The long-awaited collaboration between Mark Millar and Greg Capullo is now here in the form of Reborn, which debuts today. The book is certainly blessed with a deep bench of talent (Jonathan Glapion is the inker and Fco Plascencia is the colorist) and mines familiar Millar thematic territory, namely the transformation of ordinary people into superheroes. The twist here is that the transformation happens after they die. People die in this comic (by natural and other causes), and they’re “reborn” (to coin a phrase) in a different body, fighting aliens in some sort of elaborate science fiction/fantasy universe. It would be as if when a person died, they went to Star Wars instead of to heaven. To give due credit to Millar, this book addresses the existential and spiritual issues arising from such a theme and give us a curious, promising beginning to a potentially interesting series.
One thing is always true of Mark Millar: he knows how to tell a story in comics. There’s no elaborate complex, multi-layered, impressionistic artiness here, just a strong, clear storyline understandable to just about any reader. That’s admirable, and Millar knows how to pick and frame his moments, too, in order to convey his ideas with the most dramatic efficiency possible, which is particularly impressive when one considers that this book deals with gigantic sci-fi/fantasy battles, trans-dimensional shifts and a haunting contemplation of mortality.
The book begins with a sniper picking off targets on a city street, and though the victims seems unrelated, the shooter appears to have some larger purpose. He shoots an old man wearing an Irish cap, for example, but in a great panel transition, the man wakes up in a field, wearing strange clothes, surrounded by people who look like the stars of Land of Lost and miraculously, the man is young and strong. A woman who appears to be the squad leader sums it up: “I know you look different and have no idea what’s going on…” The latter part of the debut issue, however, deals with the woman who, it turns out, was the wife of the man killed at the outset, Bonnie, now an elderly woman living in a nursing home, waiting for her own death.
Bonnie recounts how her husband, father and mother all died under tragic circumstances and now she just sits and waits. We spend a great deal of time with the old lady, and this is the debut issue’s strongest segment, combining humour, insight, tragedy and profound notions of life and death. Bonnie, for example, is an atheist, and remains one to the end. Many old people, with death close at hand, turn to religion for comfort, which is understandable, but not Bonnie. Lying in her deathbed, she wonders how much of her life was really worth it and whether any of it made any difference. After she does indeed pass away (in a gorgeously rendered sequence), she discovers that perhaps this 75 years+ life here in this reality was just a preparation for the heroic life to follow. Bonnie is an instantly likeable character, and though she’s transformed back into her young and beautiful self by death, it’s great that we first get to know her as an older woman, where her intelligence, sensitivity and determination are brought to the fore. There’s a parallel here with Invisible Republic, which also features a strong, compelling female central character who we see as both a young and an older woman.
Mark Millar has a great way of keeping the tone of the story relatively light, even as it delves into heavy subjects, and the art, which has to cover a fairly broad range of locations and characters, is never less than excellent. Transitions involving panels “blown out” with white light is an especially well-executed element and the splash page of Bonnie’s experience of death is an instant comics classic. As usual for a first issue, Reborn leaves a lot hanging, but it’s a compelling enough story that it will no doubt attract a wide readership.