Recently, my aunt passed away after a 20 year, on-and-off battle with cancer. She fought this vicious, unrelenting force for much of her life while maintaining the ability to make those around her light up with laughter. We all experience grief in different ways. For myself, I picked my copy of Reborn off my bookshelf and begin to just flip through it. I didn’t read the words, choosing to instead just glance at the artwork. And though I was still upset, I began to find comfort. It’s weird that of all things, this story is the one that provided me with a degree of peace.
As a figure within the comic book industry, Mark Millar has proven to be… divisive. Often controversy tends to overshadow his talent. However, he has recently seen a renaissance with well-received titles like Starlight and Huck. Unlike Millar’s earlier notable works like Kick-Ass, Wanted, Kingsman, and Nemesis, these stories swap out edginess for hopeful, uplifting narratives. But with Reborn, his collaboration with Batman and Spawn artist Greg Capullo, Millar is able to balance being “metal” with his newfound optimism to craft a touching, action-packed adventure. And for anyone that has faced loss, it provides an unexpected degree of comfort.
Reborn follows Bonnie, who after a long and fruitful life has passed away, only for life-after-death to present itself as an adventure from the mind of Tolkien. Her childhood pet is reincarnated as a loyal beast, her father is a warrior in peak form, and her husband has been captured by the realm’s evil forces. And so she ventures out to save her husband, as well as become the hero the people have been waiting for. Once the setup from the first issue is complete, the rest of the story is pretty straightforward and could even be dismissed as ordinary – save for Capullo’s art (more on that later). However, Millar has Bonnie continuously revisit the memories of her former life in order to provide a satisfying motivation for her drive forward.
Bonnie is also a spitfire. While kind and empathetic, she is also quick-witted and spunky. As seen in the series’ excellent first issue, despite her age and the tragedies she has faced, she retains a youthful outlook and great sense of humor. Although my aunt never lived to the age that Bonnie does in the story, she nevertheless was able to light up a room despite having endured a lifetime of hardships.
I was raised Catholic, but like many I no longer find myself believing things taught in my youth. But I still hold onto the idea of an afterlife, mostly to comfort myself that I’m not wasting my life listening to the buzzing of fluorescent lights and the HVAC system during my day job. But it’s also to cope with the idea of losing someone tragically before their time. And that’s ultimately what I experienced reading Reborn. This isn’t some idealized paradise in the clouds where people are in eternal bliss. Instead, this afterlife sees heightened versions good and evil. Individuals are given the chance to truly start anew. While being reunited with their loved ones, they are offered a chance to give their new life purpose and meaning. That’s something everyone wants out of life – to give it meaning. Seeing Bonnie given this second chance gives me hope, as faint as it may be, that the death of a loved one is not an exclusively sad occasion.
Reborn is far from the greatest comic ever produced. It might not even crack the top 50% of Mark Millar’s works. But when it comes to coping with loss and providing a semblance of comfort, it may be Millar’s greatest. It is enhanced by Greg Capullo’s wildly creative and emotionally affecting artwork. Capullo, who has been one of the industry’s best artists in recent years, brings an empathy and compassion to his characters in their Tolkien-gone-metal surroundings. The result is a story that can provide comfort to those that have experienced loss, as bittersweet as it may be.