A Mae, Vol. 1 Review – Beautifully Frustrating

Mae, Vol. 1TITLE: Mae, Vol. 1:
AUTHORS: Gene Ha, Danny Busiek, 
PENCILLERS: 
Ha, Paulina Ganucheau, Sally Jane Thompson
PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: January 25, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I would call Mae a blend of Doctor Who and The Wizard of Oz, with a little Harry Potter sprinkled on top. Our creator/writer/artist Gene Ha makes a point to name drop all three in the pages of Mae, Vol. 1. So I imagine he’d be okay with that statement.

What’s more, Mae has a lot in common with those stories. It takes a seemingly average young person and thrusts them into a world of fantasy and adventure. Nine years after Mae’s sister Abbie mysteriously vanishes, she abruptly reappears telling stories about another world. Monsters, talking cats, and a price on her head from the House Zemetrasi. To Mae, it’s all beyond belief. But Abbie has been followed, and their father is soon kidnapped. Now Mae must follow her sister into a place unlike any she’s ever known, and become the hero she never knew she could be.

It’s always fun whenever an artist, much less one the caliber of Gene Ha, gets to just cut loose and create. The most appealing aspect of Mae, for my money, is seeing all the eccentric fantasy elements and characters Ha designs. The robotic, and very tall Rytir Kazisvet, who kidnaps Mae and Abbie’s father, is tremendous. I’m also rather fond of the fuzzy little creature in a hoodie that comes after Abbie early in the story (shown below). And then you’ve got the Dukes, four human heads which all share the same robotic body. It all feels like we’re just scratching the surface, and future issues could bring us anything.

There’s something to be said for the way Abbie and Mae are dressed. Both outfits are very distinct, and in a broad sense allow you to get their characters almost instantly. Abbie’s outfit consists of a fez and a Napoleonic War style outfit. It feels very adventurous, and the fez seems very much like a nod to Matt Smith’s time on Doctor Who. Mae, on the other hand, is wearing a scarf (a nod to the Fourth Doctor?), glasses, hat, and coat. It’s a look for a modern woman who’s well-read, and isn’t afraid to flaunt her geekiness.

It’s refreshing that Mae is our title character and main hero here. She’s a fangirl, but she’s not depicted as social awkward or an oddball. In essence, she’s just an average girl who happens to love her some Doctor Who and Harry Potter. While her lines about such things usually come off contrived, she feels like the most genuine and real character in the book.

Initially, I couldn’t figure out why this book reminded me so much of Toy Story. You can argue it evokes memories of the human-centric Pixar movies in general, a la The Incredibles. But Toy Story was what came to mind for me. Then when you look closer, you realize Ha’s pencilling, shading, and inking make the figures pop to the point that they look three-dimensional. This effect also does wonders for the creatures Ha designs. Under someone else’s pencil, that little fuzzy guy with the sunglasses might look like fairly generic fantasy character. But drawn by Ha, he almost looks lively enough to be one of the Muppets. Albeit, a fairly violent Muppet.

On the downside, there are a few points where characters look static, and the image feels artificial as a result. The best example in the book can be seen in the lower lefthand portion of the image at right. Abbie, as she’s laughing, looks detached and unnatural. Though I will say the adjacent panels look lovely.

Mae marks one of Gene Ha’s only stints as a writer. To say the least, it’s ambitious. These are his characters and his vision, which he actually raised the funds for on Kickstarter. The world he’s created has a lot of depth, and has a sort of Oz quality to it. But a times it’s a struggle to figure out exactly how it works. It’s clearly influenced by bits and pieces of our world, or “old Earth” as they call it.

Ha starts small, first setting the story in the girls’ home in small-town Indiana. We then spend an issue in a city in our fantasy world, before we expand and find out what sort of politics drive it. In issue #4, Mae and Abbie sneak into the castle of the House Zemetrasi, searching for  Rytir Kazisvet and their father. There’s talk of a war with someone called the “Obruoni,” and a quest for the “technology of the ancients.” It’s all very vague. Who are these people? And what do they want? And why? It’s not that there’s a lack of interest, just a lack of comprehension. Heck, does this fantasyland even have a name?

In the bonus material included for this book, Ha says he avoided exploring the setting and the alternate history because it got in the way of the larger adventure. But there’s always something to be said for context. There’s some quality adventuring on these pages, but it feels like a piece of this story is missing.

Mae also presents a challenge I’ve never come across before: The names of certain people and places are hard to pronounce. It’s tough to even sound them out mentally. The Dukes are collectively called “Nehynouci Vojvodove.” And the city they visit is called “Krunyrves.” I get the idea that another world is going to have a different sort of dialect. But at least words like Oz, Gallifrey, and Hogwarts are easy to wrap your mind around.

Paulina Ganucheau tags in for issue #6, giving us a standalone Abbie story. Our supplemental material also includes a nice little tale from Mae’s school days by Danny Busiek and Sally Jane Thompson. Neither advance the primary narrative, but they offer an intriguing look at the world of Mae through an alternate lens. The same can be said for the series of pin-ups we get from the likes of Amanda Conner, Philip Tan, and Yanick Paquette. Gene Ha obviously has plenty of friends on the comic book A-list.

In the end, I’d call this first volume of Mae as “beautifully frustrating.” Gene Ha’s art is gorgeous, and it’s fascinating to see what he creates here. We’ve also got two delightfully strong female leads. But it feels like our story is incomplete. Still, perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Ha is that despite my frustrations, I’m still interested to see what’s next for our young heroines. I’m hopeful they have many more adventures to come.

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A Deep Dive Five #1 Review – Simple But Satisfying

deep-dive-5TITLE: Deep Dive Five #1
AUTHOR/ARTIST: Brad Howell
PUBLISHER: Site B Creative
PRICE: $3.00
RELEASED: Fall 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder 

You know what this brings to mind? At least superficially? Bucky O’Hare. Google it, kids. They had an orange spacecraft on that show. Maybe the Deep Dive Five craft reminds me of that…

Aimed at younger audiences, this first issue of Deep Dive Five stars Captain Venus (a.k.a. V) and her right-hand Sam as they embark on a mission to rescue an ensnared baby whale. But their commanding officer, simply known as the Chief, takes them to task for using a ship recently flagged for hull distress. In other words, V and Sam are plunging into the depths in a damaged craft. While their intentions were noble, they may not make it back in one piece.

It’s tough to throw stones at Deep Dive Five. It’s a book about anthropomorphic animals having underwater adventures. There’s an innocence on these pages that you don’t often see. I’d be comfortable giving this to a reader of any age.

deep-dive-five #1, Brad Howell, interiorOne thing that stuck in my craw: V and Sam are referred to as “Jumper and Hicks.” I assume those are supposed to be last names. But we never find out who is who. I assume it’s Venus Jumper and Sam Hicks. I won’t lie, the name Venus Jumper is pretty neat.

Howell’s art is simplistic and even static at times, but very friendly. I found myself wanting to stay in this world a bit longer. I wished the characters were a little more expressive at times. But they also have big and inviting eyes. We even have a pair of Finding Nemo style fish looking on from the deep. A bit distracting, perhaps. But also cool to look at.

The colors are very vibrant and eye-catching. What I found most inviting was the way Howell colored the backgrounds for the underwater scenes. We don’t just get one or two flat colors, but a variety of them depending on how deep V and Sam go. I love the way Howell plays with the light on the above page.

More Deep Dive Five is apparently on the way this summer. Updates from Howell, in addition to a variety of other goodies can be found on DeepDiveFive.com.

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A Suicide Squad: The Black Vault Review – Squad vs. Zod

suicide-squad_-the-black-vaut-jim-lee-coverTITLE: Suicide Squad, Vol. 1: The Black Vault
AUTHOR: Rob Williams
PENCILLERS: Jim Lee, Philip Tan, Jason Fabok, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis
COLLECTS: Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1Suicide Squad #1-6
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: February 28, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

If The Black Vault isn’t the most important and most notable Suicide Squad book DC has ever published, then it’s absolutely in the top two. This is the biggest that Suicide Squad has ever felt, and may be the best its ever looked.

Thanks to the movie, the Suicide Squad “brand” has never had more eyes on it. The Black Vault features almost all of the characters from the movie, including a few pages of the Joker. So it’s bursting with crossover appeal for casual moviegoers. With this in mind, DC loaded the book up with A-list artists, most notably Jim Lee. Indeed, the master of the modern superhero epic is drawing characters like Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, and the Enchantress. Talk about something you don’t see every day…

Task Force X, a.k.a. the Suicide Squad, is a black ops group assembled by government agent Amanda Waller. Comprised primarily of imprisoned supervillains, the team is sent on covert missions. They serve as both soldiers, and built-in patsies. Should they refuse an order or become compromised, Waller detonates a nanite bomb in their skulls. Like the movie, in The Black Vault our team consists of Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, and the Enchantress. They’re accompanied by Colonel Rick Flagg and Katana.

suicide-squad_-the-black-vault-harley-quinn-jim-leeTheir latest mission sees our heroes sent to a secret Russian prison to neutralize a secret doorway to the Phantom Zone. In the process, the team meets none other than General Zod.

People can say what they want about Jim Lee’s influence, for better or worse, on DC’s “house style” right now. But when he’s in his element, he’s one of the all-time greats. Lee is at home with the dynamic and the awe-inspiring. As such, it seems like Lee’s work on the book starts out rather slow. He starts on issue #1 and has to re-tread some of the ground covered in the Rebirth issue, specifically Waller’s motivations. He takes us from the team’s home base at Belle Reve Penitentiary to the Russian facility, giving us a few cool shots in the process. He and Rob Williams also have a really fun take on Belle Reve, where the prison cells are plucked and moved by a giant claw arm.

But once Zod enters the story at the end of issue #2, Lee gets to flex his muscles. He makes Zod surprisingly large, literally twice the size of the other characters (save for Croc). But the ultra powerful Kryptonian against these mostly street-level characters makes for a fun fight, particularly when the big guy goes against Katana. At the end of issue #3, we bring in a few other characters to oppose the Squad. But the good stuff is with the general himself. Issue #4 gives us a cool interaction between Zod and Croc, and a nice climactic moment involving Rick Flagg. It’s not Lee’s best work. But it’s still pretty damn awesome.

suicide-squad, Joker, Harley Quinn, Gary FrankThe notoriously deadline-challenged Lee was massaged into Suicide Squad‘s a bi-weekly format with a reduced workload. He only had to produce 12 pages per issue, with the rest going to an oversized back-up story spotlighting a particular team member. I suspect most fans will find Gary Frank’s look at Harley Quinn the most enjoyable. While on a mission with Flag, she struggles with some of her more villainous impulses. These are personified, of course, by the Joker. I’m not in love with Frank’s rendering of Mr. J. But his Harley is delightfully expressive in a way that’s exaggerated, but not quite cartoony. Naturally, this compliments both her character and Williams’ script.

But artistically, Philip Tan gets “Best in Show” as far as these back-ups are concerned. In addition to the Rebirth issue, he does the Katana story for issue #3. Tan shows off his versatility with an anime-inspired look at her origin. The script isn’t the strongest, but Tan and colorist Elmer Santos provide visuals that range from haunting to downright heart-breaking.

Rick Flag gets a lot of quality page time here. The Rebirth issue is essentially about him. Williams writes him as unwaveringly loyal, even to his own detriment. He’s the conscience of the team. A good guy tasked with leading all these bad guys. Flag is easy to root for and empathize with. Considering he’s the least flamboyant and colorful character in this book, that’s a good thing.

General Zod, Suicide Squad #2, Jim LeeOn the other end of the spectrum, Zod is an oversized caricature of himself, spouting lines like…

– “Prostrate yourself before your general, sub-creatures!”
– “I will boil and eat your magic!”
– “I have incinerated your human flesh and reveled in it’s pungent stench!”

I understand humor is a valuable component here. But c’mon, really? You’ve got Harley for that. You’ve got Boomerang for that. We don’t need Zod for that.

On the subject of weird comedy, this book has a recurring bit about Killer Croc throwing up. Oddly enough, it works. Can’t say I ever imagined Jim Lee drawing that.

The Black Vault represents the first time Suicide Squad has been elevated to a top-tier title with A-list talent. That alone makes it one of the most noteworthy stories in the team’s history. And while this isn’t the best scripting I’ve ever seen, Rob Williams knows how to put together a good Suicide Squad story. One can argue the book has never been in better hands.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

A Green Arrow, Vol. 1 Review – Ollie’s Greatest Hits

Green Arrow, Vol. 1: The Life and Death of Oliver QueenTITLE: Green Arrow, Vol. 1: The Life and Death of Oliver Queen
AUTHOR: Benjamin Percy
PENCILLER: Otto Schmidt, Juan Ferreyra. Cover by Ferreyra.
COLLECTS: Green Arrow: Rebirth #1Green Arrow #15.
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: January 4, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The Life and Death of Oliver Queen gives us a lot we’ve seen before. But it’s wrapped in a fresh package, and frankly some of this stuff was sorely missed. So it works out, and makes for a fun book.

A human trafficking case in Seattle brings Green Arrow and Black Canary together, in more ways than one. But what they end up fighting is something much larger, and closer to Queen Industries than Oliver could ever imagine. As such, new alliances will be forged, and older ones will be tested. Our heroes are about to meet the Ninth Circle.

To an extent, this book feels like “Ollie’s Greatest Hits.” Green Arrow and Black Canary are one of the classic couples in DC Comics lore, and they’re back together here. We’ve got him losing his fortune, which famously happened during the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams run of the ’70s. Percy also plays up the more political, social justice elements of Green Arrow, which is another hallmark of the O’Neil era. And then you’ve got the return of John Diggle, a character that originated on the Arrow TV show.

green-arrow rebirth #1, title pageWhen you put it all in a list like that, this book looks vderivative and unoriginal. But for a longtime fan like yours truly, it feel like a homecoming. I enjoyed much of what was done with the New 52 Green Arrow book. But this feels like the return of the genuine article. Of course, that’s what they were going for.

This book establishes that Ollie and Dinah are acquainted with one another, but don’t know each other very well. Obviously that changes here as they become romantically involved. But here’s my question: From cover to cover, how much time is supposed to have passed here? When we get to the end of Life and Death, the implication is that Ollie cares about Dinah as much as anything in his life. But the two haven’t been together long enough to justify such a connection, have they? Obviously they like each other. But there’s nothing in this book that justifies such a deep-rooted love from either of them. It might have been more advisable to use the events of this book to plant the foundation for their relationship. That way readers feel like they’ve been in the loop from the start.

That being said, the chemistry is there between the two. They have that familiar volatile affection for one another. Dinah challenges Ollie, pointing out the inconsistencies in his approach as Green Arrow. Ollie accepts her challenges and returns in kind. But in the end their fondness for one another is undeniable. They’re fun to read.

The Ninth Circle are a group of villains using a weapon that’s truly timeless: Money. Our heroes come across them while taking down a human trafficking ring, and as Ollie painfully finds out, they have their claws deep into Queen Industries. They’re perfect villains for Green Arrow, exemplifying the kind of corruption the character has fought against for decades, and should absolutely be fighting today.

green-arrow-black-canary-otto-schmidtOllie’s relationship with his half-sister Emiko is of particular importance here. We learn who her mother is, and we get an apparent heel turn from her. I was concerned about her development as the book went on. But without spoiling things, I’ll say Percy leaves things in a satisfying place by the time we close the book.

Artistically, the star of this Life and Death is Otto Schmidt. Sadly, he’s only around for about half the book. But his style is a terrific fit for Green Arrow, and superhero comics in general. It’s expressive, it’s animated, the line work is beautiful, and it’s got a tremendous energy to it.  It’s also very conducive to action, the Canary Cry in particular (shown right). Schmidt, who serves as penciller, inker, and colorist on his issues, renders them simply, but colorfully. Like most of Schmidt’s work on this book, it’s very charming.

The second half of the book is drawn and colored by Juan Ferreyra, who is also the cover artist. His work has an almost airbrush-like texture to it that’s interesting, and he’s very good at drawing the disfigured members of the Ninth Circle. His colors are wonderfully rich, and at times intense. But with all due respect to Ferreyra, it’s just not quite as fun as what Schmidt gives us.

DC needs a good Green Arrow book right now. Just like they need a good Wonder Woman book, a good Flash book, a good Supergirl book, etc. With the emergence of the DC Extended Universe, as well as the “CWverse,” there’s so much potential for new fans to crossover into comics. I would argue that for a long time, DC failed to capitalize on that. With the DC Rebirth line, they’ve given themselves a valuable chance for a fresh start. And that’s what they have here with Green Arrow. While it’s not perfect, it’s something for fans old and new to latch on to.

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A Review of The Flash: Lightning Strikes Twice – Teacher and Student(s)

The Flash: Lightning Strikes TwiceTITLE: The Flash, Vol. 1: Lightning Strikes Twice
AUTHOR: Joshua Williamson
PENCILLERS: Carmine Di Giandomenico, Neil Googe, Felipe Watanabe. Cover by Karl Kerschl.
COLLECTS: The Flash #1-8
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: January 18, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Barry Allen got his powers from a bolt of lightning, and the Speed Force has always been somewhat electric in nature. So it’s natural that at certain points the Flash crackles with energy. But that doesn’t mean he should constantly look like a lightning rod in a storm. But that’s how our main artist draws him in this first volume of The Flash under the DC Rebirth banner. At certain points it’s cool, but it eventually becomes a distraction that drags the entire book down. Which is a shame. From a story standpoint, Lightning Strikes Twice is pretty good.

We open the book with the events of DC Universe: Rebirth #1, this time seen from Barry’s point of view. A short time later, numerous citizens of Central City are struck by lightning bolts just like Barry was, and are imbued with the power of the Speed Force. Now our hero must not only mentor those who would use their powers for good, but corral those who abuse them. All the while, a mysterious killer calling himself Godspeed is killing off these new speedsters. Thankfully he’ll have help from not only Iris West, but a young man who’ll soon call himself the new Kid Flash.

The Flash: Rebirth #1, Carmine Di GiandomenicoThat classic Carmine Infantino Flash costume is so sleek and cool. Many consider it the best costume redesign in history. It’s one of those things I wish they wouldn’t tinker with. Granted, artistic tweaks are always gong to be part of he industry. But drawing lightning all over the Flash in every panel is overindulgent, not to mention redundant and annoying. We go over Barry’s origin at the beginning of the book, and the whole story is about people getting hit by Speed Force lightning. We get it. He’s electric. (Boogie woogie, woogie.)

I like the idea of Barry being a teacher or a mentor. It’s almost part and parcel to the superhero concept. Sidekicks, inspiring people to do good, etc. First he finds a new partner in fellow scientist August Heart. Then the Speed Force lightning storm gives him several new trainees. Of course, it all culminates in Wally West becoming the new Kid Flash. (That’s the New 52 Wally West, not the pre-Crisis one that just came back. Thank God that’s not confusing.) It all ties nicely together with the original Wally West’s return, and it’s cool to see the gratification Barry gets from it.

the-flash-8-dc-comics-rebirth-spoilers-new-kid-flash-5I can appreciate that when he got his powers, young Wally wasn’t immediately thrust into the Kid Flash role. We all knew that’s where he’d end up anyway. But Williamson does a fine job taking him from a kid who’s content to sit on the sidelines and help out occasionally, to a hero who realizes he can’t be on the sidelines. It gives him that much more depth.

As for the other Wally, the first issue in this collection, The Flash: Rebirth #1, gives us a little bit of follow up on the events of DC Universe: Rebirth #1. The reunion continues, as Wally tells Barry about Linda Park, and we see how they part ways. We also get a very brief corroboration between the Flash and Batman. But that plot thread is mostly dropped for the remainder of the book. It’s obviously a larger story for down the road. We do, however, get a very interesting reference to what happened to Barry in Crisis on Infinite Earths. That’s obviously out-of-sync with what they set up in the New 52. It’s a little reminder that they haven’t dropped that story. It’s just a slow build.

On paper, the identity of Godspeed shouldn’t be hard to figure out. But I’ll admit: They got me. The character’s motivations are believable, and they spend a good amount of time building them up. Godspeed represents Flash’s darker impulses. The ones he doesn’t allow himself to follow. The character asks some classic questions about why those impulses shouldn’t be followed. It more or less boils down to “Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?” Or in this case, why doesn’t Barry just kill Zoom? They leave the door open for him to come back, and there’s potential for some more interesting stuff with him.

the-flash-6-carmine di diandomenicoI’ve avoided picking up The Flash on a monthly basis, largely because of Di Giandomenico. The whole lightning thing aside, he knows how to convey the speed and energy of a character like the Flash. The characters hit most of the right emotional notes, and I’m into the story. But the line work is so dark and heavy that it ends up weighing down the impact of the art. It’s almost like you have to look through all the senewy lines to register what’s going on. When Neil Googe tags in for issue #4, and Felipe Watanabe for issue #5, it’s a welcome break.

With the CW TV series still going strong, Wally West’s return, and Barry being linked to what’s sure to be DC’s next big event comic, It’s a pretty good time to be a Flash fan. If we could find an artist that fit the book a little better, it’d be downright amazing. But for now, we’ll have to settle for pretty good.

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A Kingpin #1 Review – Mr. Nice Guy

Kingpin #1, 2017TITLE: Kingpin #1
AUTHOR: Matthew Rosenberg
PENCILLER: Ben Torres. Cover by Jeff Dekal.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: February 8, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Considering Wilson Fisk used to be Marvel’s Kingpin of crime, he’s a pretty nice guy here. While you can use a lot of words to describe this character, “nice” has rarely been one of them.

But if you ask Wilson, he’s a man who has paid his debt to society, and is on a new path. Journalist Sarah Dewey is, to say the least, skeptical. Fisk nevertheless chooses her to write his biography, and spends most of the issue trying to win her over. But as one might suspect, things aren’t quite what they seem…

Take a moment and type “Kingpin, Marvel” into Google Image. What’s what thing he’s not doing in any of those pics? Smiling. The Kingpin doesn’t smile. At least not in a genuine, happy sort of way. But he does in Kingpin #1, and it catches you off guard. You’re expecting a grim and sadistic brute. Instead we get this warm and gentle teddy bear.

kingpin #1, 2017, Wayne DyerOur “gateway” character is Sarah, who Fisk seems to have an interest in based on her writing. There’s a purity to that which is almost heartbreaking. He’s also unwaveringly kind, even if that kindness is rather awkward at times. It’s a stark contrast to this cynical, down-on-her-luck journalist who, despite the quality of her work, is struggling to keep her head above water. You end up hoping this warmth he’s showing to her is sincere, and not some sort of ploy.

If your Google machine is still open, type in the name Wayne Dyer. He was a self-help author and motivational speaker who often appeared on PBS. At times, be Kingpin that Ben Torres gives us looks quite a bit like Dyer. Case in point, the bottom image on the page at right. Maybe that’s why he’s so happy. He read Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life.

Torres handles the pencils and inks for this issue. I’m not very familiar with his work. But he’s a tremendous fit for this part of the Marvel Universe. As he goes in heavy on the inks, you can see some Frank Miller on this pages, and a little bit of John Romita Jr. There’s even some Eduardo Risso. The mood is precisely what it should be: This is a place where hope is in short supply. We’re now finding hope in the most unlikely of individuals. And even that is likely smoke and mirrors.

I can’t say I have a tremendous desire to come back for more Kingpin. Let’s be honest: We know how this story ends. The only real question is whether Sarah Dewey makes it out okay. But as for Fisk, it’s only a matter of time before the Kingpin is back on his throne.

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A Justice League of America: Rebirth #1 Review – What’s Our Motivation?

Justice League of America: Rebirth #1, 2017, Ivan ReisTITLE: Justice League of America #1
AUTHOR: Steve Orlando
PENCILLER: Ivan Reis
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: February 8, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This book is a little confusing. Historically, when DC has put out an alternate Justice League title, the group typically has a distinct mission or commonality that separates it from the traditional League. For instance, Justice League Dark had an obvious paranormal theme. The 2012 Justice League of America book was about the team serving America’s interests.

This new Justice League of America title is either about giving people “mortal” heroes they can relate to, or giving its team members a chance at a fresh start. Maybe both. The problem is neither of those concepts are sufficiently fleshed out to the point that they make sense. So there’s not enough there to get us invested in our heroes and make us care.

After the events of Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, Batman has recruited former Squad members Killer Frost and Lobo to be part of a new incarnation of the Justice League. He also recruits Black Canary, Vixen, the Ray, and Ryan Choi (protege of the Atom, Ray Palmer). He sets the team up at the Justice League’s original base at Happy Harbor. That’s about it in terms of what this issue gives us. Granted, that’s assuming you haven’t read any of the character one-shots that have come out. But there’s no looming threat, villain, or indicator of what the plot might be going forward. We get a Geoff Johns style page at the end that previews stories to come, but it’s nothing specific. That’s not to say the first issue of every team book needs such things. But without them, this one feels flat.

Justice League of America: Rebirth #1, Killer Frost, Batman, Ivan ReisThere are a few lines in this book about the new JLA not being “gods,” which presumably means they’re not as ultra-powerful as Superman, Wonder Woman, or the Flash. I like that idea. The problem is, this team doesn’t really fit with that M.O. In Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, Batman literally blew Lobo’s head off. He proceeded to grow it back. We also saw Killer Frost use her powers to incapacitate the League’s most powerful members. I’m not very familiar with this version of the Ray, but in the past he’s been virtually invincible. As for Vixen, we’ve seen her fly like a bird, harness the speed of a cheetah, and do any number of things that humans aren’t meant to do. So if the goal is to show people heroes that are “like them,” Batman and Ryan Choi are the only ones on this team who really belong. You can add Canary to the list if you’re a little more liberal about it. But most of these characters would be more than capable of holding their own against a Superman or Wonder Woman.

Then there’s the whole second-chance/rebuild-yourself idea. I understand that approach with Lobo and Killer Frost. He’s a killer and she’s a villain. But Vixen wants more of an image rebranding than anything else.Black Canary is seemingly there just to help supervise. And why exactly do the Ray and Ryan Choi need a fresh start, anyway?

In a first issue like this, there’s nothing wrong with strictly doing team-member introductions like this. But there’s a lack of consistency here that’s frustrating. These characters are all so different, which is a good thing. But when that’s the case, you usually need a strong commonality to justify putting them together. Justice League of America: Rebirth #1 doesn’t give us that. And without an intriguing enemy or opposing force, the premise of the series falls apart before it really begins.

justice-league-of-america_-rebirth #1, group shot, Ivan ReisOn the plus side, the use of the Secret Sanctuary, i.e. the “original” Justice League base in Happy Harbor is a great use of classic DC continuity. We get a nice full-page shot of the inside, showing us it hasn’t been used in some time. Batman calls it “a remnant of a bygone era.” I find that a little funny, considering when the New 52 started, superheroes had only been around for about five or six years. With this “Rebirth” initiative, the timeline is even more vague. So exactly how long ago was this bygone era?

Ivan Reis is no stranger to the Justice League, and he’s always going to turn in quality work. He’s complimented wonderfully here by inkers Joe Prado and Oclair Albert, and colorist Marcelo Maolo. What I found particularly striking here was Reis’ rendering of Vixen. She’s very much the stunning supermodel the story calls for. But Reis also gives her a nice edge. She’s gorgeous, but also hardened. In certain panels you can see that wild, animalistic side lingering behind her eyes. Simply put, it’s one of the best takes on her I’ve ever seen.

It’s just a shame it had to be in this book. Justice League of America: Rebirth #1 needed to hook us. It didn’t. We could have a great series coming our way. But JLA now has to work that much harder to win me back. Because as of now, I have no clue why I should be shelling out money to read it.

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