DC UNIVERSE REBIRTH #1
CONTEXT-FREE REVIEW: DC’s latest reboot leads with DC Universe Rebirth #1, a big ol’ bunch of housekeeping that is one part mea culpa and one part blueprint for doing better, served with a side of finger-wagging at past editorial decisions that have painted DC into a grim and gritty storytelling corner. It’s also an entertaining story, mostly. The writer is DC’s silver bullet, Geoff Johns, who along with a half-dozen artists serves up a literal lightning storm of present-tense DC vignettes, with a time-lost Wally West bursting in and out of reality, looking in on old friends who do not remember him (or their pasts). The script is wordy with a couple awkward exposition dumps but does the job, assisted by art that values clarity over style (and where each artist seems to be trying to make this book look the product of a single hand). The Big Idea, here, is that the DC Universe has lost its way, manipulated by an outsider Big Bad (and I won’t spoil his identity, but details are here). The Big Bad, you see, is the reason why DC has failed — why it over-applied the lessons of Watchmen and Dark Knight in creating a dark and unsmiling comic universe where no one is having any fun … not the characters, not the creators, and not the fans. “A darkness from somewhere has infected us,” Wally says, “It has for a long time now.” The premise of Rebirth, it seems, will be heroes struggling against this darkness.
OK. Here is where you get on, or you get off. Here is where you embrace the meta or you choke on DC’s naked admission that all those books they’ve been marketing to you for decades were dirty, nasty things that we should regard with shame and revulsion. For my part, I got on board. I liked the stories Johns set up here, including the schmaltzy ones, and I even felt a bit of emotion — like a tingling sense of wonder when the Atom’s recorded message served as a call to adventure in the microverse, and I teared up (just a little bit) when Wally witnessed a marriage proposal, and again later when he was reunited with his old mentor. Rebirth #1 is not perfect, but it will do — and it had better, as there is a sense that if DC can’t get it right this time, then we may not have DC (as we know it) to kick around any more. In the end, Johns goes right at it, inviting us to cleanse ourselves of the sins of the past through the transformative power of love. And, yeah, I don’t feel like those sins were mine, especially, but I’ll give the guy the benefit of the doubt. I’ll read more of this reboot …
… but you will have to wait until July for my capsule review series to continue, because I’m going on vacation, and Longbox Graveyard is going on hiatus!
THE PART WITH THE CONTEXT: It’s kind of silly that I even have to add this paragraph, but DC Comics has become such a lightning rod for fannish discontent that some kind of public service announcement is required, if only for self-defense. There’s been plenty of coverage about how DC has walked back their this-is-the-new-reality New 52 launch with Rebirth; how Rebirth smells of desperation after DCYou cratered last year; the editorial turmoil around DC’s Vertigo line; and the serious-on-entirely-different-level charges of sexual harassment inside the DC offices … it’s a big ball of awful, to be sure. This is apart from the more mundane fan outrage DC has provoked with how they’ve handled some of their characters these past several years; or the collateral news of Warners reshuffling their movie division after Batman v Superman seemed to get it so wrong; or even the echoes of discontent over new projects spinning out of beloved DC classics like Dark Knight and Watchmen (with the later now hotting up again). It seems like everyone has a beef with DC Comics! I’m not here to dismiss anyone’s issues with DC — and I even share a few of them — but I do want to state that I’ve gone into this review series laser focused only on the comics in front of me, without really trying to fit things into the larger context of DC’s business operations, talent relations, or the way they have treated their fans and their brand/continuity. I’m just reviewing the comics, man! In the interest of full disclosure, I do have a couple friends and DC, and I would like to see them succeed in their jobs … and if that makes me some kind of apologist, well, OK, I guess. But I’m here to tell you that I don’t have a dog in this fight — aside from wanting to like these comics, and wanting superhero comics in general to enjoy success — and if DC can give me that, then I’m happy. I have scant investment in DC’s characters or history and thus will have little sensitivity to the character and continuity changes that may drive more dedicated fans mad. So you can blast off at me in the comments section if you like (and I hope you will!), but please do so with the understanding that I am an outsider when it comes to most things DC, for better or worse … at least as much of an outsider as a guy who has been writing a comics review blog for five years can be!
Approachability For New Readers
This book is aimed squarely at the core, and new readers be damned. It is readable and entertaining but good luck if you don’t already know most of DC’s characters and history. There’s an awful lot of handwringing here about continuity and characters and times gone by, but I was intrigued more than I was confused. Hopefully the stories to come will focus more on the present than the past.
Well, there isn’t a second issue of DC Universe Rebirth on the schedule (yet), but I will definitely be reading the next issues in this relaunch.
Read capsule reviews of a competing relaunch — The All-New All-Different Marvel Now!
Halloween is a month away, but all of October is Monster Month for me, and to kick things off I offer an especially timely Dollar Box column, where I look at single-issue comics stories with an original cover price of a dollar or less. This month is all about swamp monsters, and while Swamp Thing isn’t the first of his kind (that would be The Heap), and not even the first muck monster from the Big Two (as Marvel’s Man-Thing debuted several months earlier), Swamp Thing is certainly the most famous and best-realized of all the the many fiends stalking the four-color funny book bogs.
Originally appearing in a short story in House of Secrets #92, Swamp Thing made his first full-length appearance in somewhat altered form in 1972’s Swamp Thing #1. The product of a close collaboration between writer Len Wein and artist Bernie Wrightson, Swamp Thing is one of the greatest creature designs in all of comics. With his craggy brows and half-skull face, Swamp Thing is perched on the edge of uncanny valley, with a visage by turns soulful and monstrous, the perfect mask of torment for forlorn man-turned-monster Alec Holland.
Later creators — including luminaries like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughn, and Scott Snyder — would develop Swamp Thing into an elemental champion at the center of a complex and expansive comics cosmology, but the original Wein & Wrightson version of the character is simplicity itself. Tasked with creating a bio-restorative formula by the government, scientist-couple Alec and Linda Holland retire to a remote swampland laboratory, where they are immediately menaced by thugs intent on stealing their knowledge. One thing leads to another, and before long a bomb has gone off and a flaming Alec Holland has plunged into the muck, only to rise as the avenging muck monster, Swamp Thing!
This is a taut and effective horror comic, strongly-written by author Len Wein and lent an extra layer of creepy by the uncredited letterer, who employs drippy caption boxes to good effect. Perhaps that letterer was artist Bernie Wrightson, who put his stamp on every other aspect of the book, creating a swamp-gothic look on the fly — a world of shadowy locales that are still perfectly detailed, and populated with heavy-featured thugs rendered with such skill that you don’t recognize the degree to which the art uses comic exaggeration until you’ve read the book two or three times.
Wrightson would go on to become one of the most celebrated artists in the medium, but he was largely unknown when Swamp Thing debuted … and what a debut it is. This is a mature work with a rare balance of style, mood, character, and storytelling.
It’s also a simple story, as befits the best origin tales, setting the table for stories to follow by introducing the main characters, and establishing our (anti) hero’s all-important powers and foibles. Of interest to fans of later incarnations of Swamp Thing (or readers more familiar with the minimally-sentient Man-Thing), this version of Swamp Thing is fully aware of what he is.
Alec Holland’s scientific mind instantly comprehends what has happened to him, and there is a minimum of mooning around and identity crisis before Swamp Thing gets down to the business of revenge.
And that’s the long and short of it, really — in “Dark Genesis” we have a bare bones Silver Age horror comic, an on-the-rails story that could pass for a one-and-done entry from EC’s Tales From The Crypt. Swamp Thing’s many complications and evolutions would come later, and it is a testament to the solid foundation laid down by Wrightston and Wein that this most basic muck monster is still surprising and delighting us forty years later. I personally revere Alan Moore’s 1980s reinvention of this character, but there’s also room in my collection for this simpler version of Swamp Thing, an effective and eminently memorable character in its own right. You won’t find this 20-cent comic in dollar boxes any longer, but affordable reprints are readily available, should you wish to familiarize yourself with the original adventures of this greatest of the swamp monsters! (A digital version of the story was also available for free direct from DC Comics at the time of this writing).
(And if you want even more Swamp Thing, check out my review of the rest of the series, here!)
This article originally appeared at StashMyComics.com.
NEXT MONTH: #153 First Cut
It’s been a bit of a rough ride for me in real life lately, so when my pal Billy King suggested we spend a part of last Saturday at the Long Beach Comic Con, I leapt at the chance. Two hours on the highway from North County San Diego passed in a blur as Billy and I gabbed about comics the whole way.
We knew we were in for a hot time when we saw the parking sign:
Reminded me of …
The $35 one-day admission I paid at the door felt like about fifteen dollars too much … but it was still fun to be at a comic show, especially one that was easy to get to and to get around in when compared to the madhouse that is San Diego Comic-Con. Just being able to walk-up on the day of the show and buy a ticket without waiting in line was probably worth the price of admission.
The floor wasn’t worth much more than half a day, but I did score a semi-random stack of back issues, and it was a real joy to just kind of follow my nose and buy things I didn’t expect.
Like a stack of Doctor Strange books that I found in an honest-to-gosh dollar box:
These are the good stuff — Gene Colan and Tom Palmer on art, and Steve Englehart at his faux-mystical best. I already had a few Doctor Strange books from this era, and now I suppose I will have to fill in the run and maybe think about a review here at LBG (especially with a movie coming up in the next year or two).
I got Giant-Sized Man-Thing #1, just because my kid giggles like Beavis and Butthead when I say the title:
It’s not a bad story, either — vintage Steve Gerber weirdness, with Man-Thing battling the Golden Brain of the Glob, along with a pack of entropic cultists lead by a hooded villain who bears what surely can’t be an accidental resemblance to Richard Nixon.
Billy found a stack of Kamandis at half off … I told myself I’d buy one if it was that “crazy issue with the bats,” which I previously reviewed (in digital form) here at the blog.
I found an issue from the Claremont/Byrne run of Marvel Team-Up (which I still want to review here eventually):
And I bought Son of Satan because … why not? It’s a book I missed when I was a kid buying these things, and now it seems like the kind of thing that could never get published. I confess I thought this was the character’s first appearance (actually it is the second), but, wow, love this John Romita cover.
I think the most I spent on any of these was about five bucks, and most were less. Stacks up nicely against buying a $4.99 current comic off the rack.
It’s ceased to be a major theme at this blog since culling my collection to move into a smaller house, but being possessed by my possessions is something I’ve written about a lot, and wandering the show today and buying comics anew made me reassess some of those insights. Most interesting was how seeing so many books on sale gave me an inflated sense of what my own comics are worth. There are significant differences in grade, of course, but I saw a lot of books today that I own, or that I recently sold for smallish sums, and of course all those books at the show were marked up to Overstreet and beyond. If I hadn’t experienced such spotty success trying to sell my own collection last year, I might have come away genuinely believing that some of those lesser #1s I had from the 70s — the Godzillas and Devil Dinosaurs and Human Flys — really were worth sixty or seventy or a hundred dollars, instead of the five or ten bucks I scored actually moving them out the door.
my database says I still have this book in my collection … is it really worth $30 in Good condition?
Just seeing so many aspirational books ranged at the dealer booths with their high sticker prices created a kind of echo chamber effect, a self-referencing feedback loop where of course those books are worth a lot of money because every dealer says they are (until you try to sell to them, at least). I wonder how many fans’ perception of the value of their comic books is shaped purely through buying them, without the experience of later trying to sell them without taking a loss?
But no matter. I’m still a reader before I am a collector. And now I’ve got a little stack of new-old comics to read. Life is better now than it was before. Can’t ask for more than that!