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.
New Super-Man #1 (Gene Luen Yang, Richard Friend and Viktor Bogdanovic)
“Hey Dan, do you know what would be a great idea? We kill Superman. Yes, I know we’ve done it before, but it’ll be different this time. We will have multiple Supermen, but get this, one of them will be an asshole. It gets better, we bring back the original Superman as well. No, not that one, the pre-New 52 one. Sure, it may be an incredibly confusing storyline that will alienate new readers, but trust me on this one. It’ll be fine, we’ll put a new edgy Superman with some attitude problems in and he’s sure to be a fan favourite.”
All jokes about DC literally redoing the Death of Superman beat for beat aside, New Super-Man is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Kong Kenan is an interesting protagonist because he is inherently unlikable. We traditionally associate the Superman mantle with the boy scout stereotype; he’s a goodie two-shoes. Yet Yang presents us with a bully as our main character. His background, naturally for a superhero, is a tragic one, but Kenan doesn’t endear himself to us. Underneath the roughness, there may be a good person, but it’s surrounded by layers of arrogance and self-importance. It’s quite telling that his conspiracy-loving father threatens to expose the heroic image that he accidentally creates for himself. How damning an indictment is it to have your own father call you a bad person. The story may be premised on China trying to make their own boot-leg version of the Justice League, but when you look deeper, it raises an interesting political point given the history of the Chinese Military Industrial Complex and the allegations of corporate espionage therein. That being said, there is some problematic about presenting China as tokenistically evil as it does here. This is certainly the most promising of DC Rebirth’s take on the Superman family of comics. From the stark cultural contrast to the charming artwork, New Super-Man is presenting us a corner of the DCU we truly haven’t seen before.
Recommendation: Buy It.
Action Comics #959 (Dan Jurgens and Tyler Kirkham)
It is very hard to be positive about the core Superman book at the moment. It’s a glorified fight book with very little story going on. The best thing that can be said about the book is that it is easy on the eyes. Indeed, the interior artwork is quite impressive, but it serves only to conceal a paper-thin story that hasn’t advanced much over the last three issues. Superman and Lex argue. Doomsday hits things. Lois worries. Wash, rinse, repeat. This kind of lazy story-telling may have been serviceable twenty years ago, but the audience expects a higher-calibre of story now. The market is such that being an average, paint by numbers book is not good enough. This is not to say that every issue has to hold twists and turns or seek to address a provocative topic, but a comic should at least have some heart. This series has thus far felt like a comic created by a committee and it suffers for it. The modern reader expects more because comics are competing for their attention with a plethora of other media. Within the industry itself, you have amazing things be doing within and without “the Big Two.” Just being okay is no longer acceptable if you hope to succeed in the market. Superman was the first superhero, and the Man of Steel deserves better than this.
Recommendation: Bin It.
Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps: Rebirth (Robert Venditti and Ethan Van Sciver)
Depending on who you ask, this is either the “other” Green Lantern book or the “real” Green Lantern book. Given that we have yet to read a good issue of Green Lanterns, it would be fair to say that this issue fairs much better than its buddy-cop counter-part. Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps scratches that high concept sci-fi itch that has been growing in the absence of Doctor Who. Everyone’s favourite Green Lantern (unless you watch Justice League: the Animated Series) Hal Jordan has returned, but his off-screen adventures have led to him becomes a being of pure willpower. This raises the fascinating premise for this issue in which Jordan has to will himself into existence. In essence, the man who was once Hal Jordan is now a construct of a power ring, and in re-creating himself, he becomes more powerful than before. If you’ve seen Sandman’s introduction in Spider-Man 3, you’ll understand some of the beauty in that struggle to reassert one’s self. It also acts as an interesting nod to Batman’s thesis that the ring is the hero rather than Hal. There is an intergalactic war building in the background as the Sinestro Corp’s budget Death Star plagues the universe, but it’s ancillary to what is a truly original character study. Whether it will be able to hold our interest remains to be seen. As good as the internal artwork is, the cover is a reminder that Green Lantern artists, much like their counterparts in the Flash department, really need to think of different cover poses.
Recommendation: Borrow It.
Wonder Woman #2 (Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott)
I wonder if Greg Rucka originally pitched a “Year One” story when approached about returning to Wonder Woman, only to be told that they wanted to do something different with the character. Did an intense negotiation happen in which both sides eventually compromised and said “let’s do both”. I ask because, as noted, I am unsure of other instances where alternating issues of a book focused on a pair of different, seemingly unconnected story-lines. I understand that the main plot concerns Diana’s hunt for the truth about those who have been messing with her origins (i.e. the editors over at DC), but that is a tenuous link at best. This isn’t a book that weaves it’s flashbacks into the narrative with past and present acting as interesting parallels. There are potentially interesting threads relating to Diana’s love life on the island, coupled with the horrifying implication that the Amazons remember their past lives as women being tortured and killed by men. But there is something lacking. The issue is that we’ve been here quite recently, so what makes this time any different? Yes, it has the advantage of being the “true origin story of Wonder Woman”, but we’ve fallen for this before. Is it fair to say that this book suffers from not being The Legend of Wonder Woman? Perhaps not, but then again DC made the sagacious choice to publish three different books about Wonder Woman’s origins over the last year or so. Can the audience help it if we have Amazonian fatigue?
Recommendation: Borrow It.
The Flash #2 (Joshua Williamson and Carmine Di Giandomenico)
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that, more so than anything else, Barry Allen is a teacher. The reason why DC was able to build an emotional focal point around his death back in Crisis on Infinite Earths was that everyone in the DCU, whether it was his pupils or his team-mates on the JLA, had learned something from the Flash. This current storyline appears to want to focus on that aspect of the character, the part that wants to guide his fellow speedsters, but knows that he can’t control their destiny. The only problem I have with this story is that the Godspeed twist has already been revealed. One of Barry’s students of the Speed Force is going to pull a Kylo Ren and betray him. The smart money is on August Heart because it wouldn’t be a super-hero comic if one of your main character’s best friends didn’t become a villain in a tragic set of circumstances. Indeed, the seeds of Heart’s transition are clearly placed here as he begins to speculate on the limits of the law and the power that the Speed Force provides him. As I’ve said before, The Flash closely mirrors its TV counterpart in style and tone, allowing light-hearted antics alongside moments of intense character drama. This is a book you won’t want to rush.
Recommendation: Buy It.
Detective Comics #936 (James T Tynion IV, Raúl Fernández and Alvaro Martinez)
With DC Rebirth being primarily about legacy, it is unsurprising that a book with the pedigree of Detective Comics would seek to address that concept. The undying nature of a symbol is a double-edged sword that inspires both the good and the bad. This series is all about dueling ideologies as those that were inspired by the same figure struggle to win the philosophical war, and the physical one too. Placing Batwoman as the book’s point of view was a stroke of genius. Her place outside the core Bat-Family allows her to walk the line between worlds. Bruce Wayne and Kate Kane both struggle with their families’ interconnected history. Kate, while inspired by Bruce, has never been defined by his crusade. The Bat is a symbol for others to seek justice. Whether justice should more resemble vengeance is ultimate what this book seeks to address.
Recommendation: Buy It.
Nightwing: Rebirth (Tim Seeley and Yanick Paquette)
After a long stint as Agent 37, reflecting on the amount of alter-egos he has possessed over the years, Dick Grayson returns to the world of super-heroics with a renewed secret identity and a new adversary in the Parliament of Owls. Nightwing is my personal favourite DC character, and this series was one I was looking forward to the most, yet there is something unwelcoming about this issue. Rather than a true rebirth, it serves more as a cap on the last arc of Grayson. There is nothing wrong with that per se, Grayson was a fantastic series, but this issue is merely jogging in place until something important happens down the line. On the plus side, the nostalgia factor is in full effect as Dick Grayson is now sporting a costume inspired by his DCAU counterpart. This is interesting in and of itself, as the bird emblem was unique to animated iterations of the character up until now. I’d love to know the creative choice behind the design shift. The facial expressions leave much to be desired, however, with Damian Wayne occasionally looking like someone scrunching his head. It’s unclear if Yanick Paquette can handle an ongoing book unless the characters are fully masked all the time. Eagle-eyed readers may notice a certain presumption Republican candidate amongst the legion of the Parliament of Owls, reaffirming that the comic industry loves lambasting Trump.
Recommendation: Borrow It.
It was a huge week for DC Rebirth with three new titles and the return of four others, though the contrast in quality was evident. Book of the Week goes to New Super-Man for a fascinating examination of what it means to be a Man of Steel. The Dishonorable Mention goes to Action Comics because enough is enough and uninspired writing should not be tolerated. DC still has a lot of good material coming out this July, so make sure you stay up to date with us here at Monkeys Fighting Robots.