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

This week I got a bit of my reviewing mojo back, thanks to a DC Rebirth book that is inexplicably exactly what I think a Rebirth book should be! It's not the greatest comic, but it's probably the best "Rebirth" title (as opposed to simply a #1 title) so far! Weird, huh?

Harley Quinn #1 ("Afterbirth!") by Amanda Conner (writer), Jimmy Palmiotti (writer), Chad Hardin (artist), Alex Sinclair (colorist), Dave Sharpe (letterer), Dave Wielgosz (assistant editor), and Chris Conroy (editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC. Harley Quinn created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. Poison Ivy created by Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff. Joker created by Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, and Bob Kane.

Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti must really like Chad Hardin, because he draws a lot of their comics, which is something I can't quite figure out. Hardin isn't terrible - his style is very middle-of-the-road DC house style, and his storytelling is clear, but DC's use of him confounds me. Let's say they pay him a page rate of, I don't know, $200 a page (that could be completely accurate or completely off-base - that's not the point). Are you telling me that if you're DC, you can't say, "Hey, Amanda Conner, we'll pay you $300 a page to, you know, draw a comic instead of just covers, because your art is so much better than Chad Hardin's that we're willing to pony that up!" Now, maybe they tried that and Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti - power couple extraordinaire! - told them to pound sand because Conner makes so much money at conventions selling prints and original art and commissions that she doesn't need to draw comics, man! I know that I've bought comics before that I might not have simply because Amanda Conner drew them, and this book - while not great - would have been significantly more enjoyable had Conner drawn it. Just the first two pages, in which Harley and Poison Ivy teleport around a spa day (I'll get to that) would have been more risqué fun and less kind-of skeevy with Conner drawing it. But maybe Conner just doesn't want to draw interiors all that much anymore? (I guess it doesn't really matter, seeing that Harley comics are crack cocaine these days, so they probably could have had my dead grandmother draw this and it wouldn't have made much of a difference. I'm surprised they even paid Hardin - they could have paid me one thin dollar a page and I could have done the entire thing with stick figures and it probably still would have sold gangbusters!)

Anyway, this is an annoying issue because, as that link makes clear, it's not really a new #1. In its infinite wisdom, DC, like in 2011, decides that its most popular books don't need a reboot except in numbering, so this issue of Harley is basically a continuation of the old Harley series, although it is fairly accessible. The first two pages are really weird, as Harley and Ivy have a spa day and affirm that they really, really dig each other as they talk about ... well, nothing, really, just that they really, really like each other. Conner and Palmiotti do that "jump from scene to scene in the middle of a conversation" thing that comics and movies and television shows do a lot, and while it's weird, it's a convention I guess we just have to accept. After that, Harley shows up at Coney Island to introduce her gigantic supporting cast, including the beaver, and she recaps her origin for us, which mercifully takes only a page-and-a-half, but this is also a weird scene. She's introducing her supporting cast to a genie whom she has already met and Red Tool, the Deadpool "satire" who is, unfortunately, worse than Deadpool himself. But don't they already know all about her? Plus, the supporting cast doesn't actually seem to be there, and they have literally nothing to do with the plot itself, so what's the point? Variations of Harley are not inherently funny (Harlem Harley is black, get it?) and they don't actually do anything but stand around, and even then, it really does seem like they don't exist, so again, it's a waste of pages. Finally, on Page 8, after a Scooby-Doo and the Gang cameo (are they actually there, or is it more Harley Hallucinations?), the plot kicks in. Zombies doing zombie things, and the reason is quite hilarious. But it took Conner and Palmiotti eight pages to get there? The book ends weirdly, too, with an extremely anti-climactic trebuchet hurl, and if there's one thing I will not abide, it's writers wasting a good trebuchet. So it's a very odd issue - the plot is clever but very short, the humor is pretty dumb, the recapping is interminable and somewhat pointless, but Conner and Palmiotti, who have been writing the character for a while, at least give Harley a unique voice. So ... yay?

Hardin, as I mentioned, is perfectly fine - he's nobody you're going to seek out, but he's a solid superhero artist, so the art is just kind of there. He tries to emulate Conner's style a little, and there's one page (the one from which the Airwolf panel comes, actually) that's quite clever and well done. This is a very workmanlike job, but it's nothing embarrassing. I will say that whoever designs Red Tool's speech balloons - I assume it's Dave Sharpe, but I don't know - is ingenious, as it's the only part of the Deadpool satire that works, as the balloons are colored yellow and in the shape of various tools. I wish there were more tool shapes, to be honest, but what we get is pretty funny. So well done on that front!

This comic vexes me, because again, it's kind of a half-hearted reboot, which makes it contrary to what DC is claiming they want to do. I might have actually liked it better had it been an official "Rebirth" comic, because it fits in with those more than the #1 issues - it's kind of dumb, there are some nice moments, and the plot almost feels secondary. I get that Harley is a big enough character at the moment that DC doesn't feel like it needs to draw in new readers, but it's still a weird half-hearted effort. I guess in that way it's par for the course.

(Hey, remember the good old days of DC, when we could count on a dismemberment at least once a week, if not more often? Well, in this issue, someone's arm gets lopped off! "But Greg," you might say, as you prepare to write your comment telling me I wouldn't know a good comic if it bit me on the dick, "one dismemberment is nothing! What about two?" Well, good folk, just you wait! There's still one more comic to go this week!)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Suicide Squad: Rebirth by Rob Williams (writer), Philip Tan (penciller), Jonathan Glapion (inker), Scott Hanna (inker), Sandu Florea (inker), Alex Sinclair (colorist), Travis Lanham (letterer), Harvey Richards (associate editor), Brian Cunningham (editor), and Andy Khouri (editor). Amanda Waller created by John Ostrander, Len Wein, and John Byrne. Rick Flag created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru. Harley Quinn created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. Deadshot created by Bob Kane, David Vern Reed, and Lew Schwartz. Captain Boomerang created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino. Barack Obama created by a Kenyan Muslim cabal intent on America's utter destruction.

Let's return, once again, to our favorite destination: the DC conference rooms, where Dan DiDio is always meeting with his editors.

DD: Okay, peeps, in an odd case of synergy, we have a brand-new Suicide Squad comic coming out two days before our Suicide Squad movie. Fret not - the person who scheduled the comic to coincide so neatly with the movie release has been dealt with ... and by "dealt with" I mean I dipped his balls in honey and staked him face-down and naked over an anthill. But that's behind us now - I wanted to release Suicide Squad: Rebirth at least two weeks after the movie came out, but that's neither here nor there. Now, we have a brand-new comic that we're going to use to bring in new readers. We have one of the most popular artists of all-time on our roster, and he's expressed interest in drawing Deadshot because he likes lines so much. So who can we get to draw this brand-new comic that's going to introduce our readers to this team days before the movie opens?

Random DC Editor: Um ... Jim Lee?

DD (after throwing said DC Editor out the window, where he joins the disturbingly large pile of DC Editors DD has already chucked out of said window): Jeebus, no! That's the kind of forward thinking that got us in this mess in the first place! I wanted this to come out at least two weeks after the movie premiered, when the bad reviews already killed off any momentum it might have had, and I want some artist whose art kind of looks like Jim Lee, but isn't as good. Then, when the interest in the book has waned, that's when we hit them with Jim Lee!!! Come on, people, remember what DC stands for: Dinosaurs and Cavemen! So who do we have in our stable whose art looks like Jim Lee's?

Other Random DC Editor: Um ... Jim Lee?

DD (after getting treatment on his torn rotator cuff because he's thrown so many DC Editors out the window): You people are killing me with your sound business sense? Don't you hear what I'm saying?!?!? I want someone whose art looks like Jim Lee's! Gimme your suggestions!!!!

Third Random DC Editor (slowly making his way toward the door): Um ... Jim Lee? (Dashes out of the door before DD can throw him out the window)

DD (after using his heat vision on said DC Editor to scorch him to ashes through the wall): Fine, I'll just get Philip Tan. Everyone's fired!

Doesn't this sound like a perfectly reasonable discussion to be heard inside the DC offices, given what we know about DC? I'm not entirely sure why, if they have Jim Lee in their stable and he's drawing at least two issues of the ongoing series, they didn't get him to draw the launching point of the series to maximize the potential sales just before the movie comes out. Did they think everyone would buy the comic even if my dead grandmother (who's getting a lot of work these days, isn't she?) drew it, so it didn't matter, but to keep those readers, they had to get Lee to draw the ongoing? I mean, Philip Tan isn't bad, but like Chad Hardin, he's just a middle-of-the-road kind of artist, except he tries really hard to draw like Jim Lee. He draws a decent Barack Obama, he does fine with a fat-again Amanda Waller (yay, Fat Amanda Waller!), he makes Captain Boomerang look a bit too much like Jim Lee's Banshee, he makes Harley look like a manga character (which, strangely enough, I love), he doesn't make Deadshot's horrible costume design look good at all, and we can tell what's happening. So I guess it's fine. His Rick Flag is a bit weird, as he looks more like a half-dead monster than a human being, but I guess he's been in prison, and nobody looks that good when they've been in prison (as my dead grandmother used to say, "You gotta shiv someone your first day, or you're someone's bitch forever" ... it was weird that she would say that, considering she'd never been to prison).

Anyway, DC did something right with this comic - they hired Rob Williams to write it. Williams is not only talented, but he's British, which means he knows how to put together a story using limited space (because England is such a small country, get it?!?!?!?!? ... oh, wait, it's because of 2000AD and a tradition of short stories in British comics). Unlike almost every other "Rebirth" title, Williams not only introduces the group and sets up the ongoing, but he tells a fairly satisfying short story, gives us character sketches of the principals, and even makes it clear that the American government is antagonistic toward Waller and Task Force X. None of it feels bogged down, either - Williams zips through Obama's meeting with Waller in five pages (one is a splash page that begins the book, so it's almost like four pages), and we find out that he didn't know about the Squad and now that he does, he ain't happy about it, but Waller shuts him down and throws him a bone - the team will be led by Rick Flag, who's as by-the-book as they come. Another splash page (this one a dull one of Flag sitting in a prison cell) interrupts, but then Williams gives us two pages of Waller's meeting with Flag, in which we find out he's kind-of sort-of unjustly imprisoned (he's too noble to follow shitty commands, but he's also too noble not to take the fall for them, either!). Then we get right into the three members of the current Squad (which does not yet include Killer Croc, even though Amanda Conner drew him on the cover) doing what they do best - going after a scientist who's created a "gene bomb" that can give and take away superpowers. There's a bit too much verbiage in this section - Waller is narrating to Flag about who the Squad is - but at least there's a good amount of action while it's happening. These "Rebirth" issues aren't perfect, so there's going to have to be some overwhelming narration, but Williams crams it onto three pages so we can get it over with and get to the fighting. And the action is typically "Squad-ish," as Harley, Deadshot, and Captain Boomerang have fun blowing people to bits and come up with ... creative ways to fix their problems. It's not the greatest story, but it's certainly not bad, as it allows us to see the group in action while also letting us know how it's going to be moving forward. Williams shoehorns Captain Boomerang's racism into the book - I can't say I "like" the fact that Boomerang is racist, but it's a long-standing character trait, and made him a bit more interesting as a villain, but Williams tries a bit too hard here. He calls the people they're fighting "Chinese blokes" and Deadshot corrects him by saying they're Mongolian and that he's a "stupid racist." But the Squad is in Inner Mongolia, which is part of China, and the population is a mixture of Mongol and Han Chinese, so Boomerang could conceivably be correct. But it's weird, and it's annoying that Deadshot would care. I mean, I know there are certain villains that we think of as "noble" more than others, and Magneto, for instance, would be fairly sensitive to this sort of thing, but Lawton? It's a short exchange between the two men, and it doesn't really mean much, but it was kind of bizarre.

It's not that hard, apparently, to write a 20-page comic with some splash pages (there are four in this issue) that still sets up a regular series and tells a decent story in its own right. So why has it been so hard for DC's writers in this "Rebirth" thing? It's frustrating, because they don't even need to be the greatest things ever written, they just have to be entertaining in their own right, and so many of them aren't. Tan's art is just there, and Williams doesn't re-invent the wheel, so I don't want to make this something it's not, but it's still one of the best "Rebirth" books so far. It's weird that the "Rebirth" issue this week does a better job doing what it's supposed to do than the official #1 issue of an ongoing, but that's the weirdness of the times, I guess!

(You might be wondering if someone gets a limb chopped off in this issue, as well, just to make it a clean sweep of this week's comics. Why yes, they do! It's played as funny, though, much like the one in Harley Quinn #1, so it doesn't feel as bleak and awful as some of DC's other dismemberments. This one is more horrible than the one in Harley Quinn, but the tone is still not as godawful depressing as some in the past.)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:


I don't have much to add this week - it's been a fairly quiet week in the world, as I guess everyone is sweltering too much to cause much trouble. My 22nd wedding anniversary was last Saturday, so that was nice - we went out to dinner - but it was also notable because it was the first time we didn't have to get a babysitter. We put my older daughter to bed early, as usual (she needs a lot of sleep, so she's in bed between 6 and 6.30 every night), and we entrusted the house to my 11-year-old. We didn't go too far in case we had to rush home, but all went well, and we're kind of happy we probably won't have to pay a sitter anymore, because that can be expensive. My wife asked me how much we were going to pay our daughter, and I scoffed. Pay? She's getting free room and board, for crying out loud! I'll pay her to cut our lawn, but not sit around the house watching television. She really wants to start babysitting for others, so let them pay her!

Other than that, not much going on. We got some good rain this week, which we always desperately need, and school starts next Wednesday, which I desperately need. We're still moving in - progress is slow but steady on that front! Everything is just moving along, in other words. What's up with you guys?

Have a nice weekend, everyone!

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