DC kicked off its Rebirth era this week, with a giant-sized special and the finales of some key New 52 titles.
The Rebirth story unpacks several major developments. The heart of the story involves “stolen time,” indicating that roughly a decade of the current DC Universe and many key relationships had somehow been removed from the timeline post-Flashpoint. Some popular characters made comebacks and others were teased.
What were some of the biggest revelations from the Rebirth kick-off?
Wally West Is Back
The classic version of Wally West, one of the most popular characters of the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths era, made his comeback. The man who was the Flash for an entire generation had sat out the New 52 years. A new multiracial Wally West had more recently debuted. But “Classic Wally,” in spite of constant fan interest, was kept off the board.
Wally’s return is a big deal. He provided the spine of the Rebirth special. Appearing to various characters with whom he had relationships, a spectral Wally begged to be remembered and touched, to restore him to the timeline. It deliberately evoked a similar plot in Crisis featuring Wally’s mentor, Barry Allen. Barry and Wally’s bond wound up being the key to Wally’s return and all the changes it ushers in for the DCU.
Giving fans back a character that they love and have been demanding is a big move for DC. Moreover, it happened without sacrificing the newer Wally; it was revealed that the two characters are cousins named for the same great-grandfather. It’s as elegant a way to both embrace diversity and give fans back a beloved character. It’s a good indication of the thinking that informs Rebirth.
Superman Is Dead
This isn’t really a shock for people who have been following recent events in the Man of Steel’s books. Advance solicits have made it clear for some time that the New 52 Superman wouldn’t be around come Rebirth time. The character’s death set the stage for the Rebirth special.
While the manner of the New 52 Superman’s death has set up status quo changes for the likes of Lex Luthor and Lois Lane, it’s also allowing the very popular post-Crisis Superman to resume the spotlight. That version of Superman, along with his wife Lois and their son Jon, has been living in the New 52 world in secret since the events of Convergence. With the new version of the Man of Steel having died (the “for now” is always understood), giving fans back a version of Superman that everyone loves is a smart move. Moreover, it provides a thematic link to the previous iterations of characters that DC is trying to infuse into the New 52 with Rebirth.
While Superman seems to be the only conscious retrograde replacement, it’s representative of other changes. New 52 touchstones, like a comprehensive ban on marriage, seem like they’re softening. Classic relationships that have been M.I.A. (Green Arrow & Black Canary) will be important again. Characters like the Ray Palmer version of the Atom and the Ted Kord version of Blue Beetle are back and interacting with the legacy heroes who followed them. These are good indications that DC was serious when it talked about wanting to restore the sense of legacy to its line.
Speaking of which…
JSA and LSH Teases
Fans have been lamenting the removal of the post-Crisis Justice Society from The New 52. While the Earth 2 versions of many of those characters have been well done, fans missed the popular JSA “elder statesmen” interacting with the younger generations of heroes. Long-time JSA characters like Doctor Fate and Johnny Thunder popped up in Rebirth in surprising ways. A mystery surrounding the team was teased. The team isn’t on the immediate Rebirth docket, but these seeds are a hopeful sign for fans who have missed a more classic iteration of the team.
The Legion of Super-Heroes had a rocky tenure in The New 52. The main book lasted about two years, with an ill-conceived spin-off running barely a year. Fans only get oblique hints of the Legion in the Rebirth special, but DC’s intention to do something with the dormant franchise is a heartening sign.
A few months back, Justice League teased a “shocking” revelation about the identity of Batman’s number one foe. This week, fans learned the info Batman had received: there are three Jokers.
Rebirth, so far, hasn’t clarified what that means. Indeed, it looms to be one of the bigger mysteries of the new era. Is it a reference to the concept suggested in recent Batman stories about Joker being part of a long line of archetypes of anarchy? Or is it suggesting that there are concurrently three different Jokers, a “Team Joker,” if you will?
It’s unclear. But it’s a more intriguing way to go with this idea than many fans probably feared when the “shocking info” was first referenced. Execution will be key to how this plays out.
Watchmen Invade the DCU
This will be the thing that causes the most debate. The classic Watchmen characters don’t appear, per se, in Rebirth. But the story hints heavily that the antagonist behind the “time theft” is none other than Doctor Manhattan. At the climax, Batman uncovers what appears to be Comedian’s bloody smiley face.
This is a seismic shift in how DC regards Watchmen. For almost a quarter century, DC took a strict “hands off” approach to these characters. Other than a spectral Rorschach cameo in the old Question series, Watchmen existed in its own world, unrelated to the DC heroes.
For years, fan sympathy for Watchmen writer Alan Moore and his dispute with DC over rights to the characters was a big factor in DC leaving the property alone, even as the collected edition of the series remained a perennial best-seller. The movie adaptation a few years ago brought the story to a wider audience. Moore’s objections notwithstanding, DC launched the divisive Before Watchmen mini-series. Critical reaction was mixed, but they sold strongly. So it was only a matter of time before the characters were used in other ways.
Many observers mark Watchmen as the dawn of the “dark and gritty” ethos in comic books. DC using that property as the antagonist in a story meant to restore optimism to its comic book line makes thematic sense. But it’s going to be tricky. Fans of the original are very protective of its integrity. And while newer readers may not be instinctively pro-Moore, the writer still has a loyal core of followers who will make their displeasure with any mucking with the book’s legacy quite vocal.
What’s a new direction without some controversy?
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on May 26, 2016.