By Mark Millar, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion & FCO Plascencia.
To enjoy Reborn #1 as best as possible, one should know nothing about it beforehand. This book’s power is its shock, and it looks to be a series all about ideas. To get the best experience from this series one should dive in as under-researched as possible.
In short: Greg Capullo’s art is the star over Mark Millar’s writing. The comic shop racks have missed his crisp character’s since he stood down from Batman. Capullo brings his A-Game. A large reason behind the colossal success of his tenure on Batman, with writer Scott “can do no wrong” Snyder, is that no matter how conceptual and crazy a story may get, Capullo always keeps his characters as the focus. Reborn has an exciting premise, one that could get a little much for some readers. It makes sense then that Millar would pick Capullo for this project. When strange, mysterious happenings occur in this book Capullo keeps his frames tight on characters and pencils their eyes with floods of life. The IDEA of the book doesn’t matter to Capullo. What matters is what the characters within the world make of it. It’s this sort of character focal art that makes books like Saga and The Walking Dead such hits. It’s this sort of art that made his Bruce Wayne feel fantastically, realistically, fallible.
Reborn #1’s greatest achievement is it’s opening five pages. Millar & Capullo work together in unison to establish their world and premise superbly. The first three pages are laid out in rigid four-panel grids. This establishes a precedent. Capullo quickly lures us into expecting a certain form. He swiftly subverts it on pages four and five by presenting us with a dramatic double-page spread. He tricks us into expecting something formulaic before exploding it open.
On the story front the first three pages are enticing and mysterious; albeit a little “seen this before”. You are prompted to read on. A sniper is lose and taking victims. It’s dark and interesting, but nothing unfamiliar. Then Millar delivers a killer twist on page four and five. The story blows wide open in sync with the page structure. A visual and narrative status quo is established and subverted, a wicked twist landed and an interesting premise launched all within five short pages. This is excellent economy of pages. Many comics don’t manage that in an entire issue.
From page six on, the layouts from page to page loosen up as Capullo plays with panel structure in similar fashions to his work over on Batman. Some of the layouts are so delightfully off-kilter you can’t help but imagine Capullo in his studio having the time of his life working on this project.
Narratively, this reads more like a prologue than a chapter; an increasing trend in recent first issues. Millar puts great work into making us feel for the lead Bonnie. Though only a taste of what is to come, Reborn sets itself up to be a series with a “everything but the kitchen sink” feel. There’s already more ideas and invention in these twenty-odd pages than some comics manage in an entire run. With a premise and world this bonkers it can be easy for a comic to become so wrapped up in its concept that what you end up with is an onslaught of brilliant ideas with nothing to anchor the reader emotionally. Millar solves this potential problem before it arrives by completely selling you on his protagonist Bonnie. Issue #1 spends most its page count setting her up. Combining her touching monologue and Capullo’s aforementioned incredible work with character eyes, makes you care about her. Now, no matter what level of craziness Millar & Capullo chuck at us, we will remain invested.
Given the craziness Millar promises it falls on Capullo to offer up visual direction that will help the reader navigate their way through the chaos. He achieves this with aplomb. The book is rife with subtle visual direction to aid the reader in not getting lost in what is promised to be a surreal tapestry of a series.
For example: The book takes place in two separate “worlds”. When set in one of these worlds, the more grounded, the art has white gutters. When set in the other, the more fantastical, the pages have black or grey gutters. The former world is drawn with rigid lines and angles. The latter is more complex and scratchy, swarmed with minute detail reminiscent of Stokoe. In the former, Plascencia’s colors are muted and grounded: whites, browns & greys and when we do get variation, it’s dulled down. In the latter world the colors are bombastic, bright and vibrant. Capullo, Glapion, and Plascencia manipulate color and style to fantastic effect.
Story wise, it does feel a little ‘done before’ with the premise superseding the execution. Millar is a remarkable, almost unparalleled, ideas machine, but it feels as though he is doing a little too much all at once and his work can suffer from not having his 100% dedication. This means the book often falls into predictable tropes with quite a few moments feeling a little too familiar to old Alan Moore work. Had Millar dedicated all his time to this project whilst not also juggling the 4000 other books he is writing each beat could have been thought over a little more and a slightly fresher, more original variation found. Though a little “samey” when compared to other works out there, when compared to just the Millar back-catalog, Reborn is bold and different. Millar’s work is often about the “flash” and the “bang” and the “shock.” Kick-Ass and The Secret Service: Kingsman are about coolness and ultra violence. Lately he has been branching into bigger, bolder themes. Jupiter’s Legacy is a broad meditation on family, the nature of heroism and the dichotomy between golden age and modern age comics. This new Mark Millar is exciting and Reborn has some of the biggest themes and ideas of a Millar book yet.
Reborn is an interesting continuation of Mark Millar’s recent foray into bigger more challenging ideas, anchored by Capullo’s art. Should the stumbling blocks of issue #1 fall away as the series move forward, this could be the book that catapults Capullo from “the guy who drew Spawn and Batman” to creator-owned super stardom. About time.