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Review: Batman: Rebirth #1

b002_-_batman_rebirth_bmreb_cv1Batman Rebirth #1 is a standalone adventure as Batman and his new protegé (But not a Robin.) Duke Thomas take on a slightly creepier version of the Calendar Man, who is most famous for helping Batman catch a serial killer in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s seminal Batman: The Long Halloween. The use of this villain and a plot featuring the seasons in Gotham changing in a day thanks to Calendar Man’s biological weapon is a comment on the cyclical nature of superhero comics as well as the passing of the torch from writer Scott Snyder to Tom King, who collaborated on the issue. Snyder and King establish the new dynamic between Batman and his supporting cast as well as making him and Bruce Wayne sharp and confident as he saves Gotham and becomes an active part of Wayne Enterprises as well.

“Sexy” is another adjective that could be used to describe Bruce Wayne as artist Mikel Janin makes him radiate handsomeness while using big panels and spreads for action and give the Batcave and Gotham a dark, cluttered atmosphere. It isn’t even the first issue, and his visual imprint is already on the series while colorist June Chung gives his pencils a painter-like feel without making his art feel static. And she adds important pops of color like yellow on Duke’s new superhero costume, which isn’t a Robin one as Duke is more of a junior partner in Batman’s crime fighting enterprise than a sidekick to be lectured and berated.

The plot of Batman: Rebirth #1 is a pretty straightforward as Batman and his allies take down a villain with a gimmick with few surprises except for a haunting, ambiguous final page. But what this comic lacks in thrills, it makes up for it in setting a thematic groundwork for King’s upcoming run. This version of Batman is full of swagger and life-like he was at the beginning of Grant Morrison’s run (But without the James Bond references.) or in Neal Adams’ run in the 1970s where he was challenging Ra’s al Ghul to single combat and solving every case with intelligence and tenacity. (Janin brought back the chest hair too.)

BatmanTraditionOne page (or image) really encapsulates Snyder, King, Janin, and Chung’s Batman, and it features Bruce Wayne, not Batman as he dangles from a helipad doing one-handed pull ups when it’s 100+ degrees outside while a sharply dressed Lucius Fox helps him get his company in order. Batman is a thrill seeker and in his physical prime, and his defeat of Calendar Man includes holding his breath underwater more than is humanly possible as Duke protests. But he is also responsible for Gotham and swallowed up in its fate, and this is why he is so tiny in comparison to the skyscraper, buildings, and body of water around him.

The line of dialogue “I’ve never been much for tradition” has just a tinge of irony as Bruce and Lucius have just had a self-aware conversation about the revolving door of Bruce’s interest in his company throughout 76+ years of Batman comics, and Snyder and King have restored Alfred and Jim Gordon to their traditional roles as Batman’s allies and confidants. But this is where Duke Thomas comes into play as in We Are Robin, he has proven that Robins can exist without a Batman to watch over them and help the ordinary people of Gotham, who might be neglected as Batman focuses on the colorful costumed freaks. And Batman has broken with tradition by not making him a Robin, but by giving him a costume that is an expert palette swap of his own courtesy of June Chung. Duke isn’t Batman’s equals and has a lot to learn, but Batman is training him to be a hero in his own right and not be the latest iteration of a legacy. Their relationship and dynamic is the strongest part of Batman: Rebirth #1 as Snyder passes a character that he created, and Lee Bermejo forged and strengthened in We Are Robin to Tom King for the next step in Duke Thomas’ heroic journey.

Batman Rebirth #1 establishes both a new visual identity and character dynamic in the Batman title that is a little old (Alfred/Gordon) and a little new (Duke Thomas, more formidable Calendar Man) taking a cue from DC Rebirth, but while telling its own story and focusing on its own relationships. Mikel Janin also continues to be one of DC’s finest storytellers as he melds the epic photorealism of Jae Lee’s recent work with quick cut panels to avoid any stiffness with a side of beefcake that works in favor of Snyder and King’s open, optimistic characterization of Batman. The final page twist (if it is twist) could be delineated a little better, but demonstrates Janin and Chung’s skill to work with the dark chaos of Batman stories as well as his more charming side.

Story: Scott Snyder and Tom King Art: Mikel Janin Colors: June Chung
Story: 7.5 Art: 9 Overall: 8.2 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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