I was reasonably optimistic a little over a year ago when I looked at the books that were due to be launched as part of DC’s Rebirth initiative. But a year on from that initial one-shot relaunch special, I couldn’t have anticipated just how much of a success – both critically and commercially – the relaunch would be.
While it hasn’t been perfect, and questions remain over just what exactly’s going to happen with this Watchmen palava, it’s hard to deny that DC are currently unequivocally at the top of the superhero pile. They’ve done so by focusing on telling good stories, with good characters, by good creative teams – something that shouldn’t seem quite so difficult as both they and Marvel often seem to make it. Series have been allowed to breathe, to do their own thing without fear of getting caught up in line-wide crossovers or strictly enforced editorial stances; yet at the same time, they do interact with one-another as part of a living, breathing storytelling universe in the way that the New 52 never quite managed to convince.
There’s also been an admirable push towards diversity in style of approach and – while still not anything like perfect in this regard – the creative teams involved. Where the New 52 was homogeneous, and DC You arguably tried to throw too much of a particular type into the pot in one go, the range of books now being published offers a decent range of possibilities for readers.
While I haven’t kept up with absolutely everything that’s gone on, I’m buying more DC books now on a regular basis than I have done for many years – and here are the ten series (whether ongoings or miniseries, whether main DCU line or elsewhere) that have stood out for me the most while I’ve been doing so. I know that some of the series people have been talking up the most aren’t included here – but this is a personal recommendations list, not an exhaustive overview!
10. Sixpack and Dogwelder: Hard-Travelin’ Heroz
(Garth Ennis, Russ Braun)
There’s been a slight sense of diminishing returns each time Garth Ennis has gone back to the Hitman well, and this sequel to All-Star Section Eight maybe pushed the gag a little bit too far at times. But it still had plenty of enjoyable moments, particularly with Ennis writing a piss-take of modern Hellblazer, and it’s amazing that DC were even willing to publish a series that so relentlessly lampooned their own output. Plus, although this was an unexpected (and saddening) side-effect, it gave Ennis the opportunity to pay direct tribute to Steve Dillon.
(Peter Tomasi, Jorge Jimenez)
Trailed in hugely enjoyable fashion in the pages of Tomasi’s Superman, this series teams up Damian Wayne with Jon Kent (the relatively recently-established son of Lois and Clark), and while the stories so far have been a little slight, what makes this tremendously fun is the way Tomasi writes both these characters. He’s single-handedly been making the revival of Damian worth it for several years now, but here he combines Robin’s entertaining snark with the wide-eyed earnestness of Superboy, for a dynamic that sizzles and pops. Occasional reaches back to family-based sentiment and heart, and the kinetic artwork of Jimenez, add to the mix and make this a hugely enjoyable slice of classic-style DC action.
8. Supergirl: Being Super
(Mariko Tamaki, Joelle Jones)
While the new Supergirl series from Steve Orlando and Brian Ching has disappointed slightly – becoming a little too bogged down in blending previous continuity with a TV series-inspired status quo – this standalone, non-continuity series (not entirely dissimilar to Max Landis’ irritatingly good Superman: American Alien) is a deeper, more reflective take on Kara growing up and discovering her powers. Though seemingly set in a world without her more famous cousin, lending it a slightly unusual feel – like a standalone movie adaptation that doesn’t have the rights to mention the rest of the DCU – it’s an example (another follows later in this post) of how if comics really want to tell stories that actually understand teenage girls, maybe they should actually get female writers to do them instead of middle-aged blokes. Joelle Jones, meanwhile, continues to build her status as the next Fiona Staples.
7. Green Arrow
(Benjamin Percy, Otto Schmidt, Juan Ferreyra)
If every issue had been as good as the Rebirth one-shot, this would be nearer the top of the list. As it is, it’s been a very good series, but one whose pacing does drop a little at times. Nevertheless, this is a Green Arrow series that actively embraces his position as – in a non-pejorative sense – a “social justice warrior”, which blends together the classic (to my eyes) Grell-era version of the character with the younger versions that have followed, which restores his relationship with Black Canary, and which really is just exactly the kind of Green Arrow book I’d have hoped to see in the modern era. I have little niggles, like Eddie Fyers being more of an outright villain (blame the TV series for that), and any time spent with Roy Harper is time wasted in my book; but in general, I’ve enjoyed this a lot. Of the alternating artists, I slightly prefer Schmidt, but they complement each other well and it’s consistently one of the best-looking books on the stands – and a frequently damned sexy one, too.
6. The Flintstones
(Mark Russell, Steve Pugh)
Well, this one was a shocker. But genuinely: DC are publishing a Flintstones comic in 2017 and it’s fantastic. There are two main prongs to its attack – and when Russell is simply satirising modern politics and capitalism, it’s fun, but it’s also a little on-the-nose and one-note in a way that his earlier work on Prez was. But when he looks pointedly at the conceits of the original Flintstones – most specifically with the use of animals as domestic appliances – it becomes a brilliant and often heart-wrenching work of existential despair. Coupled with what’s arguably career-best work from Steve Pugh, this has somehow become a completely unmissable series.
5. New Super-Man
(Gene Luen Yang, Viktor Bogdanovic)
Given how disappointing Gene Luen Yang’s run on Superman was, I wasn’t certain if I’d necessarily get on with this. But it hit the ground running with a spectacularly entertaining first issue, and while the momentum has sagged on occasion since, it’s still a very enjoyable read every month. In tone and spirit, it’s closer than anything else has come in quite some time to Justice League International, and is a genuinely fresh spin on DC’s superheroic concepts. Kenan Kong was introduced as not an immediately likeable character, but that’s made his gradual shift towards heroism, while still retaining his flaws and exuberance, a joy to follow.
4. Detective Comics
(James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows)
Batman may like to kid himself that he’s a loner, but we fans know better: he’s at his best when he’s got a Bat-family around him. Detective Comics doesn’t just build a new Bat-family, though – it pieces it together from the very best. With only Damian, Dick and Barbara busy elsewhere, the rest of the dream team are present and correct: Kate Kane (Batwoman), Tim Drake (Red Robin), Cassandra Cain (Orphan/Batgirl), Steph Brown (Spoiler), Lucas Fox (Batwing) and even Jean Paul bloody Azrael Valley. Oh, and a new and genuinely refreshing take on Clayface. Tynion’s character work is superb – like Tomasi on Superman, the years he’s spent bubbling under the surface on this group of characters has exploded into him nailing their voices, personalities, ethos and dynamics perfectly.
(Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke)
It’s rare that a superhero comic comes along that is just everything you want from a take on a particular character – but that’s how I feel about this run on Superman. From a purely fanboy perspective, it’s great that recent events have culminated in the DCU’s Superman now being an amalgamation of both his post-Crisis and post-Flashpoint selves – with things like Electric Superman, the Krypton Man and the proper Cyborg Superman being restored to continuity – but even before that, this was a terrifically enjoyable exploration of Superman as a husband and father, of a sort that it seemed comics would never actually allow themselves to get around to doing. The Superman that Tomasi, Gleason and Mahnke have brought us is Superman as a rock, a stalwart, a reliable and sure-footed presence in an ever-changing world. That may not be what everybody wants from Superman, but it certainly does it for me.
2. Shade the Changing Girl
(Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone)
The Young Animal line, a deliberate attempt to evoke the early days of DC Vertigo (even down to actually having the stories take place in the DCU rather than being separated from it), was one of the more left-field moves DC took with Rebirth; particularly when they got Gerard Way in to curate it. But it’s been a critical success story so far, with Doom Patrol and Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye getting plenty of plaudits. For my money, though, the standout has been Shade. Castellucci has come into comics like she’s been working in them all her life, crafting with Zarcone a story that not only serves as a beautiful and engaging exploration of awkward teenage life, but which frequently shows verve and flair in how it’s told as a comic. It draws on what’s gone before – with direct references to Peter Milligan’s Shade series here and there – while standing completely on its own as a fresh concept. Every issue is an absorbing, engrossing experience, and I can only hope that its digital and trade sales are significantly better than the 10,000 or so it sells through Diamond – because if it had to go away soon, I’d be massively disappointed.
(Tom King, David Finch, Mikel Janin)
It was a slightly slow start to King’s much-heralded run on Batman – arguably, for that first arc it was overshadowed by Detective Comics – and while it had its moments (mostly involving Alfred), “I Am Gotham” was good rather than great. But since then, King has shown more and more why he’s one of the most exciting, inventive and downright mental writers currently working in superhero comics. He hasn’t been afraid to claw away at the very concept of Batman itself – questioning, frequently, why such a character even exists – and every arc has had its own style, feel and pacing while also each being part of the greater whole. The most recent issue, a done-in-one about Swamp Thing titled The Brave and the Mold, sums up just about everything that’s been great about King’s rise through comics over the last couple of years. It still feels like quite early days – especially in comparison with how long Grant Morrison and Scott Snyder each worked on the character – but it certainly looks like a run that’s going to be worthy of standing toe to toe at least with the latter, and possibly even with the former.