You know the score by now: brand-new debuts, all-new creative teams, and best of all? Competitive cover prices. At $2.99 a pop, DC Comics has all but rolled out the red carpet for every kind of reader there is: new, lapsed, or die-hard. So in the twelfth week of Rebirth, we continue to soldier ahead with our new limited series — REBIRTH IN REVIEW — where we’ll evaluate the latest batch of debuts from the publisher to see what, precisely, is what.
Oh, and to provide you extra incentive to pick up all these new books, we’ve included galleries of preview images from each issue alongside its respective review. We’ve embraced change! Let’s see if DC has too.
The Hellblazer #1
Written by Simon Oliver.
Art by Moritat.
Colors by Andre Szymanowicz and Moritat.
Letters by Sal Cipriano.
JJ: It’s time for my confession — if Constantine (or Hellblazer, or Constantine The Hellblazer, or Johnny Hot-Pants, or whatever the hell DC decides to call the book at any given moment) is written by someone who ain’t from Great Britain, I generally end up dropping it. The reason? The dialogue always ends up reading phonier than a skateboard-toting Steve Buscemi in a High School hallway.
For over a decade, DC Comics has been trying to make John Constantine a thing outside of the printed page, and for some reason that meant that the beloved character borne from the pages of Swamp Thing had to be ripped from his Mature Audiences roots and tossed into the benign PG-13 trappings of the DC Universe. There’s a paradox for you — in their attempt to make John Constantine as popular has humanly possible, they took away the very essence that made him, well… him.
Sure, they still let him smoke and drink and moderately curse, and yes, he’s still an aching asshole to practically every person, demon, angel or whatever that comes his way, but the teeth have been removed from John Constantine. And no matter how good Matt Ryan was on that short-lived NBC show, nothing is worth slapping the Hellblazer in a T+ book. We know he’s a sinner, but shit — that’s one hell of a damnation.
So here we are again. The Hellblazer marks the third DC Universe book featuring Johnny Boy since the beginning of the New 52, succeeding both Constantine and then later, Constantine: The Hellblazer. (We’re not counting Justice League Dark, but if we are, that’s four.) Whatever purpose John serves in this post-Rebirth paradigm remains to be seen — whatever it is, anything will be better than Trinity War — but at least DC is showing some kind of give when it comes to darkening up the tales of the Hellblazer.
Simon Oliver — of British decent, I’m happy to say — is on writing chores, and he’s bringing some R-rated naughtiness back to the Trenchcoated One. I applaud his willingness to toss in the errant fuck or shit, even if DC makes letterer Sal Cipriano cover them up with skulls and pentagrams. There’s even some mild nudity to be found here (some Constantine side-fanny can be seen), which simply has to push that T+ rating to the literal brink. And Moritat brings some Heavy Metal-esque cartooning might to the proceedings (his Swamp Thing is a thing of beauty); every character has their own body type and character, which gives The Hellblazer a look and feel of its very own. Oliver and Moritat snuck some Vertigo into the DCU. I suppose that’s the best we’re gonna get.
7 out of 10
Written by Hope Larson.
Art by Rafael Albuquerque.
Colors by Dave McCaig.
Letters by Deron Bennett.
SR: We’ve only just hit the second chapter of Batgirl‘s “Beyond Burnside” arc, and golly, is this story moving fast. Backpacking from Japan to Singapore, Babs is figuring out if Fruit Bat’s advice (“You can’t see the future when the past is standing in your way“) will play into the bigger picture of her time in Asia. My guess is yes. (I mean that’s the whole point of taking a break from Burnside, amirite?)
However, it seems that with each piece of the puzzle slowly being revealed, she has more questions than answers. One thing she knows for sure is she has got to start training. Circumstances lead her to the gym of May Hao, where she begins her training under an alias in earnest. At the end of the issue Barbara is putting her newly acquired skills to the test against Wen Lu, a Chinese MMA fighter, and was holding her own until she noticed her arm tattoo, which was eerily similar (if not the same!) to one she has encountered before.
Hope Larson’s writing has a nice balance of quick pacing and contemplative introspection as Barbara navigates her thoughts and emotions throughout this issue. We also see her friend from younger days/new travel buddy/possible potential love interest Kai bring out the realization that maybe she allows too much Batgirl to seep into Barbara’s life. (Props to the thought of getting therapy to help deal with some of those bigger issues once you get back home, Babs.) Rafael Albuquerque’s art continues to shine and I appreciate how he is able to capture the strength of the characters not only physically (like with Wen Lu), but also through expressions and movement. Dave McCaig’s coloring also enhances the visuals, like with the splattering of blood into a “KO” during the fight scene. I also want to acknowledge Deron Bennett for the fantastic lettering; when characters aren’t speaking English Bennett paints his letters with a different hue, incorporating specific language characters to clarify Batgirl‘s international communication.
The creative team behind this new Batgirl are taking Babs on a journey of self-discovery and reflection, important for any hero to do from time to time, simultaneously allowing us as the audience to reconnect with why we love a character like Barbara. I’m looking forward to seeing how she will recover from her fight, and move forward (and upward) like we are so used to seeing her do.
8.5 out of 10
Blue Beetle: Rebirth #1
Written by Keith Giffen.
Art by Scott Kolins.
Colors by Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Letters by Josh Reed.
JJ: Blue Beetle is one of those characters that absolutely needs to be a part of the wider DC Universe — he’s got a great power set, he’s got an even better sense of humor, he has this natural inclination to help people, and he’s just a visually striking character. I could go on, but I think you know where I’m going with this. If DC has a brightly-colored, bug-themed superhero smashing crime as he bounces off the walls, then darn it, they should put him to better use.
Heck, if we’re being honest with each other, Peter Parker is mimicking Ted Kord’s “eccentric superhero billionaire” shtick now more than ever before (in Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man) and Miles Morales is most certainly Marvel’s answer to Jaime Reyes — and not just in terms of injecting much-needed diversity into superhero books, either. Blue Beetle is such a great legacy character that Marvel is actively cribbing the broad strokes from him. Whether that’s a subconscious act or not, well… just take a look at all the similarities at play here.
So if there was one post-Rebirth book that I was excited to check out, it was definitely Blue Beetle. Keith Giffen’s character work gives this debut issue a crackle — it’s reminiscent of the funnier DC books published in the mid-Eighties, which is never a bad thing. Jaime has a reticence to him that is perfectly natural for a teenage costumed crimefighter, and Ted is every inch the brilliant crackpot Giffen makes him out to be. The writer does make some odd decisions — we only get to read one half of a phone conversation from two separate points of view; Ted Kord and Jaime’s banter teeters on the edge of being obnoxious — but for the most part, Giffen’s approach to daytime superheroism makes for good, lighthearted fun.
Scott Kolins’ artwork… *sigh* How do I put this. If Adam Kubert was seven days past deadline and had a bad head cold, you’d be close to getting an idea of how Kolins’ work on Blue Beetle is panning out. The panel layouts are servicable — Kolins has been at this too long for it to be anything less — but his character work is all over the place. Faces contort , bodies shift off-model, and Kolins devotes all of his definition to the Beetle’s rather complicated suit of armor, which leaves the entire world around him uninhabitable and mostly formless. (And the pointillism laid behind most of the panels give each page a disorienting static effect that sent my eyeballs screaming from this book — I had to set it down more than once to reorient myself, which is the last thing you want to do when reading a fun superhero comic.)
Blue Beetle: Rebirth gets points in my book for bringing such an important character back into the fold, but this sucker is going to need some polish if it’s ever going to make it through the year. The last thing I want to see is Blue Beetle scurrying into those back issue bins filled with wasted potential.
5 out of 10
Written by Christopher Priest.
Art by Carlo Pagulayan; inks by Jason Paz.
Colors by Jeromy Cox.
Letters by Willie Schubert.
MJ: The new Deathstroke series comes with a pretty big surprise: Christopher Priest hasn’t written a comic in over a decade, but here he is, writing the third Deathstroke comic to be launched in the past five years. The Rebirth one-shot gave us a little taste of what to expect in the ongoing, but Deathstroke #1 was a very different comic book from the Rebirth issue a fortnight ago.
The Rebirth issue is necessary to the plot, as this issue picks up directly where it left off, but the overall tone of Deathstroke #1 is very different: it’s full of strong and very irreverent humor, a much lighter tone, with hints of absurdity sprinkled in. And while the changes certainly work — the buddy cop relationship between Wilson and Wintergreen was especially entertaining — it was such a departure from the real-world seriousness of the last issue, I felt some tonal whiplash. (But I was also chuckling a bit.)
Carlo Pagulayan’s pencils, with Jason Paz on inks and Jeromy Cox on colors, put him in the top tier of DC’s house-style artists, and they all make this book an attractive one to read. Hints of the anti-hero characterization return, as opposed to the straight-up villainy that seemed to permeate Deathstroke: Rebirth, but as long as it remains this subtle it shouldn’t muss the rest of the story. Unlike the last issue, a woman has a speaking role at least: Adeline, Wilson’s then-wife, shows up in one of many flashback sequences; though sadly, all of her time on panel is spent either in a bra and panties, or naked, while complaining that motherhood precludes her from gadding around on missions. I’m crossing my fingers for Rose to show up soon, and hopefully to see some quality female representation on these pages.
The depth of characterization makes Deathstroke #1 compelling reading, despite any thematic dissonance with the last issue. The injection of so much dry humor and witty banter is a good tonic for the murder and mayhem that typically follows Deathstroke the Terminator, and this series now has me even more invested in the aims, intricacies and outcomes of a character I’ve never felt a commitment to reading. I’m hooked, and will definitely be continuing this series.
8.5 out of 10
‘Rebirth’, reviewed elsewhere —
Agree? Disagree? Are you reading ‘Rebirth’? Tell us all about those feelings of yours in the comments section below.