“Rebirth” has been going well for DC, restoring some fan favorite elements that had been missing from the line. But revisiting DC Universe: Rebirth, the special that kicked off the new era, how does it hold up as a story in its own right and not just the launch of a publishing initiative?
At a crossroads for DC’s “New Earth,” the long lost original Wally West, the first Kid Flash, makes a spectral return. Wally has been trapped in the Speed Force since the events of Flashpoint and become aware that a powerful entity stole a decade of time from the DCU, leeching out relationships that provided love and hope in the process. Wally has been erased from reality and now is drawn to several people from his past, hoping that if just one person can remember him, he can return to the world. He appears to some of them, like Batman, true love Linda Park and various friends and enemies. He witnesses some key moments driving major DCU heroes into new directions. He sees an institutionalized Johnny Thunder, the only person who might remember the Justice Society, and a young blonde woman from the future who heralds the return of the Legion of Super-Heroes. With time running out, Wally appears to his uncle and mentor, Barry Allen, the original Flash. Wally thinks it’s a final chance for him to say goodbye to Barry, but the duo’s bond proves stronger than whatever forces are aligned against the heroes.
Geoff Johns has been DC’s key writer for well over a decade at this point. His love and knowledge of the denizens of the DCU has always been evident. DC Universe: Rebirth is a love letter to DC’s long and colorful history. But also an acknowledgement from DC that in its enthusiasm to remake its line with The New 52, that it lost sight of some parts of its characters that creators and fans alike have been missing badly.
Using Wally as a framing device and narrator is a smart move. Johns has a deep history with the character and elicits maximum impact from him fairly effortlessly. Wally’s tenuous situation provides an elegant vehicle to check in on a variety of major DC characters and tee them up their stories for the new era. Johns and DC’s stable of creators clearly put a lot of thought into the new direction, making an effort to retain what worked from The New 52 while bringing back elements whose absence has been a deficit.
Wally himself is a prime example. Fans have been clamoring for him. Johns uses the character’s history and deep ties to the DCU as an emotional throughline to give the story energy and momentum and cohere as more than just a series of “moments.” He even figures out how to bring back Classic Wally while still keeping intact the new Wally West introduced in the current Flash series. The mysteries teased are intriguing and promise greater unity for the DC line than has been seen in recent years. And Johns knows how to stick a landing. Even the coldest heart can’t help but feel a lump in the throat at Wally and Barry’s very affecting reunion, an unabashed piece of emotional writing that earns its sentimental impact.
A quartet of high profile artists does some strong, dynamic work in delivering Johns’ story to readers. Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis and Phil Jimenez are among some of the comic world’s best and most successful creators and each has a long history collaborating with Johns. They produce bold, beautiful images that take full advantage of the widescreen ethos baked into a book like this. It’s state of the art comic book art, the kind of work that engages readers and gives them a lot to pore over. The color work, a team effort from Brad Anderson, Jason Wright, Gabe Eltaeb and Hi-Fi, is dazzling. A book like Rebirth has a lot of dynamic sequences, especially several different lightning and other similar effects, as well as a need for well-placed shadows and subtler shades for contrast. The color team nails its assignment and then some, giving the action the spark and jolt that the plot demands.
The Deluxe Edition includes the usual sketchbook section. Most interestingly, it calls out some very deliberate parallels to the original Watchmen series, giving fans a little more insight into DC’s decision to incorporate those landmark characters into the current story.
So yes, DC Universe: Rebirth holds up as a story in its own right quite well. For fans interested in DC’s new direction, it’s a must.