Today, Mark and Patrick are discussing Reborn 1, originally released October 12th, 2016. As always, this article containers SPOILERS.
Mark: Most of the time, I’m at peace with the idea that death is the end of all things. Part of this peace is born out of a sense of self-preservation because I am a Wear-a-Nightguard-Otherwise-You’ll-Shatter-Your-Teeth level worrier by nature and worrying about something as far out of my control as the afterlife would be enough to end me, but some of it is also that I’m a (relatively) healthy 32 year old. Death is not looming over me at this moment (fingers crossed), and so it isn’t something I think about all that often.
But occasionally, when I’m lying in bed thinking about something dumb I said in 6th grade and fretting that that moment negatively altered the course of my life, an inescapable existential terror bubbles up. Someday I’m going to die, and that’ll be it. Lights out. For that reason, I envy people who believe in something greater coming after this life. It’s unquestionably comforting to think that there’s a great reward for living life well. The classic Western idea of an afterlife is Heaven—a paradise designed as a gift to God’s faithful servants for a job well done.
Mark Millar and Greg Capullo’s Reborn 1 presents an alternative: what if the afterlife is a Heavy Metal-inspired world where a great battle between good and evil is being fought?
On its face the idea is silly, but it’s anchored by an emotional honesty that makes this fantasy afterlife hopeful rather than ridiculous.
After a brief and bloody cold open, the majority of Reborn 1 is spent observing the few final moments of Bonnie Black, an old woman living out the last of her life. Old and tired, Her husband murdered, her closest friends passed on, Bonnie is ready to die. It’s, frankly, depressing to read. But when she does die, it’s not the end. Instead, Bonnie is transformed—stunningly rendered by Capullo—into some sort of futuristic-looking freedom fighter.
Reading Reborn 1 was emotional for me. I think no matter what stage of adulthood we’re in, everyone can see a little of themselves in Bonnie. Seeing her be reborn is such a beautiful moment that I honestly don’t know how Millar and Capullo follow up this issue. Do we leave our world behind entirely in favor of this afterlife? The contrast between Bonnie’s old state of being and her new is what makes the issue resonate so strongly, but that’s an emotional core that can’t be replicated every issue without losing its power.
I’m generally a bit of a Millar skeptic, but Reborn seems to continue his transformation into a more thoughtful writer the older he gets. And while I associate Capullo so strongly with Batman thanks to his years of work with Scott Snyder over at DC, he’s such a strong artist that I can’t wait to see what he does in this weird new world.
And yet… I have to admit that I have some thoughts on Reborn 1 that I haven’t fully formed yet, and I hope you’ll all allow me to indulge myself as I leave them here half-formed on the page in an attempt to suss it all out. As someone who has had suicide and suicidal thoughts impact their life directly, I’m never sure quite how to feel about narratives that contrast the very real pain that accompanies life with a fantastical view of life after death. The world Millar and Capullo have created is obviously supposed to be cool—there are wizards and spaceships and everyone is bangable. Fantasy worlds that are better than real life are obviously nothing new—the entertainment industry is built on escaping the drudgery of the every day—but having the portal to a cooler life be through death gives me pause. I am not in any way saying that Reborn or Millar or Capullo are making the argument for suicide, and suicide isn’t mentioned at all in the issue, but also the variant cover is a woman blowing her own brains out, her viscera replaced with the beginnings of a beautiful landscape so…? I’m left feeling a little bit weird that on some level the reason I connected so directly with this issue is the sadder elements of my family history.
I dunno. I haven’t entirely figured it out yet. What’d you think, Patrick?
Patrick: I was also moved by this issue, but can’t help but feel like most of the emotional resonance is based on a concept that Millar and Capullo completely burned through before the final pages. This is an incredibly honest look at the casual regrets of a life lived, and Millar peppers Bonnie’s with a potpourri of details – some, like her husband’s assassination, border on the fantastical, while others, like playing with her childhood dog, are achingly mundane. That importance-imbalance is precisely what makes Bonnie’s life so sad and so beautiful, and by extension, that reliance on juxtaposition is what makes this issue so powerful.
In the grander scheme, that’s what this whole thing is predicated on, right? Millar and Capullo present the reader with both the end of an old woman’s life, and the beginning of a young woman’s adventure without explicitly laying out how or why they are connected. It’s a whiplash from sadness to joy, from acceptance to rebellion, from peace to violence. For me, this whole aesthetic is can really be boiled down to a single page-turn in the middle of the issue.
Bonnie’s nurse is one of those grounded-and-positive types that believes in the power of humans’ ability to better each other’s lives, and she’s being super charming with Bonnie during one of her particularly darker evenings. The nurse promises with a smile “you’re doing great and you’ve got your handsome physio in the morning.” That’s a real, attainable joy: getting to spend time with a Physical Therapist that Bonnie thinks is good lucking will make her happy, undeniably. It’s not a solution to near-death-ennui, but it is irrefutable proof that happiness exists. But then the looming page-turn!
That’s the most effective moment in the whole thing for me. And the thing is – I know (or can be reasonably well-assured) that this isn’t the end of Bonnie’s story. Even on your first read-through, you’re armed with the vignette at the top of the issue and the name of the goddamn series, both of which suggest that death isn’t the end for these characters. But this is still an effecting set of ideas and images.
Which is what makes the shift over to the fantasy world so jarring. Again, it’s almost like saying something hopeful and following it up with an old lady on her bathroom floor. Capullo draws the excesses of the fantasy world with abandon, fearless elevating even the silliest details. Consider just how many insane things we see in those last couple pages: a spaceship, a dragon, withered zombie-people, some kind of wizard, a giant rideable version of Roy-Boy. Capullo does it all with a straight face, whether delivering the horror of a blood soaked battlefield or implying the shape of The Cross in this showdown with the dragon.
It’s objectively exciting stuff, but without understanding the narrative structure of the rest of the series, I am worried about its sustainability. If Reborn can manage to re-ground itself every issue, and then flip that grounding on its head, then I’m totally on board.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?