Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Mikel Janin
It is not a stretch to say that the five years of DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch and subsequent DCYou series of additions have not gone smoothly. I stand among those who had moderately dissatisfied reactions to the choices made in both the content of stories and the creators that were brought on board. So, when DC announced their “lite” reboot Rebirth was very skeptical about what the end result would feel like.
Two storylines are explicitly brought up in Rebirth #1 as essential to read, The Last Days of Superman and The Darkseid War. We’ll discuss The Last Days here, but I have a separate review down the road for Darkseid because of how massive it is.
About a month ago, writer Tomasi kicked off The Last Days of Superman across many Superman-centric titles. The purpose of this storyline admittedly served a more cynical corporate purpose for the upcoming Rebirth. The current Superman would be killed off, while a previous incarnation of Superman would step in and take up the mantle. This Superman was the one introduced in 1986’s John Byrne-penned Man of Steel miniseries, who would go on to marry Lois Lane. Now the couple have a son, Jonathan, who is set to become the current Superboy.
For the first time since Grant Morrison’s run on the New 52 Action Comics, I found myself enjoying a story featuring this Superman. It’s no slight against the character but mainly against the creative teams that DC editorial chose to work on Superman. He always felt like an ever shifting blank, little to no consistency in his portrayal from title to title and story to story. That’s why I was so surprised at how deeply the death scene in Superman #52 affected me. I admit I was very choked up in those final panels as his allies and supporting cast surrounded the Man of Steel, and Wonder Woman’s final words sent me over that emotional crest.
I would agree that this move was not from a genuine love of DC history, but more of a brand damage control issue to bring readers back. Maybe it’s because I’ve reached a certain age of sentimentality but I am genuinely excited to see the Superman I consider the one from my generation of readership returning. But I admit I do feel that it may not be fair to new and younger readers that they are not allowed to have a Superman born out of an interpretation of our current times. If DC suddenly decided to change course in 1991 and trash the Byrne Superman in order to bring back the Mort Fleischer/Curt Swan version I wouldn’t have been too happy.
How permanent of a change this is remains to be seen. Even the old Superman admits he was killed once, replaced, only to return and take back his mantle. Comic books are colorful soap operas at their heart and if the New 52 Superman is to return, my hope is that a fresh and innovative creative team is put on the titles to help create this generation’s hero.
DC Universe Rebirth #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ethan van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Gary Frank, Phil Jimenez
DC is infamous for their regular attempts to reconfigure their continuity via line wide events. Crisis on Infinite Earths kicked things off and every 7-10 years they unleash another soft reboot. Rebirth is the latest in this tradition and possibly the lightest of the reboots to date. In addition, it is the meta-contextual and goes after trends in the industry that led to the New 52 being viewed a viable replacement for the DC line.
The story spotlights Wally West formerly Kid Flash formerly Flash #3. Since the New 52 was rolled out Wally has been erased. A different Wally West was introduced in the Flash series. He is an African-American teen who ends up becoming Kid Flash like his predecessor. The biggest problem for me about the new Wally is that he was written like a middle aged white dude writing a black youth. It was not great. The old Wally is on a quest to reconnect with wife from another life, Linda Park. On the way he takes a tour of the DC Universe, highlighting the new status quo of story lines for the line.
Batman’s particular appearance is probably the one I am most intrigued about. In Justice League #50 he learns a secret about The Joker. The secret is that there are three Jokers. No context is further given, other than three Jokers have been spotted in varying locations in Gotham. The art presents them as the Bill Finger original, Brian Bolland’s Killing Joke take, and the current Greg Capullo version. The story doesn’t elaborate any further and its assumed this will be covered further in the Bat titles. I’m baffled as to what this is going to end up being. My first thought was the Jokers of various multiple earths, but I’m not so sure. If this turns out to present the Joker as a demonic presence that infects people…I’m don’t know how I’d feel about that. Such a thing was hinted at in one of Scott Snyder’s recent story arcs so there is groundwork laid for the reveal.
The buzz beforehand mentioned the return of the Justice Society, the World War II era team of costumed heroes that inspired the Justice League. Of all the things teased, this was what me excited the most. We get the lightest of hints of what is to come. Johnny Thunder is a resident in a nursing home who is seen a senile from talking about his exploits with the JSA. The JSA never existed so he’s met with eyerolls. Kid Flash shows up and appears to inspire Thunder to some extent. This is followed by an even briefer interlude where Maggie Sawyer of Gotham PD is interrogating a mysterious young woman revealed to be from the Legion of Super-Heroes. Not much there.
We see the returns of some familiar old faces: Two Blue Beetles, Dr. Fate, Aqualad. And we see some newer faces take on new roles: Robin hits 13 so Teen Titans here he comes and Jessica Cruz is our newest Green Lantern. Things get interesting when we move on from the focus on Legacy to the lost relationships of the old DC Universe. This is where Rebirth truly shines for me. We see a series of reunions and remembrances between heroes leading up to Wally finally finding Linda. The tragedy is she doesn’t remember him at all. Wally concedes to his defeat and decides to visit Barry Allen, The Flash one last time.
Wally expresses how much Barry has meant to him, recognizing that Barry will not know who this mysterious stranger is. And just as Wally is about to dissolve away, Barry reaches out and remembers. I would be lying if I tried to act like I got through these pages with my tough guy cred preserved. There were tears, lots of tears. And yes, it is a total nostalgia driven reaction. My emotional connections to these characters from three decades of reading DC Comics is what drove how I felt about those pages. And that is a bit troubling. There shouldn’t be a need to regress if we don’t have to. Character should grow and move forward, not stay in stasis. The one aspect that does help is the return of Legacy. DC Comics were all about a line of progression for many of their heroes. I think if fresh talent is brought on board, coupled with those themes of Legacy we could end up with some incredibly good comics.
So with those pieces settled we get to the big controversial moment of the whole book. The Watchmen universe is now part of some larger shell universe that the DC Universe exists inside of. Take that in for a moment. I would have never guessed they would have gone there. Now there is a lot of talk on the internet about how disrespectful this is to Alan Moore. From what I have read, Alan Moore seems to have divorced himself from the Watchmen series. It’s a piece of corporate DC IP and he has moved on to bigger and better things. The Vertigo Beyond Watchmen miniseries from a couple years back was not abominable, I found Brian Azzarello’s work on it to be the best. In fact, Azzarello is the co-writer of the third Frank Miller Dark Knight series currently being published and it is not the abomination I expected it to be. I don’t know where this inclusion of these characters is going, but I have to admit I am very intrigued. It was incredibly risky on DC’s part to make this leap and if they pull it off it will be amazing. I have my doubts. Rebirth is fine one shot tour of things to come, it’s not exactly a cohesive story. When it’s time to explain the Watchmen’s role in a monthly context we’ll see how things gel.
Rebirth is a lot of things. It is a cynical corporate attempt to reshape the brand. It is also a love letter to elements of the DC Universe many fans miss. And it is a very risky move, but one that is needed when the last risk did not pay off. Geoff Johns is off to see if he can fix the film universe so he won’t be following up on these threads. I don’t know how much confidence I have in the individual creative teams to make these pay off, but I am crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. I want to feel that sense of wonder at a universe that has a storied history but presents fresh new stories that add to it.