DC Rebirth Week 9 in Review

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.

Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1 (Rob Williams, Jonathan Glapion and Philip Tan)

Amanda Waller has always been one of the more fascinating morally ambiguous characters in DC’s repertoire. She’s the personification of Jack Nicholson’s “you can’t handle the truth” speech from A Few Good Men. If you are trying to write Suicide Squad without fully understanding Amanda Waller, then you are missing the point. As we mentioned in a previous article, this generation of comic readers were spoiled by Waller’s portrayal in Justice League Unlimited. Amanda Waller is more than just a handler for Task Force X; she is a political powerhouse and a woman who puts even the toughest DC characters in their place. This is, after all, a woman who successfully stared down Batman. To have the issue begin with her engaged in a tête-à-tête with someone who totally isn’t President Obama demonstrates that this create teams understands that her power isn’t in her physicality, but rather her intelligence. It’s rare that we agree with Waller’s conclusions, but her justifications fit within her own internal logic and appeals to our base fears. It’s the use of hard and soft power that makes her an artful manipulator and an embodiment of the dark side of American exceptionalism. The rest of the book follows Waller as she attempts to recruit Colonel Rick Flag into the squad, himself a victim of the internal politics of the military. Flag is one of those few good men tasked with leading an elite unit of  villains, with Harley Quinn, Deadshot and Boomerang headlining. How does one trust such people to have your back? The Suicide Squad is a daring concept, but when the team is is composed of such big names, it always runs the risk of offering up a token red-shirt to demonstrate the dangers of their missions. Thus, while Suicide Squad is a book pitched with high-stakes, it is questionable how much writers are willing to follow through with that notion. Beautifully illustrated, this opening gambit hints at comedy, drama and tension that only this series can bring, but it will need to live up to its name if it hopes to have a lasting impact. After all, that is what made Ostrander’s legendary run such a success.

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Recommendation: Buy It.

Justice League #2 (Bryan Hitch, Sandu Florea and Tony S. Daniel)

Must there be a Superman? If you are the Justice League and your planet faces existential crisis from some very Lovecraftian terrors, then your answer is probably yes. If this book was about the Justice League learning to come to terms with the existence of a Superman that looks like their friend, but has led a radically different life, then we would have a fascinating insight into what Clark meant to them. A book where each of the characters is forced to come to terms with their comrade’s death through their interactions the original Superman would have some real impact. Hitch may be able to authenticate and replicate the characters’ distinct voices in his writing, but it lacks any emotional weight. Unfortunately, that’s not what we get with Justice League, but instead we see vignettes demonstrating that the team is incapable of defending the planet without a Superman in their ranks. It’s a tired affair that could have been written at any point over the last 75 years and probably has. We don’t need another existential crisis of world shattering proportions, we’ve had plenty of those over the last few years. The readership demand a challenge, they demand something more than an episode of the Super Friends put to print. Justice League, if anything, should aspire to Bruce Timm, not Hanna-Barbera. This is nothing in this issue that demands your attention,  nothing to make you care about these character. It’s just action without the heart that gives such scenes stakes. It’s a popcorn book and a low-grade one at that.

Recommendation: Bin It.

Batman #4 (Tom King, David Finch and Matt Banning)

A harrowing call-back to All-Star Superman begins this story-arc’s tragic descent from a note of hope to a chilling reminder of what Gotham City does to people. Finch’s interiors reflect this fading light, with a more darker tone and edges given to the characters. Gotham City isn’t Metropolis; it doesn’t want to be saved. A reoccurring theme throughout this run has been the effect that this pessimism has on its inhabitants. Batman wants people to take their fear and make something positive of it. Not everyone can have that fortitude and this issue acts as frightening insight into a mental breakdown. Mental health is always treated pretty shabbily in Gotham. This is understandable if your chief psychiatrist is Dr. Hugo Strange, but there is a lack of empathy in Batman’s world towards the ill. His villains are often branded as insane, but rarely do we ask what that actually means. Gotham and Gotham Girl’s mental assault at the hands of the Psycho Pirate shows the vulnerability of Gods. The hardest things to fight is one’s own mind. It is slightly worrying, however, that Gotham is able to struggle on, but his sister, Gotham Girl, is reduced to a barely functioning mess. Bad enough that a new heroine is branded Gotham Girl, now we portray her as more emotionally vulnerable than her brother. Yet, those problematic elements aside, King is writing a worth successor to Synder’s run. The intricacy of the plot shows the complex web of competition actors vying for the soul of Gotham City. In all this turmoil, only one thing is clear: The Monster Men are coming.

Recommendation: Buy It

Nightwing #2 (Tim Seeley and Javier Fernandez)

The Court of Owls is the creation that keeps on giving. Way back in “Night of the Owls,” Dick Grayson learned that his great-grandfather was one of the Court’s infamous Talons. Indeed, his destiny since he born was to become the Gray Son of Gotham, the Court’s ultimate weapon. Much has happened to the former Boy Wonder since then, but that idea of a man who walks the gray between two worlds returns. With the revelation that Dick was going to go undercover with the Parliament of Owls, the newly re-christened Nightwing ran the risk of threading old ground. However, whereas Grayson told a story that demonstrated that the gray wasn’t necessarily something to be feared, Nightwing is about walking that tightrope without losing yourself to the darkness. That the opening story arc is called “Better than Batman” is fitting on a number of levels. Firstly, it represents Nightwing’s potential to be more than his Dark Knight mentor ever could be, lacking the damage that keeps Bruce in Gotham. Secondly, it relates to  Dick’s would-be teacher, the mysterious Raptor who proudly declares that everything Batman taught him was wrong. Raptor’s true motivations are unclear, but this issue suggests that he too lacks any true allegiance to the Parliament. It’s unlikely that his roguish exterior hides a noble soul, but it’s the gray within Raptor that Dick finds himself warming to – much to his discomfort. Batman taught Dick that fear was more important than trust, but Raptor challenges that assertion. He also gives the issue one of his best moments noting that in a world of superheroics, a flashy costume and gadgetry are essential to avoid the branding of common criminals. Finally, the book itself is proving to be superior to the Caped Crusader’s parent title. Javier Fernandez provides the interior artwork with the same dynamism and acrobatic flare that make Dick Grayson who he is.

Recommendation Buy It.

Superman #4 (Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Mike Gray)

Are you there Dan? It’s me, your average comic book fan. Look, I know things haven’t been the best between us over the last couple of months. Let’s be fair, your Superman books haven’t helped our troubled relationship. It’s rare that one can read an entire comic cover to cover, and genuinely not know what just happened.  The Eradicator, a character I thought we could get past and leave to wallow in the misguided decisions of yesteryear, returned and was revealed to contain all the lost souls of Krypton. This leads, as it often does in a Superman comic, to pages upon pages of action without any real semblance of any of this being of consequence. It’s not just that its an action book without a soul, but the story is convoluted and lacks a central hook. It very much seems like the story is being made up on the fly, with pacing that defies reason and artwork that does little to assist in informing us. Superman was pitched as a coming of age story, a tale of a father helping his son to grow into the brave young man the he knows he can be. When it is given the chance to talk about that unique relationship, it is a wonderful book that reminds us why we love Clark Kent. It should be about that journey, that quest to understand your family legacy and to better yourself. Instead, you’ve chosen to sacrifice character for the sake of an ill-conceived throwbacks to a period in comic publishing that nobody remembers fondly. Over the last decade, a number of esteemed editors have spoken about family and marital life not providing the appropriate drama or suspense for superhero comics. We want to see characters enter the next stage of their relationships and all that comes with it. The story of Clark and Jon Kent is a story worth telling; it’s a new frontier that can set DC apart from its contemporaries. I only say this because I care. I know you guys can do better and, more importantly, so do you.

Recommendation: Bin It.

Harley Quinn #1 (Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner and Chad Hardin)

The last volume of Harley Quinn gained an insane amount of traction, and it’s not clear why. On paper, it had an impressive creative team behind it, but with the Suicide Squad film opening this weekend, DC seemed to think it imperative to feature the clowned princess of crime in two ongoing books. To have such stark contrasts in quality is quite telling. The creative team seems to want to channel the wackiness of a Deadpool comic without really understanding why that comics works or realizing that it doesn’t really fit this character. I get that Deadpool is a popular character and quite a lucrative part of the house that Stan and Jack built, but not every comedy series needs to take its cues from it. This opening arc sees Harley and her Gang of Harleys (seriously) deal with a zombie apocalypse. Interestingly, Deadpool’s opening arc from the Marvel Now! relaunch featured a similar plot point. It doesn’t help that you have a character who dresses and talks like Deadpool in the comic itself, acting as a fan-boy crushing on Harley. It’s not that I don’t see the need for a Harley Quinn ongoing series, but I take issue with the comics in its current form. Harley is a fascinating character – “Mad Love” is one of the finest pieces of comic storytelling in recent history – but this series doesn’t take advantage of its pedigree. I can appreciate a book that wants to help Harley get beyond the damage inflicted upon by her “Puddin,” but there is nothing about this series that makes that transition seem believable. Worse still, Harley’s complex relationship with  Poison Ivy is given the least amount of attention, despite it being one of the greatest non-traditional love stories in comics history. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I just don’t get the joke, but that’s because they all fall flat.

Recommendation: Bin It.

It was a mixed bag this week for DC Rebirth with the Dark Knight continuing strong and the Man of Steel continuing his downward spiral. The first arcs are beginning to wrap-up, which will offer some reflection on what was worked and what hasn’t. The Book of the Week goes to Suicide Squad for capturing the magic of the original Ostrander run, and for providing the much needed medicine to offset the disappointment of its film counterpart. The Dishonourable Mention goes to Harley Quinn which wastes a great character and commits of the cardinal sin of just not being funny. Do you agree with our assessment? 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.

Gary Moloney
Gary Moloney
Some would say that he is a mine of information, too bad most of it is useless. You can read his own comic work over on garymoloney.tumblr.com. Follow him on Twitter @m_gearoid.