DC Universe: Rebirth #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencils by Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Phil Jimenez, Ivan Reis
Published by DC Comics, May 25th 2016
If you are a long time comic reader I am sure you know all about DC’s recent Rebirth initiative. Even if you are not a regular reader, it’s likely you have at least heard about the re-branding since it has been covered in the mainstream media. The reasons behind this move by DC are simple on the surface, but become more complex as you examine the market and comic book industry as a whole.
The complex reasons are a topic for another day, involving a much longer article. The simple reasons are this: one of the biggest assets the DC universe had going for it pre-Flashpoint was the legacy of its characters, the mantles of heroes such as Flash, Green Lantern and even Superman, having passed down from old generations to new. The New 52 reboot changed all that and over the past 5 years the powers that be at DC Comics came to realize the depth of their mistake. The decision to completely remove the 75+ years of stories was not a good one and the challenge became … how to fix it?
Enter one Geoff Johns, a fan-favorite writer with a track record of acknowledging, using and even revering past stories, while at the same time moving the characters he touches into the modern world. Johns has even taken pride in using and popularizing characters who have largely been forgotten at times. This pedigree, along with an immense amount of faith from the fans, placed Johns in a unique position. A position where he could find a way to repair the damage done by the fateful decision to jettison the legacy feel the DC Universe had pre-Flashpoint.
Just having an opportunity isn’t enough though, you still have to take advantage of the chance you’ve been given. You still have to deliver … and judging by the fan reception? Judging by sales numbers so far? Geoff Johns has done just that. He has done that in spades.
The recently released DC Rebirth 80 page giant was written by Geoff Johns with art by Gary Frank, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver and Phil Jimenez. It reads like both a love letter to long time DC fans as well as a trip down memory lane. The story starts out being narrated by an unknown character. The colors of the dialog boxes themselves provide a clue as to who is talking to the reader. That is part of what grabs you right away, the fact that this narrator seems to be speaking directly to you, the reader.
Of course this is taken to the next level by what is actually being said. You start to wonder, is this Geoff Johns himself speaking? Talking about how much he loves the DC Universe, saying he feels something has been missing for sometime now, speaking of legacy.
Over the course of the next few pages we learn the speaker is actually Wally West, the beloved legacy character himself who became the Flash for an entire generation of readers once the original Flash, Barry Allen, sacrificed himself during Crisis on Infinite Earths. We come to learn he has been trapped in the Speed Force, learning that the reality of the DCU has been tampered with. Everyone has lost both time and memories to some unknown entity.
It is entirely appropriate that Wally first appears to Batman, who although he doesn’t remember Wally, will never let a mystery go unresolved. Perhaps even more fitting though, is the final person Wally appears to and the subsequent plea for help. It is a powerful scene and emotional scene, one that long time DC fans will surely feel the impact of. Along the way we see Wally touch base with different corners of the New 52 DC Universe, we see him wonder about some of the very changes we ourselves, as readers, have wondered about.
The story itself doesn’t have a resolution, not in this comic. I am not sure that will please everyone who reads it. I imagine there will be those who wanted a quick and clean way reset of the DCU. An ending to the New 52 and a return to the DC they knew and loved. This story isn’t about endings, though, and it isn’t necessarily a story of a new beginning either. It’s Johns doing what he does best, telling a good story. A story that acknowledges all that came before, while bringing in something new.
The “new” has me intrigued. Who or what has made these changes to the universe I used to know? Even more importantly, now that Wally has returned and other heroes are learning of the changes, how will that help to bring back the past? I can’t wait to find out, but we know the answers won’t come quickly.
We all know that nostalgia is a very powerful thing, but the danger in relying too heavily on it in a comic book story, is that often the story can’t possibly live up to the emotion of our memories. However, Johns does a masterful job of tugging at our heart strings with a familiar character, who both references stories and events of the past while cluing us in to this intriguing and brand new reality warping mystery. Johns clearly has put a lot of effort into the reasoning behind the mystery and has said that unraveling this mystery will take substantial time.
There are clues throughout the book though, and they seem more obvious on subsequent reads. Things you don’t necessarily notice at first. These clues seem to indicate that the Watchmen corner of the DC universe is somehow involved with — and perhaps even responsible for — the current state of the DCU. Much like Wally’s dialog over the first few pages, this is a very meta idea. One that has caused a bit of divisiveness for fans. Some feel the Watchmen story is sacred and there should be no crossover with the main DC Universe.
So how the DC universe might look after everything shakes out is anyone’s guess at this point, but one thing is certain. The distinctive feel, the sense of history, the past connections the various characters of the DCU had, those things have all returned. It leaves the current state of the DC universe in a very unique position.
The old cliché is about not being able to have your cake and eat it too. DC seems to be doing exactly that right now. They are cherry-picking what is best from the New 52 while moving back toward the legacy that has been missing over the last five years. The Rebirth issues that have come out in recent weeks, following the release of the 80 page giant, have done a great job of being new reader friendly, while balancing the return of legacy with the status quo of the New 52 before the events of Rebirth. If you’re a lapsed DC reader, a Marvel zombie looking for something different or a new fan altogether, I urge you to try out some of these Rebirth titles and see what all the buzz is about.
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