R.E.B.E.L.S. #17 was released this week and was the conclusion of the 'What Happens in Vega' storyline, effectively setting up the title's post-Starro landscape.
Just as he did in the earliest chapters of the Starro arc, Tony Bedard does a great job of juggling the many cultures and characters of this book, keeping the momentum that this title has had. It can't be easy. The problem is Bedard is not only dealing with a relatively large super-team's characters but also the main planets and races of the DCU galaxy. With so many moving parts, some people can be lost in the shuffle. Let's face it, Vril Dox is the main draw to this book. But some people probably want to read the book for Starfire ... or Adam Strange ... or even Captain Comet. I keep hoping to see more of Wildstar.
But when a book is set on such a big stage, the ancillary characters can start to feel more like 'chorus' rather than characters. Bedard has the characters show unique personalities and continue to shine even in somewhat truncated roles.
And the truth is the book continues to be of the highest quality. I devour each issue happily and only afterward do I think 'hey we didn't see Ciji this issue'. The biggest challenge for Bedard has to be to continue to have Brainiac front and center. I have said it before, Vril is the straw that stirs the drink here. He cannot shrink into the background.
The funny thing is he isn't seen that much here physically ... but his presence is felt throughout the book. More on that later. This is another long review, so bear with me.
The book picks up with the Tamaranian forces led by a re-powered Blackfire battling the Rannians and L.E.G.I.O.N. troops, trying to grab Rann (now in Tamaran's orbit) as a new home world.
In many ways, this issue is a Blackfire spotlight, an interesting choice. But if we say that Dox is an anti-hero acting as the title's star, then why not let a villain shine as well.
But is Blackfire a villain? Bedard really paints her in a lovely shade of gray here. This isn't the Blackfire from the earliest Teen Titans issues, motivated by jealousy of her sister's beauty and ability to fly. This Blackfire is much more complicated.
Here, despite the agony she knows it will cause her, she tracks down the Psions who originally gave her her powers and forces them to give them back to her. There is 'an offer he can't refuse' feel to this panel that shows the lengths that Blackfire will go to get what she thinks she and her people need. We would cheer Dox on for doing the same.
And then there is this panel which muddies the water even more. Yes, the Tamaranians know that Blackfire has, in the past, been a traitor to her people. But know they see her as the person who kept them together, who did not let them spread to the corners of the universe or die. She is the true leader of her people and they will die for her.
Those motives are admirable here. This isn't the Blackfire who gave her sister to the Citadel, who plotted against X'Hal for no good reason other than to achieve power and revenge. She is almost a patriot here. Heck, described like this, she is almost likeable.
While her motives might be noble, her methods aren't. Her troops are in a firefight with the L.E.G.I.O.N. and the Rannians. Might doesn't make right.
Before things can get out of control, the Green Lantern recruits from last issue arrive and try to maintain the peace. In what I think is a perfectly appropriate response, the Rannians and Tamaranians stop shooting at each other and instead shoot at the Lanterns. They don't want the Corps to meddle in business that doesn't concern them.
And again, Blackfire actually does the right thing. She is willing to talk with Adam Strange about her grievances but that can't happen with the Green Lanterns around.
She convinces Strange to use Zeta tech to teleport him and her and the GL's into space.
When Strange states that he works with Brainiac not for him, she actually thinks there is hope. She tells the Lanterns to leave. She will have her troops stand down and she will begin negotiations with the Rannian leaders. Blackfire ... negotiate? Unbelievable! But it reads very natural.
Just as the discussion turns interesting, Brainiac shows up with the Thanagarian fleet. While this skirmish has been going on, Vril has been doing his own negotiations.
And, most amazingly, he has negotiated a standing peace treaty between Rann and Thanagar. Rann and Thanagar no longer need to be mortal enemies. They are far away from each other; their leaders have changed. The roots of their war aren't there anymore.
Blackfire's first thoughts are for her people. What of Tamaran?
Well, for one thing, the fighting has been stopped by the Thanagarian army. Surprisingly, the Hawk-warriors merely captured the Rannians and Tamaranians; they didn't kill them. Dox' peace treaty extends even there.
Blackfire couldn't care less. Who cares of Rann and Thanagar when her people are still refugees.
As usual, Dox has thought of all the angles. The Tamaranians no longer need to be nomads. The recreated Rann has an uninhabited southern continent. Dox is able to include the Tamaranians into the treaty, insuring peace between the three warring races.
It is a classic Dox moment, although I have to admit I would have loved to see his meeting with the Thanagarian leaders. He would need to be at his Dox-iest to convince them that peace was the best answer.
And here is the best panel of the whole book. Here is exactly why I love this book.
Blackfire has a new respect for Dox. He is 'ruthless, driven, smart, and charismatic.' That is why Brainiac is such a revelation as a main character.
But then she says 'he is like she.' Awesome.
It could mean that, as I have said throughout this review, that we need to reconsider Blackfire. Maybe we need to view her as a hero to her people. Sure, Dox is more likely to use a threat and a feint and a nudge to get what he wants whereas Komand'r would use a pistol and a starbolt. But really, she acted a lot like him this issue.
Or this panel could mean that we need to reconsider Dox. If he is like Blackfire ... isn't that awfully close to being a villain? Am I singing the praises of a narcissistic brilliant super-villain?
Or maybe it is a little bit of both, that both characters are a murky gray of good intentions and questionable methods.
Favorite .... panel!
What's more is we really see just how Dox is viewed by the outside world.
The Lantern recruits sound like they admire Dox' ability to work this treaty and end the hostilities. But Salaak is outright angry. He views Dox as a threat the the Green Lantern Corps.
So even though the resulting peace is good, the fact that Dox brokered it makes it a sour deal for Salaak. Or maybe that should be sour grapes.
With the Vegan system recreated, the book ends with a cliffhanger setting up the next arc.
Lyrl is still out there and still unhappy with his family. He creates Pulsar Stargrave from a dying star, a being that looks suspiciously like the Solaris evil sun from DC 1,000,000. And with this new weapon at his disposal, Lyrl plans to kill the original Brainiac and take his grandfather's knowledge for himself.
So there wasn't much Dox here but he is a presence in the book, especially when Blackfire is shown to be a sort of ersatz Brainiac in her own way. I do think it will be interesting to see if Blackfire remains a character in the book. How will Starfire interact with Blackfire if they are 'on the same side'?
And this quick storyline was the perfect way to follow-up the lengthy Starro arc. It cemented the make-up of the team, added a visible new member in Starfire, and reset the galactic politics of the region. And all in 3 quick issues! In this day and age of mandatory 6 issue arcs, this was refreshing.
The art was done by relative newcomer Sergio Arino. His stuff is very solid. I don't always talk about inkers here ... a terrible bias on my part. But I have to commend Scott Hanna. He has inked Andy Clarke, Claude St. Aubin, and now Arino and has maintained a consistent look to this book. Bravo Mr. Hanna!
And now a Brainiac family feud is on the horizon!
Overall grade: B+