R.E.B.E.L.S.: Strange Companions

December 26, 2010

This is seriously the best team-up adventure title DC is publishing right now. I’d let Secret Six rank as a close contender. Forget Dwayne McDuffie’s and James Robinson’s JLA and the current split JSA under the increasingly undynamic duo, Bill Willingham and Matt Sturges. (Just stick to Fables, dudes!) I’m taking back every single complaint I ever made about the first R.E.B.E.L.S. volume. I was mouthing off then without giving a second thought to the kind of edifice Tony Bedard is erecting brick by brick. This series really does get better once you recognise the scale of what he is setting you up for. How could I have missed it? Is Bedard Brainiac 4 or 6 or what?

Story so far: Vril Dox — aka Braniac 2, purportedly the smartest genius alive — has managed to seal off a corner of the universe invaded by unstoppable and vaguely known fleets of starros. Why vaguely known? Because almost every planetary civilisation that has come up against them ended up being mind-controlled. But the stage is now set for a showdown between Coluan brains and imperial brawn, the combined force of 9 zombified galaxies, to be exact. And Vril Dox’s quick thinking does not let up: he beats the odds time and again in his hallmark cold calculativeness as the probability for kicking the invaders’ butts climbs from zero. By the time Volume 2 concludes, with oh-so-beautifully told back stories about Starro the Conqueror and his generals Astrid Storm-daughter and Smite, you’ll already have surrendered to an utterly brilliant narrative.

There is no doubt that Bedard can tell a very scary story. After enslaving Vril’s Maltus and the Dominators’ Xylon Expanse, Starro the Conqueror continues to wipe freedom off the face of whole alien populations. His domino effect of conquest, in fact, speeds up: within pages, Khundia is lost, the great Kanja Ro loses his kingdom, and even galactic tyrant Despero is beheaded! But Vril’s team is taking shape steadily, and Bedard describes its growth in a rather elegant way. His new additions are all great ideas, from a fleet admiral of the Dominators collective to the house-husband and child of the Thing-lookalike, Strata. Adam Strange and Captain Comet finally make their entrance here while the absence of Green Lanterns is explained at last. Then, there is Lyrl Dox, Vril’s son, who has been lobotomised into normality to render him incapable of outwitting his father. Did I also mention that the Omega Men sub-plot is getting better as well?

You see what I mean here. Bedard is playing big, truly big, and his first few series chapters were only laying the pieces. Now, as the plot thickens and his dramatis personae intrigues, even his use of smart jokes — the kind not seen since Keith Griffen’s JLA run in the late 1980s —comes off well. His own team-up with artists Andy Clarke, Claude St. Aubin, and Scott Hanna is itself reaching the level of a DC classic. The visual renderings are beautiful and arresting, and they do not flinch from portraying in detail everything from grandness to silliness. Their distinct style fits the deadpan bathos greeting us at every turn of a cross-cultural confrontation or a self-expression of grandeur. These creators have set for themselves very high standards, and one can only hope that they keep building on their feat of collective genius.

Gweek gives this volume 9 starros and now feels that the previous volume deserves an additional starro!

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