I’ll be reading and reviewing, in some sense of the word, the contents of each upcoming first issue (the Rebirth one-shot if the series has one or the traditional #1 if the series does not have one) to gauge exactly what the line ends up looking like.
Light spoilers for Superman: Rebirth #1, Batman: Rebirth #1, Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1, and Green Arrow: Rebirth #1 follow.
Superman: Rebirth #1
Storytellers: Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Penciller: Doug Mahnke
Inker: Jaime Mendoza
Colorist: Wil Quintana
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Far from a riveting rebirth, we’ve got a rancorous regurgitation of 20-year-old continuity spiced up with some more recent continuity and a slight frame narrative. This was one of my fears heading into Rebirth: that we’d get books more focused on telling readers when and where events fit into a timeline instead of telling a compelling story. This is a 20 page recap, an info dump, from a writer who felt the need to give people a refresher on the events of one of the highest-selling comic books of all time in a series of two-page spreads that can’t possibly hope to replicate the work it’s calling back to because it’s not telling a story so much as recounting events.
Doug Mahnke pencils seem to struggle in this issue when they’re not depicting the flashbacks to Dan Jurgens’ Death of Superman work. Even if he doesn’t excel at depicting the clash between Superman and Doomsday, Mahnke seems more engaged with the act of drawing monsters, musculature, and destruction. The frame story pages are rougher and less viscerally engaging as smiling or crying faces don’t come alive the way his grimaces do. The final panel of this book has a particularly grotesque where Superman’s face has so many lines around the eyes that he appears sick or disturbed.
There’s also the huge problem of this book not setting anything up. If you were one of the people who read the “Last Days of Superman” arc then this book is offering nothing you don’t already know. It’s meant to be a jumping on point for new or lapsed readers. For the life of me, I can’t imagine new readers being thrilled by an illustrated Wikipedia summary of decades old comics and a couple from the previous year. And a lapsed reader is going to know most of this. It’s not an artful communication of information and that’s a problem that stems from the DNA of what the Superman books now are. These books star the pre-New 52 version of the character who has secretly lived in the New 52 for five years with Lois and their son and will now be taking on the role of Superman again in the wake of the New 52 Superman’s death. That’s a bad premise. It’s too complicated. The most iconic character in the world now has a status quo that can’t be explained in a simple sentence so this book feels burdened to explain it. Comics about explaining comics may rev up some readers’ engine but that’s a gateway to impenetrable, incestuous comics.
And this book doesn’t even present an arc in which the old Superman decides to don the red and blue again! It’s table-setting without the hint of a meal. The furthest it goes is to have him eulogize the new Superman and share some vague dialogue that doesn’t follow what came before to hint at that new status quo that has been advertised for Superman and Action Comics. This is a book so obsessed with recapping that it forgets to set-up anything.
Batman: Rebirth #1
Written by Tom King & Scott Snyder
Art by Mikel Janin
Colors by June Chung
Letters by Deron Bennett
You know what Batman: Rebirth doesn’t do? It doesn’t recap shit. Tom King and Scott Snyder just throw readers in and show them Batman being extremely Batman. A new sidekick, Duke, is introduced and his origin is dispensed with in a few sentences that tell readers that A) his parents have been Jokerized, B) he’s been acting on his own as Robin, and C) he’s not interested in following into the same mold as prior Robins. All this information about Duke is delivered in dialogue and artwork that even when simply telling readers things includes a whole host of implications that flavor the character. It is simply good writing.
Mikel Janin’s been a superstar ever since Grayson debuted and it’s great to see that he’s continuing to work with Tom King as they seem to really vibe together. Janin gets in the beefcake on a King written page but he also excels at depicting the “hell yeah” superhero action. The value of June Chung’s color can’t be understated as she adds such texture to Janin’s line-work that is profoundly different from the sort of bright sheen that defined Grayson. As the book moves through the seasons and into different environments, the colors sell everything and manage to craft a consistent tone in this visually dynamic book.
The plot of this book isn’t exactly riveting but it doesn’t suffer from it as the focus is kept on providing readers with a Rosetta Stone for defining King’s take on Batman to come. The choice of Calendar Man and the changes made to the character reflect upon Batman in a way that feels true to past iterations of the character while following the “Rebirth” mandate quite literally. This feels like a fresh start with a solid take on an iconic character.
Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1
Written by Geoff Johns & Sam Humphries
Art by Ethan Van Sciver & Ed Benes
Colors by Jason Wright
Letters by Travis Lanham
I felt like we were in trouble when I opened this up to a splashpage of space with 15 narrative caption boxes. There’s a lot of captions in this book and they’re filling up these pages with information that is repeated a bit more naturally in the dialogue. It’s redundant and feels like a reflection of this being a writer-driven comic. The dialogue on what I believe to be the Geoff Johns’ written pages drawn by Ethan Van Sciver also has a tendency to make some characters, like an FBI agent talking with Green Lantern Simon Baz, sound like people who have read DC Comics rather than live in that world. The Humphries pages with art by Ed Benes start heavy on captions as well but quickly move to using dialogue as the chief communicator of information.
The book feels very early ‘00s with its depiction of Simon Baz dealing with Islamaphobia. It’s a relevant topic today as it has been for a while but it’s terribly unsubtle to see Baz cleaning a painted “terrorist” off of his sister’s house and then having an FBI agent apologize for mistaking him for a terrorist previously. The heart is in the right place, though, even as it feels cliché to depict Baz’s cultural identity solely through the lens of discrimination and profiling as it has been since Johns created him. Jessica Cruz’s battles with anxiety and possibly agoraphobia feel more modern but unfortunately carries some uncomfortable messaging with her conflation of her anxiety with a general fear she needs to overcome as a Green Lantern. It’s a simplification that doesn’t seem to understand what generalized anxiety is but it’s very possible that’s an issue with the character and not the writer.
The art’s a bit of a problem here. Van Sciver’s brand of detailing works well with alien characters but leaves his protagonists looking a little less than human. And Benes has a few page in his section where all semblance of geography is thrown out the window as a character on a soccer field materializes in the stands to hug Jessica and the two move into backgroundless environment without any indication that a necessary leap in time has occurred. And the poses Jessica Cruz is put into are cartoonishly feminine with no eye for how real people hold themselves.
Green Arrow: Rebirth #1
Story by Benjamin Percy
Art and Colors by Otto Schmidt
Letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot
Every DC Comic should be this good. This is a pretty good, original recipe DC comic that focuses on character while providing an engaging narrative through which to learn more about the characters as they learn about themselves. It’s good storytelling. Benjamin Percy had written the previous volume of Green Arrow from #40 to the very end and this book represents a complete shift in his take on the character. Gone is the brooding, Arrow-indebted take to be replaced by the smug, hypocritical liberal avenger of years past and one realizes that this comic could have been made at any time. The return of the goatee and the relationship with Black Canary (the elements that most harken back to the classic iteration of the character) aren’t what makes this a good comic, though. It’s simply that the craft is meeting a compelling take.
Otto Schmidt performs every duty here as interior artist and his work shines. The characters move with an animated flair and the action, far from nasty, has a beauty and weight to it. The depiction of the Canary Cry is a cyclone of harsh, multi-colored lines evocative of descriptions of synesthesia and the arc of an arrow provides serious speed and impact to the static image. As a penciller and a colorist, Schmidt excels and it’s disappointing to know that this book’s bi-weekly schedule means he won’t be able to draw every issue of this run.
That’s the first week of Rebirth and these titles are batting .500 which is nice to see but doesn’t really mean a whole lot when there are only four books released. The biggest strength of these books as a whole (significantly less so with Superman, though) is the way that they feel as if they could have been released at any point in the last five years. The Wally West theatrics of DC Universe: Rebirth #1 make it clear that it was never really intended to serve as a jumping-on point so much as an 80-page apology/blame-shifting to alienated readers that they had to pay to read. Regardless of how well this week’s one-shots perform, they all at least make an attempt to serve as entry-points for new readers.