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.
Spoilers for Action Comics #957, Aquaman: Rebirth #1, Detective Comics #934, The Flash: Rebirth#1, and Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1 follow.
Action Comics #957
Written by Dan Jurgens
Art by Patrick Zircher
Colors by Tomeu Morey
Letters by Rob Leigh
This is a Standard Issue of Action Comics. It contains 20 pages of story in which a hero foils a plot and super-powered characters punch each other before a “to be continued” ends the thing with a cliffhanger. Writer Dan Jurgens could write this kind of comic in his sleep and, in some ways, he’s already written it before. What Jurgens is writing here is a remix of Reign of the Supermen with multiple characters claiming to be Superman after the New 52 iteration’s recent death. There’s Lex Luthor who has taken to wearing the cape and shield, a mysterious “Clark Kent” that appears on the scene, and the pre-New 52 Superman that finally reveals himself to the world. All three of these characters converge in time for the release of another version of Doomsday.
The scene in which Lex Luthor takes down some bank robbers and gives a speech about how Superman’s sacrifice has inspired him to carry on the legacy really works. The pacing is just right, creating a classic feel, before the reveal of the former villain in costume. Where things start to get weird and go off the rails is when the old Superman, in his domestic identity with wife Lois and son Jonathan, sees Lex Luthor on the news and becomes so incensed at the reformed villain’s mission statement that he dramatically shaves his face and flies off in a blue and red costume to confront him. He sounds like an absolute lunatic as he tells Lois that even though they have no proof, he knows Lex Luthor is a villain incapable of changing and must shatter the life that his family has built in this alternate world. From there, he moves to publicly confronting Lex Luthor, insulting the man and instigating a fight that he blames on Luthor.
I normally don’t do so much recap in a review but this felt notable, again, because this absolutely does lock in step with the “hope and optimism” mission statement. This old version of Superman is behaving every bit like the mean-spirited bully that the New 52 Superman was often criticized for being. If this is a return to the “real” Superman that is meant to replace the New 52 one then I think it is worth noting that this character presently doesn’t contain the qualities that the New 52 was criticized for not having at launch. There’s a possibility that this is going to be a story about proving Superman wrong but it might be a little much to expect or hope for a writer who worked on these books in the ‘90s to meaningfully challenge the “Superman is good, Lex Luthor is bad” status quo. The writing doesn’t seem to indicate much in either direction yet.
The return of Doomsday promises another Death of Superman retread included with the aforementioned Reign and Return elements but his presence might create a sense of fatigue for an audience that has seen Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice this year and lived through the somewhat recent Superman: Doomed crossover. Reading this comic does feel like coming into the middle of a story you haven’t been following, something I think was an intentional move consistent with the return to the classic numbering, which may catch new or lapsed readers but potentially lose those who continued to follow the Superman books.
And let’s remind readers that the Group Editor of the Superman titles, Eddie Berganza, has a known history of sexual harassment and there is allegedly an informal policy in place that prevents women from working in the Superman offices with him.
Aquaman: Rebirth #1
Written by Dan Abnett
Pencils by Scot Eaton & Oscar Jiménez
Inks by Mark Morales & Oscar Jiménez
Colors by Gabe Eltaeb
Letters by Pat Brosseau
I’m gonna hammer real hard on this point but the whole purpose of this relaunch according to Geoff Johns was to “give back [a] sense of hope and optimism” to the DC universe. And I had some trouble trying to parse out any hope or optimism in this dreadful book. This book is a narration heavy fight between Aquaman and Atlantean terrorists attempting to attack the surface. It’s a simple story used to dramatize the protagonist’s duty to the surface and the sea but the narration goes on and on to emphasize how Aquaman is torn between two worlds that hate him and he can never fully belong to. There’s a lot of defensive posturing about how Aquaman doesn’t talk to fish and he has all these other powers that are totally cool… This book doubles down on the seriousness and defensiveness that caused some to criticize the Geoff Johns run five years ago but without any of the humor that I felt made it work back then. And straight up? Having your new Aquaman series start with Black Manta’s plot to murder Mera in order to hurt Aquaman is played out and really missing in the “hope and optimism” department.
I’m on the record with how great I think the cover to this comic is, but the interiors are a different story. Oscar Jiménez’s pencils bookend this issue and his hyper-detailed figures lack a sense of life or movement. Even worse, his style clashes with the more cartoonish work of Scot Eaton that falls between his pages. Eaton’s figures also have difficulty expressing emotion and his action is over-done in a Saturday morning cartoon sort of way that removes any weight from what the writing is bending over backwards to indicate is very serious. From the writing to the art, nothing works and the antipathy inspired in me by that led me to notice something odd. The book at one point references an Atlantean attack on the surface that happened “a year ago” but then a news chyron refers to it as the “2013 Attack.” Does this comic take place in 2014 or did no one care to keep internal consistency?
This is more than just a bad comic, it’s an incompetent one that doesn’t fit the mission statement of the Rebirth line and seems embarrassed of its own existence.
Detective Comics #934
Written by James Tynion IV
Pencils by Eddy Barrows
Inks by Eber Ferreira
Colors by Adriano Lucas
Letters by Marilyn Patrizio
I liked this one. Eddy Barrows has some Bat experience having penciled Nightwing at the launch of the New 52 so he brings a fun, flexible look to the world of Gotham City vigilantes. And the colors of Adriano Lucas deserve mention as they ably sell the tone of the intense action with smoke and ominous sparks while also changing up towards the end for a softer profile of Clayface that recalls painted water colors.
This is a perfectly good starting point for new and old readers alike. It’s accessible, only asking readers be familiar with the general concept of Batman while quickly introducing other Bat characters as the “Bat Boot Camp” premise is established. The opening sequence does a lot of work by starting things off with action, establishing the presence of multiple vigilantes in Gotham, and threading the mystery that brings all the characters together. It’s a great opening that never feels like it’s trying to do all these things at once so much as it simply does them which makes it some of the best writing I’ve seen from Tynion. Less elegant is a page in which Batwoman reveals that she’s discovered Batman’s secret identity which results in a panel where an unmasked Batman stands mouth agape. It’s silly and in attempting to make Batwoman look competent, it makes Batman look incompetent which has the unfortunate effect of making Batwoman’s accomplishment seem less impressive.
Some of the character introductions are better than others (Clayface is a pretty good one and Batwoman’s two-page spread stumbles in the info dump even as Barrows’ Batwoman gracefully soars. If Tynion can grow as comfortable and assured with these characters’ voices as Barrows is drawing them then this could be a pretty neat run for new and old readers.
The Flash: Rebirth #1
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico
Colors by Ivan Plascencia
Letters by Steve Wands
This issue suffers from having certain scenes in it written by someone else and appearing in a previously published book. The scene from DC Universe: Rebirth #1 really stands out as it drags the already sluggish book to a hault with a retread for people who have already read that issue and some weird narration over a nonsensical scene for people who haven’t read it. Before that, the book starts with Barry Allen investigating a crime scene reminiscent of his mother’s murder that isn’t wholly interesting as presented. It’s a fake-out for readers familiar with Geoff Johns’ murdered mother retcon that has stuck around as part of Barry Allen’s backstory while also informing new readers about it. It’s not exactly artful and it leads to scenes of Barry speaking openly with his father (recently freed after being wrongfully convicted of his wife’s murder) about his feelings without the two reaching a point where Barry’s feelings of dread are meaningfully contextualized.
The plot about the murdered woman is unceremoniously dropped, though, with that aforementioned shift into scenes from DC Universe: Rebirth and an epilogue that establishes how the return of the white Wally West effects the status quo. It’s brought up once more in the final page with the crime being solved without Barry or the Flash’s involvement. And it’s resolved in a manner that’s a bit of a downer, moving the book further away from that “hope and optimism” I keep bringing up since Johns made a point to promote Rebirth so heavily with that as the selling point. The coloring is dreary, to match the tone of the writing, with only the Flash and Wally popping out at times with their still somewhat subdued colors. It’s a neat idea that makes them stand-out but it doesn’t undo the heavy Se7en vibes. In the future, it might be nice to see some more of that “hope and optimism” reflected in the coloring as well as more lively, less rendered backgrounds.
Carmine Di Giandomenico makes a strong debut on The Flash where his long, rectangular characters with their sharp angles carry a kinetic quality that a character like Barry Allen could really use on the page. In one of the few instances where we really see the Flash doing his thing, his legs are long and powerful while the rest of his body cuts more of a wiry figure. His layouts aren’t very exciting, though, and he’s not really given a whole lot of action to draw so hopefully he’s given a chance to cut loose on the book in the near future. And hopefully the book ditches the angle about investigating Doctor Manhattan’s interference with the DC universe because that remains a majorly offensive knock against creators’ rights.
Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1
Written by Greg Rucka
Pencils by Matthew Clark (w/ inks by Sean Parson) & Liam Sharp
Colors by Jeremy Colwell & Laura Martin
Letters by Jodi Wynne
This book feels perfunctory at best. It recaps the previous origin of Wonder Woman alongside the New 52 origin while pointing out the discrepancies between them. The plot is slight with Wonder Woman breaking up some sort of criminal activity and, for no motivated reason, using her Lasso of Truth on herself to discover she has been deceived about something related to her life/origin and heading off in search of answers. The early juxtaposition of the origin is notable for how it calls out the thematic differences between the two and making what feels like a case for one over the other. But it’s not exciting or especially interesting as it’s a “story” addressing previous stories and trying to reconcile them. Continuity wrangling historically doesn’t make for the most exciting read.
The narration is weak, with the repeated use of “or perhaps” or a phrase like “the first casualty of war is the truth,” and reads like a rush job. There’s no source for any of the doubt that’s going through Diana’s narration as it stands unprovoked by the earlier events of the book. Nothing here is motivated and it leaves the comic without a central drive. Diana as a character seldom speaks and never has a meaningful interaction with another character which leaves her almost a complete cipher.
For what it’s worth, the shift from Matthew Clark’s pencils for the first 14 pages to Liam Sharp’s for the last six works better than the shifts in Aquaman: Rebirth #1. Clark’s clean, superhero style done up in Jeremy Colwell’s bright colors transitioning to Sharp’s grittier pencils, the new costume design that more recalls a warrior more than a superhero, and the moody colors of Laura Martin when Diana discovers that she has been deceived works on a thematic level.
Unfortunately, this comic and the storyline that will be spinning out of it in the odd-numbered issues of the series ends up feeling more like the story that has to be told so that Ruck may work on the Wonder Woman: Year One story with his frequent collaborator Nicola Scott. It might be best to avoid this issue and check out Wonder Woman #2 instead.
Personally, I only liked one of these comics out of the whole lot (Detective Comics, specifically) and thought the others didn’t strictly qualify as good but I can at least see Action Comics style of serialized storytelling convincing readers to pick up the next issue in two weeks to see what happens. I’d like to note that neither of those books are branded as Rebirth #1s and actually start off telling a continuing story. The other books don’t really create a sensation of needing to read the next issue which may prove to be a serious problem for these series if the aimless, somewhat shoddy Rebirth one-shots turn people away from the traditional #1s that are bound to have more (read: any) compelling threads for readers to latch onto.
And, again, these comics really don’t live up to the messaging about the Rebirth line. Rebirth is a relaunch of DC that promised a return to “hope and optimism” but they aren’t delivering here this week. Action Comics devotes it’s pages to a Superman refusing to believe that a criminal can reform, Aquaman falls back into defensive posturing and a plot to ruin a superhero’s life by killing his love interest, The Flash ponders the failures of trying to move on from trauma while seeing the violence that spawned it recur, and Wonder Woman preoccupies itself with continuity wrangling disguised as soul-searching. Detective Comics beats all of them with a Batman who commits to helping a misunderstood criminal find his better self but that’s not exactly a major change from how he was portrayed before Rebirth. So, I have to ask, did Rebirth really have to happen in order to produce the same sort of comics that DC has been publishing for the last five to 10 years? And is that “hope and optimism” messaging a real mandate from the publisher or just a sales pitch for consumers eager to believe it?