Just When I Thought I Was Out... (DCU Rebirth SPOILERS!)

Hey, y'all.

Remember when I said that both DC and Marvel Comics had catastrophically screwed the pooch when it came to handling their greatest super-heroes and super-villains?  (The most recent spate of comments started here with a discussion of Secret Wars and Convergence and continued over here with some talk about Superman: Lois & Clark.)

Yeah, Marvel's still doing it. I think right now I'm about the most opposite-of-excited as I've been for Marvel in a long, long while. Maybe ever! And it's something that's well reflected in my current buying habits. In my Discount Comic Book Service order for the month of May, I've only ordered nine ongoing Marvel titles--and five of those are in the Spider-Man family of books! I'm only reading what I enjoy, but even the current crop is subject to elimination. (And no, Steve Rogers: Captain America isn't doing the company any favors in my eyes, although certainly I'd be more apt to judge after we see more than just the first chapter.)

But DC? This last week returned a skosh of the goodwill they squandered over the last year. And the next several weeks will either validate that early feeling or maybe just sour me the rest of the way.

Of course, I'm talking about DC Universe Rebirth #1, the book that officially pulls back the curtain on the DCU of old and turns the trickle of old DCU carryovers into a veritable flood. Sure, a few characters like Batman and Green Lantern kept the majority of their continuity thanks to writers with long-term projects (Grant Morrison on the former, Rebirth scribe Geoff Johns on the latter). But it wasn't until Convergence with its undoing of Crisis On Infinite Earths that the ripple effect began in earnest.

That event had a few characters from the larger multiverse--which is to say, DC's forgotten, Pre-New 52 history--return in series of their own. Titans Hunt showed the return of the Pre-New 52 Titans, while Superman: Lois & Clark brought back the Post-Crisis Superman along with his wife and their brand new son. (There was also a third book spinning directly from Convergence, called Telos, which followed one of the new characters from the event. Since it has nothing really to do with the Pre-New 52 period, mentioning it is moot.) The former, I wasn't really interested in, because I've never really liked the Titans, teen or otherwise. (However, ask me about them again once I read Geoff Johns' run, which I picked up off eBay because of Superboy.) The latter, however, I was immensely interested in, for reasons including, but not limited to, the below:
  • Legendary Superman scribe Dan Jurgens as writer;
  • Legendary Daredevil artist Lee Weeks as penciler; 
  • The return of the same incarnation of Superman as I'd recently finished collecting a virtually full run of (thanks, dollar boxes!);
  • The fact they now had to explain how two Supermen now existed in the New 52; and
  • Did I mention two guys named Dan Jurgens & Lee Weeks??!?
Johns' own "Darkseid War" storyline in Justice League also presaged the return of more familiar elements, with both the return of Crisis' nemesis, the Anti-Monitor (now renamed Mobius) and another in a seemingly endless sequence of explanations for just why there are inconsistencies in DC's lineup, even between books in the New 52. (Something about the new reality "still cooling," as I recall.)

What I liked most about the book is no surprise: the entry point character, the linchpin that holds the entire narrative together. "My name is Wally West. I'm the Fastest Man Alive." As much affection as I have for both the current and 1990 incarnations of Barry Allen as The Flash on prime-time TV, Wally was my Flash growing up, so I had a very visceral reaction to his return in Rebirth. (He was Johns' Flash, too--so much so that he wrote the character for five whole years, 2000-2005, as one of his earliest long-term pro assignments.)

I still remember buying the very first issue of his series in 1987 at some store in eastern Ohio. Mark Waid's "Return of Barry Allen" opus a few years later became one of my favorite Flash stories, ever. Then there was the "Terminal Velocity" event that formally introduced the "Speed Force"; The Life Story of the Flash which presaged the tale of Barry's evil twin, Cobalt Blue; Wally's exile into Hypertime and the introduction of the Dark Flash; and finally, the introduction of Iron Heights prison and Hunter Zolomon, the crippled Rogue profiler who became the villainous speedster, Zoom. (Can you tell I know Wally West?)

Another major point along the path to Rebirth--brought up in Justice League #50 but also touched upon here--was the "unmasking"--if one can call it that--of the Joker. Johns, who wrote both stories, didn't reveal the Joker's name so much as hint that the Clown Prince of Crime is less an individual and more a role played by three separate villains. Above, you can clearly see images of the early Jerry Robinson version, side-by-side with the Brian Bolland version straight out of The Killing Joke, side-by-side with the one of more recent vintage as depicted during writer Grant Morrison's tenure. (Is it no coincidence there's one Pre-Crisis version, another Post-Crisis, and the third Post-Infinite Crisis? Hmm...)

It's an interesting theory put forth, and one I'm sure Tom King and James Tynion IV will investigate in their Rebirth-fueled Batman and Detective Comics relaunches, respectively. But really, if Batman hasn't been able to pick up on the fact--from variations in physical appearance and other flaws--that he's been fighting three separate Jokers over the years, what right does he have calling himself "The World's Greatest Detective"?

Of course, that brings us to the image from the book's end, the one that everyone's talking about because ZOMG EVERYBODY'S GONNA FIGHT THE WATCHMEN (insert strings of useless emojis). Just about everyone's covered this topic earlier and better than me. Johns unveils the secret of his Flashpoint event that led to DC's New 52 initiative and their re-ordering of continuity. Simply put, it wasn't the Flash who was (solely) responsible for futzing with time and causing this bold new era. It was Dr. Manhattan of the Watchmen, firmly grounding that out-of-continuity series in DCU lore.

First, I'm pretty sure there's not going to really be any kind of direct conflict, at least not for a very long time; it kind of defeats the purpose for which Johns introduced this element. Second, the purpose in question is perhaps the most metafictional, anti-establishment message I've ever seen in a mainstream comic, because it amounts to a ballsy self-criticism of DC and its place in the industry since 1986.

Taken pretty directly, in Rebirth Geoff Johns is stating that the grimdark of the modern comics era can be directly traced back to Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons' Watchmen and subsequent creators learning all the wrong lessons in their embrace of deconstructionism over what makes comics "fun." Did they really have any right imposing a formal structure of reality upon a medium and genre that so often lives outside it? Further, it means that if there's any fighting to be done, it's DC's own metaphorical struggle, a refutation of Watchmen's lasting impact on the business 30 years on.

Do I agree with Johns' criticism? I do, but Watchmen isn't the only necessary target--just one of the most visible and the one with sufficient narrative weight, as well as the most tangible deus ex machina in Dr. Manhattan. (He could just as easily have blamed all the darkness on Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns; however, the older Batman doesn't really have any reality-warping powers we know of, and besides, DC continues to semi-regularly strip-mine Miller's creation with the current publishing of DKIII, with DKIV on the docket. Attributing any blame to DKR would be akin to defecating where one masticates.)

It is interesting, though, how Batman is the one who actually discovers the first piece of the puzzle. Maybe doing so redeems him for his analogue's part?

And speaking frankly, with hints of both Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian peppered throughout Rebirth, is it any wonder there are other characters lurking around the periphery? Certainly, Johns has been playing the long game in some capacity, for the "Mr. Oz" character he introduced in Superman #32 seems to be a disguised Ozymandias, the ultimate antagonist of Watchmen. It beggars the question, are we about to see Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan battle on a new canvas? And what the heck does he mean when he says the Supermen aren't who they think they are?

I love that DC has me theorizing and asking questions. Perhaps the most fun one is, "How much is this going to piss off Alan Moore?" By contrast, Marvel only has me asking two: "When's the next Marvel movie out?" and "When will the intolerable cruelty that is Totally Awesome Hulk be over?"

Post-Rebirth #1 I'm very comfortable in my decision to pre-order the first two months of the new stuff. I'll try my best to put some reviews up as I read them. Feel free to comment, too!


Next: The best series of 2016 so far. Or the follies of BvS. I really haven't decided yet.

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