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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Some thoughts on the creative footprints of DC's Rebirth so far

Indulge me for a moment as I bring you some briefer than brief thoughts on DC's latest adventure in rebooting/relaunching.

Before, getting into the nitty-gritty as it were, generally, Rebirth has been surprisingly pretty fun. I have two eras of DC's publishing history that stick out to me as my favored go-to reads from my youth, the 1991-1996 era, which probably peaked with the Reign of the Supermen story-arc and the Final Night crossover. To this day, I still might argue that the latter is one of the best Big Two events we've seen. The other portion of their back-catalog that I have an extreme level of fondness for is their 2001-2006 cycle of comics, where you had such luminous runs as Greg Rucka's abbreviated Wonder Woman and Adventures of Superman, Gotham Central, Pat Gleason killing it on Aquaman interiors, a surprisingly solid and long-reverberating Judd Winick Batman storyline, Brubaker's Catwoman, Geoff Johns on The Flash and Teen Titans (and JSA, though I think that series much more spotty than the former two runs) etc etc etc, with all of this basically culminating in Green Lantern Rebirth and Seven Soldiers. I'm sure my timeline is off for all of that, but I'm running on nothing but spotty memories here, and darn it, my memories of these things are generally pretty warm.

DC Rebirth thus far, puts me in mind of the latter era particularly, but doesn't necessarily shy away from the former, particularly where Superman is concerned. You get the sense that DC recognizes the 90's were their most creatively fertile era for the Man of Steel, and they so desperately want to return to that moment, by bringing Dan Jurgens back aboard Action Comics, and launching a new "Dad" Superman...the meta-implications of that move are not lost on me, by the way.

On the other hand, just about every other character feels like they're being put through the Geoff Johns "Rebirth" process that he enacted on Hal Jordan and Barry Allen seen in their respective Rebirthings in the last decade. We haven't quite gotten to the latter bit of character introductions quite yet, so there's no telling how different Batgirl may be from her Burnside presentation that basically defined the DC You initiative of last year for example, but I'm fascinated by how much of the Johns footprint is apparent in each of these takes.

There's a couple of things that are obvious:

Hal Jordan is back to squaring off with Sinestro and is right in line with the prime era of Johns' run (Sinestro Corps War particularly). Barry Allen is ripped right out the CW series, which is Johns co-produced and created, mixed with the visuals of the Johns/Manapul set of issues. And Aquaman, in his Rebirth issue, literally retells the first issue of Johns' New 52 run, at least in theme, character approach, and in one instance, setting. Green Lanterns stars two characters that Johns himself originated, not that he really did much with them (honestly, where has Simon Baz been all this time?). And lastly, Titans is basically a sequel to the DC Rebirth 80 pager, with the original line-up aiming to square off again Doctor Manhattan or whomever the final Watchmen-related villain will be in the mega-arc that makes up this relaunch. Even the aforementioned Action Comics has some lingering Johns influence, with the Mr. Oz character coming from his New 52 storyline he pulled together with John Romita Jr.

More curious, I think, are the books that don't quite pull as heavily from DC's Chief Creative Officer's influence: Green Arrow, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Nightwing, titles that Johns has very little history with, barring working on the Arrow tv series.

Green Arrow is currently "all Grell, all the time", at least at its base with a return of the van dyke, the VERY liberal attitude, and the relationship with Black Canary. It's a welcome approach, especially with a strong literary bent from Ben Percy and some lovely Otto Schmidt, superstar in the making, panel-work. For many, it's the big surprise of the relaunch, and it's hard to blame them.

Batman is in a bite more of a curious spot. Under Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, it was far and away the big sales success of a New 52 line that had a dearth of them. Both Batman and its sister title, Detective Comics, are lined up with writers that aren't too far removed from Snyder own approach in terms of writerly ethos. Tom King is a fellow novelist and plays with a lot of the same formalist tendencies of Snyder, but to an even greater degree. James Tynion IV is a former student and, for lack of a better word at midnight on a Friday night, protege of Snyder's.

Curiously, neither book really feels like Snyder's run at all, which was rather horror-laden at times and meditative to a fault in its approach. King is playing Batman like Bob Haney once did, who has a ton of gadgets at his disposal, can lift Solomon Grundy one-handed, and is able to turn a crashing plane into his new Batplane with just a few well placed pieces of tech. This is Batman as alpha-superhero, powers or no.

In Detective, which is really more of a Batwoman book and takes just as many cues from the Rucka run of that character in the same title, pairs Bruce and Kate as surrogate parents and tutors of Gotham's younger generation in Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan and in a nice bit of inspiration, Clayface. It plays like a sequel to Batman Eternal and the subsequent weekly that followed. The Snyder influence is there, either in history or design, but both titles have pivoted away well enough to feel like refreshing takes on the character.

Speaking of Rucka, DC has basically handed Wonder Woman, their upcoming cinematic crown jewel (we all hope) over to the guy who is generally thought of as her best writer of the past 20 years. It's a hard approach to argue with, as Rucka's success with women-fronted books like Lazarus and Stumptown has continued to build his audience with more progressive comics readers, and those who just generally enjoy really good, confident narratives. His take on Wonder Woman in Rebirth is still to be determined, given its bifurcated nature (odd issues take place in the present, even issues are a Year One tale), but it's clear that Rucka is aiming to return Diana to some iteration of the Post Crisis Perez take. I wouldn't be shocked, if I had to guess, that we learn the Azzarello-Chiang run, or much of it, will end up some form of trickery by Ares. That dastardly war-bringer!

And Nightwing...well?...Grayson was great. The only thing some didn't like about it was that Dick wasn't in his costume fighting Gotham bad guys instead of super-spys. Now he is, and one of the writers of that previous title is back, still crafting pretty enjoyable tales of the "laughing young daredevil" Dick Grayson, with all the butt references that will probably engender and delight the masses with.

In summary, you've got the Johns-crafted takes, and the couple of titles he entrusts to others to shepherd. It was much-publicized that Johns worked with every creative team prior to the launch, so none of this is especially shocking, but it's fun to break-down. 

On the horizon, we're still awaiting the relaunches of Hellblazer, Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Teen Titans, Superwoman, Super-Sons and the book I'm most excited about given the writer and the buzz coming off the television series, Supergirl. It'll be worth noting just where these takes have their own genesis, or if this is the point where Rebirth stretches its legs some.

For what it's worth, there's still a few vestiges of DC You out there, especially in the Gene Luen Yang scripted New Super-Man, which is off to an energetic start, and Steve Orlando's Midnighter is going to return in October with Midnighter and Apollo. But beyond that, Rebirth is doubling down on the most popular takes of their iconic characters and so far, and it's paying off. It's the ultimate comfort food, but at this stage in my life, I'm not sure I'd have my superhero comics any other way. I'm not sure what that says about me as a reader, or comics in general, given my personal demographic (white, straight male in his 30's) and I'll let others far more qualified judge that.

Well, mostly. I haven't quite glommed onto Green Lanterns or Aquaman (sigh), but nobody bats 1.000.
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