We’re now one year into “Rebirth,” and ironically, I’m at the point of throwing in the towel on the branding’s original conceit of a line-wide Watchmen conspiracy. The Rebirth special laid the groundwork for a number of storylines all falling under the Dr. Manhattan umbrella, but in the wake of “The Button,” it seems like every book is now running its own independent story with only a few lingering threads of last year’s relaunch. This isn’t bad, but it does feel like the “Rebirth” branding has a limited life remaining.
Aquaman #24 (Abnett/Eaton/Fauchier/Elateb): It’s frustrating that the American political divide has taken hold of pop culture so much, because books like this become hard to judge on their merits independent of whatever they’re commenting on. In Aquaman’s case, Atlantis is becoming increasingly xenophobic and demands new leadership in the place of Arthur’s outreach, and Arthur isn’t one to give up his responsibilities willingly. Meanwhile, Corum Rath goes so far as to build a wall around Atlantis, and no, that isn’t subtle at all. Still, the book is fine on its own with art that continues to be clean and a story which, maybe in a few years, can be read outside the overt metaphor. Rating: Three tuna out of five.
Batman #24 (King/Finch/Miki/Mann/Bellaire): Oops. Poor timing of “The Button” and the Swamp Thing issue led to the wrapup of King’s extended “Gotham Girl” put on the back burner, so it’s a little jarring to see her back all of a sudden. Batman’s conversation with her about why he does what he does is intermingled with an extended Catwoman chase sequence, and the entire issue reads as incredibly disjointed until you reach the last pages and suddenly realize why King has run these two sequences together. King has Batman make a play here which I don’t think has ever been done in main continuity, and the real question is whether DC has the stones to follow through with it. We won’t find out until “The War of Jokes and Riddles” is done. Rating: Four bats out of five.
Cyborg #13 (Semper Jr/Jefferson/Kordos/Major): Cyborg seems to be the only Justice League character who doesn’t have a “push” book—while everybody else benefits from twice-monthly shipping, he’s well behind them. Honestly, issues like this one don’t help—there’s nothing technically wrong with it, but there’s a heavily compounded plot with Anomaly being the evil Skynet-lite, a new female sidekick for Cyborg that’s wholly different from Variant a few issues ago, a reference to the fact that Vic disappeared for six months (which hasn’t been referenced anywhere else)…it’s all very confusing, a little rote, and not distinguishable from many other books on the market. Not bad, but not interesting, either. Rating: Two and a half microchips out of five.
The Fall and Rise of Captain Atom #6 (Bates/Weisman/Conrad/Nunes): The Captain Atom miniseries wraps up, and it’s not awful, but not anything to write home about, either. Cary Bates is a longtime accomplished writer, so maybe it’s a little weird to read a very “normal” comic book without any serious shock endings or twists that attempts to make itself more edgy than unsual. This is a very standard take on Captain Atom with some decent, tweaked for a modern audience, but nothing severely out of the ordinary (although it does have difficulty meshing with current DC continuity—“Star City” is mentioned, and Hawkman is alive and in the Justice League?). So it’s just “there” and might appeal to the limited number of people who are Captain Atom fans, but that’s it. Rating: Three nukes out of five.
Green Arrow #24 (Percy/Ferreyra): So Green Arrow is also taking a page out of perceptions of current American politics, and it’s explicitly much more overt than it is over in Aquaman. Then again, Green Arrow has seldom not been political, so if that’s your bag, this issue delivers. The problem is that there’s this ill-defined mysticism driving the story, similar to what drove Dan Slott’s “Spider-Verse”: hey, there’s this prophecy, we’re not really going to explain where it came from, but watch out! If there’s a payoff in the next issue, it’d better be good. Rating: Three quivers out of five.
Green Lanterns #24 (Humphries/Barbieri/Santorelli/Arreola): So, this was an issue—not really good or bad, but just there as a necessary and predictable wrap-up to Jessica and Simon’s training. Nothing of consequence happens beyond Jessica earning her logo…which really just puts her back into the status quo she had before this mini-arc. It’s readable and nice to see the pair tied into the larger Green Lantern mythos, but not much beyond that. What’s worse is that the art and coloring, while not awful, is very inconsistent with what this series has had to date, right down to Jessica having the wrong hair color. Ouch. Rating: Two and a half rings out of five.
Harley Quinn #21 (Conner/Palmiotti/Dini/Linser/Timms/Blevins/Bone/Sinclair): Harley Quinn has had a multitude of seemingly independent plotlines lately, but issue #21 at least manages to zipper two of them together in a surprising way that makes sense. Sadly, Harley herself is sidelined for a lot of the issue, and this isn’t the first time it’s happened recently. At least there’s cues that next issue will focus more on her and her past (hopefully). And speaking of pasts, Harley Loves Joker is more of…what it is. Not bad, but again, it’s just “there.” Rating: Three mallets out of five.
Justice League #22 (Fontana/Briones/Elateb): Whatever Bryan Hitch’s long-term plans are for this book are on pause this week, as upcoming Wonder Woman writer Shea Fontana gets to test the waters on a big-time DC book (she’s written three DC Super Hero Girls books now with two more to come). This is a very standard issue with an accidental threat, puzzling over the solution, and then finally accomplishing it, all wrapped around a newcomer hero—in this case, Jessica Cruz. In other words, there’s no surprises here—but it’s a decent “done in one” issue and shows that Fontana has a grasp on the characters. She’ll do fine on Wonder Woman. Rating: Three leagues out of five.
Nightwing #22 (Seely/Mendonca/Cifuentes/Sotomayor): Meh. The art chores on Nightwing continue to be easy on the eyes, and Seely knows how to write Dick as an unsure young adult still trying to find himself. However, the larger scope of the issue is unfocused, split among Dick’s personal problems, a heavily-armed street gang, a new mobster who wants Nightwing out of the picture, and a new version of Blockbuster whose move in this issue is at odds with why he’s brought in. Rating: Two and a half batons out of five.
Superman #24 (Tomasi/Gleason/Mahnke/Grey/Mendosa/Kalsiz/Quintana): Bringing back Manchester Black is a weird move—although he’s a memorable villain, he really hasn’t been used meaningfully since some limited appearances some 15 years ago. Black is mostly notable for being the open analogue of Warren Ellis’ rough justice in The Authority and a bleak contrast to Superman’s idealism and mercy. It’s hard to say if that contrast is still necessary, since Superman’s idealism has proven enduring two decades into this century. That, and current audiences may have no idea who Black is. Anyway, we get a mostly decent explanation on how Black has been working behind the scenes, with a warning that he needs Jon for some upcoming threat that’s beyond a Superman. This may be the lone “Rebirth” hint of the week, if any. Rating: Three and a half capes out of five.
The Winner: I liked Batman. Some of you will hate it, and I see where you’re coming from…but I’m liking King’s more peaceable take on Batman, one that views him as a person who hurts, but puts that to good use. As I said above, I’m hoping DC and King actually follow through with the question raised on the last page.
The Loser: Cyborg is not awful, but it–unfortunately–reminds me of those second-rate superhero books that used to be published in the 90s from third-tier publishers: stuff that was trying too hard to be a Marvel/DC/early Image title and just not doing it. Cyborg needs some originality, sure, but what we’re getting here just isn’t interesting.