May 26, 2016

The Pull List: 25 May 2016, Part 1

DC and Marvel, as the two giants of the superhero comic book genre, have quite different approaches to continuity. Their storylines have been running for decades. For Marvel it has always been a case of every previous storyline having happened to the same set of characters, and the timelines have always shifted along a sort of constantly amorphous 'now'. For the past 30 years DC Comics has acted quite differently. In 1985 they published Crisis on Infinite Earths, an epic storyline that effectively rebooted the entire DC Universe and fixed up all of the continuity glitches, inconsistencies and problems that had developed over the preceding 40-odd years. By-and-large the same characters remained, but they were re-envisaged slightly or brought up to date for a 1980s audience. The process was undertaken again in 1994's Zero Hour, and then again in 2005's Infinite Crisis, and then again in 2011's Flashpoint.

The five years since Flashpoint have seen DC re-develop its fiction universe under the name "The New 52", with fairly mixed and often-times contentious results. There have been fairly widespread and also fairly accurate accusations that the company has creatively lost its way, getting relentlessly dark and grim and losing sight of the bright, optimistic feel that made the DC characters so popular in the first place. So the process of reworking DC Comics continuity begins all over again this week with the 80-page special DC Universe Rebirth.

Under the cut: reviewing DC Universe Rebirth, plus reviews of The Omega Men, Superman and We Are Robin.

So, sticking with DC Universe Rebirth: I am having a difficult time deciding quite what I think of it. There are some easy bits to get out of the way. First of all it is wonderfully illustrated, thanks to a group of artists who each take a different chapter of the story. To an extent it reads like a 'who's who' of contemporary A-league DC artists, including Gary Frank, Ethan Van Scriver, Ivan Reis and Phil Jimenez. Secondly it is very well characterised, with writer Geoff Johns capturing very smoothly a very large array of superheroes and supporting characters.

Plot-wise it really feels like the first issue of another Crisis mini-series like Johns' own Infinite Crisis back in 2005. That feels a little problematic, because of course this is just the announcement comic for a general relaunch and there is not a specific second issue to follow on from here. I worry the momentum developed in this first issue is going to get far too diffused when spread across the entire DCU line. It all makes this feel a bit like an overblown advertisement. Like what's going on with Batman? Go read Batman and Detective Comics. Like what's happening with Superman? Go read Superman and Action Comics.

There are some nice teases of returning titles that will please old-school DC fans. The entire comic centres on the return of a particular fan favourite: the original Wally West, aka the best Flash DC ever had. Critically this is not a line-wide reboot, Instead it's a sort of refocusing. The New 52 continuity continues, but lost elements are getting re-inserted and re-invigorated. The entire book feels like a statement of purpose: the dark and gloomy days are over, and DC Comics is finally returning to its optimistic roots. We can all only hope. The comic begins and ends with a clock. At first it's turning to 10 minutes to midnight. By the end, it's already been wound back to 11:45.

The most contentious element of the book has already been discussed extensively on the Internet, so if you really don't want to have the plot revealed to you stop reading now. It is indeed true that the bleak, grim style of the New 52 was created by Watchmen's Dr Manhattan, tweaking an entire universe to see what it would do. It also appears to be the case that Ozymandias, also from Watchmen, is sneaking around the DCU manipulating heroes. On a metatextual level, it is remarkably bold: effectively telling the readership 'Watchmen is what fucked up our publishing line, because after it was a hit everything got bleak and grim'. On a narrative level it feels ridiculously crass and nonsensical. On an ethical level it's honestly a bit hard to get worked up any more. DC already published a range of Before Watchmen miniseries against creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' desires, so folding them into a long-term DCU storyline feels like the next logical step. An IP-hoarding corporation is going to do what IP-hoarding corporations are going to do.

If this Rebirth initiative genuinely leads to brighter, more positive DC titles I am right behind them and will support their books. As a book itself it has some wonderful moments - Barry and Wally embracing is pitch-perfect, for example - but it does effectively lead to a massive question mark and then stop. There's so much in this book that depends upon what happens next. (3/5)

DC Comics. DC Universe Rebirth #1. Written by Geoff Johns. Art by Gary Frank, Ethan Van Scriver, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez, Joe Prado and Matt Santorelli. Colours by Brad Anderson, Jason Wright, Hi-Fi and Gabe Eltaeb.

The Omega Men #12
DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Barnaby Bagenda. Colours by Romulo Fajardo Jr.
The Omega Men comes to a violent, challenging and gloriously ambivalent conclusion. It has been fascinating to read, particularly because it has told a war story without any real heroes in it. There are clear villains, of course, but the apparent 'good guys' have regularly been anything but. It ends uncertainly, with a door open to a potential sequel but also simply left open. War is complicated, and violence often has long-term repercussions. This has been such an exceptional series, boasting distinctive and beautiful artwork by Bagenda and Fajardo and a complex, deeply provocative script by Tom King. King in particular strikes me as the next big thing in American comic books. This was a sensational title, The Sheriff of Babylon is pretty much the best mainstream comic being published right now, and I've heard nothing but praise for his work on Vision over at Marvel. He's moving on to Batman next month: I strongly recommend that you follow him. (5/5)

Superman #52
DC Comics. Written by Peter J. Tomasi. Art by Mikel Janin and Miguel Sepulveda. Colours by Mikel Janin and Jeremy Cox.
It is the final showdown between the fake Superman and the real Superman - aided by Wonder Woman, Batman, Supergirl and the original DC Universe Superman. Reaching the end, which is nicely played out by fairly inevitable, shows that a lot of this eight-part storyline was either padding or foreshadowing for the Rebirth books. There was a lot of potential here - great writing, strong art, good characters - but it wound up being a lot less effective than its premise suggested. Still it does leave the Superman books in an interesting place going forward. It is just a pity they took eight issues to get there instead of three or four. (2/5)

We Are Robin #12
DC Comics. Written by Lee Bermejo. Art by Jorge Corona. Breakdowns by Rob Haynes. Colours by Trish Mulvihill.
Another DC monthly bites the dust to make way for Rebirth. We Are Robin never quite kicked it off with the readership, with I find quite sad. It is a great concept: a group of disadvantaged Gotham teens get inspired by Batman and Robin and form their own vigilante team. It has been a generally strong serious - particularly the "Robin War" and"Jokers" arcs - and here it all winds up with a niely written one-shot that acts as a thematic summation of the whole series. Thankfully the ending leaves the team intact and available for future use in the Batman titles. I like these characters. I want to see their story continue. (4/5)

1 comment:

  1. "...the return of a particular fan favourite: the original Wally West..."

    About. Frigging. Time.


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