb_cv1THE FLASH REBIRTH #1: After being convinced that we wouldn’t see anything more of the Watchmen plot for awhile, imagine my surprise when this issue dives right in there, not only by replaying scenes from DC Universe: Rebirth, but by having Barry Allen and Batman decide to investigate what’s happening to reality on the downlow. It’s both a pleasant surprise, in that there’s some surprise forward motion on a storyline I suspected would be sidelined for some time, but also an unwelcome one because it feels like it derails the Flash-ness of the book; I finished the issue and felt like I wanted to read the next issue so that I could finally get to the Flash plot. Plus points, though, definitely include both Josh Williamson’s script, which was warm and “got” Wally and Barry’s voices — and also the way in which they differ — and Carmine Di Giandomenico’s angular, European-style artwork. I’m definitely onboard to see what comes next here.

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7 comments on “Graeme vs. DC Rebirth: Weeks 1 & 2

  1. Zaragosa Jun 12, 2016

    Totally agree with you on Tom King’s Batman debut. Quite underwhelming. I’m sure it’ll get better, since everything else he’s written has been stellar. But yeah, what the frig was that avocado supposed to signify?! I guess we missed that metaphor.

    • daustin Jun 14, 2016

      The idea of King and Janin on Batman is super appealing (loved their work on Grayson, and King’s work is generally terrific). But David Finch is such a huge turnoff. It’s like, “Here, all the things you learned to hate about Jim Lee!” but with 30% more blank sex doll face on the women. Ugh. If it gets good reviews, I’ll buy it cheap on Comixology sales. Couldn’t it just be King and Janin? I would buy any title that just the two of them were handling – a dream team like Parker/Shaner.

  2. Vernon Wiley Jun 12, 2016

    As a retailer I am very happy the first 2 weeks worked out on most levels for the relaunch. While DC is making it easy to deeply stock their books now, if they can hold these sales and maintain a twice a month schedule I’ll be impressed. As always though, quality over quantity!

    • Jeff Lester Jun 14, 2016

      That’s really the trick, isn’t it? Trying to do quality *and* maintain a twice a month schedule? If nothing else, editorial is going to have to really be on their game for talent recruitment because the risk of burn out six to nine months down the road is going to be high.

  3. I only really read Action. Jumping on with issue #957 should say it all–at least according to conventional wisdom–is there such thing as that anymore in the comics industry?

    I found a sick delight in what must be completely impenetrable for new readers. Actually as someone who got left behind with the New 52, I was probably looking for something codified, something only someone with my level of involvement could understand, something that’s “mine”. It’s twisted but it’s about the only hook that could get me back on board…and it did! I love that this Superman is another world’s Superman. I love rooting for him and anticipating this world’s cast of heroes reacting to him as conflict/adversity for him. I don’t like this world. I want this world to burn. But if Superman can be magnanimous and heroic in a world that he doesn’t belong in, then that’s aspirational to me? And the Man of Steel has not gotten a shot at that kind of stance of late.

    Everything else I took a big pass on. What I’ve read of Tom King has been overhyped. Flash is not a character I can tolerate unless done superbly (and nothing done at DC these days fits that bill) and without this Watchmen hoo-ha. Oh, I did read Wonder Woman but I think it made me have to decide whether I gave enough of a damn about the character and given DC’s track record with me for the last few years, they are guilty until proven innocent…didn’t make the cut. I really enjoyed Rucka’s previous run but it was so mired in the DCU at the time, without some of that infrastructure I’m just going to relegate this to library read at some point. The rest falls off from there.

    • Jeff Lester Jun 14, 2016

      In a perfect world, Tim, they’d use your comment as the basis for the pull-quotes on the first volume. “sick delight” and “completely impenetrable for new readers” and “I want this world to burn” would all look *amazing* on the front or back cover.

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