Comic Book Round-Up

Rather than posting up a huge list of every new comic I’ve read recently, I’m going to try to concentrate only on a few notables this time around. This should hopefully save me time and at the same time make for a more interesting round-up, as I won’t have to think of anything to say about the dozens of boring comics I find myself reading.

The Flash: Rebirth 1 (of 5)
By Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver

Alright, so let’s begin with a comic which I have been excited about for months. Before I say anything about the quality of the comic, I’m going to put my excitement in context.

As a teenager, I was a voracious comic book reader. I ploughed through anything I could get my hands on and soon had boxes of back issues stacked up in my bedroom. Sadly, when my interest in music took off and I started buying vinyl, my interest in comics began to wane. I didn’t have the time for both obsessions and couldn’t have afforded it even if I’d wanted to. I would still pick up the occasional collected volume if I heard rumours of something good, but didn’t feel I was missing out by not picking up monthly comics.

Then a few years ago a friend told me I should check out Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis and gave me a copy he had downloaded from a bit torrent site. Identity Crisis was originally published by DC Comics in 2004 and was extremely popular throughout its run. It was notable for two reasons: it depicted the heroes and villains in an adult manner and made it clear their actions had real repercussions; and it cleverly retconned DC history, putting a twist on the events of earlier books.

I was very impressed by Identity Crisis and wanted to read more like it. I became interested in the titles which were being published by DC at the time, and it wasn’t long before it was recommended I should try reading Green Lantern: Rebirth. The history behind Rebirth is complicated, but basically it was a comic book written to reinvigorate the Green Lantern franchise by bringing Hal Jordan back from the dead.

The character of Hal Jordan was first introduced by DC in 1959; he was a test pilot who is given a power ring by a dying alien and inducted into the Green Lantern Corps, an interstellar police force overseen by the Guardians of the Universe. Hal Jordan wasn’t the first Green Lantern, but he featured in science fiction-driven stories which defined the character and established Green Lantern as a heavy hitter in DC’s roster of heroes.

During the ’90s, comic book writing lost its way as pressure was put on writers to produce work which was hip and exciting for kids weaned on rap music, video games and action movies. In retrospect, these were dark times and some of the desperate attempts to keep kids interested in the heroes of yesteryear are now simply embarrassing.

All in the name of improving sales, Hal Jordan suffered arguably the most ignoble treatment of all. First he was allowed to go mad, killing fellow members of the Green Lantern Corps in the process before become a power-hungry villain called Parallax. Once his character had been distorted beyond all recognition, he was quickly killed off and replaced by a younger, supposedly cooler version of Green Lantern.

The revamp was not the success which DC hoped and many people soon began to wish the ’90s had never happened as far as Green Lantern was concerned. Enter Geoff Johns, whose fondness for classic “Golden Age” and “Silver Age” stories shines through in everything he writes and who was commissioned to restore some of Green Lantern’s former glory.

This was the basis for Rebirth, which is driven by Johns’ affection for the Hal Jordan character and his total respect for Green Lantern’s early history. He skillfully patches up the more horrendous episodes of the past, not by glossing over events but by retelling them in such a way that the actions which were out of character are explained away. By the end of the comic, Hal Jordan has not only been brought back from the dead but his persona has been restored and his history cleansed.

The retconning of Rebirth is purposeful and far more elaborate than the retconning in Identity Crisis. It’s difficult to fully appreciate just how clever it is unless you are aware of the hundreds of comics on which Geoff Johns built his story.

Rebirth also marked a distinct change in DC’s attitude to its superheroes. It was an admission the company owed its success to straight-laced, square-jawed men in tights and tampering with the mythology of those characters should be handled with serious consideration. The move was hugely successful and the Green Lantern title has been going strong ever since. I know this because Rebirth was enough to rekindle my interest in comics and entice me into reading monthly comics again, including Green Lantern.

While Hal Jordan was defining Green Lantern during the ’60s, Barry Allen was defining Flash. Barry Allen died during Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, and although his death was a surprise to readers it wasn’t as distressingly undignified as Hal Jordan’s in 1996’s Final Night.

Nobody stays dead in comics and Barry Allen was recently brought back from the dead in Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis. The time is ripe then for a second Rebirth, which will hopefully do for Flash what was previously done for Green Lantern. Now I’ve explained how much of an influence the first Rebirth was on me, I hope you’ll understand a little of my eagerness to read the next installment.

Unfortunately, Johns has got less to work with this time around because he’s been robbed of telling the story of Barry Allen’s return. Barry Allen’s return in Final Crisis was fairly unceremonious considering his popularity and that he’s been dead for over twenty years. When Johns brough Hal Jordan back from the dead in the first Rebirth, he built up some tension and then it was a momentous occasion when it finally happened. There’s also less to clean up, because Barry Allen didn’t suffer the treatment which Hal Jordan did prior to his death; therefore the scope for clever retconning is reduced.

I’m only one issue in, and I should give it a chance, but so far The Flash: Rebirth is slightly disappointing.

Green Lantern 39
By Geoff Johns and Philip Tan

I mentioned above how strong the ongoing Green Lantern series is, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that I enjoyed this comic. DC has been building up to “Blackest Night” by introducing Lanterns for every colour in the spectrum and right now they’re phasing in the Orange Lanterns. It’s sort of a silly idea, similar to having different colours of Kryptonite with different effects, but I’m sure it will all be justified when “Blackest Night” begins.

Green Lantern Corps 35
By Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason

Unquestionably the goriest superhero title on the racks, and Green Lantern Corps is almost always a pleasure to read. There’s tons going on in this series right now, all in anticipation of “Blackest Night” again.

Brave and the Bold 22
By David Hine and Doug Braithwaite

A couple of years ago, I bought the first issue of the latest volume of Brave and the Bold, written by Mark Waid with artwork by George Perez. They chose to partner Green Lantern with Batman, which seemed like a good idea to me, and being a fan of the creative team I began reading with relish. Unfortunately, I hated the comic and didn’t read another issue until very recently, when I noticed Doug Braithwaite was providing the pencil art for four issues in “Without Sin”.

Issue 22 marked the end of the “Without Sin” story, and I’m happy to say I had a lot of fun reading it. Braithwaite’s draftsmanship was given high profile when he joined forces with Alex Ross for Justice. Of course his drawing skill isn’t quite so obvious without Ross’ fantastic painted finish, but I still think he is one of the most talented artists in comics. David Hine’s decent story helped make for a balanced piece of work and this was definitely worth checking out.

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