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

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

DC cranked out two more “Rebirth” titles this week, and I’m beginning to get worried. I have less than half the store credit I started with, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to get all of them for free, especially as they’re seemingly stretching this thing out to infinity. What will I do?!?!? I’ll worry about it later – for now, these comics aren’t going to review themselves!


Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth by Julie Benson (writer), Shawna Benson (writer), Claire Roe (artist), Allen Passalaqua (colorist), Steve Wands (letterer), Dave Wielgosz (assistant editor), and Chris Conroy (editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC. Barbara Gordon created by William Dozier, Julius Schwartz, and Carmine Infantino. Black Canary created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino. Helena Bertinelli created by Joey Cavalieri and Joe Staton.

B&tBoP is a strange animal, as the Bensons try to cram a lot into the book, which is always nice to see, but spend a bit too much time with a fairly familiar character (Batgirl) and not enough with the two lesser-known characters, especially Helena Bertinelli. I mean, the Bensons give us a page about The Killing Joke, and dear sweet Lord if there’s anything people reading a Bat-title in 2016 know about, it’s The Corpsefelching Killing Joke. We actually get four pages about Barbara Gordon, and yes, I get that she’s the star, but still … Dinah might be almost as well-known as Barbara, but she doesn’t get any “origin” stuff, plus DC had to know that Benjamin Percy was going to hook her up with Green Arrow in his own book, so what’s going on here? Is DC going to make any attempts to reconcile these two characters, or have they gone the Marvel Way and decided that, fuck it, there are 18 Wolverines and he can just show up in any comic at any time and nobody cares that last week he was in Madripoor and he had been cut in half?* But Helena is really where they drop the ball. I mean, again, she’s not the star, but she’s also not as well known as the other two characters. She “confesses” to a priest in this issue, catching us up on what’s been happening with her – she is no longer running Spyral (which, of course, is NOT paired with a footnote telling us to check out the final trade of Grayson or something like that, because why would DC want to try to sell us their comics?), and she’s back to killing mobsters. Helena has a fairly simple origin story – she was a mob princess, her family got killed, she wants revenge – but she’s been in some convoluted situations, and the Bensons ignore that. Plus, there’s the fact that Dinah and Barbara are surprised that she knows their identities. This gets back to the DCnU and this “Rebirth” – what carries over? Didn’t Helena already know their identities? Wasn’t she at some point part of the Birds of Prey? If Barbara’s entire history (including her time as Oracle, which DC should try to ignore because it’s insulting to think that Barbara could be back to acrobatic fighting after getting shot in the spine but whatever, it’s a superhero comic and the entire plot of this comic revolves around that identity) is still “intact,” wouldn’t Helena know about her? What is Helena’s status in this Rebirth Era?

You might think I’m fixated on Helena, and maybe I am (I kind of dig her as a character), but it’s more than that. Structuring a comic in 20 pages is hard, and the Bensons do a pretty good job of getting Barbara into action, getting the plot going (“Oracle” is selling information to criminals), getting Dinah involved in a realistic way, bringing Helena in, bringing them all together, and ending on a cliffhanger. There’s a lot going on in this issue, unlike some of the “space-wasters” we’ve seen from “Rebirth” titles. Barbara narrates the issue, so of course she’s going to narrate about herself, but it seems like those 4 pages where she recaps her life could have been spent on Dinah and Helena. Are people so familiar with the Huntress but not Batgirl that we need to see Barbara get shot in the spine yet again?

Anyway, the main plot concerns “Oracle” selling information to the mob and Barbara being a wee bit peeved about this development. She manages to recruit Dinah by appealing to her nostalgia, I guess, and Helena intersects with them because she wants to kill the gangster Barbara and Dinah want to interrogate. That’s all there is, but the Bensons do a decent job bringing everything together. It still seems like the pacing is a bit strange, though. There’s the usual “narration-that-no-one-would-ever-think” that we get in comics, as Barbara reminisces about her time as Batgirl and thinks things about wanting to make Batman and Robin proud and how she never laughed after getting shot, but honestly, so much of the writing in superhero comics today is lamentably skippable that it takes, for me at least, a huge effort to make sure I read every word. Seriously, words are important but not always necessary, especially in comics. But the Bensons get us through the book, and while, like many “Rebirth” books, it’s a big set-up, things also actually happen, which is a pleasant surprise.

Roe is a good hire for DC for a few reasons. With all the talk of diversity in comics, I don’t care too much about diversifying the characters – yes, that’s important, but more for giving young readers more role models, and I’m an old fart who doesn’t need any damned role models, so who cares? – but I do care about diversifying the creators. The fact that this is written by two women is great, and the fact that DC actually found a relatively new, talented woman is a good thing as well. Not every comic should look like Ethan van Sciver or Ivan Reis drew it, you know! Roe, whose work I first saw earlier this year on We(l)come Back, has a slight cartoony style that separates her from many of the DC superhero artists, but she’s not so cartoony that she doesn’t fit the generally grim attitude of DC itself (this is, of course, very generalized, but still). A good example of this is the page on which Barbara gets shot. The first panel shows her putting marshmallows into hot chocolate, and Roe gives her a pointy head, large “librarian” glasses that make her eyes look bigger, and a terrific look on her face as she sticks her tongue out to the side like she’s doing something very hard (well, I mean, she is pouring marshmallows into a mug, so yeah). It’s a slightly goofy panel that Roe sells really well, because her style is just slightly cartoony. But then the final panel of the page shows Barbara lying on the ground, bleeding for a gut shot, with the Joker’s shadow looming over her. Roe draws her “realistically,” with good proportions and good musculature (she’s Batgirl, remember), while the inking on her face from the Joker’s shadow is amazing and harrowing. Roe also does a good job with the layout of the book – she has a lot to get to, and she doesn’t waste space, but she’s still able to give us some good fights even though she doesn’t have a lot of room for them. Roe makes Gotham look grimy without she and Passalaqua drenching the book in depressing blacks – the line work is still crisp and the lighting is fairly bright, but we can still tell that it’s a gritty urban environment. Roe is the kind of artist DC should be hiring, so I’m glad they did!

This comic is one of the better “Rebirth” books, which doesn’t mean too much as the bar has been set pretty low, but it’s still a solid offering. The mystery is decent, the team-building is organic, and the characters are different enough that the dynamic should be interesting. So, yeah. Nice.

* Whoa, sorry about that. I just had some kind of acid flashback or something. I just always appreciated that Claremont made an effort to explain where Wolverine was in Uncanny X-Men when he was off having solo adventures. Nobody gives a shit about that anymore.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:



The Hellblazer: Rebirth by Simon Oliver (writer), Moritat (artist/colorist), Andre Szymanowicz (colorist), Sal Cipriano (letterer), Jessica Chen (associate editor), and Kristy Quinn (editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC. John Constantine created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, and Jamie Delano and John Ridgway.* Chaz Chandler created by Jamie Delano and John Ridgway. Captain Marvel created by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck. Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston. Swamp Thing created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson.

* That’s what’s listed on the credits page of this issue! I mean, I think DC should give creator credits to all the characters, but crediting Delano and Ridgway is going a bit far, I think. Still, good for them!

† Fuck “Shazam.” The character’s name is Captain Motherfucking Marvel.

DC and Marvel have many problems, and one minor one is their inability to let pet characters go. They let great characters go all the time – where’s Grant Morrison’s 10-year epic run about Looker, DC?!?!?!? – but very often, characters get stuck in their publishing wheelhouse and can’t be worked free, just like when you eat a Kraft Caramel and some it gets jammed in your molars and you spend the rest of the damned day trying to work it free.‡ DC, in this case, has a John Constantine problem. Ever since they reintegrated him into the DC Universe proper, they seem to think they need to use him, but it doesn’t appear any of the series in which he has starred really sold that well. Even before that, his Vertigo series didn’t sell that well either, but I suppose DC just wanted to get it to 300 issues (consider that not too long ago, a John Constantine comic actually made it to 300 issues!) before killing it. There’s no reason why DC has to publish a John Constantine series. They shelve characters all the time, after all, or at least don’t give them series of their own. Constantine doesn’t need to be in a series, yet DC keeps trying it, and he just feels out of place in the mainstream DCU. I know that Alan Moore made his (and Swamp Thing’s) interactions with superheroes interesting, but let’s face it – that was Alan Fucking Moore. These days, his interactions with the DCU just seem weird, like in this comic. For no good reason, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel show up in London when John seemingly puts the entire city at risk of demonic infection. Swamp Thing then shows up to talk them down, saying he trusts Constantine. It’s completely wonky, and it eats up space, and Simon Oliver is no Alan Moore, so the appearance of the superheroes is downright prosaic. Without the narrative boxes that Moore made poetic, we get Captain Marvel acting like a petulant child and Wonder Woman acting like his harried mother, shushing him when Marvel becomes too uncouth. It’s a terrible few pages, and it brings the story – which isn’t bad, even as it’s a typical Constantine scam – to a jarring halt. There is no reason for Constantine to interact with superheroes. It’s like Tommy Monaghan interacting with superheroes – Constantine is so much cooler than superheroes, even without Moore writing him, that they look ridiculous by comparison. I think DC wanted to emphasize that this is the “real” DC Universe, but it’s not like the superheroes’ presence in the story will sell the book better – it’s not like the cover says “Guest-starring Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel!” – so I’m not exactly sure what they’re doing here. DC and Marvel can tell stories set in a superhero universe without showing any superheroes, and this seems like a comic that would fit that bill perfectly. So it might be a good idea to give Constantine a break, but if DC insists on publishing a Hellblazer series, they really should avoid superheroes at all costs.

Anyway, Oliver’s story is a typical John Constantine story, meant to introduce people to the rascally rogue that John is, and while it’s fine for that, if you’ve ever read a John Constantine story, you know exactly what’s going on with this. I can judge it on the idea that it’s not meant for me, though, and Oliver does a decent job with what he’s supposed to do. John returns to London, whence he was banished by a demon who cursed him. That presents a problem, so he has to figure out a way to break the curse. He does so, but infects the entire city of London instead. Oh dear, if only he had an old frenemy would could help him out! Well, of course he does, because he always does, and so Oliver gets to show us Constantine’s resourcefulness and his bastardness all at once – this comic is Constantine 101, really. We re-meet Chaz, they banter, the frenemy is a woman who hates Constantine, the demon references Newcastle, because of course he does (but doesn’t he get the name wrong?), and Constantine is an asshole. One thing that cracks me up is that Constantine specifically leaves New York because a “racist, short-fingered, failed meat salesman began circling the White House.” I don’t know when Oliver wrote this, but Constantine leaves the States because of Trump and returns to an England that has actually turned inward and is possibly more racist than the U.S. at this moment? I know Europeans love to look down on the U.S., but I noted on Facebook after the Brexit vote that one thing they really can’t do anymore is look down at us, because they’re as fucking crazy as we are, and in many cases, a lot worse. I mean, Trump has almost no shot at actually winning the presidency, but the fuckers in England actually voted to self-sabotage themselves, so fuck them and fuck John Constantine. We don’t want you in New York, you holier-than-thou asshole!!!!

Wait, where was I? Oh yes, Hellblazer (The): Rebirth. Moritat’s art is solid as always – at this point in his career, you’ve made up your mind about him, unless you’ve never seen his work before. I like his art, but it’s not perfect – what is, right? His Wonder Woman, despite acting like Captain Marvel’s mother, looks like a teenager, but his women always look a bit younger than they should be – I can’t quite put my finger on it. He draws a bad-ass Mercury, though, so there’s that. He veers from detailed backgrounds to none, which is disconcerting, but kind of par for the course for comics artists these days. There’s nothing here that will convince you he’s a good artist if you don’t like his stuff, but there’s nothing here that will convince you he isn’t a good artist if you already do. So there!

It may sound like I’m slagging on Hellblazer (The): Rebirth, but that’s only because I’m kind of a douchebag and because the only way I can feel better about myself is by tearing others down. It’s not really for me or for people who are familiar with Constantine, and Oliver does a good job introducing the character to the millions of new readers who will surely buy this. The superheroes are superfluous and Oliver’s political commentary is laughable, but not only does he give us a good idea of who Constantine is, he gives us an actual plot where Constantine has to do something. Both “Rebirth” titles this week understand that you can (re-)introduce characters and still tell a halfway decent story. It’s INSANE!!!!!

‡ My mom used to buy Kraft Caramels for me when I was in junior high/high school and put them in my lunch. All the kids I sat with were jealous AF, and I used to throw the last one in the air over the table and they would all scramble for it. Yes, really.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:


**********

Sorry these were kind of boring this week – nothing amazingly great, but nothing that we have sit and ponder how it actually got published because it’s just that bad. It’s nice to see competence from DC, though!

Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen are broadcasters for the Phillies, and like a lot of local broadcasters, they’re fun and weird. Here’s an exchange from a few days ago:

I will endeavor to work “Let’s buy him some meat” into casual conversations, much like I occasionally do with “Fuck the heck?” or “It’s not my backhoe” (which has a long and complicated backstory) or even “Lumumba moment,” which is when things are going to go horribly wrong and is named after Patrice Lumumba (and is something my wife and I say to each other all the time). Anyway, let’s buy everyone some meat, shall we?

Fun fact: through a series of strange events, I found myself at the Wikipedia page for Playboy Playmates, where I found that in January 1958, the Playmate of the Month was 16 years old. Is that the America that Donald Trump wants to return us to?

I haven’t been watching the RNC because I don’t care, nor will I watch the DNC. I’m going to vote, of course, but I don’t really care about the speeches and the weird celebrities and the jingoism and the fakery of national conventions. I am kind of interested to see how Trump will be the “law-and-order” candidate after the events of the past few weeks. Every statistic says we are safer than we’ve ever been, and even cop-killings are down, but that doesn’t move the meter. What I want to know is, what will Trump say? We can’t invade privacy even more, because we’re kind of maxed out on that these days. He can’t double down on deportation or Muslim-bashing, because the people who killed the police were American citizens and being even more anti-immigrant isn’t going to make people on the fence like him more. The only thing he can say is that we need to take guns away from people, but he can’t say that. So how is he going to present himself as the “law-and-order” candidate when the police are more powerful and militarized than ever and he can’t talk about disarming people? That’s fascinating to me. I’m still not going to watch (he might be speaking as I type this, for all I know), but that is curious to me. I’ll skip the DNC, too, because it’s going to be a love-fest in the opposite direction. I was amused by Ted Cruz’s speech, though. Dude just didn’t give a fuck. He thinks Trump is going down to massive and ignominious defeat, so he figures he can lay the groundwork for 2020 right now. What the fuck does he care about Trump? By being a narcissistic asshole, Cruz inadvertently showed how fucked-up the Republicans are in this election cycle. It’s pretty bizarre.

But that’s politics. Let’s get back to the 16-year-old Playmate and the fact that Hef got away with it because no one could prove he didn’t know she was 16. Were they selling the Brooklyn Bridge in 1958, because I bet Hef could have sold it!

Have a wonderful day, everyone!