By Kevin M. Brettauer
DC Comics’ recent line-wide relaunch, “DC Universe: Rebirth,” an attempt to gain new readers while simultaneously winning back lapsed fans, has been noted in this column in the past as an interesting confluence of ideas, both controversial and otherwise.
Yes, the concept of three Jokers throughout Gotham City’s history was polarizing. Even more contentious was the decision to have the fabric of the DC Universe apparently altered by Doctor Manhattan, a character created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons for their twelve-issue epic “Watchmen,” thereby making that long-dormant universe an active part of the current DC multiverse. Finally, welcomed most by older fans but looked at sideways by those concerned equally with media representation and current American racial tension, was the return of the older and whiter Wally West, the former Kid Flash (and eventual Flash) of a bygone DC Universe, emerging into a universe where there’s a young African-American teenager named Wally West.
While not all of the books have begun yet, one must wonder: What, so far, have been the top hits of the Rebirth era, and what upcoming titles should fans be watching out for?
The most relatable series of the Rebirth era, at least thus far, may be “Green Lanterns,” written by Sam Humphries, one-time writer of such Marvel series as “Star-Lord” and “Uncanny X-Force,” as well as the shockingly prophetic, barely pre-Trump Image Comics political satire “Citizen Jack.” As opposed to chronicling the adventures of the usual suspects of Lanterns, such as fan-favorites like Kyle Rayner or Guy Gardner, the flagship Lantern book deals with two newer characters. “Green Lanterns” centers on Lebanese-American Muslim Simon Baz, a fairly inexperienced member of the Lantern Corps being monitored by the American government, and his even (forgive me) greener partner Jessica Cruz, an agoraphobic Latina who has recently re-entered the world after years spent in her apartment. Her struggle to learn how to use her Lantern ring properly – let alone go to the shopping mall with her sister – is one of the elements that grounds Green Lanterns in a real and very human way, making the series more like “Fringe” and “The X-Files” than “Star Trek.” Its grounded humanity makes it the one of the most accessible books of this new initiative, and its care for the unique human circumstances its leads find themselves in shows a sensitivity that is, of course, not (currently) present in the antagonistic relationship between Simon and Jess, even as they have to save the planet from a rage virus connected to the anger-fueled Red Lantern Corps. Spoilers: our heroes aren’t really doing their jobs that well right now.
Also “top of the pops” is “Detective Comics,” spearheaded by writer James Tynion IV (formerly of “Red Hood and the Outlaws” and “Constantine: The Hellblazer,” as well as the absolutely divine “Memetic”) and artist Eddy Barrows (who is no stranger to Gotham City, having drawn the New 52 incarnation of “Nightwing”). Returning the series to its original numbering, abandoned for a bright, shiny #1 in September 2011 for the launch of The New 52, Tynion’s “Detective” sees Batman recruit his Batwoman to co-lead a team of operatives with unique skill sets for reasons he won’t fully divulge, at least not right away. Together, they assemble Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan and even notorious criminal Clayface as a mysterious military outfit begins to make its presence known in Gotham. What the team discovers about this paramilitary task force — its purpose and, perhaps most frighteningly, its leader — will shake many of them to their very core. Tynion is able to deftly balance the bizarre grouping of characters and the political themes of the narrative, providing characters as wide-ranging as Clayface and Jacob Kane with legitimate dramatic beats while not losing the overall Pierre Boulle-esque commentary. It’s a series that ought to come with a ripcord.
“The Hellblazer,” picking up where Tynion and Ming Doyle’s “Constantine: The Hellblazer” left off, finds fan-favorite blue-collar warlock John Constantine back in his native London, this time under the pen of Simon Oliver, creator of such Vertigo series as “The Exterminators,” “FBP” and “Last Gang in Town.” Featuring art by “All-Star Western”’s talented Moritat, “The Hellblazer” hits the ground running. The adrenaline one would expect from a John Constantine series is present, and the crafty, amoral behavior of the lead is established for new readers and re-solidified for long-time fans all at once. John’s relationships with familiar characters like his driver Chas and his frienemy Swamp Thing are revisited, with future threads left dangling for both the creative team and John himself to pull at. There is a sense of realistically grittiness to “The Hellblazer,” which is unusual for a book featuring demons and plant people. Magic always has a cost, but if it’s this much fun to read and this great to look at, it’s a price fans won’t mind paying.
As DC continues its roll out of their new series, there will, of course, be more series to keep an eye on. Initial concerns aside, DC Rebirth seems to be, at the very least, an experiment worth keeping an eye on, especially as the “meta story” of what’s going on with the “Watchmen” crew is, at the earliest, two years away. At the very best, it’s a fascinating look into the sociopolitical landscape of 2016, the morality of a world gone mad, and how our greatest heroes may come from the most unexpected places. They may be con men, agoraphobes, falsely accused terrorists or long-term supervillains, but if they’re the heroes we need to fight the evils of the day, who are we to turn them away?
All DC Rebirth titles are 50-percent off at Hi De Ho Comics until Aug. 10.