I have championed the R.E.B.E.L.S. book on this blog for a while now. It is the only non-'super' title I review here. The book has been something of a critical success but that never seemed to translate to sales.
Ahhh ... but then the Blackest Night crossover issues happened and suddenly R.E.B.E.L.S. was selling 3-5X as many copies as usual.
That Blackest Night blitz hit home with this issue at my local comic book store. The store was getting issues based on the prior sales and so only had a few copies of R.E.B.E.L.S. # 12 on the wall. In fact they had made sure they had grabbed the issue for subscribers who have the book on their pull list (like me) early to make sure those loyal readers got a copy. The store thought it didn't have enough R.E.B.E.L.S. issues for the demand. That couldn't be said before. It will be interesting to see if the Blackest Night issues were enough of a hook to keep people coming back long term.
One thing I have to say about the book is that things continue to move forward. Tony Bedard continues to show us enough of all the characters he is dealing with. No one is lost for too long. And everyone's story seems to be moving forward.
This was the first issue drawn by someone other than Andy Clarke or Claude St. Aubin. I don;t know much about Gerlado Borges but his style seems to fit the book nicely.
And always, the best issues of this book showcase Vril Dox and this issue does just that. I mean look at the 'in your face' cover, Dox holding high the head of Despero. It's certainly eye catching.
The Blackest Night portion of the story is wrapped up pretty quickly in this issue. Last issue, Dox threw Starro and the various Black Lanterns back onto Maltus. Starro has been battling non-stop for days, knocking down the Black Lanterns only to have them reintegrate themselves.
Starro has become a deeper character over the last few months. It is clear there is a degree of self-loathing in him. He continues to aggressively accrue power and slaves but he seems to want to lose. He needs something other than conquest to define him, challenge him and this battle seems to fit the bill.
Even Brainiac 3 notes that Starro seems to enjoy the fact that he is in danger, a new sensation for the dictator I am sure. I am also stunned at the sheer strength of Starro. Fighting a handfull of Black Lanterns for days without rest. That's prodigious. My guess is that mental flaw will somehow play into his downfall.
Brainiac 3 is a bit more pragmatic. This battle will eventually rip through the planet. It has to stop. So Lyrl copies Daddy Vril's idea and teleports the Lanterns away, on the edge of a black hole where they will be simply swallowed up by the universe.
Now who knows what will happen to everything after Blackest Night but I was sort of sad to see Stealth disappear. I was hoping she would somehow be de-zombied and would join the book.
But that taste of danger must be intoxicating for Starro because he tells Lyrl that the Starro wave should be pointed towards Earth where all the action is.
Meanwhile , the 'dark star' Omega Men are dealing with their own issues. Remember that when we last saw them, Broot had somehow tapped into the hive mind of Starro's slaves. At first it looked like the slaves would attack but after a bit they calm down back into their mind-numbed state.
However, in that brief moment of union, Broot picked up on a suppressed memory. Starro has another weakness that can be exploited.
With the subplots taken care of the remainder of the issue is devoted to the R.E.B.E.L.S. team.
The ship lands on Port Slarvit with the plan to repair the ship and plan their attack against Starro. As expected, Strata leaves the team to protect her husband and child.
The rest of the team realizes that Starro needs to be stopped and it has to be now before he gets even more powerful. But Xylon also lays down the law, Dominator-style. If you quit, he'll kill you.
Can we even call this R.E.B.E.L.S. group a team? I don't think they particularly like each other. A Dominator, a super-villain, a couple of super-heroes, a Durlan, a Khund. Not exactly a cozy group. In fact, R.E.B.E.L.S. might be the best term because they each are in some way rebelling against what they would normally do to 'serve' under Dox. I mean ... Xylon has the L.E.G.I.O.N. symbol as his caste circle now. That is almost treasonous.
Dox then splits the team into three groups that will obtain the elements he needs to create his super-weapon. Xylon, Bounder, and Ciji will obtain a Dominator gene bomb. Kanjar Ro, Captain Comet, and Wildstar will obtain the shards of Ro's Gamma Gong. And Dox, Hakk, and Tribulus will go to Kalanor to get Despero.
Xylon's break from Dominator tradition is hammered home in that team's scene. The scientists at a remote Dominator facility decry his wearing the L.E.G.I.O.N. symbol. You can feel his shame in that middle panel.
Still the plan moves forward as Ciji helps him obtain the bomb.
In another surprising development, it appears the death of Despero was overstated. He is still alive and well, just slowly regenerating. Hakk and Tribulus rip through the face-hugged Kalanor troops as they make their way to Despero's head.
I love how Hakk tells Dox that Brainiac 'leaves corpses' wherever he goes. I love how it is clear that the R.E.B.E.L.S. may respect Dox' abilities but they don't particularly like him. The members almost follow his orders begrudgingly. Like any good leader, Dox seems to bring the best out of his subordinates.
Now why Dox needs Despero to assassinate Starro ... that's anybody's guess.
In the meantime, Captain Comet and Wildstar obtain the Gamma Gong shards.
Kanjar Ro, who was with them at the beginning of the mission, seems to abandon the team. As Ro runs off, Comet says the team has too many egomaniacs as it is. Again, it is a jab at Dox' style. That said, Comet is still following the orders. It is as if Dox knows just what buttons to push to keep his soldiers obeying, to keep his plans moving forward.
All of this shows the interesting mash of a character that Dox is. He isn't the traditional comic book hero. Some might even call him villainous in his self-promotion. How would expect Despero would have the best line of the issue summing up Brainiac so perfectly.
"The way you play them against each other,I always wondered why you champion law and order." A hero pitting his teammates into conflict, pretending to champion law and order ... perfect.
I have said it before ... Dox is the straw that stirs the drink of this comic. He is a fascinating character.
He even uses some subterfuge within the team. Ro didn't run off ... he was following Dox' orders.
Look at the smug look on Despero's face as we hear the first hints of a Dox/Ro/Despero entente.
But really, who thinks that Dox isn't going to double cross these guys? There can't be honor among megalomaniacs. Dox is too controlling to share anything with this scum. They are unwittingly serving him, thinking there will be a reward somewhere down the line.
Finally, the Omega Men find out why Starro suppressed that particular memory. On one of his conquered planets there is plant toxin that can kill the Starro starfish. Another weapon! Okay, this one seemed a little deus ex machina ... but that said, there had to be some natural weakness in the Starros. I mean, even Superman has Kryptonite.
As usual, this comic was great. After a brief lull in momentum in the early issues as Dox put his team together, this book's pacing has been moving at great speed. And as usual, Bedard does a great job keeping tabs on everybody, giving everybody a unique voice, and still giving Dox the space he needs in the book. That can't be easy.
This was tied with Adventure Comics #6 for my favorite book of the week.