Heroes and Villains: February 9, 2018

There are mountains of snow outside the home office here in Cobourg, Ontario, but I’m at my desk next to a stack of trades, so it must be time for Heroes and Villains!

This week I was inspired by watching season one of Young Justice (which is awesome if you’ve never watched it) with my kids to do an all-DC edition of the column focusing on the post-rebirth version of the DCU.

I’ll start by admitting that DC lost me as a regular reader even before the continuity mangling of the new 52, the event that saw all their titles relaunched with most of the previous eras canon either retconned or dropped entirely. I found the event really off-putting as it took many characters and elements that I enjoyed about DC and told me they either didn’t count or didn’t happen. To understand the most recent relaunch, or “rebirth” in this case, I headed over to Wikipedia to try to figure out just what the who was what and where now.

I’m still scratching my head as I write this.

Multiple earths, multiple timelines, deaths, not deaths, futures, pasts… woof. The takeaway seems to be that the current DCU is a fusion of the new 52 DC with the pre-flashpoint DC and a little sprinkle of something new.

I think.

Anyway, I picked three rebirth titles: Justice League, Red Hood & The Outlaws and Nightwing and took ’em for a spin to see if I could wade into these once-familiar waters and enjoy a good story about characters I used to like. What did I think? Read on!

Justice League Vol. 1: The Extinction Machines

Writer: Bryan Hitch; Artists: Tony S. Daniel, Bryan Hitch & Jesus Merino + 5 different inkers

Starting with the lineup, the League of this series is basically the “big seven” version of the team, except that the seven spot of Green Lantern is actually two people being Green Lantern instead of any of the Lanterns of League past. Also, Superman isn’t this earth’s Superman because he’s dead. This is a Superman from another earth that has been hiding out here with his wife Lois and son Jonathan, only joining the team after this worlds Superman died. Got it? Sure… why not.

Those details aside, this is a pretty standard “day unlike any other” mega crisis event where only earth mightiest heroes (two Avengers references in one Justice League column???) can find a way to save the day.

Plenty of action, plenty of cities being destroyed, giant alien things, space ships, all the good stuff that you expect from a Justice League comic. The team gets to do stuff as individuals, showcasing their unique talents, but they also come together for group shots and team meetings. Again, pretty standard stuff.

Hitch writes the characters well—though they don’t get to do much other than be super people—and the art, other than being somewhat inconsistent, is solid. But, I wouldn’t say there was much to write home about here.

I wanted a Justice League story as good as the stories in Young Justice (a cartoon aimed at kids I should point out) and found this title lacking. Not that it was bad, just that for a comic flying under the banner of “Rebirth” it wasn’t anything new.

Red Hood & The Outlaws, Vol. 1 & 2

Writer: Scott Lobdell; Artist: Dexter Soy

When it comes to team books, I’m a sucker for C-listers and mismatched squads that get thrown together, so I have to say I enjoyed this version of Red Hood and the Outlaws. Ditching former members Starfire and Arsenal/Red Arrow, The Red Hood a.k.a. Jason Todd a.k.a. Robin #2 is joined by Bizarro and Artemis to form the “dark trinity” of the DCU (the ordinary trinity being Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.)

I haven’t been a fan of resurrected Jason Todd thus far. I’m old enough to remember the first time the character was rebooted, from a red-haired Dick Grayson clone to a street kid with an attitude, and I thought the arc of his death made for a more interesting Bat family. I’m also a Tim Drake guy, but hey, these are comics and nobody stays dead for long. I also don’t really dig on the murderous good guy with guns in a leather jacket thing; it’s been done to death.

All that said, this comic presented the first take on Jason Todd that I have gotten into, so tip of the hat to Scott Lobdell. He’s interesting, conflicted, smart and no longer all murdery. His stuff in the comic is both fresh and reflective of the history of the character. He has excellent interaction with Batman and some really well written flashback sequences.

SIDE NOTE: For all my gripes with the shuffling and re-shuffling of DC continuity, the retconning of the Robin costume was much-needed. Gone are the little green booties and feathered green undies. Each Robin had their own, unique battle suit and they all look pretty cool. It’s still odd that none of them armoured their head… but at least they can now avoid skinned knees.

Todd’s partners in not-quite-crime are Artemis, an Amazon from a lost tribe with a giant axe that comes when she calls it and (a?) Bizarro, the backwards clone of Superman. Together the butt heads with crime boss Black Mask in volume 1 and a super powered Amazon lady in the Middle East in volume 2.

The stories are tight, the plot development is there and the art is sharp and consistent. I would have been just as happy to read this title as a solo Red Hood book, but as it is I thoroughly enjoyed this team.

Nightwing Vol. 1 & 2

Writer: Tim Seeley; Artists: Yanick Pacquette; Nathan Fairbairn

Like many comic fans my age, Nightwing is probably the character I identify with the most. Not only are we both named Richard (please don’t call me Dick), but we kind of grew up together. Sure, he stopped aging in his mid-twenties and kept his hair, but I was there when he gave up being Robin and was along for every step of his rocky journey from Nightwing: leader of the Teen Titans, to Nightwing the star of his own solo series. I even have a tattoo of his logo on my back… really.

I tried to read some new-52 ‘Wing, just because, but I couldn’t get past the blue in his costume being replaced with red. Petty? Yes. But I stand by it.

Anyway, seeing as the blue was back, I figured I should jump back in as well and see how Mr. Grayson was doing. As it turn out, he’s pretty damn good.

One advantage the series had going in, is that the Batman family seems to have been able to dodge a healthy amount of retcon damage in terms of who’s and whats. Dick Grayson is Dick Grayson. He was the first Robin, he’s a good guy and he used to date Starfire. All of these things I know.

Volume 1 picks up with the loose ends of the Court of Owls and Dick’s work as a secret agent. He has a new frenemy with mysterious ties to his circus past named Raptor, a mission to take the Owls down from the inside and ongoing Bat-family relationship issues with Barbara Gordon, Damien Wayne and of course Batman himself.

Volume 2 brings Superman in for a visit, connecting Dick with the alternate universe version of Clark Kent for an adventure that leads him to seek out his old/new stomping grounds of Bludhaven. For those that weren’t around for the Chuck Dixon/Scott McDaniel run on the character, Bludhaven is a dark, gritty port town just a quick jog down the highway from Gotham where pre-52 Nightwing set up shop. Now, this Nightwing has never actually been there, but quickly settles in and gets mixed up with a group of reformed d-list villains and a new love interest.

I’m not going to say that it’s entirely the return of the blue to his costume that had me enjoying this series so much, but it certainly helped. This is Nightwing at his best, with creators that clearly love the character taking him to places that are both new and familiar.

My only knock, and I have yet to see how this plays out, is the lurking background presence of what looks like a parallel universe Nightwing wearing his new-52 red costume haunting Grayson’s steps. Seriously comic writers; the “dark/nega/evil” version thing is played, stop it.

So, that’s the stuff I read this week. If you need me, I’ll here on my couch trying to figure out how my cats fit into the post-52, rebirth universe continuity. See ya around the multiverse!

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