We here at Retcon Punch are a naturally curious bunch, and there are few things more curious than DC’s Rebirth publishing initiative. In this Round-Up, we’re discussing Batgirl 2, Blue Beetle Rebirth 1, Detective Comics 939, The Flash 5, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 3, Hellblazer 1, and Wonder Woman 5 — and come back on Tuesday for our discussion of Deathstroke 1. As always, SPOILERS after the cut.
Michael: I still am not quite sure what to make of Rebirth’s Batgirl – a series that has Barbara Gordon traveling to various Asian locales on a whim. Upon the instructions of “the legendary Fruit Bat” Babs is trying to let go of her past and embrace her future, which (because of a billboard) has led her to Singapore, where she wants to train in Mixed Martial Arts. Along the way she gets romantically involved with her probably criminal friend Kai, uses her photographic memory to recognize a tattoo from last issue and helps arrest a pervert with a drone. Huh.
Babs doesn’t seem to put a whole lot of thought into her decisions in Batgirl 2. She takes the vague message of “you can’t see the future when the past is standing in your way” and decides that means she should be the next MMA champ. That’s like me reading a typically cryptic horoscope and being 100% sure that it means I should run for City Treasurer. And though she’s equal parts attracted to and trying to figure out Kai, the way she turns a blind eye to his sneaky ways is a little suspect.
There’s not a lot of Batgirl in Batgirl 2 – which is fine – but I dig Raphael Albuquerque’s Batgirl action sequences. Given Babs’ new passion for MMA, there are still plenty of action in Batgirl 2. Albuquerque gives a brief training/home life montage that shows the internal and external struggle Babs is facing in her uncertain romance with Kai. Oh, and we get an epic “slow-mo” final page where Babs is KO’d by her killer schoolgirl opponent.
Blue Beetle Rebirth 1
Shane: I legitimately had to check the credits again, because Blue Beetle: Rebirth reads far too much like a Giffen/DeMatteis collaboration, with its heavy reliance on back-and-forth banter and witty dialogue. Instead, Keith Giffen teams up with Scott Kolins for this series, relaunching the character for DC: Rebirth with a pretty cool concept: a buddy book between the two most famous Blue Beetles (sorry, Dan Garrett). Ted Kord plays the over-enthusiastic billionaire genius, someone who so clearly wants to be Batman but doesn’t have the angsty backstory necessary, while Jaime Reyes just wants out of the superhero game entirely. That doesn’t stop him from leaping into action when needed, though, and Kolins draws him in what may be his most energetic portrayal yet, including a slight redesign that seems to lean more heavily on the insect and extraterrestrial elements of the character’s concept.
I’m not entirely sure if this volume of Blue Beetle is meant to be a continuation of the New 52 series, or if it’s meant to be a soft reboot of the character, but all of the classic pieces are back in play, from Jaime’s friends Paco and Brenda, to his much-missed family, with even the arguable “big bad” of the series, Brenda’s aunt Amparo, back as the mysterious crime boss La Dama. Granted, Giffen has an advantage with having launched this character in the first place, but he introduces every character seemingly effortlessly, providing personalities and dynamics without relying on unnecessary exposition. It feels natural, and that’s going to mean a lot for this book going forward: I haven’t read about these characters in years, but I already feel like I’ve been back in their world for ages, and hopefully new readers feel a bit of the same.
An interesting decision is made to directly tie the events of this issue in with the Blue Beetle scene in DC: Rebirth, which I don’t think any other title has done so far, but it definitely suggests that some of the important story points Geoff Johns is placing down for the line will be explored here. With that promise comes a little excitement as to the relevancy of the series (and therefore its longevity), but also worries me a little, because Giffen has re-established such a great cast of characters with plenty of fun possibilities and storylines that could come naturally from them, so it would feel like a shame to immediately throw a wrench into everything.
Then again, maybe that’s the fun of it.
Detective Comics 939
Spencer: With Detective Comics, James Tynion IV has put together a nearly flawless team book, driven by character yet not light on plot, well balanced in the use of its cast, and interested in highlighting the best qualities of its cast without trailing off into a tangent.
That last aspect is most apparent in this one-page scene featuring Clayface.
That first panel is one of the biggest laughs a comic’s given me in ages, and that humor is based very solidly in Clayface’s character. Yet, Tynion is able to instantly pivot to pathos, showing us how Basil’s monstrous form still pains him, even if he isn’t above using it to his advantage. Best of all, this isn’t just a random stand-alone joke/character bit; Clayface is following Batman’s evacuation plan. The same applies to the next page, which gives us a similarly focused moment with Orphan (yet strikes a completely different tone, because, of course, Cassandra Cain is an entirely different character).
The heart of this issue, though, is Red Robin. Tynion’s finally given him a clear role in the New 52 Bat-Family as the big thinker, the character who could perhaps do more good for the world if he wasn’t a superhero. Tim decides that he’s going to give up being Red Robin, but I’m not sure if I buy it; if that cocky grin of his as he faces down Kane’s entire fleet of drones is any indication, I think he’d miss the job, and perhaps even the chance to show off that comes with it, too much. Under Tynion’s pen, Tim is brilliant yet achingly normal — this is the best Tim Drake’s been written in at least five years.
Detective Comics is a quality book on all levels, though. Penciller Eddy Barrows, inker Eber Ferreira, and colorist Adriano Lucas are putting in career defining work here. The complex, dynamic layouts and the occasional painted moments are sure to (deservedly) get all the attention, but I’m most struck by their ability to simply create a mood. The shots of vigilantes leaping between buildings and drones flying through lightning-filled skies are gorgeously moody, and the lead-up to Tim’s drone showdown straight-up gave me chills.
If you’re not reading Detective Comics, you’re missing out. Hop on it.
The Flash 5
Spencer: The Flash is my favorite superhero, bar none. I’m not just a fan of the scarlet speedster, but of every character who’s worn the mantle, and all their varied villains and supporting casts. As much as I love the Flash Family, though, one thing I’ve noticed from engrossing myself in the characters for years is that they’re an awfully male, white bunch. Of Flash’s dozens of Rogues, I can only think of four who are women (and two of them were dead before the New 52) and one who’s black, and it’s not much better on the speedster side of the equation, with only Jesse Quick, XS, and more recently the new Wally West representing. That depressing fact is exactly why I found The Flash 5 so refreshing, at least at first.
The issue focuses on Meena Dhawan, a.k.a. Fast Track, a new speedster/S.T.A.R. Labs researcher/Barry Allen’s new girlfriend. Writer Joshua Williamson even opens with Meena’s internal narration, which instantly establishes her as a charming, enthusiastic, and fully welcome presence. Williamson then devotes significant time to showing Meena interact with Barry, August Heart, and Wally, further deepening her character by having her establish relationships with all three. It’s that training session she shares with Wally, though, that affected me the most. Seeing two non-white speedsters, one of them a woman, working side-by-side and learning from each other was really refreshing. It’s a much needed change of direction.
That’s why I found this issue’s cliffhanger — Meena’s apparent death at the hands of Godspeed — so frustrating. The caption “Next: Revenge!” paints it as a clear case of fridging, of using Meena’s death to motivate the actions of the men in her life. In fact, it makes some of Williamson’s work earlier in the issue retroactively unsettling; was pairing Meena with Barry, August, and Wally all in the same issue just meant to endear her to all three characters so they’d have a reason to be affected by her death? God, I hope not.
I admit, this is still a story in progress and there’s plenty of directions things could go next — there’s every possibility that Meena could have survived, even. For the moment, though, Meena’s death plays into some very frustrating and antiquated gender roles. Meena Dhawan provided The Flash with some much-needed diversity, but even ignoring that, she was a promising new character in her own right, and The Flash will be much worse off if she’s gone for good. Let’s hope that’s not the case.
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 3
Spencer: Sinestro’s shtick has always been his desire to instill peace throughout the universe via fear, but I don’t think I’ve ever understood how truly horrific that goal actually is until now. Robert Venditti and Rafa Sandoval paint a frightening picture of life under Sinestro’s rule in Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 3, and what leaps out at me the most is that Sinestro’s methods don’t really produce “peace” — they just make things easier for Sinestro and the rest of his ruling class.
Life for civilians in Sinestro’s domain is anything but peaceful — they’re hunted through the streets, harassed and kidnapped by the very people who are supposed to protect them. It may send the crime rate plummeting, but only because people are too scared out of their minds to even think of breaking the law. That’s exactly what Sinestro wants, of course, but it really speaks to Sinestro’s gross misunderstanding of the purpose of the law, which is to provide a safe environment for people to live in. Lack of crime or not, Sinestro’s methods don’t produce peace or safety, they only replace one threat to civilians with another. The more fear the Sinestro Corps spreads, the more power is transferred to their rings, and that’s really a beautiful metaphor for the ultimate result of Sinestro’s campaign: only those already in power benefit from it.
Contrasted against the Sinestro Corps, Hal looks better than ever. Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 3 gives us Hal at his best; he selflessly and fearlessly protects those who can’t protect themselves (showing the audience the alternative to Sinestro’s reign of fear), and even his typical cockiness is backed by results. Sandoval spares no detail when it comes to depicting Hal’s skill and imagination — entire pages are filled with his constructs, which take on every form imaginable and positively crackle with pure emerald power thanks to colorist Tomeu Morey. Perhaps most effectively, Sandoval and Morey bring real momentum to Hal’s battle — we can follow Hal’s movements thanks to the trail of green he leaves behind, adding a sense of motion to these static drawings, and the arc and size of Hal’s energy shows how much power is packed into every one of his punches.
Not only does Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps give us a powerful story, but this is by far the most I’ve ever liked Hal Jordan. In that sense alone, I’d call it a success.
Patrick: There’s a scene in the back half of this issue where Mercury, and psychic and old friend of John Constantine’s, chastises the Hellblazer for his charismatic journey-man lifestyle. He’s basically a tour guide to the world of magic, but for all the cool shit you get to see, you can totally tell he doesn’t have your best interests at heart. For her own part, Mercury greets Johnny with a shotgun and — probably due to the limits of writing a book for teenage audiences — uses the term “B.S.” three times when talking to him. Simon Oliver’s writing actually starts to show its limits as Mercury stretches for hyperbolic ways to describe just how bad a John Constantine friendship really is. She really does throw every rhetorical device imaginable at him, tossing out rehearsed little idioms and putdowns. And while that weakens the verisimilitude of the scene, it does appropriately heighten a meeting between John and an old friend. JC is such bad news that only way to properly articulate it is to elevate one’s language. Both Chas and Swamp Thing, by comparison, talk to him casually, colloquially, but largely because they don’t yet know not to expect anything from him.
The story is bookended by the tale of a pair of possibly-angelic brothers who allowed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (and then indirectly, the decades of bloodshed that followed) all to preserve their anonymity. The scene is presented with delightfully little context at first, and it’s not until we check back in on Marid and Adnan at the end of the issue that we get any of their immortal, somehow-alien perspective. It’s a mystery you don’t even realize is a mystery until the final act, but at that time, the themes of the main story start to show up there as well. These brother’s continued existence seems predicated on human suffering, just like Constantine’s.
And even with those links of interlocking themes, I’m most impressed by Moritat’s artwork. He’s occasionally joined this month by colorist Andre Szymanowicz, and while you can never be certain who colored what, it looks like Szymanowicz’ pages contain flatter coloring techniques. Moritat’s colors sculpt and shape with an amount of textural detail that makes everything look dirty, even alive.
This grimy detail makes everything richer – Paris, New York, 1914 Sarajevo, Mercury’s hobbit hole. And that’s exactly the kind of attractive-but-dangerous quality that Mercury is warning us against.
Wonder Woman 5
Mark: One of the interesting possibilities the structure of Wonder Woman‘s dual stories provides is for the two stories to reflect on one another. Last issue, as part of the “Year One” story, Diana’s departure from Themyscira for the World of Man in full Wonder Woman regalia was portrayed as a moment of triumph by artist Nicola Scott. But here, in “The Lies,” Diana is reflecting on the moment with a bit more melancholy, and that change is portrayed in Liam Sharp’s art. Rather than triumphant, Diana is portrayed as alienated from her people, alone. It’s an interesting inversion, and the possibilities for the two stories to mirror each other going forward are exciting.
Unfortunately, the rest of the issue is a bit of a come down from previous entries. So far “Year One” is the more classically entertaining of the two stories, while “The Lies” deals with the headier subject matter. Greg Rucka is again dealing with heady issues of masculinity, but in a weaker way than we’re used to seeing. Cadulo is just about as two-dimensional a villain as a comic book can sustain, so his back and forth with Steve feels needlessly long as neither of them really have much of interest to say.
For the cheap seats!
Wonder Woman is an interesting breed of comic book, and unlike anything else DC is publishing at the moment. It’s a book where you can go an entire issue without a single action sequence, and not feel disappointed. But what made Wonder Woman 3 so impressive was Rucka’s ability to tackle many of the same themes he’s dealing with here without resorting to such on-the-nose dialogue. That missing subtlety brings the entire issue down just a notch from its previous highs.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?