Monday, December 5, 2016

Phantom on DC Rebirth So Far


By Phantom Troublemaker

I was discussing comics in the Needless Things Podcast Facebook group the other day and our pal Rich said that DC’s Rebirth IS “one of the best things done in my lifetime for comics”. My immediate response was to think that was a bit hyperbolic, but it did prompt me to examine what, exactly, DC has managed to accomplish with their latest publishing initiative.

They have gotten me excited about some of my favorite comic book characters again (and others that aren’t favorites). They have me anticipating comic book Wednesdays and each new chapter of their books that I’m reading. Mostly, though, they have recovered from the New 52, which I would describe as the worst thing done in my lifetime to comics.

Or at least, the worst thing done on purpose.

This conversation came about because I was acknowledging the greatness of the current Detective Comics run. More on that in a bit, but the success there is that James Tynion IV is writing characters we love in a way that is fresh but also familiar. He knows these characters and understands them and the narrative he is spinning not only serves that but utilizes the qualities of those characters. The book simply feels like a continuation of the story we know. It doesn’t rely on a vast knowledge of DC’s past, but it also doesn’t attempt to rewrite or disparage it.

That is the success of Rebirth. Rather than trying to pick and choose history and then alter it to fit some new era ideal, DC seems to be letting its creators organically grow something new from the old. There’s still a consistency to the line, but now it’s more about tone and integrity than about “LOOK AT THE EXTREME RADNESS”. Or whatever the New 52 was supposed to be about.

Obviously I can’t read everything. As of this writing DC is publishing over thirty titles that I would consider to be part of the mainstream on going DC Universe. I would love to be able to read them all, but I do not have the time or the money. But what I’ll do today is run down the books I am or was reading and let you know how things are going.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard that Suicide Squad, Action Comics, Superman, and Titans are all very good. I might pick up the trades if I can remember.

The art of every title below has been very good or better unless I state otherwise. I don’t want it to seem like I’m overlooking the artists, but they only have to meet two criteria:

1 – Does it look good?
2 – Can I tell what’s going on?

While their job requires massive amounts of talent and time, the writers’ jobs are a little harder for me to define. Or more complex, at least.

Additionally, I was worried about the bi-weekly books. So far it has not caused any noticeable problems and I certainly don’t mind getting more of these great titles each month.

All-Star Batman

The Story: Batman is on a road trip to save his childhood friend, Harvey Dent. Lots of action, lots of history.

This is the book I was most wary of but that I couldn’t just skip. Scott Snyder has delivered some of my favorite and also least favorite Batman stories. This book seemed like it might be his ultimate passion project and also his grand finale as far as the Dark Knight Detective goes. As such, I almost felt like I owed it to Snyder to give it a chance.

It didn’t hurt that a slate of superstar artists had been lined up to make this a true event and also most likely to ensure it stayed on schedule.

I love it. Like Detective, it is representative of Rebirth as a whole. Batman is doing Batmanly things. He isn’t acting out of character to serve some convoluted plot. He is determined to save Harvey Dent. And the backstory that Snyder has fabricated to give more weight to this story fits in to what we know of Bruce Wayne’s history. It doesn’t contradict anything else and it doesn’t come across as overwhelmingly contrived like so many of the changes the New 52 brought.

Two-Face is a villain. He is doing dastardly things and he and Batman are not pals. This isn’t a buddy cop movie. Heck, it isn’t even Midnight Run (though it could edge closer). I love the tense dynamic Snyder is portraying.

It does feel a little contrived, but the story Snyder is giving us is so good it balances the scales.

Additionally, when All-Star has brought in tertiary characters like Firefly and Killer Moth, they are smartly updated and, most importantly, recognizable. So much of the New 52 felt like “THIS AIN’T YER DADDY’S BATMAN!!!*XTREMERADNESS*” But here, these characters are simply evolved versions of what we know.

And then there’s Duke Thomas. Snyder has taken this character that originally felt like a bid for diversity points and made him not only compelling but valuable. Right now I feel about Duke the way I felt about Dick as Batman. I just want more. He’s great. And the backup story about his training feels important, not just like a thrown-in narrative.

What Scott Snyder is doing with Duke Thomas is how you introduce diversity. He isn’t Robin and he won’t be Batman. He is his own man with his own story and we, as readers, care about him. The important thing now is for DC to protect and nurture the character and let him evolve naturally. They have to take care of him by ensuring that good writers tell his story and he doesn’t end up a casualty of a creative shift.

Verdict: Recommended

Batman

The Story: The Dark Knight’s solo book sees him facing new challenges and old.

Tom King started off his Batman run with a heck of a bang. Twin metahumans we relooking to become Gotham’s new protectors. In all honesty I was a little wary of this story, too, because Batman versus supers just seemed like yet another opportunity to see Batman get his ass kicked and then outsmart the seemingly more powerful foe. But it turned out to be an entirely different type of story and that’s what hooked me. King presented a very familiar situation and turned it into a new storytelling opportunity that gave us more about Batman and about Gotham City.

Now we’re a few issues into a new story arc – King is keeping them reasonable lengths so far – where Batman has put together his own “Suicide Squad” in order to infiltrate Santa Prisca and retrieve something (naked) Bane has.

The first arc led directly into the new one, but in a way that you’d be able to pick it up. All you need to know is what I just wrote.

Verdict: Recommended

Cyborg

The Story: Vic Stone and his father deal with him being Cyborg.

I have a soft spot for Cyborg as a character – or maybe even just as a concept - but I haven’t ever read his books. I gave this one a shot because it is being written by John Semper, Jr., who was the showrunner for the Spider-Man animated series and was kind enough to come on the Needless Things Podcast.

It’s a solid book. The Rebirth issue provided plenty of action while deftly describing Vic’s current situation. But for whatever reason, it didn’t hook me. With so many great comics on the market I am trying to be pickier and also trying to stop giving books six or eight issues to draw me in. If I’m not absolutely enthralled by issue #2, I’m out.

Cyborg isn’t a bad book by any definition. I think it probably has some sweet spots for actual fans of the character.

Verdict: Dropped It

Deathstroke

The Story: Someone has put out a hit on Slade Wilson’s daughter, Rose. Slade isn’t happy. Or is he? Or did he do it?

I was excited about this one from the get-go. I haven’t read a ton of Christopher Priest/Jim Owsley’s work, but I have followed him online for a while and have a lot of respect for how he looks at writing, creating, and the comics industry. I couldn’t wait to see what he brought to Deathstroke. I like Slade as a villain, but more from media tie-ins than anything else. 
What I’m saying is I wouldn’t buy a Deathstroke book based on the character alone. There had to be a draw.

This is one of the best comic books I am reading right now, top of the stack stuff every month. Slade is a villain, his family is deeply messed up, and Priest delivers action and narrative at a breakneck speed. There isn’t one bit of decompressed storytelling here.

Priest, perhaps more than anyone else here, gets character and story development. He is also responsible for the single best Batman line I have read in years, perhaps a decade. 
When Slade needs Batman for something, he kidnaps Damian. Rose meets up with Batman and tells him Slade will kill Damian if he doesn’t do this thing. Batman basically says, “Go for it. There are plenty of other orphans out there. I’ve trained ‘em before and I’ll do it again”.

Now, obviously, Bruce Wayne doesn’t actually feel this way. But that is the face he portrays to Rose Wilson. Priest nailed what Batman does in one scene and it was awesome. Now I want him on a Batman book. Or at least a miniseries. #PriestonBatman – let’s make this happen!

Verdict: Highest Recommendation

Detective Comics

The Story: Batman has assembled a team that needs guidance and training. Or maybe just watching. He put Batwoman in charge.

I LOVE THIS BOOK.

James Tynion IV has proven time and again that he is a deft storyteller that can weave character growth and plot into a gorgeous web. I feel like we’re kids playing with toys while I read Detective. James reached into the box and chose his action figures with glee – Clayface, Batwoman, Spoiler, Harper Row, Red Robin, and whatever the heck they’re calling Cassandra now (I can’t remember – I don’t think she’s Black Bat). He’s telling this great story with all of them while every once in a while holding one up and going, “OOH – here’s what’s going on with them right now…”

He’s also adding toys to the lineup as he goes and as the story calls for them – Jean-Paul Valley, Luke Fox, and more. And they’re all getting top tier treatment. I almost teared up at a moment with Jean-Paul. With freaking Azrael.

Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira have been providing outstanding artwork, as well.

Verdict: Highest Recommendation

The Flash

The Story: Barry Allen is a crime scene investigator and also a superhero. And stuff.

I hadn’t intended to buy this one because I’m not a particularly big fan of Barry Allen, but after reading Rebirth it seemed like this was the book to follow to get answers about what was going on.

Not so much, it turns out.

I didn’t find this book to be engaging at all. I also didn’t care for the art. That’s all I got.

Verdict: Dropped It

Harley Quinn

The Story: Harley Quinn as Deadpool.

I complained about the jarring changes the New 52 made to many characters, but for me this is one that worked. I picked up Harley’s book from the start thanks to my faith in the superstar wife/husband team of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. I was not disappointed. Each issue was fun and fast-paced.

With Rebirth, essentially nothing changed. But I find myself feeling that the book is getting a little wordy and that more jokes are falling flat than used to. I dropped it a couple of issues ago, but found myself missing reading it. I went back and got the issues I skipped and still haven’t read them because each time I open #6 up I am faced with a virtual wall of text and the knowledge that a third of it is jokes that won’t land.

Things started to fall apart back when the Power Girl/Harley miniseries went on too long.

Chad Hardin’s art is still fantastic – what you can see of it through the copious word balloons – but I’m thinking about dropping it again. I wish the writing duo could tighten things up and return to the fast-paced, compelling form they displayed prior to Rebirth.

Verdict: On the Fence

Harley's Little Black Book

The Story: DC Team-Up Starring Harley Quinn

This book, on the other hand, works a lot better. Each story is a one-shot where Harley teams up with someone. It sort of comes out whenever it comes out. I’ve enjoyed this title a lot more than the regular Harley book lately.

Verdict: Enjoyable

Supergirl

The Story: Supergirl sorta kinda finds herself in a similar situation to what’s on the CW show. But not totally.

Supergirl is another character that I know more from media tie-ins than from comics. The early solicitations for this book made it seem like many, if not most, elements from the wonderful Supergirl television series would be present. I signed up.

While the situation is similar, there are just enough differences that it threw me off. I admire the heck out of writer Steve Orlando for having Supergirl fight a werewolf from outer space in the first issue, but beyond that I didn’t find anything compelling. The next issue didn’t hook me, either.

This is purely a matter of personal taste, but I didn’t care for the art. The storytelling was solid and it was consistent, but I just didn’t dig it.

Verdict: Dropped It

Trinity

The Story: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman team up.

I mention this only because I am excited to read it. My Local Comic Shop didn’t pull the first issue for me (but did pull the second) and I just now got them both, as well as the third.

Verdict: Looks Fun

Wonder Woman

The Story(Stories): Wonder Woman is caught up in a confusing blend of past and present where nothing is what it seems.

Or is very interesting.

I adore Greg Rucka’s writing. He has absolutely killed it on every book of his that I’ve read up until now. I thought for sure that his Wonder Woman was going to be the best book of the entire Rebirth line, but I dropped it after three issues. I found the story to be dense and convoluted. It didn’t help that two different stories were being told, alternating with each issue. While every other Rebirth book felt like a breath of fresh, exciting new air (with the exception of the Harley titles), this one felt like more of the heavy-handed retcon work that made the New 52 such a drag. A blatant attempt to make a character “someone’s own” and to erase some aspect of what had come before.

Given Brian Azzarello’s mythology-heavy take on Diana, perhaps this was more necessary than with other characters, but the way Rucka went about it felt alienating and disorienting to me.

Additionally, I found the differences between the artists’ work to be jarring. It shouldn’t have mattered given the split story format, but I particularly disliked Liam Sharp’s work.

I know some people are loving this, and that’s cool. I’m not saying they shouldn’t. It was a huge disappointment to me because my expectations were sky high.

Verdict: Dropped It

Night of the Monster Men

The Story: The Bat Family must stop the newest versions of Hugo Strange’s Monster Men!

This isn’t; a miniseries or ongoing title, but I wanted to mention it because the trade collection comes out soon and because it was so damn good. This was a crossover between Batman, Detective Comics, and Nightwing and I have to thank my Local Comic Shop for pulling Nightwing for me and encouraging me to go ahead and read the story.
Even if you don’t pick up any of the three books involved, this was an awesome standalone story that belongs on your shelf.

Verdict: Buy It!

Non-DCU Books

Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye: This might technically be DCU, but it is so different that I feel comfortable separating it. I didn’t like it. I was pretty excited for this book and thought it might be some weird fun, but it came across to me as weird for the sake of being weird rather than as the result of a specific vision. I had trouble telling what was going on and who the characters were supposed to be. Verdict: Not For Me

Future Quest: This one started off as the rip-roaring fun you’d expect from Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner, both of whom I love. I can’t quite pin down where I felt like things fell apart, but around the fourth issue I fell out of love with Future Quest. Years ago I would have stuck it out and perhaps come back around, but I’ll freely admit that I drop books the second I am dissatisfied nowadays. At four bucks an issue I do not have the money to spend on books that aren’t 100% satisfying.
Verdict: Something Went Wrong

He-Man/ThunderCats: Digging it so far. Skeletor is badass. Unfortunately some of his dialogue suggests he might actually use the term, “badass”, but it hasn’t gotten terrible yet. Verdict: Recommended If You’re A Fan

I have to say that I’m a little surprised at how much negativity I seem to have expressed here. While I am utterly delighted by several Rebirth books, there are more than I thought that had let me down in some way. That’s not to say that they were bad, but that I just can’t find a spot for them on my crowded pull list.

Overall I still feel like this initiative has been a rousing success, especially after what I saw as the spectacular failure of the New 52. I thought I was done with DC, but they have managed to put together quite a few products that are well worth my time and money.

If you feel like I am worth your time and money, visit SupportPhantom.com and see if you’d be interested in some exclusive content!

1 comment:

  1. I totaly agree with you on the bat books they are top notch at the momment, Green Arrow and Action Comics are also great reads, the Lanterns book with Jessica & Baz as the Lanterns is awful. Which sadens me as I love the franchise,

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