By Francis Manapul
This is less an issue, and more of a set-up. Narratively, there’s not much to get your teeth into with this book. What we’ve got with this comic is something akin to a prologue rather than a proper chapter one. If there’s any comic in DC’s recent overhaul deserving of being called a “Rebirth Issue” it’s this one – which is why it’s surprising that it’s billed as #1 instead. The overall takeaway feel of this issue is that it’s a little lackluster in story. But this is not to fault Trinity #1. Were this a Marvel-priced book, the lack of story substance would be something to bemoan. But at DC’s new lower price point this book is more than worth what you’re paying, and what could have been read as a slow preamble instead plays like you’re excitedly dipping your toes into the water of the story. And for what Trinity #1 lacks in narrative substance it makes up for in excellent character play and some of the best DC art this side of the relaunch.
As might be expected when a book is being written and illustrated by the same solo force of nature, the art is superior to the story. But what blinding art it is. The absolute superstar is the colors. There is a lack of the gloss that has dominated books from the Big 2 for so long. Instead, we’ve got a smokey aesthetic more in touch with classic Superman books, which helps set the tone for what feels like will be a lighter & more playful story than DC offered throughout the New 52. The colors blend more and merge. The palette gives Trinity #1 a pleasantly old-fashioned feel. It’s a mission statement if nothing else: the grim-dark ways of the cinematic universe are to be ignored, this is a book that will be embracing all the charm of DC’s Silver Age. There are even charming flashbacks to iconic Silver Age stories that reinforce this mission statement, and in a delightful touch, these are colored differently. Whilst the present day stories are colored in a pastoral fashion, the flashbacks employ the more outdated ben-day-dot method. These panels achieved two goals for the price of one. Firstly, they manipulate the reader’s craving for nostalgia, appealing to the collector and continuity obsessive inside us. Secondly, they showcase Manapul’s ability to draw action, making sure any reader who may be a little let down for the slowness of the plot sticks around to read when things kick off. And what incredible action sequences the future promised. Because the way in which Manapul draws his heroes is significantly more weighted than how others approach the DC pantheon. He grounds them with a little realism. Diana, Bruce and Clark all feel like people you could have met, with just a little fantastical edge. It’s a much more Marvel approach, but for characters who are often criticized as being un-relatable in their perfection, the added grit Manapul throws into how he draws the trio helps anchor them into a world more recognizably ours.
Onto the story… Writer Graham Linehan (co-creator of classic british sitcoms Father Ted, Blacks Books and solo creator of The IT Crowd) once said there was more tension in a scene of a mother moving a salt shaker on a dining table only for her daughter to move it back once the mother has left the room, than there is in a scene of two giant robots fighting. Manapul proves this expertly. This entire issue is nothing more than a group sat around a table eating dinner, with the occasional half-a-page flashback, yet it is rich & dynamic. Manapul showcases just how important good panel structure is. The odd tilt of a gutter here or there helps impress subtle shifts in character status. Manapul doesn’t overdo the faces which, in a story as reminiscent of soap operas as this one, shows great restraint. There’s no ‘manga-like’ face pulling as tensions around the dinner table bubble and brew. Instead, Manapul trusts his lines. He knows a subtle lack of eye contact between characters, or a nuanced gesture of the hands is enough to convey inner turmoil. Whilst the panel structure and colours are big & brash to appease readers looking for something flashier, the dignity and restraint of the line work will capture the imagination of readers more used to the subtly of some creator owned works. There’s no need to draw bats screaming “HOW DARE YOU!” A little ‘look-a-way’ from the group is enough. And the flashbacks are perfectly deployed. Far too often flashbacks are used for flashback’s sake, a mere dump of information that the writer just decided you needed at that point: Offered up without actively affecting the present day story. Here Manapul uses them to not only re-establish who our trio are, moving forward, but their relationship with each other. For example: when Batman barks one of his typically emo lines about “working better alone”, the others remind him of the time he wore a devilishly camp rainbow suit to distract Gotham’s most cretinous from hurting Robin. Each character has a different response to the memory, establishing who everyone is and how they relate to each other. Some mock and tease. Others smile fondly at Bruce’s selfless act. Wayne himself shrugs it off, claiming not to remember it. It is a perfect use of story to develop character and character relationships and what could have just been a throwaway joke is expertly used to explore the groups dynamic moving forward.
The last piece that makes this book come alive is its narration. This is surprising given how frequently narration in comics is a detractor rather than a benefit. Lois’ narration, a meditation on the concept of “putting up walls” is the frame in which this story hangs and is key to the whole issue. Too often narration can snap you out of a story, but Manapul avoids this by making this frame a vital ingredient. The idea it explores, this theme blocking out your loved ones, is the theme running throughout and Manapul makes everything come together by making sure everything stays on topic. For example: Lois discusses her confusion over why Clark hid his identity from her in the first place. The gang mocks Bruce for his “I work alone” persona. Diana and Lois engineer a dinner for the sole purpose of getting the boys together. All three of these key plot points are about the walls people put up between them and how if we take these down we can be, to quote the name of the arc, ‘Better Together’. It’s a fantastic theme to explore, especially in a team book. Too often a Big 2 book is just about a series of related punch ups instead of really exploring a topic, but with its commitment to analyzing its theme from every angle Trinity has set itself up for a truly interesting start. With only a slightly thin plot and some clunky dialogue knocking it back from 5 stars, early signs suggest Trinity could be a very serious contender to join Batman, Detective Comics and Wonder Woman as one of the best Rebirth titles on the rack.