Batman: Rebirth #1
Written by Scott Snyder and Tom King
Art by Mikel Janin and June Chung
Lettering by Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The winds of change are blowing through Gotham, and if Batman: Rebirth #1 is any indication, that may be the best thing that could happen to the city of the Bat. Anchored by a compelling narrative structure and an engrossing take on an underutilized member of Batman’s rogues gallery, writers Tom King and Scott Snyder, along with the smooth pencils of Mikel Janin and the rich colors of June Chung, deliver a fast-paced look at Bruce’s new status quo going into Rebirth. Though the story ends a bit too soon and might read as a bit slower in a post-Snyder/Capullo world, Batman: Rebirth #1 sank its hooks into me and kept me thinking about it long after I had finished reading it.
Opening on a quiet Monday at Wayne Manor with Alfred and Duke Thomas, Tom King and Scott Snyder quickly throw readers into the deep end with a huge blast of action, rendered in a two-page splash by Mikel Janin and June Chung, who take a stylish and kinetic stab at Batman swooping through a window to face the Calendar Man, with a bat-shaped spread of panels reminiscent of the layouts of J.H. Williams III. Peppered with King and Snyder’s pointed dialogue, this one-shot is kicked off big and weird, as Batman has to stop this newly reimagined Julian Day, whose plan involves sentient micro-spores and the artificial acceleration of the seasonal calendar. (Comic books, everybody!) While this blast of action may end a bit conveniently, it’s a quick and effective way of establishing some high stakes for Batman and his city.
But that said, Batman: Rebirth #1 has more on its mind than just action and struggles against supervillains. Throughout the issue, King and Snyder start each scene off with a day of the week and a season, delineating just how much time as passed between the action we have just seen as well as what stage Day’s plan is at. As far as narrative devices go, it’s pretty clever and keeps the story from venturing into the continuity no man’s land that one-shots can oftentimes stray into.
Thankfully, King and Snyder keep the story securely on the rails thanks to this device, and it allows them to present their story as solid vignettes setting up the title’s new foundation as well as putting a clock on Batman’s case. King and Snyder also make a meal out of Calendar Man’s little time on panel, establishing his plan as a genuine threat to Gotham as well as introducing a gross yet supremely interesting explanation for his new apparent immortality. The only weak link in Batman: Rebirth’s chain is Duke Thomas, who receives yet another introductory story in this one-shot - marking his third such story since Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Zero Year" Batman arc - as well as a new weirdly aged-up and confusing look thanks to Janin’s pencils. Though I do love any attempt to extend the Bat-Family, sifting through yet another attempted launchpoint for Duke comes across as tedious, especially since we only get a small hint as to his new role in the title.
[Editor's Note: For just what that "hint" is, check out our spoiler story on that scene here.]
Also disappointing is the limited time King and Snyder get to establish the new voice of Bruce. King keeps Bruce almost at arm’s length during this one-shot, never fully committing to displaying his personality outside of the case and his cryptic offer to Duke. Though this could be attributed to the short amount of time he has with this one-shot as well as introducing a strict ticking clock on the story, King and Snyder give us a Batman that is more cypher that character — hopefully, once the title well and truly starts, he can open Bruce up again as a man as well as hero.
But while the characterization might need some time to coalesce, the artwork sure doesn’t. While not quite as polished or bombastic as his Grayson run, artist Mikel Janin and colorist June Chung work in lock step to make Batman: Rebirth #1 as dynamic as possible, along with a hefty slice of the beefcake in the form of Bruce doing sweaty one-armed pull ups on the helipad of Wayne Tower in the middle of a meeting with Lucius Fox. While this may come across as cheesy to some readers (and they would not be wrong), I still thought the scene worked, as it shows that Janin is willing to go broad and indulge in some much needed male objectification while still delivering the heroics and detective work.
Though the opening splash page is the issue’s major “wow” moment visually, Janin and Chung also acquit themselves admirably to the issue’s quieter moments, like Alfred feeding the hundreds of bats that live beneath the mansion or Bruce giving Duke a tour of the cave, complete with heavy shadows, detailed backgrounds and classic Batcave artifacts. While the shadows in this scene muddle some of Bruce’s expressions, they really hammer home the brooding atmosphere of the cave as well as the inherent darkness that follows Batman no matter what costume he wears. Though Mikel Janin and June Chung are just one half of the art team that are taking us into Rebirth proper, they start the title off with an energy that will tide readers over until David Finch can pick up the baton and begin their bimonthly artistic partnership.
Duke’s multiple origins, advanced aging, and detached take on the Caped Crusader aside, these creators still deliver a solid opening gambit thanks to compelling vignettes, an engaging antagonist, and a feeling of newness without completely throwing out what worked in the run before. Though it may not tell us much about the story or Bruce’s newfound mental state Batman: Rebirth #1 shows and tells us just enough to whet our appetite for just what comes next for Bruce, Duke, and the rest of Gotham, all wrapped in a fun, good looking one-shot.