REBIRTH: Everything old is new and everything new is old! (Which confusingly makes everything simultaneously new and old… look, the relationship between neophobia and neophelia is complicated.) We’ll be digging deep into Wonder Woman Rebirth 1 on Tuesday and The Flash Rebirth 1 on Wednesday, but today, we’re discussing Action Comics 957, Aquaman Rebirth 1 and Detective Comics 934.
Action Comics 957
Drew: Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, it was hard to care about sports. All of Detroit’s professional teams were perpetually terrible. Prospects eventually lifted for many of those teams, but in first grade, those days were still far off. At that time, the thing to care about was college football, where the cross-state rivalry between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University injected some excitement into an otherwise demoralizing sports landscape. Allegiances were bitter, but largely arbitrary, usually boiling down to a friend or family member who attended one of the schools. Except for my friend Paul, who claimed he was a State fan because his grandfather “was killed by a UofM fan.” Aside from being way too heavy a reason when kids might otherwise just prefer the color scheme of one over the other, I remember thinking how flawed the logic was. Can we let the actions of one individual shape our opinions of all individuals who share traits with that person? Tweak the variables, and you end up with much more deplorable prejudices that might be based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. Action Comics 957 finds Superman embracing similar logic, though granted, the trait in question is as specific as “being Lex Luthor.”
Still, Superman openly admits that, as far as he can tell, this Lex Luthor hasn’t done anything wrong. He doesn’t trust him based on his experiences with the Lex Luthor of his own Earth, but can’t prove or even identify anything this Luthor has done wrong. There are still a million ways this story could go — and the introduction of another Clark Kent could essentially upend whatever we think is going on right now — but thus far, Superman’s actions seem to fly in the face of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Moreover, they betray a total lack of trust and goodwill on Superman’s part. I can appreciate that his experiences with the other Lex Luthor have taught him not to extend that goodwill, but that feels decidedly lacking in in the hope that is meant to define this character. Instead, he comes of bitter and suspicious.
But, as I said, there’s much of this story left to tell. Superman’s strained logic may have just been a pretense for him and Luthor to fight before ultimately teaming up to both solve the mystery of this other Clark Kent AND fight Doomsday, who also appears (though unrecognizeable) at the end of the issue. There’s plenty of balls in the air, and more importantly, plenty of stuff that is working. Writer Dan Jurgens continues to find a great tone for Lois and Clark’s parenting, and artist Patrick Zircher’s visual storytelling is spot-on. Heck, they even work in some heat-vision-and-mirror shaving!
Indeed, so much works, it’s frustrating that so much space is given over to the parts that don’t — a little more time with Clark and Lois debating the merits of confronting Luthor could have raised the emotional stakes while also making Clark’s decision feel less rash. Of course, that would have left less time for each of the numerous cliffhangers this issue establishes, though this issue could have probably come off just fine with one fewer, anyway.
Aquaman Rebirth 1
Patrick: Probably more than any other character, Aquaman needs a strong authorial voice behind him to convince the audience that his stories are worth your time. Writer Dan Abnett, like Geoff Johns before him, attempts to address the phenomenon of Aquaman-as-joke directly, but rather than demonstrating why that’s wrong, Aquaman Rebirth 1 merely states that the character is actually Very Interesting and Very Important. The issue is narrated from a seemingly omniscient third-person perspective, so there’s absolutely no mystery about what motivates Arthur, but also no intimacy toward the character. It’s like we’re being read his bio from Wikipedia. That is, until the end of the issue, when it’s revealed that Black Manta has been narrating the whole time (though, he appears to be alone so… what, he was talking to himself for twenty pages?).
That’s ultimately a pretty disappointing reveal — like, Manta’s the least surprising choice here — but the fact that the issue is narrated by someone who despises the titular character makes perfect sense. All Abnett can do throughout the course of this issue is convince the reader not to care about his hero, leading me to the question: who is it that hates Aquaman: Abnett or Manta?
We get to see Aquaman acting heroically, but even that heroism is both risk-free and totally toothless, despite an attempt on Abnett’s part to politicize his actions. Arthur intercepts a fringe group of Atlantean terrorists driving a nuke through the Atlantic Ocean to Boston. He handily dismantles the terrorist cell, bringing them to shore miles shy of Boston and deactivating the bomb. Arthur doesn’t break a sweat, and barely even calls back to base for support, even though Mera (Mera!), Garth (Garth!) and Murk (…) are all there to presumably help him address these kinds of issues. There is sort of an insane moment where Murk suggests it’s treasonous for the Atlantean King to stop terrorists (because they’re only going to nuke a Land City, after all), but that’s a perspective that’s so alien and so silly that Abnett doesn’t even try to support it. So, okay, here’s what happened: Aquaman encounters some unambiguously bad guys, tells his friends he’s going to stop said bad guys and then he stops them at no cost, with no help and without consequence. Not exactly making the strongest case for why Aquaman is interesting.
Even the little asides that are meant to flesh out Aquaman’s place in the universe land with a meaningless thud. The narration cheekily says that Aquaman talking to fish has made him “a running joke in popular culture.” First of all, I’m not sure a person is a running joke – the running joke would be the implication that that power is useless would be the running joke. But second of all, Arthur’s sea-life-commanding power is not put to any meaning use in this issue. He tells the combatant’s sea creature that he can “sense [its] agony” which is a pointless contribution to the issue. Beyond that, we see a staggeringly stupid interview with a survivor of the Atlantean attack on Gotham City back in 2013 (during the Throne of Atlantis Aquaman / Justice League crossover).
I get what’s happening here – Abnett and artists Scot Eaton and Oscar Jimenez are reinforcing the idea that some elements of New 52 continuity are still in play — Throne of Atlantis — while also trying to play up the “controversial” angle of the character. But like, the storytelling here is aching stupid and obvious: he’s got a picture of his wife and kid in the frame for his television appearance? They don’t have a graphic for that on this weird superhero pundit show? This is like the least personal and emotional way to tell this guy’s story. Plus! It mixes the message. Is Aquaman a joke or a menace? And what does it matter when neither the character, nor his under-served support cast, acknowledge either?
Detective Comics 934
Michael: In lieu of giving a backhanded compliment to the creators, I will simply admit that I was pleasantly surprised by Detective Comics 934. The cast of characters – Batman, Batwoman, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain, Azrael and Clayface – is worth the price of admission alone. While Batman is a presence in the book, he makes it very clear that the team he’s assembled reports to Batwoman herself. It reminds me of the time when Detective Comics solely showcased Batwoman’s adventures under Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams, proving that the book doesn’t necessarily have to be focused on Batman. And while it is a treat to see a home for all of the excellent characters in and of itself, writer James Tynion IV and artist Eddy Barrows craft a very strong “first issue.”
Tynion’s script follows the typical “recruitment montage” that team books traditionally follow, but he writes each introduction with a decent amount of heart and mutual understanding among characters. I find myself trying to find the “Rebirth of it all” in each of these new DC titles and I think I identified a couple in Detective Comics 934. Grant Morrison taught me to like a smiling, understanding Batman and that is what we’re given in this issue. It’s become easy and predictable to write a Batman who barks orders at someone and expects them to fall in line. The true challenge is to present a Batman who shows proper respect for another person by ASKING them to do something and make it believable. All of the interactions that Batman has with Batwoman, Azrael and even Clayface are handled with a measure of compassion on Batman’s part. Having Bruce reveal his identity to Kate Kane was a great example of his respect for her. It’s about damn time that moment happened – a moment only heightened by Kate’s lack of surprise/confirmation of what she already knew.
I’ve always rooted for Eddy Barrows and he really does a fantastic job here. He does the smiling Batman I mentioned before without it coming off as creepy or unnatural. And while there are no true owners of these characters besides DC Comics, it looks like Barrows is trying to pay homage to the style of J.H. Williams in the two-page spread introduction to Batwoman. Barrows has got a lot of different styles going on here – representative of the book’s many cast members – and they all work. Adriano Lucas and Eber Ferreira help Barrows emphasize the tragic nature of Basil Karlo as Clayface: taking a pause from the sharp lines of comic book action to render an oil painting aesthetic. So far so good you guys, my only request is that we eventually put bat ears on Cassandra Cain’s mask.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?