Rebirth reviews: First wave of DC's revamp starts out strong

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

 

DC Comics began a “Rebirth” one month ago. That’s what they’re calling the latest reboot of their superhero universe – and, so far, the super-kids are all right.

The “Rebirth” plan calls for, confusingly, one-shots of major characters with the word “Rebirth” after the title, followed by first issues of new ongoing titles with the word “Rebirth” on the cover before the title. That is some of the dumbest trade dress I’ve ever seen. But if it’s the worst complaint fans have, then the complications of this Rebirth are minor.

The June titles focused on DC’s five biggest characters (Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Superman and Wonder Woman) along with some second-tier characters with breakout potential (Aquaman, Green Arrow and the grown-up sidekicks of the superstars, the Titans). Justice League: Rebirth shipped July 6, and could be considered the capstone of the first wave of Rebirth. All of the new titles that have launched will ship twice monthly from now on – an amazing feat, if DC can pull it off – except for Titans. (Once a second banana, always a second banana, I guess.)

And so far, so good. Here’s the skinny on the first wave:

AQUAMAN

Aquaman: Rebirth #1, followed by Aquaman #1, launched a new mission for the Sea King: “Defend the sea from the land's greed, defend the land from the sea's wrath.” Nice symmetry there for the man between two worlds.

His means to achieve this include an Atlantean embassy on the U.S. East Coast called Spindrift Station, founded to create understanding between land and sea – an embassy which is, of course, immediately attacked by Aquaman’s arch-nemesis. (If you don’t know who that is, I’m not going to tell you. Learn your Aqua-foes, people!) In the meantime, writer Dan Abnett took the opportunity to introduce a new supporting character from the Royal Navy (points for using the most historic navy, and not the U.S. one) and re-establish Aqua-squeeze Queen Mera as an accessible character and admirable Aqua-partner. 

Aqua-rating: Three stars (out of four)

 

BATMAN

New writer Tom King took the opportunity of Batman: Rebirth #1 to introduce us to Duke Thomas, a character who has appeared before but officially comes under Batman’s wing here. What his role will be was not revealed, but Batman was seen teaching him numerous skills, from combat to computer tech. Oh, and there’s a yellow super-suit in his future. (Yellow? Might as well call him “Target Boy”!)

Batman #1 launched in a different direction, though, introducing two new super-characters by the names “Gotham” and (sigh) “Gotham Girl.” They have super-powers, and mean to chase Batman out and give his city brighter heroes to admire. That’s all we know so far, but there’s doubtless trouble behind those brightly colored masks.

“Detective Comics” #934-935, meanwhile, could easily be titled Batman Family (a real comic book from some years ago). Batman and Batwoman (Kate Kane, Bruce Wayne’s first cousin) are the nominal stars, but the focus will be on the team they are building out of supporting characters Red Robin (Tim Drake), Orphan (Cassandra Cain), Spoiler (Stephanie Brown) and, believe it or not, a reformed Clayface. The Bat-kids need the training, the Bat-Dad and Bat-Mom explain, because a mysterious new character is targeting them with futuristic tech and they need to be able to defend themselves better. (Batman knows more than he’s telling, but being Batman, he’s keeping mum.)

The art on both books is outstanding, although with the twice-monthly shipping for both there’s bound to be a lot of artist-swapping. Still, Batman seems to attract great artists, and make good artists better.

Bat-rating: Three stars each for Batman and Detective

 

THE FLASH

Jeff Plackemeier of Arlington, Texas, posted on my website that Flash: Rebirth #1 and Flash #1 reflect the tone and style of the TV show, and I think he may be right. Both comics and TV show are fast-moving fun with vibrant characters who face terrible dangers with ultra-competent super-heroics and clever dialogue.

Flash: Rebirth #1 did double-duty, not only re-introducing former sidekick Wally “Kid Flash” West, but expanding the reasons behind “Rebirth” – which is that the ridiculously powerful Dr. Manhattan from the Watchmen books has stolen 10 years from the DC Universe for undisclosed reasons, years (and adventures) which our heroes are now gradually remembering. (This is the in-story explanation for the 2011 reboot, “New 52,” which wasn’t terribly successful.)

Flash #1 started a different story, introducing yet another speedster. The art on both books is lighter and looser than DC’s usual “photo-realistic” house style, which is entirely appropriate (and welcome) on a book starring our sunny super-speedster.

Flash-rating: Four stars

 

GREEN ARROW

The “Rebirth” issue and Green Arrow #1 don’t set the world on fire with anything new. In fact, writer Benjamin Percy resurrects the hoary GA cliché of an unscrupulous underling stealing Queen Industries away from our Battling Bowman. This has happened so many times in the comics, it’s spilled over onto the CW’s Arrow, where it happened again!

Also, the unscrupulous underling likes to put on a mask and hang out with other unscrupulous businessmen, also wearing masks, in what looks like “Court of Owls” (from Batman, and soon, TV’s Gotham). So nothing terribly original there.

But the biggest story reiteration makes me forgive all the others. And that is: Black Canary is back as Oliver Queen’s girlfriend-slash-crimefighting partner, and oh, I had no idea how much I missed that. “The New 52” revamp mentioned earlier had erased Canary from Ollie’s life, and it wasn’t until “Rebirth” brought her back that Green Arrow felt complete. The best scenes in the new book are when she’s on panel, and that’s the way it should be.

Arrow-rating: Two stars, but add a third just for Black Canary.

GREEN LANTERN

We’ve only got half of this reboot: Green Lanterns, starring the two new Emerald Gladiators of Earth. The second title, “Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps,” in which the best-known GL takes on the Sinestro Corps in space, doesn’t debut until July 27.

Meanwhile, we’ve had three issues to look at our new Green Lanterns, misunderstood Muslim Simon Baz, and agoraphobic Latina Jessica Cruz. They are, essentially, rookie cosmic cops with Earth as their beat.

Both have serious problems. Baz isn’t trusted by the public, as some mistakes in his youth have placed him on a terrorist watch list. He has trust issues himself; he doesn’t even rely on his power ring, being the only GL to carry a gun. Cruz, meanwhile, got her start being possessed by an alien from a parallel dimension, aggravating a mental illness. Her battle to overcome agoraphobia displays a different kind of heroism than we normally see.

Simon is all impulse, so is less interesting to this reader than Jessica, who is all anxiety. But I’ll root for both of them while they take on the Red Lantern Corps in their first storyline, “Red Dawn.”

Both Green Lanterns and Hal Jordan ship twice monthly.

Power Ring Rating: 2 1/2 stars

 

SUPERMAN

After two issues of Action Comics and three of Superman, the contours of the new Man of Steel are taking shape. It should be noted, though, that he’s really an old one.

See, in 2011 DC re-launched its superhero line, complete with a new Superman. That guy, the one who dated Wonder Woman, is dead – at least currently – while a Superman from the pre-2011 DC Universe has taken his place. This is the one who married Lois Lane  in 1996, and they have a pre-teen super-powered son, Jonathan.

The Superman title is concerned with the Super-family in Kansas, while Action focuses more on Superman’s rivalry with Lex Luthor, who has taken over as protector of Metropolis, and is wearing the “S” shield. (Which really irritates our new/old Superguy.)

Some writers complain that writing straight-arrow characters like Superman is too hard, and that they need to have a dark side to make it interesting. Action and Superman, chockablock with dynamic characters and story springboards, demonstrate that those writers simply suffer from a dearth of imagination. These two books, both of which ship twice monthly, have wide, open potential, befitting the Man of Tomorrow.

Super-rating: Three stars each for Action and Superman

 

TITANS

In the 2011 reboot, the character Wally “Kid Flash” West – a red-haired boy from Blue Valley, Nebraska, who was The Flash’s sidekick – was erased from DC Universe history. That had enormous repercussions (none of them good) for the Titans team, where he had been a founding member.

Titans has returned Wally and his history, but it’s slightly changed. While he is again a founding member of the Titans, along with Robin. Wonder Girl and Aqualad, there have been some additions. Speedy (Green Arrow’s sidekick) and Lilith (a girl with psychic powers) have been retroactively added as founding members.

Now they’re all young adults, and as they have in previous iterations, several go by new code names. For example, Dick Grayson, the first Robin, is Nightwing.  Roy “Speedy” Harper is now Arsenal. And so forth.

That’s not new. But what is new is that Titans ties directly to the central conceit of Rebirth, in that the 2011 reboot – dubbed “The New 52” and largely considered a failure – was caused not by editors and writers, but by the aforementioned, cosmically powerful Dr. Manhattan. If Dr. Manhattan’s machinations are to be revealed, it’s likely to happen in Titans.

Sidekick Rating: Two stars for set-up, waiting to see what direction this book will take

WONDER WOMAN

One of the knocks on the Amazing Amazon is that her origin and back story have been changed so many times that it gets confusing which parts of her 70-plus-year history count. Amazingly, Rebirth turns this negative into a positive, by saying that all of Wonder Woman’s various origins are true – because Dr. Manhattan keeps creating them!

Wonder Woman discovers this by using her Lasso of Truth on herself, where she informs herself of Dr. Manhattan’s interference. Now she’s on a quest to find out who she “really” is – and to make the naked blue guy from Watchmen pay for his actions.

That’s all pretty interesting, moreso than “Wonder Woman” usually is. Or perhaps I’m just dazzled by WW’s new uniform, leather armor based on ancient Greco-Roman design. It’s so much better than the old star-spangled swimsuit or her recent fashion mistakes, that I’m happy just looking at the art.

Wonder Rating: Four stars

 

JUSTICE LEAGUE

Of all the Rebirth books we’ve seen so far (there are still quite a few in the pipeline), DC’s premier team book is the one with the fewest surprises or revelations.

The League doesn’t yet trust the “replacement” Superman, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to last. And the team itself is a variant of the usual core group: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg and the two rookie Green Lanterns.

But here again there’s a suggestion that Dr. Manhattan may be exposed. Both Superman and Batman (plus intrepid reporter Lois Lane) suspect that his being on this world, available when the other Superman died, is just too much coincidence to swallow.

So once again Rebirth is making the revamp part of the story. This time, for the first time since DC started monkeying with its own history in 1986, the characters in the books, like the readers, are aware that something has changed. And the characters themselves are looking for the responsible party.

It makes me wonder if maybe Dr. Manhattan has been manipulating my history, too. Aren’t I supposed to be rich by now?

Justice Rating: Three stars

 

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Replies to This Discussion

Jeff Plackemeier of Arlington, Texas

Who the hell is that?  ;)

Great round-up, Cap!

Thanks, Chris! This was two columns for TCA, essentially adapting my ongoing reviews that many here have already seen. I wrote them together for the site.

So far, I'm on board with Wonder Woman and Green Lanterns, I'm on the fence regarding Batman and Superman and I've yet to try Flash and Titans due to sell-out scarcity.  I like the idea behind the Aquaman title but it just didn't grab me enough to keep me around. 

For me it's:

Batman

Detective

Green Arrow

Wonder Woman

pretty much in that order.

Not really sure about JLA. Don't think I can read Titans again until Roy ditches the baseball cap.

It seems odd to me that all the other space sectors had single Green Lanterns. Not only does Earth's space sector have multiple GL's (I've lost count) but they all happen to be from Earth.

We used to have Abin Sur, so we know there's at least one other inhabited planet in our sector. Ungara should sue for fair representation, or something.

How many Earth GLs are there? Hal Jordan, Charlie Vickers, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, Simon Baz, Jessica Cruz. That's not counting ones in the past or the future, of which there have been several. Does Anya Savenlovich still count?

Richard Willis said:

It seems odd to me that all the other space sectors had single Green Lanterns. Not only does Earth's space sector have multiple GL's (I've lost count) but they all happen to be from Earth.

Not just from Earth, they're all Americans!  No Canadians, Europeans, Asians, etc.

  Hasn't Earth been proven time and again to be the center of things?  It seems to need all those lanterns.

Richard Willis said:

It seems odd to me that all the other space sectors had single Green Lanterns. Not only does Earth's space sector have multiple GL's (I've lost count) but they all happen to be from Earth.

Perhaps other sectors have multiple Green Lanterns too, but they're all alternates and have generally not been needed.

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