Back at the old stand, we used to beat up on DC Comics a lot. Not as much as, say, The Outhousers, but we smacked around the Didio regime pretty regularly. (Mostly because of the wrongheaded idea that because the Nolan Batman movies were such a success, DC editorial apparently decided everything had to have that grimdark edgy look, even characters like Captain Marvel and the Flash.) Invariably, the comments section would be swarmed by angry DC loyalists who screamed at us that we were mean-spirited, unwilling to give the books a chance, and clearly just hated DC Comics and its characters to begin with.
So I feel like I should make my position clear right here at the top. I love DC comics and its characters. They were my gateway to… well, everything, really. Over and over, when I thought I’d outgrown superheroes or that I should to move on to other things, DC would publish something that lit me up the same way Adam West’s Batman and the Fox/Infantino Flash had back in 1967.
In the early 1970s it was O’Neil and Adams on “Half an Evil”…
In the 1980s it was stuff like the Wolfman/Perez Titans and Dark Knight and Swamp Thing…
And in the 1990s there were Starman and the Grant Morrison JLA.
Something has always kept me hanging in there with the DC superheroes. Because I really do want to love them. Every time there’s one of those damnable reboots, whether it’s Zero Hour or the New 52 or whatever, I am rooting for it to be great. I am always hoping for that smile-inducing “Now THAT’S more like it!” feeling, that inner grin of satisfaction and delight that I got with Mark Waid’s Flash or Peter Tomasi’s Green Lantern Corps or John Rogers’ Blue Beetle.
The common thread through all of the above is that it’s never those Crisis-nothing-will-ever-be-the-same EVENT! comics that get me back. I really don’t care about the launch PAD. I care about the LAUNCH. I just want some regular ongoing DC superhero comics that I can enjoy, damn it.
So when I heard about Rebirth, especially how it was being sold as a course correction from the too-dark DC comics of the New 52, that pleased me. I was very glad to hear that I wasn’t the only one that thought the gritty joylessness of the New 52 was way out of hand. I bought the Rebirth special out of curiosity, and found it to be… well, not what I was hoping for.
But that was the launch pad, not the actual launch. And as I told you, I don’t really care that much about the platform, I care about what comes off it. So I figured when I had a chance to scoop up a bunch of the various Rebirth volume one trades for super cheap, I might as well take a chance. After all, no one thought Zero Hour would give us anything as cool as the Robinson/Harris Starman, right? You never know…
Now, bear in mind that this is not a review of the entire line or anything. This is just a sampling, a look at a handful of books I picked up from Goodwill at about a buck each. Because hope springs eternal, especially when it only costs a dollar.
So here are the books I picked up on impulse, and what I thought of each. Is the newly-reborn DC line of superhero comics hitting the target I’m hoping for, or not?
Batman. Now, if there’s a DC book that should be an easy sell to yours truly, it’s Batman. The character has been a fixture of my comics purchasing since 1969 and a monthly never-miss from 1984, when I got my first reserve box at Future Dreams down in Portland, Oregon. Even though Scott Snyder and his damn Owls obsession chased me off the main titles (thankfully, before the Joker sawed his face off and then Jim Gordon started going out in mecha Bat-armor) I still had Batman ’66. But seeing there was a new writer, I thought it might be time to look at the main titles again. I got the first three of King’s Batman collections and a hardcover collecting the Monster Men crossover.
And… well, I didn’t HATE them, exactly. Of the four, the Monster Men was the best because it never presented itself as anything other than a big damn monster story, a worthy heir to the original one from Batman #1…
It hurt the book some that Matt Wagner already revisited this one and did it better, but it’s been long enough that I will give them a pass on that. Mostly the new Monster Men was a good time though I couldn’t help noticing that the Bat squad has gotten really huge and unwieldy again.
If the team in the Batcave equals the number in the JLA I don’t think you get to call Batman a ‘loner’ any more. I suppose that’s why they killed off Tim Drake, a move which annoyed me so much that it almost put me off the story until I remembered that A) ALL the Robins have now died at least once and then gotten better, and B) he’s fictional.
Certainly I can understand the desire to pare down the ranks a bit, but why is death-in-a-heroic-sacrifice always the go-to-move? I think it would be just as plausible for Tim to look around the current Batcave coffee-klatsch and say, “Hey, you know what, I see eleven of you already here, I’m going back to college, thanks.” Apart from that, though, I liked the Monster Men crossover well enough for what it was. Bat guys fighting giant monsters. Gotham kaiju.
But the regular Batman books, I Am Gotham, I Am Suicide, I Am Bane… they were barely even okay. In fact about all I can say for them is that I didn’t hate them as much as I hated Snyder’s run. Yes, it’s true that Asshole Teeth-Gritting Batman seems to have gone away… but in his place we now have Sad Batman, which is even worse. I know I sound like just another grumpy old fart when I start saying stuff like this, but for God’s sake, DC– THIS is your back-to-basics “Rebirth”? Bruce Wayne getting depressed because he knows he’s fighting a losing battle and crime will never be eradicated? “A little less grim” does NOT equal “Bringing the fun back.” Sorry. Especially when you dramatize sad Batman by surrounding him with other costumed types in the Batcave trying to psychoanalyze him. Even the television Gotham is done with a lighter touch than this. Moreover, it’s idiotic for Batman to be wondering what makes him happy when DC editorial has spent the last four decades– longer– repeatedly establishing that BEING BATMAN is what makes Bruce Wayne happy.
So, Monster Men aside, I think it’s back to Batman ’66 for me. I’ll be around for another look the next time they reboot, I suppose, but for now, I’m still done with the main Bat books.
Superman and Action. Okay, I am primarily a Batman guy, but I have almost as soft a spot for old-school Superman, as well. And the Rebirth creative teams here have a MUCH heavier lift on these titles, because Geoff Johns and Gene Yang had made it a point to destroy everything about the strip that was recognizably Superman. Outing him as Clark Kent, destroying his relationships with Lois Lane and everyone at the Daily Planet, depowering him, putting him in a T-shirt and jeans and tweaking the S-shield again. Even the spit-curl went away in favor of a buzzcut. And then putting him into a setting where his day job is fighting exhibition bouts in an MMA made up of superpeople.
At that point there’s hardly any reason to call the book Superman any more. It’s just some strong guy with an S on his T-shirt. Even someone coming to the character from something like the Smallville TV show or the Man of Steel movie would feel cheated. When the comic is called Superman, you have a certain expectation of what it’s about. It’s like ordering an ice cream sundae and getting a bowl of chili instead. Even if you like chili, it’s not what you asked for, you know?
So, like I said, writers Peter Tomasi on Superman and Dan Jurgens on Action had a LOT to walk back (because, even when you’ve established a tradition of rebooting your entire fictional universe every few years going back to 1985, you can’t ever just START OVER, you have to explain why first… but that’s another column.)
The plan of attack on this is interesting. Since DC brought back the multiverse idea, they just killed off buzzcut MMA Superman and replaced him with another one from a parallel universe, a Superman that’s older and more experienced and married to his parallel-world Lois. They live on a farm in upstate New York and have a son, Jon, who’s also superpowered.
Now, in fairness, this take on Superman is almost as non-traditional and unrecognizable as Johns and Yang’s buzzcut version. But the cool part is that this guy at least talks and acts like the traditional Superman most of us know, his Lois isn’t a bitch, and there’s a nice silver-age Superboy vibe over the whole thing, with Superman trying to channel the wisdom of his adoptive parents. Being a parent is a challenge that maybe even a Superman isn’t ready for, and watching him struggle with it is a lot of fun. I always said that watching Superman and Lois Lane figuring out how to have a real relationship and be married could be every bit as interesting as their single-and-dating days, but most comics writers were too immature ever to try it. It’s nice to see someone finally rising to the challenge.
In addition to all that, there are a bunch of nice subplots about this new/old Superman having to earn the trust of the Justice League, the mystery of the Clark Kent that is currently living in Metropolis, and so on. It might not be innovative or anything but it’s good superhero comics; a line drive straight up the middle, let’s say. Jurgens is writing solidly professional adventure stories and Tomasi might be my current favorite mainstream DC writer; great with the character stuff and also good with action plots. That’s really all I want or need from a Superman comic. I think I might be keeping up with these in the trade paperbacks.
Trinity. All right, first of all, I like the idea. It’s Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in an ongoing team book; World’s Finest plus one, more or less. Second, I am really enjoying the lighter touch Francis Manapul is bringing to the scripting, and this first arc, which is about Mongul recruiting Poison Ivy to take out our three heroes by breeding some more of the parasitic Black Mercy plants, was a clever way to revisit an old favorite. (Look, if you’re going to swipe Alan Moore’s riffs, at least do something new with them. Adding Poison Ivy to the plot was a great idea and brings a little more Batman lore into the mix.) The instigating incident, which is basically Lois nagging Clark to invite his JLA work friends up to the farm for dinner, is also a lot of fun and almost felt like a plot point out of The Incredibles. This is the kind of not-grim-just-good style of superheroing I was hoping for from the Rebirth titles.
So it’s a big thumbs-up on this one. This is much more what I’m after with a DC comic– everyone sounds and acts in character and the story is fun and has real stakes without being reality-altering reboot HUGE. I’ll probably be hanging in with this one in trade as long as Manapul’s writing it.
Justice League. This is another title I’m sentimental about, and I’m always willing to at least check out the new version whenever there is one. But in recent years, I haven’t gotten my hopes up; the last time I was really enjoying the JLA was when it was Waid and Hitch, over a decade ago. Since then it seems like it’s been largely vacillating between annoyingly self-referential and out-and-out unintentional self-parody. Everyone seems to be trying to re-create what Morrison and Porter were doing without the faintest understanding of what it actually was.
This time it’s Bryan Hitch writing it, not drawing it. Which is all very well except he writes it like it’s a script meant for Bryan Hitch to draw, about an alien invasion of Earth that’s huge and apocalyptic and epic, filled with scenes of monstrous devastation and alien architecture… but in fact it’s Tony Daniel drawing it, and he’s not quite up to the job. Even with that caveat, though, it seems like a story that’s the right size for the League, the roster is a nice mix of veterans like Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman and newer folks like Cyborg and the new Green Lantern recruits Simon and Jessica, and Hitch is good at giving everyone something to do. It should work. All the elements are there.
But… I guess I’m jaded, but it all feels kind of generic. There’s no real sense of danger, despite all the scenes of devastation. I finished the book and had very little idea of what it was all about; it’s never quite clear what the aliens want or why they showed up, and it’s left completely unresolved.
There were some nice character bits with Barry Allen and Jessica, but overall there’s not much there. I don’t think I’m going to bother keeping up with this one, especially since I have Trinity now.
Nightwing. Okay, I have to own up; when I was a kid, I always wanted Robin out of the Bat books… Burt Ward did a lot to damage the character in my youthful mind and that distaste carried over to the comics. But in the early 70s, I discovered that Robin solo was actually one of my favorite things. College-age Robin, the cheerful and snarky guy who was trained by the world’s greatest detective and is not at all intimidated by the Justice League, was great fun and not nearly as annoying.
The best versions of Nightwing have keyed in on that, the idea that Dick Grayson has seen it ALL. Dick as the one guy in the DC Universe who’s not scared of talking back to Batman, who still drops by Wayne Manor to hang with Alfred and do his laundry, is my favorite take on him and it’s one of the things I really enjoyed about Grayson. Since this new Nightwing is written by the same guy, I was looking forward to it. Sadly, the first arc lost points with me almost instantly because it’s the damn Court of Owls again. Honestly, my reaction to the Court of Owls is a lot like the girl in Mean Girls who bursts out with “Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen!” Yeah. Stop trying to make the Court of Owls happen, DC.
So I had a huge bias against it going in. But apart from that, it was a pretty good book. I loved that there was more than one story, and the second one, where Nightwing must rescue Bruce Wayne from the psychotic Raptor, had a lot of those great grown-up Boy Wonder moments I was talking about.
I just goddam loved it. I won’t spoil it but the last page was almost worth the price of admission on its own. When Nightwing embraces its Bat connection instead of trying to run away from it, the book shines, whether its Chuck Dixon or Peter Tomasi or Tim Seeley writing. More of this, please. Provisionally in for the paperbacks at least as long as Seeley’s on the book.
And there you have it. About fifty-fifty I guess. Nothing I got so excited about I wanted to put them on a monthly pull list. But at least there are new DC comics out there I can enjoy again, and I didn’t waste a lot of money on stuff I don’t like. I guess, after fifty years (almost) of reading the damn things, I finally figured out how to enjoy them without getting all co-dependent about it.
Housekeeping note: As our other Greg notes, it’s been a year since we gave up trying to fit in under the new CBR management and started up the Junk Shop. We are so pleased and grateful for you folks supporting our stuff here, whether you followed us from CBR or found us on your own, that I’m at a loss for words. Thank you seems inadequate somehow, but… thank you. As long as you want to read it we’ll keep writing it.
We also appreciate your patience with the tech glitches this week… we are changing servers and that is always a little wonky, and I won’t bore you with the technical details. Anyway, Jim is the only one of us that really understands it. He could tell us he had to reconfigure the deflector dish to tie it in to the impulse drive and we’d probably just nod. Nevertheless, we are grateful to Jim for being our tech wizard and to you all for letting us work this stuff out in public.
And finally, a reminder– we don’t get that sweet CBR cash any more, so we are dependent on ad income and referral fees to keep this thing going. If you click on any of the Amazon links above and do a little shopping, even when what you buy is not the thing we linked to, they still throw us a couple of bucks. So please, use us as your Amazon gateway. It really does help.
Back next week with something cool.