And…the DC Universe post-Rebirth begins this week, with new issues of Detective Comics, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Action Comics and Aquaman. How is this new version of the DC Universe? Mostly positive this week, though Corrina has had quite enough of uber-villain Lex Luthor, even if he is trying to be a hero.
The best news? It looks like Wonder Woman and Barry Allen are back in classic form. The worst? We’re not sure if Aquaman is swimming or sinking. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
The Flash #1 – Joshua Williamson, Writer; Carmine Di Giandomenico, Artist; Ivan Plascencia, Colorist
Ray – 9/10
Corrina: Now We’re Talking
Ray: Now that we have the set-up and exposition out of the way, we can see exactly what kind of take Williamson has on the Flash and his world. And one issue into the regular series, I can safely say it’s good. Very good. The Flash’s powers often function as a sort of “Fast forward/Pause”, like we saw in X-Men: Apocalypse, but Williamson’s take on Barry’s powers is much more nuanced. Not only does this issue show us just how challenging saving lives in a burning building would be, even with super-speed, but it also shows the toll that a power like this would take on a person’s mind, especially a person so focused on justice and saving lives like Barry.
Unlike the Rebirth issue, the supporting cast features heavily here, and both Iris and the young Wally are written well. I like Wally’s combination of snark and innocence, which is much more appealing than the resentful and sullen character in the Venditti/Jensen run. There’s also a prominent new character in Detective August Heart (what is that name, though?), a police detective and friend of Barry’s who is trying to solve his own brother’s murder. As Barry pushes himself to his limit, Detective Heart finds himself in a tense hostage standoff against a mysterious new villain robbing Star Labs with ties to his brother’s death, and seems doomed – until the Speed Force storm hits and makes him the first target of the storm. Is he a new hero to help Barry carry the load? Or does he have a dark secret that will turn him into Godspeed? One way or another, everything about this series so far has me sold.
Corrina: What impressed me most is how Barry finally came across as a distinct character. Way back when I first started reading comics in the 1970s, Barry was the supposedly boring married guy with the bow tie. Except I liked the first issue I picked up as a kid. I liked his love for Iris, his easy manner, and his sharp mind that let him outsmart the Reverse Flash. (Aside: storytelling has really changed since then because that issue would now be a full arc, with Reverse Flash replacing Barry for some time, unknown to Iris, instead of Iris figuring it out in 2/3 of an issue.)
This Barry is similarly dedicated and we finally get to see him doing his job in an intelligent manner and interacting with people like a regular person, rather than a driven vengeance machine. This Barry is dialed-down a bit and that makes him far more interesting. As Ray said, the tricky part of writing the Flash is that it’s hard to counter a person with super-speed, making Flash one of the more invincible heroes. This time, the rescue of people from a fire works well, especially as it’s such an ordinary emergency. That said, if August Heart had died of the results of Barry’s delay, I would have rolled my eyes because that would have been so predictable. That this creative team twisted that to do something new with August makes me hopeful this is a run on Flash that I can enjoy.
Wonder Woman #1 – Greg Rucka, Writer; Liam Sharp, Artist; Laura Martin, Colorist
Ray – 8.5/10
Corrina: Steve and Etta Get a Reboot, as Does Wonder Woman’s Compassion
Ray: Rucka’s always going to be a slow-burn writer, and while he definitely delivers in the end, it sometimes makes his comics a bit difficult to get into despite the quality writing. That’s why I worry about this comic essentially being two comics in one, each monthly. This is the start of Rucka’s present-day storyline with Liam Sharp, and Sharp’s gorgeous art is the main attraction.
The storyline is interestingly split this month between Diana’s quest into a small African nation in search of someone who can help her with her quest for answers, and Steve Trevor and Etta Candy’s military adventures in that same country. Etta Candy is now the Commander, and since she looks a bit different than we last saw her and given her new role, I mistook her for Amanda Waller at first. She kind of comes off as Waller’s more ethical twin here as well. Rucka has always excelled at writing military/espionage content, so Steve Trevor’s mission into this country is written well and nicely covers the complexities of incursions like this, even if it does hit a few too many current-events references.
Diana’s journey, on the other hand, is mostly an excuse for Sharp to draw stunning environments and the occasional monster, until the reveal that Diana is trying to seek the help of Cheetah to solve the mystery of why she can’t get back to Themysrica. I’m intrigued, and I like the fact that the focus on Diana and Steve’s relationship is back after the long derailment due to her relationship with Superman. I’m looking forward to Nicola Scott’s flashback arc as well, but I wish I didn’t have to wait a month for more answers here.
Corrina: A few elements I loved here. First off was Wonder Woman’s reluctantance to go “kill” mode as a first resort. Given recent storylines, I’ve started to call her Princess McStabby Sword because she’s so often portrayed as the female equivalent of a Barbarian Warrior who likes fighting more than anything else. Diana is more complex than that and her continued warnings to the monsters and to the person behind them, as well as her willingness to take punches rather than hurt others reminded me of a similar scene in Gail Simone’s run where Diana let her opponent pummel her until she could get him to listen to reason. Diana can be a warrior but she’d rather not, if there’s another way. We haven’t seen that Diana often lately and I’m so pleased to have her back.
Steve and Etta also get a reboot of sorts, with Steve being a military squad leader. I’m not too fond of his beard but I love that his rank is master sergeant now–that denotes a person who leads in the field, not at headquarters. Etta, however, has received that type of promotion and it fits her well. I, too, mistook her for Waller for a moment–the old Waller, the Wall, not the more recent slim and sexy super-spy version. Given we can’t have that Wall back, I’m glad to have Etta fill the role in some form.
It’s gonna be hard to pick which art I will to love more in this run: Sharp’s or Scott’s. Sharp’s first issue is already erasing memories of the art of the last run.
Aquaman #1 – Dan Abnett, Writer; Brad Walker, Penciller; Andrew Hennessey, Inker; Gabe Eltaeb, Colorist
Ray – 6/10
Corrina: Swimming in Place?
Ray: I like a lot of the ideas at work in Abnett’s run. The idea of Atlantis actually being treated like a legitimate nation and dealing with the same things as surface nations, such as embassies and diplomatic relations is fascinating. When’s the last time Magneto, Doom, or Geo-Force attended a UN meeting? The Spindrift setting, the meeting point between land and sea that serves as the embassy for Atlantis, is a great meeting point. I also like the characterization of Arthur and Mera, so I was coming into this issue with high hopes.
They were validated by the first half, as the issue introduces a trio of new characters populating Spindrift station – an officious bureaucrat, a young British naval officer serving as an ambassador, and a charismatic Atlantean soldier stationed there. The problem with stories where the heroes actually get it right and start to do things a smarter way is that status quo is usually God and things are restored to the “traditional” way, but I didn’t expect it to be quite this fast. I expected Black Manta’s revenge plot to be a slow-burn subplot. I didn’t expect him to barrel in ranting incoherently about revenge, take two of the three new characters off the table in some way, blow up Spindrift Station, and stab Aquaman. It’s all dramatic enough, to be sure, but we’ve been this before. Quite a few times. At this point, the new ideas that Abnett was bringing to the table feel like they’re being shuffled off to the side to make way for yet another Aquaman vs. Black Manta battle. And I feel like Johns already had the final word needed on that rivalry.
Corrina: I am mainly worried about how little forward momentum there has been since Abnett took over. This has to be at least the third time we’ve seen characters walk in to visit Spindrift Station and Aquaman’s desire for diplomacy has been explained numerous times too.
Which is why I found it so weird that the station was immediately blown up. That’s a whole let of repeated setup to simply smash to bits in a couple of panels. That makes me puzzled as to where this run is truly going. To put Aquaman back in the water as a more traditional superhero or will this concentrate on Atlantis and Arthur’s mythology?
I’ve been excited about this run but now I’m cautious. We’ll see.
Batman: Detective Comics #935 – James Tynion IV, Writer; Eddy Barrows, Penciller; Eber Ferreira, Inker; Adriano Lucas, Colorist
Ray – 9/10
Corrina: Great Except for Batman Keeping Secrets
Ray: Two issues in, it’s very clear that this is going to be a book that balances a lot, both in terms of characters and in terms of plots and subplots. And Tynion, coming off of Eternal 2, seems to have what it takes to keep all those balls in the air. The issue opens with a spectacular action segment as Cass, Steph, Tim, and a terrified human Clayface up against an army of Jokers in a post-apocalyptic Gotham. The four are pushed to their breaking points – until Tim overrides the simulator, and it’s revealed that the whole thing is part of the “Mud Room”, a simulator that uses Clayface’s powers to create scenarios, in a new take on the Danger Room.
After Tim has it out with Batwoman over her training methods and why Batman won’t let them into the field, they head their separate ways. Kate heads home and has a tense conversation with her father about their differing opinions on the Waynes and Batman. Clayface uses a power-dampener to go out on the town, although I’m surprised by how young and harmless this guy seems. Wasn’t he supposed to be an aging actor past his prime? Tim and Steph’s new relationship seems a bit rushed, but they have a really sweet dynamic that seems right out of the Dixon era. I wish a bit more was done with Cass besides her just popping in randomly, though. She might not say much, but she’s a great character. We don’t learn too much more about the mysterious “Batmen” who nearly killed Azrael last issue, but Batman does get into a confrontation with them that boasts some great art. Barrows is doing the best work of his career here, and two issues in, Batman Boot Camp is off to a roaring start. There isn’t a weak link in the Bat-titles yet.
Corrina: The great part of this book is how each character has a distinct personality. Especially Tim Drake, who’s been knocked around since the new 52 without having a specific role in the Bat-Family. He’s been a fifth wheel for the most part, though there were glimmers of the old Tim Drake in Batman & Robin Eternal.
The training sequence is a classic plot idea but done well, especially as Kate pointed out the specific weaknesses of each member of her team, even Cass, who would seem to have none. Clayface is unexpectedly poignant and his role seems to be the wild card, deflating some of the tension of their work.
However, this whole “I can’t tell you until I’m sure” thing with Bruce is driving me nuts. I know it’s to add dramatic tension but it seems to me false tension. There’s no reason he couldn’t ask Kate and the team to work on uncovering the full scope of the plot without sending them into the field. This is a team of smart investigators, including one who can impersonate anyone.
That’s a niggle. This title is a ton of fun, overall.
Superman: Action Comics #958 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Patrick Zircher, Artist; Ulises Arreola, Colorist
Ray – 9/10
Corrina: Supes Is Still Being a Hothead
Ray: A few issues in, I can safely say that Jurgens is back where he belongs, writing the flagship Superman book, and it’s like he never left. Last issue suffered slightly from a more-belligerent Superman than we saw in the Lois and Clark run, but he seems to be more even-keel here as he takes on the monster that put him in the ground back on his world. The initial fight with Doomsday, which Jurgens wrote part of back in 1992, was a street brawl, but this fight feels bigger, more complicated, and more dangerous. This is a Doomsday that’s smarter, as Superman comments late in the issue, and one that seems to be causing as much chaos as possible deliberately. It reminds me a bit of the first issue of Batman, in that the destruction is both spectacular and played very seriously, as Superman and Luthor stretch themselves thin to keep the citizens of Metropolis safe.
Speaking of Luthor, he’s one of the highlights for me here. Jurgens’ Luthor is a very different character from the mad scientist of the New 52. He’s ruthless and vicious, sure, but he’s also a consummate strategist and master propagandist. He’s near-impossible to outthink, and he’s boxed Superman into a corner here with his charm offensive on Metropolis. I’m not sure what to make of the mystery Clark Kent yet, but his subplot is intriguing as he seems to be convinced he’s the real Clark Kent, and claims there’s some sort of plan to prove that he was never Superman at all. There’s a cameo from Mr. Oz this issue, as well, and the Ozymandias theories make a bit more sense after these scenes. Is it just me, or does Mr. Oz’ appearance change quite a bit from issue to issue? Lois and Jon don’t play a big role in this issue, but the scene where Lois tries to help her son deal with the fact that he can see his dad in the fight of his life on TV but can’t go to help him is fantastic. Jurgens is the quintessential Superdad writer.
Corrina: You know how I was complaining that Aquaman had moved too slow? That is not the problem with Action Comics, which lives up to its name instantly, first tossing Luthor and our alternate universe Superman into a brawl and then upping the ante by sending in Doomsday.
Where did this Doomsday come from? Who’s the new Clark Kent–and how weird is a Clark Kent who doesn’t seem to be Superman at all? Those are not the questions I thought I’d be asking when Rebirth started and yet I want those answers now. I wonder since this new Superman already has a secret identity if the new Clark is meant to bring us into better contact with the Daily Planet staff? Or maybe it will show that Clark and Superman aren’t the same? And how is this connected to the energy being that thought he was Superman and the tease that the dead Superman wasn’t what he seemed at all?
I’ve no idea and Jurgens has set himself up to either knock the conclusion of this story out of the park or whiff with a strikeout. Given his history, I’m hopeful that it’s the former. My only niggle is that I’m so tired of this arrogant Luthor who’s seemingly unstoppable and smarter in battle than the experience and older Superman. I guess we can chalk that up to Superman being disconcerted by facing the being who killed him.
Justice League #52 – Dan Jurgens, Writer; Tom Grummett, Penciller; Danny Miki, Mark Morales, Richard Hanna, Inkers; Gabe Eltaeb, Colorist
Ray – 8/10
Corrina: Tired of Luthor.
Ray: This issue is essentially Action Comics #0, serving as a Lex Luthor solo spotlight issue that sets up his role as the protector of Metropolis. The issue opens with Superman’s cape on display in the Daily Planet lobby, as Luthor returns from Apokalips to find of Superman’s death in his absence. We’ve seen Jurgens write Luthor dealing with the fallout of Superman’s death before, but that was sort of glossed over briefly as Reign of the Supermen began shortly thereafter. Here, Luthor’s complex feelings about his adversary are explored more, and he actually puts together a plan to replace him. Armed with a Mother Box from Apokalips, he puts together his suit of armor and sets out to become Metropolis’ new protector – albeit a harsher, more ruthless version as we can see when he threatens to cripple a small-time thug.
The issue finally brings back the subplot of Luthor’s sister and explains what happened to her after she shot Luthor, and what drove Luthor back to Earth. The ending was actually a nice callback to another story from the Jurgens era, “Save the Planet”, although the Daily Planet hasn’t played that big a role for a long time, so it’s got less of an impact. Still, as a set-up for the Action run, this is solid. It’s quite the weird decision to end the iconic JL title with two fill-in issues that serve as tie-ins to other series, though.
Corrina: Given that this story focuses on Luthor, I’m going to take the opportunity to rant about why the recent handling of the character bores me. Puts me to sleep, as did much of this story.
See, here’s the thing about evil uber-powerful characters–they commit the cardinal sin of being uninteresting. The Secret Six? They’re sorta evil and mixed up. They try to do the right thing but their moral compass points the wrong way. They’re flawed, in so many ways, but they care about each other and that’s their saving grace. We love them because of their flaws and because of how much they have become a family to each other. A dysfunctional family, mind you, but a family.
By contrast, Luthor is hardly ever allowed to be vulnerable. He’s the smartest, the richest, the bestest evil dude ever, and while he’s arrogant, he’s earned it. We see only one hint of vulnerability in Luthor this issues, as he fails to do anything to improve his sister Tess’s condition. It’s not enough, as he instantly swaps back to arrogance. Why would I care about a story with this guy?
He’s just all everything, smirking. He’s dull and played out. Michael Rosembaum’s Luthor on the 1st 2 seasons of Smallville interested me because he was messed up, vulnerable, unsure of what to do next. That’s a character I wanted to watch to see what happened next. Morrison had it right: Luthor is, at his heart, a pitiable creature, who will never know true caring because it’s not something you demand, it’s something you get because you give it first. That Luthor never understands this is his fatal flaw.
But right now? Luthor is an character who’s better at guarding Metropolis than Superman was and his arrogance grates on me, like nails on a chalkboard. Wake me up when he discovers something he can’t handle and comes undone.