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Rearranging the deck chairs: DC Rebirth titles, Week Seven!

by  in Comic News Comment
Rearranging the deck chairs: DC Rebirth titles, Week Seven!

This week: More weird editorially-driven comics from DC, as we get one new #1 and one “Rebirth” comic. Guess which one does a better job at telling a story?!?!?!?

Batgirl #1 (“Beyond Burnside Part One”) by Hope Larson (writer), Rafael Albuquerque (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), Deron Bennett (letterer), Rebecca Taylor (associate editor), and Mark Doyle (editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC. Barbara Gordon created by William Dozier, Julius Schwartz, and Carmine Infantino.

I’m getting more and more confused by the timeline of DC’s “Rebirth” titles, because they seem to be coming out in haphazard fashion – this one was originally scheduled for June, I believe, but now it’s coming out after Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth, so it confuses the issue. J. Caleb Mozzocco, who is also reading every “Rebirth” title and is far more concerned about continuity than I am (that’s not a criticism, in case you’re wondering), wrote last week that BatBoP:R (thanks, Simon!) and the entire first arc takes place after this comic, but of course, given the delays, this comic is coming out a week after that one, so we know Barbara is already back from her Asian walkabout and ready to kick butt as the leader of the BoP. Now, we knew she was going to survive this adventure and so it doesn’t matter too much, but like the weird dissonance caused when Hal Jordan frets that Simon Baz is “gone” weeks after he spoke directly to Mr. Baz (in Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps: Rebirth and Green Lanterns: Rebirth, respectively), it’s strange that DC can’t get its scheduling together for simple things like this. Obviously, having Albuquerque on a superhero book is a good thing, as he’s a dynamic artist, but if he was running a bit slow (and I don’t know that he was, but let’s just assume for the sake of argument that he was), would it have killed DC to delay BatBoP two weeks to get this in stores first? Maybe it would have.

The fact that Hope Larson is writing a DC comic is just another small reason to like what DC (and Marvel, to be sure) are doing. As usual, I have no idea how Marvel’s “diversity-friendly” line-up is doing, sales-wise (as usual, I refer to the anecdotal evidence of my store, which is largely populated by middle-aged white dudes like me, and Marvel’s “diverse” comics aren’t doing too well, but that’s neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things), but I like the fact that they have a bunch of comics that don’t necessarily appeal to middle-aged white dudes. Similarly, while DC has tried some of that stuff in the past and will continue to do so, right now they’re the more conservative company, but they still can find talent, and there’s no doubt that Larson is a talented writer. Whether she will be able to resist the creativity-deadening zone of corporate superhero comics will be seen, but it’s good that DC hired her. How’d she do, you ask? Well, as this is a “#1” issue and not a “Rebirth” issue, she was able to get on with the damned job of telling the story. There is one (1) panel of flashback (ONLY ONE!?!?!?!?!) and Larson barely references the fact that Barbara was in a wheelchair once, and that’s only because she (Babs, that is) meets someone in a wheelchair. It’s refreshing that Larson doesn’t feel the need to give us a four- or five-page recap of Barbara’s life, and she manages to get us up to speed on what’s going on in Barbara’s life since the end of her last series with a minimum of fuss. Larson writes characters well, so Barbara’s interactions with Kai, her childhood friend, are the best parts of the book – she makes him eat octopus, he drinks beer, he vomits, he fanboys out when Batgirl shows up, and she’s adorable as usual. Larson takes Barbara out of her comfort zone by sending her to Okinawa, where she wants to interview a 104-year-old ex-costumed vigilante called the Fruit Bat. Yeah, it’s not the greatest name, but the old lady can still kick ass, so there’s that (see below). Plus, Kai has a secret. Of course he does!

It’s not a great comic, but it’s a solid one, and it gets the series off and running. Barbara doesn’t have much of an idea about what she’s doing – she decides to go to Singapore simply because she thinks she can learn MMA there, not because some bad guy has a secret lair there or anything – but that’s not the worst idea, given that DC de-aged her so she’s, I think, 21 right now. Her fight is because she wants to protect her friend, not because she’s trying to hunt down a villain, and as we don’t know much about the attacker, it’s possible she’s not a villain at all! Larson does a good job with all the characters in a short period of time, which is nice, and it’s an intriguing start to Barbara’s adventure.

Albuquerque is one of those artists who should be drawing superhero comics (not everyone can, you know!) because his loose style is very effective at showing movement, so his fights are always quite dynamic. He gives us just enough local flavor to make it clear we’re not in Gotham (which McCaig assists with by using brighter, warmer colors), and he can draw body language and facial expressions as well as anyone. His Barbara has to be adorable because that’s the way Larson writes her, and she is. Of course, his big fight is the highlight of the issue, and he nails it. His characters move well so we get a good sense of how they’re doing what they’re doing, and the way Albuquerque lays out both the way Barbara calculates how she’s going to take out the villain (by using several ricochets which may or may not work) and the way the Fruit Bat blocks a knife throw back at the villain (which again, may or may not work in real life) look very cool. Even the villain’s disappointed look when she realizes the Fruit Bat has thwarted her is superb. Albuquerque knows exactly what to focus on in his panels, so he gets the most impact out of the space. There are zero (0) full-page splashes in this comic, but because Albuquerque is so good at action, some of the smaller panels feel more expansive, so he can get more panels on the page and still have the impact of a full-page splash. Albuquerque is a kind of quirky artist, never staying too long on one title (except American Vampire), so I’m not sure if he gets the credit he deserves, but he’s fantastic. I don’t know how long he’s going to stay on Batgirl, but while he’s drawing it, the book will look great.

Batgirl is a pretty good comic, which is always an accomplishment in the world, even if everyone is striving for greatness. Larson has a handle on the characters, the art is beautiful, and the story seems to be going in an interesting (if slightly well-trodden) direction. So that’s nice!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth by Scott Lobdell (writer), Dexter Soy (artist), Veronica Gandini (colorist), Taylor Esposito (letterer), Brittany Holzherr (assistant editor), and Alex Antone (editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC. Jason Todd created by Gerry Conway and Don Newton. Batman created by Billy the Finger and Bobby the Con. Alfred Pennyworth and the Joker created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson.

This had to have been a meeting at some DC Editors’ summit before “Rebirth,” right?

Dan DiDio/Jim Lee/Geoff Johns: Okay, editors, here’s what we want. We’re going to do some titles as “Rebirth” specials and some just as #1 issues. For the people writing the #1 issues, we’ll leave them the hell alone. For those writing the “Rebirth” issues, we want you camped on their shoulders like motherfucking vultures.

Random DC Editor: Doing what, sir(s)?

DD/JL/GJ (after throwing said Random DC Editor out the window to a horrible death): Okay, that’s actually a good question. Well, you see, we’re trying to win back old readers who abandoned us in 2011, so for these “Rebirth” issues, we really want to re-visit the origins of some of our most iconic characters. Did you guys know that Batman’s parents were killed in an alley when he was a kid and he witnessed the entire thing?

Other Random DC Editor: Uh, yeah, of course we know that. My dog knows Batman’s origin.

DD/JL/GJ (after throwing said Other Random DC Editor out the window to a horrible maiming – said Editor didn’t die because they landed on the corpse of the first Editor): Yeah, but these “Rebirth” issues are all about reminding people why DC is great, man! Like, for instance, the only thing we’ve never retconned is Barbara Gordon’s shooting, even though we like to skullfuck that clay facsimile in the break room that we’ve named “Alan Moore.” So in the Batgirl comic, make sure the writer devotes a LOT of our limited pages to recapping that, because absolutely no one who buys a DC comic in 2016 knows that Barbara was crippled by the Joker!

Third Random DC Editor (seeing which way the wind is blowing): You got it, boss!

DD/JL/GJ: That’s the spirit! And absolutely no one who is reading DC comics in 2016 and is our target audience – you know, those 45-year-old men who live in their parents’ basement! – knows about Jason Todd. So we need you (points at assistant editor Brittany Holzherr and editor Alex Antone) to make sure that Lobdell knows to devote most of the new Red Hood comic to recapping Jason’s origin as Robin and making sure that, whatever he does, he doesn’t get too far into the plot. That’s very important!!!!!

I mean, come on, DC! Ten of this comic’s 20 pages are devoted to Jason Todd becoming Robin and getting killed by the Joker. Maybe some people don’t know about that, and that’s fine, but TEN PAGES?!?!?!? That’s HALF of the issue! (Americans are bad at math, so I thought I’d do it for you. You’re welcome.) Punk Jason Todd tries to boost the Batmobile’s tires, Batman catches him and inexplicably decides to make him Robin instead of maybe checking on the kid’s anger issues, kid has anger issues, he gets pummeled almost to death by Mr. Joker before getting blowed the fuck up. That’s two, three pages TOPS. Yet the plot of this comic is so weak – Jason appears to kill the mayor, but it’s all a fake-out because the mayor was “bio-hacked” by some international crime cartel and Jason was just trying to get himself a rep as a bad-ass so that Black Mask would recruit him. It’s the barest glimmer of a not-terrible plot (so not-terrible that Nightwing is also using it!), but it’s overwhelmed by Lobdell (and those vulturine editors!) making sure that we get a longer (but not necessarily better) origin of Jason Todd. It’s plodding and dull and unnecessary. Unlike Larson, Lobdell writes the characters as clichés, spouting shit like “Sometimes you just have to give people a chance, Jason. They’ll usually surprise you” just so that can come back around later in the issue. Oooh, such ironic wordplay! I was mentioning in the comic book store this week that DC keeps giving Lobdell work, and a dude who’s totally in the tank for DC wouldn’t even buy this even though he loved the art (I’ll get to the art!) because Lobdell was writing it. I defended some of Lobdell’s writing, because he has written good things in the past, but his first issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws in 2011 was terrible, and this is only better because it doesn’t have Starfire as a fuck doll. So, kudos?

I haven’t seen Dexter Soy’s art in a while, because the last time I saw it (back in 2012 when he drew Captain Marvel #1), I hated it so much I just didn’t feel like looking for his name, but he has gotten better – his art has lost the “digitally painted” quality that I hated so much, and his lines are crisper so that Gandini’s coloring – which isn’t as over-rendered as Soy’s coloring was on that Captain Marvel issue four years ago – doesn’t overwhelm them, but works in concert with them. That doesn’t mean I particularly like the style – it’s off-putting in a way that I can’t quite articulate – but it’s better than it was, and Soy’s storytelling, while not superb, is perfectly fine. Of course, as this is a superhero comic, we get full-page splash pages, and man are they awful. Not awfully drawn, but … well, the first one is Batman looming over Jason when Jason is trying to steal the Batmobile’s tires. Okay, fine, it’s the title page – it’s not exciting, but it allows Soy to draw a nice Batman that he can sell on the secondary market. Then there’s one of Jason leaping through the air on his motorcycle and shooting randomly off-panel. I assume he’s shooting at the mayor, but he misses, and why would you shoot and leap your motorcycle at the same time? It seems like that would throw off your aim … which it does, of course, because he misses. It’s not a bad page – at least it’s exciting – but again, it feels unnecessary. Then we get … yet another page of Batman looming over Jason, this time in the present. It’s obviously a deliberate call-back to the earlier page, but that doesn’t make it exciting, but at least Soy gets to draw another big Batman that will sell well. Finally, we get Batman walking out of the wreckage with dead Jason. It’s another dull page, and the fact that it’s a second-hand emotion – the event took place, I should note, TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS AGO – means that it doesn’t have much impact. Yet another waste. It’ll fetch a pretty penny, though. That’s four (4) full-page splashes, two of which are almost exactly the same drawing (Batman cradling dead Robin is almost the same, too) and three which have no action whatsoever. The final page is almost a full-page splash (there’s a panel laid over a full-page splash), and it’s kind of dull, too. Man, DC is wasting a lot of space in their comics.

I never like it when I read a bad comic, but that’s the way it is. DC loves Lobdell, and I guess his comics sell enough that they keep giving him work. He’s no longer my cup of tea, though. Oh well.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

**********

Man, for some reason, this week almost broke me. I mean, I liked Batgirl perfectly fine, so 1 out of 2 decent comics shouldn’t bother me, and it’s not like Red Hood and the Outlaws was so bad it made me question my faith in humanity. Maybe it’s the heat – after a reasonable summer, this past week in the AZ has been pretty brutal. But I was thinking about these comics and DC’s Rebirth in general, and it just seemed like such a slog. There aren’t any official “Rebirth” issues in Previews for October, so maybe September will see the end of them, and I’ll still try to get them all, even though I don’t have a ton of credit left at my comics store (I’m not paying for these, but I might if I run out of credit and there are only a few left to go). But this week was the first time I was really just bummed out by it all. I mean, I haven’t read superhero comics with any consistency in years, and the ones I do read tend to be a bit odd, but I still love superhero comics and would love to read more of them. I titled these posts jokingly, but it really does feel like DC is simply playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” as the water swirls around their ankles. This is the best they can do? I guess it’s working to a small degree – you’ll always have people trying new things, but the crucial thing is keeping them, something neither DC nor Marvel has been good at recently – but it’s kind of depressing. I get it, but I don’t have to like it. I just don’t understand this obsession of both the editors, the writers, and the readers of rehashing old events. Jeebus, people, move the fuck on.

So Jack Davis died yesterday at 91. Davis, of course, became famous in the 1950s working for EC and MAD magazine, but he did a TON of other stuff, too. Here, for instance, is his movie poster for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World, which is a terrifically weird comedy in case you’ve never seen it. Mark Evanier, naturally, has a nice obituary. I didn’t follow Davis’s career in my youth, of course, because I was too busy doing other very important things, but I did see his art now and then in old reprints of MAD, and I dug it even if I didn’t know until years later who the artist was. Davis apparently had a good life and a good career. You can’t ask for much more.

I’m still moving stuff into our new house (it’s a slow process!!!!), but we finally managed to shred a bunch of old papers we had lying around. I guess after seven years you can get rid of old receipts and bills, but because we’re lazy, we had some stuff from 1998-2000, so it was probably time to get rid of that. While I was doing so, I found an old check register that is pretty cool:

These days, I get boring check registers. Yes, I still write checks. I’M SO OLD!!!!!

I hope everyone has a great day and weekend!

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