A crackerjack week at the comics shop here in Boston, and while I was reading and really enjoying the three new issues I bought at the Android’s Dungeon, I couldn’t help but notice that these are characters I’ve been reading about for a long, long time! I got the latest issues of three iconic superheroes, and I encountered no scraggly beards, no amnesiac A-holes, no hooks for hands … instead, thanks to the recent “Rebirth” revamp at DC Comics, I encountered more or less classic versions of these characters, written for adults, paced to please on an issue-by-issue basis, and drawn with a cinematic level of detail that had me studying individual panels in order to catch all the details.
To put it mildly, none of this is true these days when I read Marvel titles, in which the current incarnations of both Thor and Iron Man are women, in which there are two different Captains America, one of whom is the Falcon and the other of whom has been, it seems, a murderous Hydra-agent traitor for his entire career, in which the new Hulk is a wisecracking Asian kid in complete control of his powers and the old Hulk is dead (killed in cold blood by Hawkeye, who we’re still supposed to consider a hero), in which Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Professor X are all dead, in which there are four separate Avengers teams, none of which know or work with any of the others and the members of which don’t know or like each other, in which there are roughly a dozen Spider-Men, and in which there’s no Fantastic Four … so, basically, a company that’s doing Doctor Strange right and only Doctor Strange right.
How refreshing, then, to turn to DC Comics’s “Rebirth” line for the week! These were the issues I read:
Aquaman #14: This is the third chapter in “The Deluge,” a big, fast-paced storyline in which a mysterious third party is manipulating events to drive the United States and Aquaman’s undersea kingdom of Atlantis to the brink of war, and it’s in this issue – written by Dan Abnett and drawn by Philippe Briones (with a stunning pastel cover by Joshua Middleton, depicting the classic, smiling, golden-haired, golden-armored version of the character that I fear will disappear as soon as Jason Momoa’s hulking, scowling, dreadlocked version shows up on movie screens in the Justice League movie) – that our hero finally gets the key clue he needs in order to figure out who the unseen manipulator is. The identity won’t really be a shock to any long-time readers of this character (Aquaman only has two super-villains to call his own), but the thing I did find shocking about this issue was the matter-of-fact way Abnett introduces the chapter’s threat, a group of “Aquamarine” soldiers who attack Aquaman in Atlantis – as a covert kill-team explicitly tasked by the US government with straight-up assassinating Aquaman, the head of a foreign power. And equally shocking is the way our hero simply accepts it: “The spec ops removal of the leader of a rogue nation is considered fair game.” It’s a pretty damn cynical sentiment, something straight out of Abnett’s books, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked how it underscores the fact that, super-villains aside, Aquaman deals with entirely different kinds of threats than his fellow members of the Justice League.
Superman #14: This is the first installment of a new story-arc called “Multiplicity,” written by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason (with fantastic artwork comprised of layouts by Ivan Reis and finishes by Joe Prado, with some really standout colors by Marcelo Maiolo), in which some unknown super-villain is traversing the many dimensions of the multi-verse, collecting each reality’s version of Superman. In this first issue, our Superman encounters the alternate-reality Russian Superman (from Mark Millar’s fan-favorite 2003 mini-series), beaten and battered, being hunted by the energy-wielding minions of this mystery villain (since the classic Superman only had one villain who specialized in collecting Kryptonians, I’m betting I can guess who this bad guy turns out to be). Without much time to think, the two are suddenly confronted by these minions (“We fight until there is no one left standing,” the Russian Superman says, and our Superman responds, “Sounds like a plan”). They pull out a win and are joined by interdimensional good guys calling themselves “Justice League Incarnate” (“I kind a had a feeling you were going to say something like that,” Superman deadpans), and the stage is set for the tracking down of the bad guy and the liberating of dozens of captive Supermen, and the whole issue is done with a no-fuss panache that I instantly liked. From this first issue, it looks like “Multiplicity” will be a Superman storyline that doesn’t very much feature the Man of Steel’s supporting cast, but over the last year I’ve learned to trust this particular creative team not to disappoint.
Batman #14: I’m coming to this particular story-arc after its hullaballoo is over; this issue, part one of a two-part coda called “Rooftops,” apparently comes immediately after an arc in which Catwoman has been found guilty of hundreds of murders (which Batman doesn’t believe she committed) and sentenced to life in prison without parole. As this issue begins, Batman is ready to deliver her to the police himself, but she asks him to wait until morning, to share one last night of freedom on the rooftops of Gotham with her: “They can have my life, without parole. But this night, right here … tonight. Look at it, Bat … It’s a diamond,. It shines.” The whole issue, written by Tom King with absolutely gorgeous artwork, inking, and coloring by Mitch Gerads, is the funny, bittersweet, and ultimately very moving tale of that night, perfectly capturing both the very different natures of these two characters and the pitched chemistry writers have created between them for, well, a long, long time. There’s no endless Bat-cast in this issue, no grittier-than-ever super-villains … just two iconic figures delivering involving drama while staying perfectly in character. DC’s “Rebirth” line is starting to lull me into expecting this kind of thing, as wary as I might be.
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