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.
Batgirl & the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1 (Shawna Benson, Julie Benson and Claire Roe)
The Birds of Prey have been sorely missed during the years of the New 52. Oh, there was a book called the Birds of Prey launched as part of the New 52, but that book failed to comprehend what made Gail Simone’s legendary run on the book work. It’s about more than just the concept of an all-female squad of super-heroines. The team is, at its heart, about characters learning to trust each other and growing as individuals because of their relationships with one another. Simone’s run had drama, comedy and a passion that managed to simultaneously warm and break hearts. This series aims for the past glory by re-uniting the team’s most iconic members, as Barabara Gordan, Dinah Lance and Helena Bertinelli are thrust into the centre of a mystery involving a usurper to the mantle of Oracle. This is our first real look at Helena as Huntress following her retirement from Spyral, and it’s pretty standard fair. We’ve come to expect Huntress to be brooding, and to demonstrate a viciousness that often shocks her team-mates, but one can’t help but feel that this was a regression of the character. Perhaps a necessary regression given the limits of the New 52 and the history of this version of Helena, but the points stands. At least she has a fantastic new costume. Babara Gordon will also be feeling deja vu as a mysterious villain has begun operating under her old alias, Oracle. If that sounds familiar, then look to the first story-arc of the Batgirl of Burnside run because she faced a very similar identity crisis in those issues. Dinah is too doing what she does best, i.e. hanging out in music venues and kicking ass. This gives us a great opportunity to reference the actual EP that add released for Black Canary a few months back, and for some great character beats between Dinah and Barbara. This is where the books emotional core has always been, one radically changed by the fact that Dinah no longer feels like she is needed in Barbara’s life. Overall, it’s a serviceable first issue, but it needs to do something new if it hopes to hold our attention.
Recommendation: Borrow It.
The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 (Simon Oliver and Moritat)
DC has got to stop messing with its naming conventions. Trying to follow the ongoing adventure of urban mystic John Constantine can be a struggle at times. DC’s sorcerer-in-chief jumps books more often than Scott Baluka in an episode of Quantum Leap. First appearing in Swamp-Thing, Constantine has since starred in titles as varied as Hellblazer, Justice League Dark, Constantine, Constantine: the Hellblazer and now, simply The Hellblazer. No doubt his current title will soon be replaced by “The Comic Formerly Known As Hellblazer.” This story sees our protagonist return to his home city of London because of the rise of an unnamed, unscrupulous presidential candidate, who, for argument’s sake, we will call Donald Drumpf. Constantine is forced to challenge the demonic entity that led him to flee London in the first place, all in his typical “who gives a crap?” demeanor. It’s clear that the other magical character don’t trust Constantine, seeing him as reckless. What’s fascinating about him is that he’s an outsider in a community of outsiders. This series pitches the comic’s premise to the reader through a subtle fourth wall break. It may not fit the character’s previous adventures, but the content of his speech and the attitude it demonstrates is pure Constantine. Fans of The Dresden Files will instantly see a bit of what inspired their favourite wizard-PI in John Constantine. With charming cartoonish artwork that allows for DC’s supernatural world to come to life, The Hellblazer is a fine introduction to Constantine and demonstrates that a comic does not need to be a comedy to be humourous.
Recommendation: Buy It.
Green Lanterns #3 (Sam Humphries, Jay Leisten and Robson Rocha)
Rage may be central theme of Green Lanterns’ opening story-arc, but it has until now struggled to elicit any emotion other than mediocrity. Thankfully, it has begun to focus on our characters’ core emotional struggles and what it means to let willpower overcome fear and hatred. Simon Baz’s struggle as an American Muslim and what that feels like in a post 9-11 world is gut-wrenching. In ways few other books have, it captures the frustration that comes with such a label in modern America – the mistrust, the fear and the rage. This storyline isn’t subtle in commenting on humanity’s capacity to fear and hate that which it doesn’t understand. Indeed, it’s very much a reaction to the politics of our time which has become more visceral and partisan than ever. If the Red Lanterns are looking for a world from which to harvest pure rage, then they have found the right planet. To them such rage is a thing of beauty. The point at the centre of this issue becomes even more clear when Simon manages to cure a Red Lantern of her rage. Although we may sometimes become consumed by our rage it doesn’t have to be what defines us as a people. The challenge we face is how to overcome the emotions that would see us turn on one another and move towards a better future. If a Red Lantern can learn to let go, then can’t we all?
Recommendation: Borrow It.
Green Arrow #3 (Benjamin Percy and Juan Ferreyra)
Given Oliver Queen’s socialist leanings, we should have seen it coming. Is the reveal that the Ninth Circle is a group of bankers willing to back super-villain and terrorist organizations particular clever? No. Yet the idea that the root of all evil is the financial services industry is wonderfully charming. Indeed, the Ninth Circle and its leader Dante act as an interesting foil for the Green Arrow. Oliver is a man who has spent his fortune attempting to make the world a better place, yet his opponents are those who would spend that same money creating social injustice. People may decry this book as a piece of liberal propaganda, but Green Arrow and never been a book to shy away from the more difficult social problems of our time. The degree to which banks control our lives is a pressing concern for the average person. That their solvency is often seen as an end in and of itself, whereas the plight of the homeless is ignored, eats away our society’s moral conscience. True, there isn’t a particularly nuanced discussion going on here, but in the wake of the traction that the Bernie Sanders got, it is unsurprising that a book like Green Arrow would return to its old haunting ground. With some of the best artwork on the shelves and a storyline that is at least willing to ask us questions on our dependency on the markets, Green Arrow is a worthy addition to your pull-list.
Recommendation: Buy It.
Batman #3 (Tom King, Matt Banning and David Finch)
We’ve talked a lot about legacy during our coverage of DC Rebirth, and Batman has always been a character who has struggled with this concept. He entire MO is centered around creating a symbol for some to rally behind and others to fear. Although he has had apprentices in the past, few characters have been inspired by him to strike out in their own right. This is what makes the secret origin of Gotham and Gotham Girl so compelling. It’s clear they were inspired by the Dark Knight, but their choice of costume and their history of humanitarian work indicates a very different kind of hero. Yet, this isn’t something that bothers the Cape Crusader. Indeed, he is fascinated by what others do with the very fear that drove him to dawn the cowl. The coming issues will be quite telling as to the longevity of these characters and their role beyond the confines of the city that inspired their named. Batman is one of DC’s most consistent books in terms of its quality of writing and artwork. Indeed, it has been so for the last five years. The creative team is clearly taking inspiration from Batman: the Animated Series in approach to story-telling. At times somber, at others light-hearted, this is the mix that creates a commonality in what it means to be a Batman book. This issue sees the return of some old villains that should make long-time fans rejoice. All that is left to say is, “can we please get Duke Thomas’ codename now?”
Recommendation: Buy It.
Superman #3 (Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray)
“Hey Dan, you know what would be a great idea? Even more Death of Superman references. I know it’s a bit of overkill to have yet another Superman show up, but you know what they say, ‘in for a penny, in for a pound.’ What do you mean nobody cares about the Eradicator? Fine, we will give him a new origin, some vague eugenic motivations and have him assimilate Krypto. Dan, are you there? Hello? Hello?”
I’m sorry if my Superman reviews seem to be repeating themselves, but it’s clear that DC editorial doesn’t have a problem with rehashing old content with a slight tweaks, so why should I? It wouldn’t be such a problem if it wasn’t such a dull story. What should have been an existing and heartwarming tale of Clark and his son, Jonathan, coming to know and understand each other, is merely an excuse for inserting the worst of the 90s into the current continuity. The Eradicator’s big plan involves cleansing the “unpure” half of Jonathan’s genome so that only the Kryptonian elements remain. This way Krypton can be rebuilt upon the purity that General Zod envisaged. If only someone would eradicate this comic and replace it with something interesting. How many of these stories do we have to endure?
Recommendation: Bin It.
Justice League #1 (Bryan Hitch and Tony S. Daniel)
The biggest mistake you can make with a Justice League book is to sacrifice character for the sake of spectacle. The temptation is great when you’ve a team made up of the mightiest forces of the DCU. Yet it is a trap that, when avoided, allows us to explore their dynamics through their never-ending struggles. Writers such have Grant Morrison have treaded this path before and to great effect. Bryan Hitch, however, is unable to handle the cursed chalice that is Justice League. It is the title with the most potential for growth and mediocrity at the same time. The argument that growth should happen in solo titles, whereas popcorn entertainment should be reserved for the team-up books, is flawed as it fails to recognize that the team dynamics present unique avenues for character development, particularly for traditionally loner heroes. In the present series, we have an opportunity to explore the once and future Superman’s relationships with the rest of the League, but they spend the entire issue apart, fighting a demonic entity. The secret of a flagship team book such as Justice League is understanding that the readership knows that, even when faced with existential threats, our heroes will prevail. To hold our interest – and to make it worthwhile – there has to be something deeper beneath the surface. This was something the DC Animated Universe was able to appreciate, but its comic counterpart has often lacked. Until it can find that balance, despite its fine artwork, Justice League simply isn’t worth your time or money.
Recommendation: Bin It.
Aquaman #3 (Dan Abnett and Philippe Briones)
This is the book that I didn’t know I was longing for until it came along. Light on action, but high on drama, Aquaman is a story that understands what it means to say that Arthur Curry is King of Atlantis. The political twists and turns of the diplomatic world may not be to everyone’s taste, but in retrospect it’s difficult to see how Aquaman has managed to tip-toe around it for so long. This story is all about Atlantis trying to re-establish a foot-hold in the international community of nations. The world is understandably skeptical of Arthur’s efforts given the mass flooding that occurred during the Throne of Atlantis story-arc. Atlantis, until quite recently, was a rogue-state that did what it wanted and was highly suspicious of outsiders. That history is hard to erase. Goodwill through humanitarian work with the Justice League only gets one so far. This is one of the most interesting books that DC is publishing, because it reads very much like an episode of The West Wing rather than superhero fiction. It does raise one key question though: shouldn’t Aquaman have diplomatic immunity?
Recommendation: Buy It.
This was a good week for DC Rebirth which saw the much welcomed return of the Birds of Prey, even if the story let it down somewhat. It was also perhaps one of DC’s busiest weeks with eight separate DC Rebirth titles. Book of the Week goes to The Hellblazer, because everybody needs a bit of John Constantine in their lives. The Dishonorable Mention goes to Justice League, because not even Lovecraftian horror can save you from bland writing. If you still haven’t checked out what DC has going on and you are able to pull yourselves away from Pokémon Go, this week has some great offerings. What did you think? Have you had enough of Superman? Are we being unfair to Green Lanterns? Let us know in the comments below and make sure you stay up to date with us here at Monkeys Fighting Robots.
Review copies were kindly provided by the publisher.