With DC's latest reboot initiative underway, Tom Buxton investigates how successfully the Rebirth-branded strips have restored legacy to the DCU so far.
Can you hear that? That’s the sound of a new era of comic-book history kicking into gear. In case you’ve been living beneath a rock in recent months, DC Comics’ chief creative officer Geoff Johns has made his intentions of tackling many of the criticisms levelled at his company’s New 52 initiative crystal clear in recent months, signalling a change to his company’s status quo purportedly more significant than any of the Crisis on Infinite Earths-style events which have littered their history.
Enter Rebirth, a new wave of revitalized strips featuring the characters who fans have come to know and love over the decades in uncharted territory, with the central goal on Johns’ part being to bring back the notions of hope, wonder and above all legacy which have been missing from these legendary superheroes’ storylines in the last few years. Indeed, from the return of Wally West to the inaugural flight of an incarnation of Superman who’d previously retreated to the shadows, it’s safe to say we’ve seen plenty of dramatic narrative shake-ups within the pages of the issues released since the solo Rebirth comic launched on May 25th.
The story of this regenerated DC Universe has only just begun, of course, but even so, before that narrative continues in the coming months, revealing how players in the hit classic graphic novel Watchmen once deigned to take control of the multi-verse in the hope of erasing its inhabitants’ memories of the last five years, it’s worth taking stock of the comic strips released under the aforementioned branding so far so as to determine whether their respective writing teams are on the right track.
To that end, then, we’ll be recapping and rating each and every one of the Rebirth titles on a weekly basis, kicking off today with a comprehensive plunge into all of the strips released in the opening two weeks of this much-vaunted initiative. If you’ve been on the fence of late, unsure as to whether or not said strips are worth your investment after The New 52‘s failure to properly handle the DCU, then there’s no better action to take than to keep on reading…
May 25th, 2016
DC Universe Rebirth #1 - Had scribe Geoff Johns botched this pivotal one-off opening chapter, then the DCU’s prospects going forward might well have seemed sketchy at best. Thank heavens, then, that quite to the contrary, Johns succeeds here both in honouring his company’s illustrious history – not least via the wholly uplifting sequences involving the reprisal of ex-Flash Wally West’s existence along with Green Arrow and Black Canary’s beloved romantic relationship – as well as enticing newcomers into the fold, even if some of the mythology-shifting means that the issue as a whole feels a little exposition-dense at times. Throw in some of the most authentically nostalgic artwork in DC’s recent history and you’ve got an 80-page gem which, especially with its previously discussed revelations about Watchmen‘s never-before-seen influence on current fictional events, will surely be remembered by fans for years to come. 9/10
June 1st, 2016
Batman: Rebirth #1 – If DC Universe Rebirth #1 kick-starts its company’s entire universe on a new trajectory, then Batman: Rebirth #1 takes a markedly less audacious approach in comparison, mostly functioning as a procedural storyline structured around the seasonly antics of the Calendar Man which serves to show the titular Dark Knight considering how best to christen his latest sidekick recruit, Duke Thomas, as a caped crusader to be reckoned with. This slight lack of ambition on writer Tom King’s part doesn’t quite cripple the text, with David Finch and Mikel Janin’s artwork at least keeping the strip visually interesting as well as the teases of a new Dynamic Duo equally ensuring that most Batman devotees will keep reading in Batman #1 next week, but it still seems like a missed opportunity for this one to sport such a downright pedestrian central storyline. If anything, this somewhat underwhelming tale doesn’t seem to indicate that Gotham’s foremost vigilante will have his world altered as drastically as the Rebirth branding atop his regular comics would have the readers believe, which could prove to be the saga’s undoing if its storylines start becoming too predictable over the course of the next few issues. 5/10
Green Arrow: Rebirth #1 - As was indicated in Johns’ much-discussed launch strip, easily the main USP of the Green Arrow’s revived comic-book series will be its reuniting of Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance not only as partners-in-crime but romantic partners to boot. It’s hardly a great surprise, then, that much of the running time of this debut outing gets spent setting up the rekindling of the relationship in question, prompting the main narrative of Olly’s hunt to infiltrate a potentially deadly underground terrorist cell to take something of a back-set as a necessary result. Thankfully, Benjamin Percy writes these two fan favourite characters perfectly, instantly capturing the light-hearted, unpredictable nature of their passionate entanglement whilst keeping the main action frantic – and equally expectation-subverting – enough that anyone who’s only interested in the set-pieces will have their fill of entertainment here too. On account of the inevitably bare bones threat posed to Olly and Dinah this time around, it’s unlikely that Green Arrow’s die-hard followers will look back on this as a defining moment in the character’s history, yet in terms of its restoration of his heritage, this imperfect but still engaging first issue could well be pivotal in securing his future critical and commercial success. 7/10
Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1 – Like Green Arrow: Rebirth, the freshman instalment of the Green Lantern Corps’ post-New 52 adventures doesn’t so much present its readers with a well-structured narrative – and for all its failings, Batman: Rebirth #1 at least managed to achieve that much – as place its focus on the induction of the Corps’ two latest additions, Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz, as well as their interaction with franchise mainstay Hal Jordan. Yet again, this doesn’t prove to be too much of a problem; indeed, Geoff Johns and Sam Humphries already seem to be a match made in heaven as a writing team, finding time to hint at a near-omnipotent antagonist for Cruz and Baz to battle in future editions while primarily establishing a refreshingly turbulent, competitive dynamic between the pair which – coupled with the unashamedly fantastical art contributed by Ed Benes and Ethan Van Sciver – will ideally separate them from the critically acclaimed escapades of past Lanterns like Hal, Guy Gardener and Kyle Rayner. Hopefully these subsequent issues will develop the familial backgrounds of both of these new candidates as well as the antagonists set to plague them – not to mention their bearing on the DCU’s wider search for theones responsible for the events of The New 52 - but in the meantime, Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1 remains a fine teaser for what’s to come. 7/10
Superman: Rebirth #1 – Now, this is how you set up a series whilst also conveying a satisfying standalone storyline in the process. Picking up directly where the explosive Justice League #52 left off, with the New 52 / post-Flashpoint incarnation of the titular Man of Steel deceased, Superman: Rebirth #1 doesn’t mirror Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice‘s approach of resurrecting the character within moments of his demise, instead opting to demonstrate how a different version of the last son of Krypton can take on his predecessor’s mantle. Or should that be his successor’s mantle, we wonder? Confusing as it might seem, the new contender in question is none other than the pre-New 52 version of Supes, thereby cementing that sense of legacy factoring back into the DCU that Johns had been promoting from the outset of Rebirth‘s marketing campaign. This oft-forgotten Clark Kent’s mission here is simple: join forces with the Lana Lang of the New 52 universe to find a suitable burial spot for their martyr before working out how best to protect both his family – Lois and his son Jonathan – and the Earth as he’s come to know it. That simplistic approach works wholly for the better, though, enabling scribe Peter J. Tomasi and his artists Doug Mahnke and Jaime Mendoza to pay homage both to Superman’s distant past as well as to his recent New 52 missions from both an aesthetic and tonal perspective while equally emphasizing that we should expect a more familial style of heroism to dominate the Man of Steel’s strips from this point onwards. Indeed, judging by the colossal strength of this series premiere, we’re not going to argue with this direction, since at this rate, Zack Snyder’s underwhelming screen take on the character should be wiped clear from our memories in a matter of issues!
Be sure to let us know your thoughts on the DC Rebirth comics which we’ve seen launched so far in the comments section below, and don’t miss our verdicts on the strips released on June 8th-15th next weekend!