Each week here on Monkeys Fighting Robots, we are looking at every DC Rebirth title and tracking its progress. Books will be rated on a scale of “Buy It”, “Borrow It” or “Bin It”. Spoilers ahead.
Justice League: Rebirth (Bryan Hitch)
An existential crisis threatens the Earth and only one team can stop it. In other words, it’s a Wednesday in the DCU as the Justice League finally gets the DC Rebirth treatment. This issue begins with the new/old Superman contemplating on whether or not to try and join this world’s Justice League. So once again, for about the fifth time, we get scenes of Lois and Clark debating about whether or not he should further expose himself. An interesting dilemma to be sure, but do we have to keep going over this? This is an understandably confusing storyline, so it’s important that new readers who may not follow the Superman books are brought up to speed, but it’s equally tiresome nonetheless. It does however serve to forward the fact that Batman wants this new/old Superman on the team. Not because he trusts him, but rather so he can keep an eye on him, noting that this Superman is there for a purpose, even if it isn’t his own. In other words, it’s standard operational procedure for Batman at this point. What this issue does show is the weight that Superman’s death has head on the League. For a lot of them, his joining is an act of necessity. They need his power, but it doesn’t mean they are comfortable around him. He wears their dead friend’s face and that would humble even the gods themselves. With writing and artist duties handled by Bryan Hitch, this is a tightly constructed issue and a sublime example of the advantage of a singular voice in sequential art. It’s quite the showcase for the DC house-style, even if the story itself is paint by numbers. DC Rebirth’s meta-narrative serves to strengthen this book’s plot rather than highlight its weakness as in other titles, in part because it’s a more subdued attempt at addressing the upcoming storm that is the legacy of Watchmen. It’s a fascinating change in dynamic to have a Justice League in which Superman is the outsider, rather than the moral centre, but its storytelling potential is immense and readers would be well advised to check it out.
Recommendation: Buy It
Aquaman #2 (Dan Abnett, Andrew Hennessy and Bradley Walker)
The feud between Black Manta and Arthur Curry may not be as well known as other great comic rivalries, but it nonetheless one of the more compelling ones. There is something of a Greek tragedy to their lives as they both fight to be uphold their respective fathers’ legacies. Yet in doing so they become bound by their own sins and those of their fathers, doomed to forever engage in a vicious cycle which satisfies neither. Abnett presents a fascinating treatise on the nature of revenge and what it does to the soul. The dialogue may seem a bit heavy handed at times, but it maintains just the right amount of gravitas to make each line impact the reader. The realpolitik of diplomacy takes a backseat this issue, but it presents Atlantis with an intriguing politic conundrum to deal with in the months to come.
Recommendation: Buy It
Batman #2 (Tom King, Matt Banning and David Finch)
Much like an episode of Seinfeld this is an issue full of character, but where nothing really happens. Other than some hints for the upcoming Monster-Men crossover, there is nothing of substance underpinning this issue. That being said, there is growing sense that Bruce Wayne, like his Dark Knight Returns counterpart, has a death wish or at least understands that his mission will inevitably end in his death. Thus, his goal with any new would-be hero he encounters is to help train them in whatever way he can. Batman’s understanding of his own legacy is becoming less about the symbol of the bat in and of itself, and more about what other legends it can inspire. Despite all of that, we learn very little about the mysterious Gotham and Gotham Girl who have shown up out of the blue (or whatever colour Gotham’s skies are these days). Whereas last issue they seemed intent on replacing Batman, now they seek to learn from him with little hints as to why this is. The problem is that there isn’t much depth to their characters other than their obvious parallels with the Superman family. It is perhaps one of the funnier issues of Batman that I have read in a long-time, with the classic BTAS rapport between Bruce Wayne and Alfred. King is keenly aware of the tropes that define a Batman comic and seeks to playfully reference them as much as it can without detracting from the story. When a Batman comic manages to have a sense of fun while maintaining its mature undercurrents, you know you have a winner on your hands.
Recommendation: Buy It
Superman #2 (Patrick Gleason, Peter J. Tomasi and Mick Gray)
As DC Rebirth continues, one thing has become apparently clear: DC does not care about how confusing it is for journalists to write about the Superman plot-line and distinguish various Supermen from one another. Luckily, this issue builds off the potential of last by examining the father-son dynamic as young Jon Kent comes into his powers. The mantle of Superboy has a legacy in and of itself, and it’s not something that the young Kent is eager to throw himself into. For Jon, the family crest isn’t a symbol for others to aspire to, it’s the part of himself that gives him strength by appealing to something greater than any one person. Clark attempts to impart his inherited morality onto his son, while skirting around the “with great power must come great responsibility” speech. The once and future Superman clearly envisages his son assuming a superheroic identity, but it’s unclear whether that is what Jon wants or what is best for him. The cliffhanger, which screams 90s’ comics, isn’t going to make things any easier in that regard as the Eradicator shows up. Once again it’s as if editorial mandate required as many Death of Superman references as we can fit into the story-line.
Recommendation: Borrow It
Green Arrow #2 (Benjamin Percy and Otto Schmidt)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Betrayed by those close to him, Oliver Queen is dead, but the Green Arrow lives on. The revolving door of the afterlife is the gift that keeps on giving. Elsewhere, Dinah Lance, aka the Black Canary, vows to avenge Oliver’s supposed death. It’s standard affair for our Robin Hood wannabe, but this time the betrayal comes from his own family which means the arrows pierce his heart that much easier. What becomes clear quite quickly is that Shado’s return is linked to the underground network plaguing Seattle’s homeless population. Everybody’s favorite solider-turned-bodyguard-turned-PMC operative John Diggle makes an appearance hinting at the global scope of the challenge facing the extremely unlucky Mr. Queen. The Ninth Circle is headed by the inclusive Dante, who was revealed last month as Queen Industries’ CEO. As much as I love references to the Divine Comedy wherever I can find them, it’s your basic “my company is out to kill me” story, and in many ways it echoes the Brother Blood arc from Arrow‘s second season. The artwork is phenomenal and this is one of the prettiest books that DC is putting out there at the moment.
Recommendation: Buy It.
Green Lanterns #2 (Sam Humphries, Jay Leisten and Robson Rocha)
Once more I prepare for the backlash as I remain lukewarm towards Green Lanterns, which is a difficult thing to admit when the creative team is as good as it is. I described Green Lanterns as a comic version of a buddy-cop movie like Lethal Weapon, and when it taps into what made those films great, it succeeds. I enjoy watching Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz play off each other with their yin and yang relationship, but that isn’t the heart of the book. Instead it’s the Red Lanterns’ vague prophecy about turning a planet’s rage upon itself. What we get is, in a sense, a retread of the Blackest Night event as humans across the Earth begin turning into rage zombies. Yet here we have another instance of the mythos of the Emotional Spectrum keeping us down and preventing us from having an engaging story. The scale of the tale interferes with the more personal story that Humphries wants to tell. It has some interesting commentary on the state of our politics in the wake of Brexit and Donald Trump as Earth is chosen, being a planet that feeds off rage. You know you’ve messed up when the Red Lanterns admires your capacity to hate. It isn’t enough to save the comic from itself though, and it certainly seems like Atrocitus is the most apt villain for this arc.
Recommendation: Bin It
All things considered, a very strong week for the House That Geoff Johns built. Book of the Week goes to Aquaman for its mythical storytelling and ability to redeem a character often thought as nothing more than a freaky fish guy. The Dishonourable Mention once again goes to Green Lanterns for managing to give us get two Green Lanterns for the price of one and yet somehow I still can’t seem to care. As more and more DC Rebirth titles are announced, it’s clear that the rebranding is going to be prominent for some time to come. Later this month we will be treated to Nightwing and the Teen Titans’ first foray into this brave new world, but until then make sure to check back every week as we bring you the latest news and insight on all things DC Comics.