DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is easily the most hyped and most anticipated DC comic book since the New 52 kicked off back in 2011. It has been a long and ugly stretch for DC over the last five years as the New 52 completely blew up in DC’s face. The New 52 led to many long-time fans leaving the publisher. The New 52 was unable to attract enough new readers to offset the number of readers that fled the publisher. Personally, I have been waiting for this moment ever since the New 52 first began.
I always found the New 52 to be inherently flawed. The concept of trashing all of DC’s continuity and embracing a 1990’s Image Comics style of story telling made no sense at all. DC completely lost touch with who they are and what are their core principles. DC was in denial and ran from their DNA which made them distinct from Marvel. DC Comics is a place of bright colors, classic super heroes and positive and fun stories. Marvel always provided the counterpoint by delivering more “realistic” super heroes who were flawed or morally ambiguous. And there was room for both views on super heroes.
Sadly, DC ran from who they are rather than embracing it. DC tried to out Marvel their competition by delivering dark and “edgy” New 52 comics that seemed to be the second coming of the 1990’s Image Comics. Was it any surprise that 2/3 of the brain trust that brought us the New 52, Dan Didio, Jim Lee and Bob Harris, also brought us the equally shitty Heroes Reborn over in Marvel back in 1996. The vibe, the tone and the goal for Heroes Reborn seemed reflected in the New 52.
It also did not help that DC also engaged in forced and disingenuous pandering with how they recast many of their established characters. Diversity can be created through the natural elevation of lesser known minority characters or through the hard work of creating new minority characters and placing them in positions of relevance. However, trashing an established character and replacing them with a new character who has the same name and gimmick with the only difference being their ethnicity? That never works.
The New 52 failed on so many fronts. The New 52 was the perfect storm of every possible shitty idea and approach to super hero comics all rolled into one massive dung heap. And the New 52’s failure was proven in DC’s hideous sales numbers over the past few years.
Geoff Johns has talked a huge game leading up the DC Universe: Rebirth #1. I have been a long time fan of Geoff Johns. Yes, I have disagreed with some of his decisions in the past and I have criticized some of his issues at times. But, on a whole, I have always been impressed by Geoff Johns’ writing ability and big picture ability in how to properly frame the DC Universe. Cleaning up the mess that is the New 52 is a Herculean task. But, if anyone can pull it off it would be Geoff Johns. Johns is the only writer at DC that I would trust with this task. Let’s hit DC Universe: Rebirth #1 and find out if Johns delivers a gem or not.
Words: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Gary Frank, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver & Phil Jimenez
Inks: Gary Frank, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Matt Santorelli
Colors: Brad Anderson, Jason Wright
Story Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin by looking at a wristwatch. We go into the watch and see all of the gears. A voice narrates that his uncle gave him a watch that said “Every second is a gift.” That his uncle was an optimist. The voice says that he used to be an optimist, too. Until the day the watch broke and he lost it. He lost time. Everyone lost time.
We look at the Earth from space. The voice says that they know this is the Earth they love but they can feel that something is missing. (Words I often say to myself whenever I pick up a New 52 comic book.) The voice narrates how their parents were inattentive. That they had no siblings. They had no friends. Then they met their hero and found hope and inspiration. That they were blessed with power and became a part of a legacy. That their life was better than they imagined. But that it was all ripped away.
We zip to the Batcave. The voice says that they would sometimes get lost like this. But that he always had a lightning rod that would pull him back home. For as hard as he has tried he still cannot find “her.” So, the voice decides that Batman might be able to help. That Batman knows what it is like to lose everything. We see Batman at the Batcomputer. There are multiple versions of Joker popping up all over the place. (You see several versions from the Golden Age, the Silver Age to the Bronze Age. Yeah! Now that is the Joker! Purple suit and all!) Batman says that the chair said that there were three. (Batman is referencing the Mobius Chair that he had possession of during the Darkseid War on Justice League.) That Batman has to figure out what that means.
The voice says that Batman has figured out all of the greatest mysteries from Gotham to Apokolips. That maybe Batman can see through the fog that has fallen on everyone. The voice says that the moment Darkseid was destroyed that reality flickered and a door that had been keeping him out finally cracked after years of trying to get back. The voice says that he is finally able to break through. The voice says that making direct contact could kill him but that he must try.
Lightning crackles around Batman. We hear the word “Bruce!” being yelled out. Suddenly Kid Flash appears! (Oh shit!! It is the REAL Wally West!!! Everyone’s favorite ginger!! Fuck yeah!!!) Wally says “Bruce! I need your help!” Batman does not recognize Wally. Batman asks “Who are you?” Wally says that he is younger than he is supposed to be. That they are all younger than they are supposed to be. The lightning then begins to reel Wally back into the Speed Force. Wally says that the connection with Batman was not strong enough.
Wally yells that Batman must remember how he got the letter. The letter from Bruce’s father. That the letter is how all of this started. Wally then gets pulled back into the Speed Force and disappears. Wally narrates how the Speed Force is an extra-dimensional force that gives speedsters their powers. But, if you move to fast you can run across the edges of time and you can fall in. Once that happens you begin to lose your memories. You lose all sense of self. You become one with the Speed Force.
We see Batman alone in the Batcave. He stares at a letter from his father. Wally says that Bruce could not bring him back so he has to find someone else. As Wally tumbles through time we get a scene re-telling his origin. That he had inattentive parents. That he had no siblings. That he visited his Aunt Iris in Central City and met Barry Allen. That Wally was the biggest fan of the Flash. That Iris and Barry arranged Wally to meet the Flash. That during that meeting, lightning struck Wally as he was doused with chemicals. Just like how Barry got his powers. Wally said that later he and Barry theorized that Barry subconsciously called out to the Speed Force to make a sad kid’s dream come true.
Wally recounts being Kid Flash. We see Kid Flash as a member of the original Teen Titans. Wally talks about the original Crisis on Infinite Earths when Barry died. Wally narrates how he stepped into Barry’s boots and became the Flash. That Wally then met the love of his life Linda Park. That Linda became his lightning rod. Every time Wally thought he was lost that Linda would help him come back home. No matter where he was the two of them were connected. Then Wally narrates how Barry returned during the events of Flash Rebirth.
Wally then talks about how Barry went back in time to stop Reverse-Flash from killing Barry’s mom. That in doing so, Barry unwittingly changed all of reality. This caused the Flashpoint. (Worst big event ever.) Wally talks about how together Dr. Thomas Wayne, who was the Batman in the Flashpoint reality, and Barry teamed-up to save the universe and Barry stopped himself from changing the past.
However, someone was watching from the outside. Someone saw history unravel when Barry first created the Flashpoint. And when history was coming back together at the end of Flashpoint that person attacked. As their time line was being reformed someone stole ten years from them. (The New 52 took place 5 years after the end of Flashpoint. Add on the past 5 miserable years of the New 52 being published. That gives you a ten-year gap.) Heroes that were legends became novices.Bonds between heroes were weakened and erased. Legacies were destroyed. Wally says that a darkness from somewhere infected us. (These few lines are the most succinct and genuine description for the New 52 that I have ever read. Well said, Johns.) Wally says that nobody knows all of this except for him.
Wally falls through the Speed Force. Wally says that the secret is not that the Flashpoint changed the universe. The secret is that someone else did. And whoever they are that they are still out there. Wally says that he cannot give up and he reaches out to someone once again. Wally says that he has to warn everyone. That he has to tell them that it is not over. (It’s not over until WE say it is over!)
We shift to an Nursing Home. Two orderlies chase down an old man. They tell the old man to calm down and behave. They say that they will call his granddaughter down here to yell at him. The old man yells that he will not be locked up. The old man runs into a room and closes the door. Wally narrates that the old man is connected to the lightning., too. Lightning crackles and Wally appears before the old man. Wally says that everyone thinks the old man is crazy. Everyone but the old man’s great grand-son.
Wally says that this man was a member of the Justice Society of America during World War II. Wally tells the old man that his friends’ history may have been stolen but his friends were not completely lost. The old man yells out that McCarthy told them to take off their masks. The old man says he is sorry for what he did. Wally says that the world is going to need the old man’s friends. Wally says that the old man can bring them back. Wally calls the old man “Johnny” and tells Johnny to use the genie to bring back the Justice Society. (Cool! The old man is none other than Johnny Thunder! The genie is his super cool thunderbolt genie!)
Johnny cries out that he has been trying to do just that. The orderlies break through the door just as Wally disappears. Johnny starts yelling out “Cei-U!” Johnny asks where his thunderbolt has gone. Johnny cries out for his thunderbolt to return. Johnny says that he did not mean to throw the thunderbolt away. The orderlies drag Johnny away.
Wally is back in the Speed Force. Wally says that he feels someone else who is out of time. We cut to a Metropolis police station. We see that the police have a woman in custody. We never see the woman’s face but we know she is white and has blonde hair. The only possession the woman had was a ring. We see a police evidence bag with a Legion of Super Heroes flight ring in it. (SATURN GIRL!!!!!!) The police detective tells the woman that Superman is dead. The woman smiles and says she has seen the future and that everything will be all right.
We cut to Ivy University where Dean Plumm is yelling at Ryan Choi (Damn. Didn’t Deathstroke kill this chump and put him in a matchbox? Such a great scene. Good times. Good times.) about how Professor Palmer has cancelled five classes in the past week. Dean Plumm yells for Choi to go find his boss before she deports him back to Hong Kong. (Wouldn’t she be technically deporting him back to China? I’m pretty sure you can’t deport someone back to a specific city. You just deport to a country.)
Ryan Choi runs off to Ray Palmer’s lab. knocking on Ray Palmer’s lab door. There is no answer so Ryan pulls out a key and unlocks the door. Ray is not inside of the lab. Suddenly, a computer monitor springs to life. We see a recorded message from the Atom, Ray Palmer. (Yeah!! Ray Palmer! THE Atom! Accept no substitutes, baby.) Ray says that if Ryan is viewing this message then that means Ray is in big trouble.
Ray says that he has detected a disruption dip within the temporal nanostructure of the time line. Ray said that he thought it was the work of Chronos. Ray investigated and found out that it was not Chronos after all. Ray said he found something much bigger within the essence of time itself. Ray then investigated and shrunk beyond the atomic. Ray said he then discovered the Microverse. (Oh, shit. Someone call the Micronauts’ attorney. DC’s is stealing their gimmick.)
Ray asks Ryan to cancel Ray’s classes. Ray asks Ryan to tell Jean that the alimony check will be late and that Ray loves her. (Jean Loring. As Ralph Dibny would say “That bitch!”) Ray then says that he will need Ryan to do something else for him. Ray says that he knows that Ryan does not play sports. That Ryan hates the outdoors and is afraid of heights. That Ryan has asthma and allergies and, frankly, is a mess. (Damn. Piling it on a bit thick in order to make Ryan the accidental hero that we all “love.”)
Having said that, the fact is that Ryan is the only person who knows Ray’s tech. Ray asks Ryan to put on the size changing belt that Ray left for him. That once Ryan shrinks down in size that his belt should be automatically attracted to Ray’s belt. (Oh, great. Now all of the annoying basement dwelling shippers are going to start demanding a Ray Palmer/Ryan Choi relationship based on just that one line.) Ray then says that he has one last important thing to tell Ryan. That once Ryan gets to the Microverse, there is going to be someone who is going to meet him. They are going to seek Ryan out. Ray says “Whatever you do, whatever they say, do not–” But, right at that moment the video cuts out. (Convenient.) Ryan looks confused. Ryan then stares at the Atom belt left behind for him. Ryan says “Uh-oh.” (Profound.)
We cut to Ted Kord’s lab. We see Ted Kord (Hell yeah!!! The REAL Blue Beetle is back and better than ever!! More Ted Kord. Please!) talking to Jamie Reyes. (Damn. This dude is still around? This dude is the Carol Danvers of the DC Universe. He keeps getting solo titles and they keep selling like crap.) Ted wants Jaime to help work on the Bug. That is Ted’s beetle ship. Jaime says that he would rather be working on a way to seperate the beetle scarab from his back. Ted excited says that the Bug is their headquarters. It is their mobile Batcave. Jamie says that he does not need nor want a Batcave. Ted exclaims “Who doesn’t want their own Batcave?” (God, I love Ted Kord. Such a fantastic character.)
Ted says that Kord Industries is here to make incredible tech and to do good for the world. Ted says that it is destiny that brought Jamie to him for help with the scarab on Jamie’s back. Ted exclaims “You are the Blue Beetle, Jamie!” (Ugh, this is a pathetic attempt to use the established hero that everyone loves to totally put over the new character that few people like. It is like watching AJ Styles put over Roman Reigns.) Ted says that they are going to figure out what the scarab can do and they are going to help people. Jamie replies that he came to Ted to see if he could remove the scarab from him. Jamie says that he is not interested in playing Batman and Robin. (Cool. Me, neither.)
Jamie then realizes that he is late for school. He transforms into the Blue Beetle armor and flies off. Suddenly, Dr. Fate appears on the scene. Dr. Fate says that Ted is messing with something that he does not understand. That Jamie is an innocent and that the scarab is something that both Ted and Jamie misunderstand. Dr. Fate says that Ted thinks the scarab is xeon-technology. But, the fact is that the scarab is actually magic. Ted gets an excited look on his face and says “Magic?”
We cut to Damien Wayne by himself looking at his 13th Birthday cake. Wally’s voice narrates that there are more of them. New heroes. With new ideas. We cut to Jessica Cruz (Oh, yippie. More of this character. Is it too hard to just give us Hal, Guy and John? Really?) Hal contacts Jessica and tells her that he needs her to go intercept Sinestro.
Wally narrates that there are women and women who not only discover their power but embrace it. We cut to Jackson Hyde sitting in his room looking at an aquarium. (Sweet baby Jesus. This character is still around? Of course he is. Because he is one of Johns’ pet characters.) Jackson’s mom enters the room and says that what Jackson does is not natural. Jackson asks if his mom is talking about what he did at the lake. Jackson’ s mom says she is not talking about how he swims. She is talking about “the boys.” Jackson replies that it is not “boys” but a boy. More specifically his boyfriend. (Ah, get it? The mom isn’t concerned that her son might be some bizarre mutant/alien/hybrid who suddenly manifested powers. She is upset that he is gay. 2016, my friends.) Jackson stares into the Aquarium and says that it is who he is even if he does not know why and that he is not going to run from it anymore. (This is the first scene that was pretty goofy and cheesy.)
We shift to Pandora in an alley. She is staring at someone from off panel. Pandora says that skepticism, doubt and corruption is all that is in the person’s heart. But, that the heroes of the universe represent hope. That their love for one other will vanquish what the mysterious person has done. Pandora says that it may be over for her but that the heroes will prove the mysterious person wrong. That the hero sill prove that the mysterious person is nothing more than a lonely and cruel monster.
The figure from off panel then kills Pandora. Pandora disintegrates in blue light. (This is almost exactly like the scene from the Watchmen where Dr. Manhattan kills Rorschach. Except for the fact that Rorschach was cool and I was sad to see him die. Pandora sucks and I am thrilled this New 52 character has finally been killed off.)
We cut to an island where Grail is holding baby Darkseid. (Please see the events of Justice League #50 for a further explanation of how this came to pass.) Grail says that she knows Wonder Woman’s secret. That Wonder Woman has a twin brother named Jason. That he is out there in the world and that he has great power. The woman says “Just like you Darkseid.” as she stares at baby Darkseid.
We cut to the scene of New 52 Superman’s death. (YAY!! No more Dude Bro Superman. Best. News. Ever.) There is a crater in the ground where Superman was. All of the heroes are standing around sad. We see that Green Arrow and Black Canary are among the heroes at the scene. Wally narrates how they barely know each other now. But, that when they look at each they feel a spark that neither one can explain. That there is avoid deep inside of both of them. Something buried in their hearts. This strange feeling keeps them up at night wondering what have they lost.
Wally narrates that “Then the images stop.” We cut to the Siegel Motel which is next to the Siegel coffee shop. (Glad to see that the company that screwed Siegel out of money and rights at least gives him cute little references in their comic books.) We see that the real Superman is at the hotel with the real Lois Lane and their son, Jon. (Oh, yeah! More of the REAL Superman!) Superman says that they came from a parallel Earth. That many things are different but that some things seem to be repeating. Lois comments things are repeating like Doomsday killing Superman in their world and then the New 52 Superman dying on this Earth. Lois asks if the New 52 Superman is going to return from the grave like the real Superman did. (God, we can only hope not. Please let Dude Bro Superman stay dead.)
Superman then heads out to get them some lunch. Superman is then approached by a robed man with a scythe. The man introduces himself as Mr. Oz. (Hmmm, Mr. Oz. Could this be Ozymandius from the Watchmen?) Mr. Oz says that the term friend or enemy is too simple a term when you are considering the long game. Mr. Oz says that they are currently in a long game. Mr. Oz says that Superman and his family are not what they think they are. And that neither was the fallen Superman. (Hmmmm, very interesting!)
We shift to Aquaman and Mera on a beach. Wally narrates that he has so many questions left unanswered. Wally narrates that it was not ten years that was stolen from them. Wally narrates that it was love that was stolen from them. We see Aquaman getting down on one knee and asking Mera to marry him. Wally narrates that his heart warms and his pulse races. That this is what he needed. That he is drawn to it. That he can feel it. That he has found her.
We cut to Linda Park at the scene of New 52 Superman’s death. Linda is there as a reporter for the website named Super News. Wally says that Linda is so young. That he missed her so much. Wally says that if anyone is going to remember him that it will be Linda. That once Linda recognizes him that it will bring him back. Suddenly, the lightning crackles around Linda and Wally appears before her. Wally smiles and says “Linda. I’m back.”
Linda gets scared. Wally reaches out to Linda and asks her to take his hand so he can come home. Wally explains that he loves her. That they helped each other. That they will do so again. That is starts with the two of them. Forever. Linda replies “I don’t know you.” And with that, the Speed Force pulls Wally back in as he screams.
Wally tumbles back through the Speed Force. We see a male and a female in Gotham staring at the Batlight in the night sky. They say that the light is not for them. Not yet. We cut to John Constantine talking with Swamp Thing. Constantine is asking Swamp Thing for his help in dealing with some problems concerning “the capes.”
Wally then gets pulled to people he knows. First Captain Boomerang. Then Cyborg. Then Dick Grayson. None of them recognize Wally. Therefore, Wally keeps getting sucked back into the Speed Force. Wally says that he is lost and that his body is beginning to get broken down. That soon Wally will become part of the Speed Force and that he will forget everything.
Suddenly, Wally sees the new 52 Wally. (Crap. Can’t we just kill off this lame ass New 52 Wally and keep the real Wally West? Please?!) Wally says that his father had a sister, Iris West, and a brother, Daniel West. Wally was close to Iris but never close to Daniel. Daniel West had a son that Wally never met. Daniel’s son, Wally;s cousin, was also named after their great-grandfather Wallace West. (Nope. Nope. Nope. What sibling names their son the exact same name as their sibling’s son? Nope. No. I think believing that men can run faster than the speed of light in real life is more believable. And if this is the case then why isn’t New 52 Wally West ever drawn as biracial?)
The real Wally says that New 52 Wally is also connected to the Speed Force. We see New 52 Wally rescuing some people. The real Wally says that his days of being Kid Flash are over. (Gross. Johns is using the tired approach of the established character giving the rub to the vastly less popular new character so that readers will now embrace the less popular new character. Yeah, sorry, Johns Jedi Mind tricks are not working on me.)
The real Wally says that he is glad. That everything is in good hands. Wally says that without Linda he has no way back to life. That it is all over. Wally says that as he begins to dissolve he feels himself being pulled towards the man who started it all. To Barry Allen. The Flash.
We cut to Barry saving some people. Wally comments how Barry stops and checks out the kids in seconds to make sure none of them need to go to the Emergency Room. Then when Barry notices that the kids are hungry he gets them pizzas within a second. The time that he was at the pizza parlor to get the pizzas he renovated the owner’s kitchen as a tip. (Okay, now we are just going way too far. And this is coming from someone who is a massive Barry Allen fan. I get it. He’s a good guy. But, damn. Did he walk on water next? And just because you can move faster than light doesn’t mean you have the physical talent and skill to renovate a kitchen. Barry would have to find where all the various supplies were, plus find all the tools. Then know how to actually renovate a kitchen. It is just too much. Someone got caught gilding the lily with this scene.)
Wally says that Barry seems happy. Wally says that he can do this. That he can die in peace. Wally says that it is time to let the past go. Suddenly, we see a massive lightning strike next to Barry. Barry stops and Wally appears in front of him. Wally says that Barry won’t know who he is or remember who he was so this is a hello and a good-bye. Wally says that Flash needs to go to Batman and ask him about the letter from his father. Wally tells Barry to tell Batman that there is something wrong with history. That someone infected it. (Yes. The New 52 being described as an infection. That’s perfect.) Wally says “You all forgot things. Like me.”
Barry asks “Who are you?” Wally screams in pain. Wally thinks how there is no more time. Wally says “Barry…thank you for an amazing life.” Wally thanks Barry for his kindness and his inspiration. Wally thanks Barry for being there so many times. Wally says that Barry was right. That every second is a gift. Wally says that he will not die with anguish. That he will die with love in his heart. Wally begins to cry and says “Good-bye, Barry.”
Wally begins to dissipate into the lightning. Barry suddenly says “Wally?” Barry reaches out and grabs Wally’s wrist before Wally completely dissipates. The lightning explodes and we see Wally West alive and back and better than ever. Wally looks up stunned. Wally says “I’m alive?” Wally said that Barry brought him back. Barry begins to cry and says “I…I ‘m so sorry, Wally. My God. How could I ever forget you?” Barry brings Wally in for a close hug. (Oh, damn. This got me straight in my chest. My eyes are starting to water up. This is a powerful moment that is so well-played by Johns.)
Barry says that he remembers all of it now. Wally tells Barry all about Flashpoint and about history changing. Wally says that it was not just him. That there were others. So many relationships. So many friendships. (This is like reading my sorrowful reaction to the New 52 back when it was first unleashed on us like a scourge upon the Earth.) Barry asks “Are you sure it isn’t my fault?” Wally says that none of this was Barry’s fault. That it was something else. Someone else.
We cut to the Batcave. Wally says that whoever it was they did this for a reason. That they took years from them to weaken them. Wally says that they struck deep at our hearts. That whoever it is they are more powerful than Reverse-Flash or Darkseid. That there is a force out there they have never met.
We see Batman going over to the glass case with his father’s letter in it. Batman feels someone behind him and turns around and looks in the dark. Batman sees something on the Batcave wall. Batman walks over and pulls something off of the Batcave wall. Wally narrates that there is going to be a war between hope and despair. Love and apathy. Faith and disbelief. Wally says that he knows they are out there. And that they will attack again.
We see Batman looking at what he pulled off of the Batcave wall. It is the Comedian’s smiling face pin. Wally narrates that he can feel it. Even now. They are being watched.
We then shift to Mars. We see the watch that Barry gave Wally. It is broken. It floats into the air and begins to reconstruct itself. A voice asks “I did the right thing, didn’t I? It all worked out in the end.” Another voice answers. This voice is in a blue narration box. The blue voice says “In the end? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.” (All right, Adrian is Ozymandius’ real name. That means the blue voice is Dr. Manhattan. And it makes sense since Dr. Manhattan relocates to Mars during the events of the Watchmen.) Wally’s watch then turns into the iconic Watchmen yellow watch. End of issue.
The Good: Wow. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 hit me right in the chest. My heart is aching at the moment. That kind of ache that you get when you see loved ones who you have not seen in a long time. The kind of ache you get when you return home after being gone for years. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 was a warm embrace. A long warm embrace that I have not felt from DC ever since they gave me with middle finger with the New 52. This is the first time in five years that I felt like DC was actually trying to deliver a comic book that was aimed at me. This is the first time in five years where DC Comics publishes a comic book that actually felt like a true DC comic book. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is the first time in five years where a DC comic book actually embraced who DC is. Actually embraced DC’s core principles and values. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is an apology to readers for the New 52 and an affirmation of DC’s core principles and values. Marvel and DC seem to be going in two different directions. Marvel, under Axel Alsono, appears to be completely losing sight of who they are. On the other hand, DC finally seems to have rediscovered and embraced who they are.
Johns proudly plants DC’s flag with DC Universe: Rebirth #1 and loudly exclaims that this is who DC Comics is. That the DC Universe is populated by classic super heroes who are larger than life. That the DC Universe is a bright and positive place full of hope and love. The framework of the DC Universe is built upon the long relationships and storied histories of the various characters. That it is DC’s long and storied past and its rich continuity that is the backbone and strength of the DC Universe. That this history and this continuity is something to be embraced as a core strength rather than discarded as an inherent weakness.
Johns does not run from the core principles that have been a part of DC’s DNA for generations. DC Comics is not Marvel Comics. DC is not the home of the “realistic” super hero who is full of flaws and morally ambiguous. DC is not a world that is dark and gritty. Nor is DC the second coming of 1990’s Image Comics. DC is not the home of “extreme” and “edgy” super heroes with swords and guns larger than their bodies. No, the DC Universe is home to the most iconic super heroes in the history of comic books. The DC Universe is a place of hope and brightness where super heroes embody classic good guy morals and values.
Geoff Johns takes all of the criticisms about the New 52 that people like me have been voicing since 2011. Johns takes these criticisms of the New 52 and puts them to print with DC Universe: Rebirth #1. Johns is our voice. Johns validates our criticisms with the New 52. Loyal DC readers who left DC Comics after the New 52 feel the warmth of validation as Johns reaches out to us and tells us that how we felt is okay. DC Comics spent five years giving us the middle finger and constantly telling us in an aggressive and trolling fashion that our feelings about the New 52 were wrong. Johns seeks to deliver an honestly heart-felt apology to all the reader who fled DC Comics with DC Universe: Rebirth #1.
Johns plainly states that DC was wrong. That the New 52 was a mistake. That abandoning the core principles of the DC Universe was wrong. That trashing the rich and storied history of the DC Universe was a mistake. That telling readers to forget their life-long attachments to certain characters and their relationships was wrong. Johns properly points out that DC’s history is exactly what makes DC so special. That DC’s continuity and all the long-time relationships between characters is very fabric of the DC Universe and is what makes readers love DC’s comic books so much.
Johns uses DC Universe: Rebirth #1 to explain why readers love DC’s characters so intensely. This issue explains why readers will passionately defend certain characters and will debate over certain directions that DC takes with various characters. This issue explains why readers are so invested in the long-time relationships between various characters. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 effectively conveys the passion and love that comic book readers have for DC’s history and its classic characters. Johns points out that trashing DC’s history and all of the various characters and their relationships to each other is what gutted readers connection to the DC Universe and why many readers left DC Comics.
DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is a love story to the Pre-New 52 DC Universe. This issue is a coda for DC’s super hero comic books. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is the end of DC Comics’ journey that they embarked way back in 1986. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is also the beginning of a new journey for DC Comics going forward.
Modern comic book publishers, and DC Comics in particular, have been on a long journey ever since 1986. There is no more pivotal or groundbreaking year for DC Comics than 1986. That year had a bigger impact on DC Comics than another year. 1986 unleashed The Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns onto the comic book industry. These are easily two of the most influential comic books of all time. And nothing would every be the same. Also released in 1986 was Crisis on Infinite Earths. This was equally trend setting as Crisis on Infinite Earths is the beginning of the Big Event title that has become a yearly staple for Marvel and DC. Crisis on Infinite Earths also radically altered DC’s continuity that has continued to impact DC’s characters and stories every single year right up until present day DC Comics.
1986 was a seismic shift in the comic book industry and certainly for DC Comics in particular. Since 1986, DC Comics has been on a journey that has led to DC Universe: Rebirth #1 which feels like an ending and a beginning. The Watchmen turn the comic book industry on its head. The Watchmen introduced stark reality with all of its flaws and defects into the world of super hero comic books. The Dark Knight Returns introduced darkness and grittiness of a new level into the world of super hero comic books. From that point we got the 1990’s which was dominated by Image Comics and their “extreme” approach to super hero comics. Both DC and Marvel quickly moved to adopt Image’s style of storytelling.
Crisis on Infinite Earths continued to impact DC Comics all the way through Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis and Flashpoint. DC has continually struggled with how to best handle their incredibly deep and textured history. Crisis on Infinite Earths was supposed to be the solution to streamline DC’s continuity. It proved to fail in that endeavor as DC’s continuity became even more factored and difficult to handle. DC eventually brought back the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe with the return of the Multiverse after Infinite Crisis.
Then, with DC struggling to beat Marvel in the sales charts, DC mistakenly thought that the solution was not just a streamlining of their continuity like what they did with Crisis on Infinite Earths but an entire junking of their history and a “fresh” start with the New 52. Sadly, after a temporary sales bump, Marvel went back to beating DC in the sales charts. And then the monthly sales beatings from Marvel became every worse than they were before the New 52 reboot.
DC realized, much like their did many years after Crisis on Infinite Earths, that their storied history and deep continuity is not their weakness. DC realized that their classic characters are not the problem. That their classic characters and their long history and continuity are DC’s strengths. And that DC had to play to these strengths. DC turned to Geoff Johns to bring back the pre-Crisis On Infinite Earths DC Universe during Infinite Crisis. Once again, DC turns to Geoff Johns to bring back the Pre-New 52 DC Universe.
DC Universe: Rebirth #1 goes even further than Infinite Crisis. Johns is even more emphatic. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 clearly delivers an ending to the journey that DC Comics has been on since 1986. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 also presents the beginning of a new journey going forward for DC Comics. One based on their past and their core principles and values. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is the blueprint for DC Comics going forward. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is the scripture that DC’s writers and editors can turn to for guidance, inspiration and direction when deciding how to proceed forward on any DC comic book.
Johns makes it clear that, going forward, the DC Universe is going to be a place that embraces DC’s long history. That, going forward, DC is going to deliver classic super hero stories that are more positive and bright. That the long-time relationships will be heralded. That newer characters will work side-by-side with established characters rather than crudely replacing the established characters. That the darkness, the grittiness and the “edginess” of the New 52 will be left behind.
DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is a beautiful story. It is obvious that this issue is a labor of love from Johns. This issue is packed full of emotion. It is evident that Johns poured his heart and soul into the pages of this issue. The emotions of the various characters are palpable to the point where at certain scenes they are nearly overpowering. This story warmly touches the reader’s heart. The reader finds themselves completely invested in this story and in all of the characters. More specifically, the reader is totally invested in Wally West’s struggle and his attempt to reconnect with the DC Universe.
The pacing to DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is excellent. The story moves along at a measured pace building in several false finishes with Wally appearing to Batman, Johnny Thunder and Linda Park before nailing the powerful climax with Wally appearing before Barry Allen. The way the story builds in waves with each one stronger than the last one makes DC Universe: Rebirth #1 a wonderfully paced issue.
Unsurprisingly, Johns delivers a well plotted issue. Johns has always had excellent plotting skills and has always shined at juggling multiple complex and detailed plot lines. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 deals with a wide range of plot lines. This is an incredibly dense read. Johns gives the reader more than enough substance to chew on. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is such a deep and nuanced read that it merits multiple readings in order to truly digest and process everything that Johns presents to the reader.
Johns is a master world builder. Very few writers can match Johns’ ability to build worlds, to flesh out settings and to clearly outline new directions for an entire universe. Johns posses the rare ability to see the big picture in a shared universe and to frame that big picture in a clear fashion. Not many writers can pull off what Johns is capable of delivering when it comes to understanding and conveying the big picture.
Johns’ use of Wally West in this issue was excellent. Wally West represents the reader who left DC when the New 52 began. Wally West’s dialogue and his view on the pre-New 52 universe and his view on the current New 52 universe represents the views of the reader who left DC after the New 52 reboot. Johns’ use of Wally’s narration to form the spine of this issue effectively strings together the disparate plot lines and characters into one cohesive story. Wally’s narration also serves to convey the criticisms of the New 52 and to extol the virtues of the pre-New 52 DC Universe. This approach is highly effective.
The character work is excellent. There is also good chemistry between all of the characters. Johns demonstrates his excellent feel for the personalities of all the characters that appear in this issue. Obviously, the star of this issue was Wally West. I am a massive fan of Wally West. Wally is my Kid Flash. Period. Wally is also an important part of the greatest Teen Titans team of all time: The Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans. While Barry Allen has always been The Flash to me, there is no doubt that Wally West is a fantastic character and one that I love and have missed ever since the New 52 unceremoniously trashed his character.
So, seeing Wally West return in this issue made my heart glow. This was such a touching and emotional moment for me. I have been waiting to see everyone’s favorite ginger return to the DC Universe ever since the New 52 reboot. All of Wally’s narration spoke directly to me. Wally’s words mirrored my own when it came to the New 52. And the scene where Barry pulls Wally back into the DC Universe and then the two men hug? Jesus. That was the first time a comic had me in tears since Identity Crisis.
I was so happy that Johns had it be Barry Allen rather than Linda Park to be the one who recognized Wally and pull him back into the DC Universe. Don’t get me wrong. I love Linda’s character. And Wally and Linda are a fantastic couple. Right up there is Ralph and Sue Dibny, Barry Allen and Iris West, Carter and Shiera Hall and Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris. But, it would not have been right for Linda to have been the person to recognize Wally and pull him back into the DC Universe.
First, it would have been way to predictable and hackneyed to have it be Linda to recognize Wally and pull him back into the DC Universe. Johns making such a huge point that Linda is Wally’s lightning rod made her choice too obvious. And it helped to create excellent drama and tension in the story once Linda failed to recognize Wally.
Second, having Barry be the one to recognize and rescue Wally made for a more thematically powerful scene. Barry is the central figure in Wally’s life. Barry is who made Wally both the man and the super hero that he is today. Also, Barry’s relationship with Wally is more of one that is between a father and a son. And as a father of two boys, I know that there is nothing stronger than the bond between a father and his son. Not even the bond between spouses can compare to the bond a father has for his son.
Barry’s reaction to finally recognizing Wally and then embracing him while crying and asking how in the world he could have every forgotten Wally was as powerful of a moment in any comic book. This scene nails the powerful bond that exists in a father-son relationship. And the fact that Johns delivers this moment with Barry displaying a a mix of happiness, sorrow and guilt all at the same moment was impressive. To be able to pull off so many different emotions in one moment is no easy feat for any writer. This scene between Wally and Barry is certainly the high point of this issue.
Johns also whips up some great dialogue. All of the characters have well-developed external voices. Wally’s narration was well written and kept the reader’s interest throughout the issue.
The Bad: DC Universe: Rebirth #1 was not a perfect issue. There are flaws to this issue. I am not a fan of inserting the Watchmen into the DC Universe. The Watchmen is one of the greatest comic book stories of all time. And it is a story that is best served standing by itself completely separated from the rest of the DC Universe. I have no desire to revise the Watchmen universe. I was not interested in reading Watchmen sequel comic books or prequel Watchmen comic books. Alan Moore meant the Watchmen to be a completely separate self-contained story. The Watchmen perfectly tells the story that Moor wanted to deliver. It deserves to stand on its own.
Pulling the Watchmen into the DC Universe serves neither the Watchmen nor the DC Universe. Doing so only stands to ruin what was an excellently crafted self-contained story for the era that it was published in. It only serves to make one of the greatest graphic novels every published less so special. And the DC Universe gains nothing by having the Watchmen added to it. The DC Universe is already its own lush and diverse landscape with more than enough different characters populating it. In fact, the DC Universe already has the characters in it that the Watchmen were based off of. The original Charlton characters that DC acquired already live in the DC Universe. Awkwardly shoving the Watchmen into the DC Universe does nothing positive for either party.
Johns uses the Watchmen as a scapegoat in his metacommentary in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 that criticizes the New 52 as being too focused on dark, somber, gritty and edgy stories. Johns’ blame on the Watchmen as the source of this negativity is misplaced. Alan Moore never meant for the Watchmen to be the blueprint for DC’s comic books going forward from 1986. Moore was a firm believer in positive and optimistic super hero comic books. Moore never planned nor thought it wise for DC to make all of their mainstream super hero titles more like the Watchmen.
Instead, Johns’ blame should be on the current leadership of Dan Didio and Jim Lee. Bob Harris should also shoulder some of the blame. And Geoff Johns himself needs to also stand up and take some of the blame for the New 52. Johns was named Chief Creative Officer in 2010 and had that role throughout all of the New 52. Johns is also the author of plenty of dark, somber and violent super hero stories. In fact, Johns has written super hero stories darker, more somber and more violent than what Moore delivered in the Watchmen. So, Johns comes across as hypocritical and dodging his own accountability when he uses the Watchmen as the scapegoat in his criticism of the New 52.
Another problem with DC Universe: Rebirth #1 was the continuity gaffe concerning New 52 Superman’s death. Over in Superman #52, we see that New 52 turns into an ashen husk upon his death. However, in DC Universe #1, New 52 Superman’s death scene has him disappearing after his death. There is just an empty burned out crater where his body used to be. Details count. Continuity issue. In Superman #52, New 52 Superman is an ashen husk. In DC Universe: Rebirth #1 it is just an empty crater in the ground. Cyborg is scanning the area as if to indicate that New 52 Superman’s body disappeared. Continuity gaffes plagued the New 52 right from the start. It would be nice to see DC’s editorial staff finally learning from their mistakes as they try to “rebirth” the DC Universe with this issue.
There is also the debate over if DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is nothing more than mere pandering to longtime fans and that no real substantive change will come out of this issue. That the DC Universe will continue to be more or less the same as it was under the New 52 banner. The fact remains that the two people who are in charge of DC Comics, Dan Didio and Jim Lee, are still in power. Just ask Redskins fans how much change they get year after year with a parade of new head coaches and new players all while Dan Snyder still remains as the owner. As long as Snyder is still the head man on top the Redskins continue to suck no matter who coaches them or plays for them. It is really tough to argue that real substantive change is headed for DC Comics when the two guys at the top are still in charge.
This is compounded by the fact that Geoff Johns will no longer be writing comics. Johns is leaving DC Comics to go be the boss of DC Films. So, now we have DC Comics still being run by Didio and Lee. And we have Geoff Johns, the man who wants to move DC Comics back to what it was before the New 52 reboot, leaving the company. With Johns, as the one vocal critic of the New 52, and Didio and Lee staying why should readers believe that there will be any meaningful changes with DC’s comic books? DC Comics has nobody at all who can fill Johns’ shoes. And how can Johns have much influence on the direction that DC’s comic books take when he is busy trying to build DC Films into something credible and successful?
Overall: DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is Geoff Johns’ swan song. This is Johns’ good-bye letter to comic book readers as he heads off to run DC Films. Losing Johns is a massive blow to DC as they look to pick up the shattered pieces of their universe in the wake of the failed New 52. DC continues to take record beatings from Marvel in the monthly sales charts. Now, DC has to reshape their universe and revamp their titles without their single greatest asset in Geoff Johns. Johns has been the single biggest force within DC Comics over the past two decades. It will be interesting to see if DC can fill the massive void that Geoff Johns leaves within the publisher. There appears to be no one groomed to take Geoff Johns’ place within the publisher.
How DC pivots and proceeds forward from this moment is vital. This is a defining moment for DC Comics. They can either someone fill Johns’ shoes and take his blueprint mapped out in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 in order to rebuild the company and their line of comics. Or, they will flounder without Johns and fail to follow his blueprint in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 and continue to lose dollar share and market share to Marvel on their slide to irrelevancy. The next couple of years should be interesting.