While not perfect, REBORN is a masterpiece. Merging science fiction and fantasy, Mark Millar and Greg Capullo are at the top of their games with this unique look at the afterlife.
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What happens to us after we die? Every world religion has some devoted belief of the afterlife. Since the first humans discovered fire, we’ve been asking “What’s next?” Christians have a moral hierarchy, with the good finding their way to heaven and the bad falling to Hell. The ancient Norse believed that glory and honor in battle led to an eternity preparing for divine war in Valhalla. Hindus and Buddhists, on the other hand, believe that this life never ends. We simply return to this plane of existence in a new form. In the REBORN Hardcover from award winning creators Mark Millar and Greg Capullo, readers are treated to another view of the afterlife. A view that takes these various traditions and twists them, merging them into something beautiful and wholly unique.

In REBORN, Mark Millar introduces the warring lands of Adystria and the Dark Lands. Together, this world of conflict is a brilliant mix of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Great warships float alongside dragons, while demons with assault rifles chase giant armored dogs. Millar’s world is chaotic and graceful, but it is not what it first seems. Adystria and the Dark Lands constitute the afterlife. The kindhearted and good who die arrive in Adystria, their good-will in life leading to great magical powers. Evil humans fall into the Dark Lands, their physical bodies twisted to match their dark hearts. Into the center of this conflict falls Bonnie Black, a stroke ward patient barely clinging to life. As she passes to the other side, joined by her childhood dog and her late father, Bonnie learns that her destiny is far greater than she ever thought possible.

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The Spirit Lives On

Reborn Vol. 1
Courtesy of Image Comics

Minneapolis, MN, 2002. A lone, hooded sniper murders 28 people. Bonnie Black’s husband, Harry, is killed in the onslaught. Fast forward a decade. Bonnie lives in the confines of a stroke ward, fearing death every day. She does not believe in a God. For Bonnie, there is no afterlife. And she is afraid. One day, Bonnie is found on the floor of her bathroom, having suffered another stroke. Bonnie Black is dying.

When Bonnie next opens her eyes, she doesn’t find herself in a Minnesota Stroke Ward. She doesn’t even find herself on the planet Earth. She awakens in Adystria, amidst one of the greatest battles this country has ever seen. More importantly, she stands above this carnage in the body of her 25-year-old self. After her late father, Tom, and her childhood dog, Roy-Boy, save her from the attacking Dark Landers, Bonnie learns that her arrival was prophesied. She is meant to be the savior of Adystria for her absolute kindness and good-will in life.

Bonnie is meant to defeat the evil king of the Dark Lands, Lord Golgotha. This demonic ruler has been capturing and killing Adystrian’s since his arrival in this world; his purpose is unknown. Bonnie fears for her husband’s afterlife and sets out on a quest to find him. This quest takes Bonnie through Adystria. Eventually, after begging at the feet of the Fairy Queen and surviving a meeting with Dark Lands slavers, Bonnie arrives at the heart of the Dark Lands. Lord Golgotha’s castle looms before her. Can she survive such a battle?

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The Shadows of the Dark Lands

Reborn Vol. 1
Courtesy of Image Comics

REBORN is tailored for me. The deep magical world was fascinating. I’d even say REBORN is my favorite comic book of 2017 so far. However, you may have completely different tastes. This is an objectively strong performance, but it isn’t perfect. With that said, let’s talk through the bad, so I can rant about everything I loved about REBORN.

The biggest failings REBORN faces lie in its pacing and characterization. Bonnie, Tom, and Roy-Boy all have some brilliant characterization for this story. By the end, I understood who they were as characters, their motivations, and why they undertook this quest. Even Golgotha, though barely stepping outside of the absolute evil archetype, had me legitimately scared. However, other characters like Harry, Arimathea, and Estelle the Fairy Queen just felt lacking. I loved Estelle’s backstory. This former friend of Bonnie died religious, but arriving in Adystria broke her. She didn’t find her pearly gates, only more war, and suffering. This fascinated me, but Millar moved past it in an instant.

Most of these problems could have been remedied with a slower pace. Much of the plot clips along, losing focus on the most important moments. Estelle’s concept interested me. However, I didn’t fall in love with her character like I did Bonnie or Tom. She, like Harry, the Dark Lands Lieutenant Il Mago, and other similar characters, simply didn’t garner enough sympathy. They didn’t have enough time on the page to be anything but passing interests.

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The Bright Light of Adystria

Reborn Vol. 1
Courtesy of Image Comics

There is a lot of good in REBORN. Greg Capullo’s work on BATMAN was my first introduction to modern comic books, and he is at the top of his game in REBORN. Adystria is beautifully depicted. Capullo’s eye for detail amazes me. Millar’s world comes to life through his pen. Also, textures come through wonderfully. Roy-Boy actually looks fluffy (like I needed another reason to love a giant, armored dog). Estelle’s kingdom, built into a massive tree, is ribbed with textured bark. Golgotha’s stone palace is visibly grimy.

Millar’s characterization of our protagonists hits the right notes. Bonnie’s motivations are entirely clear, and, unlike other “Chosen One” tales, she feels completely grounded in this world. Her motivations aren’t “save the world;” Bonnie wants to find her husband. This paves the way for real emotions when Golgotha captures Harry. We don’t fully care about Harry, but we don’t want Bonnie to face that heartbreak. Even Frost, Bonnie’s former house cat, carries with him interesting motivations.

While Millar doesn’t detail why Bonnie becomes Adystria’s savior, the world building feels clear. I never felt overwhelmed. In fact, new information only made me want to delve deeper into this world. REBORN is a textbook example of how to present an imaginary world to readers. Each page slowly introduces new details into the mix. An IRS Agent becomes a Dark Lands slum lord. Animals are magically connected to former owners. Bonnie’s acceptance of this new world lies at the heart of this world building. She asks a lot of questions, but she never faces it with disbelief. Therefore, this prompts us to accept it too, right to the tear-jerking end.

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Final Thoughts: REBORN

Mark Millar, Greg Capullo, and the rest of the creative team behind the REBORN hardcover hit it out of the park. There were some issues with this series. Some uneven plotting and characterization did pull me out of scenes on occasion. However, REBORN is still a masterpiece. I became invested in this world. This unique take on the afterlife is exciting, and the philosophical implications that Millar discusses on the page never feel preachy. Estelle’s disillusionment with Adystria, especially, feels like a wholly understandable response.

If you are a fan of fantasy, science fiction, or philosophy, buy the REBORN hardcover. Also, if you are an aspiring writer, you should buy it too. Included in the hardcover is an interview with the creative team on the process of creating this book, as well as Greg Capullo’s character sketches. REBORN needs to be on your bookshelf.

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