Kyle Garret: DC Rebirth #1 brought tears to my eyes.
Now, there’s a ton to unpack in this book and not all of it is good and I’m not even sure that the fact that a single scene got me choked up is enough to make up for some of the bad, but it’s been a long time since my jaded old comic book loving heart felt the stirrings of genuine emotion because of something on the printed four color page. But when Barry remembered Wally, that’s what happened.
Kudos to Geoff Johns, for hitting an emotional note that I didn’t think he could hit (and for only including one graphic, unnecessary death). Kudos to Phil Jimenez for his work on this scene, which, admittedly, upon second reading played out longer than it should have. Whoever decided the art assignments made the right choice in giving this section to Jimenez over the others. He’s the best of the bunch when it comes to facial expressions and so much of this scene works because of that.
That said, there’s a consistency of tone to the art throughout that I was actually disappointed in. Part of this is the coloring, which favored dark, cool colors, that unified the art, but also made it feel somewhat flat. And the artists themselves (Frank, Van Sciver, Reis, Jimenez, Prado, and Santorelli) have similar styles, what I would almost call classic modern superhero. I realize that was the point, but in a book that seemed so focused on touching base with every aspect of the DCU, some variation in style would have gone a long way to make this more engaging…
…says the man who cried.
I fully admit that my response comes from a specific place, as Wally was always “my” Flash. The scene meant something to me because I knew Wally and I knew what his relationship with Barry meant to him. I knew what had gone before.
But, of course, that was the point. I’ve seen people disappointed with the lack of accessibility of this comic and I think they’re right that it is not, in any way, shape, or form, an accessible story, not for it to have any real meaning, at least. But I’m also not sure why anyone expected it to be accessible. DC has never claimed it would be. Johns more or less went out of his way to say it wouldn’t be. The marketing behind Rebirth may have been that it was a new start for DC, but it’s always been focused on the fact that it’s a new start that pulls heavily from DC’s past, and DC’s past is a mess. But this story was never meant to clear that up. I don’t know where that expectation came from.
It would be like thinking Secret Wars #1 was going to be accessible to new readers when it had been built upon years worth of Avengers and Fantastic Four stories. Rebirth #1 is the same way (and Secret Wars also led to a relaunch).
While I appreciate both this comic’s willingness to wallow in DC lore and it’s willingness to think that, if need be, we can all figure out how to use Wikipedia, I’m surprised at how little actually happens in this book. If there’s a specific problem, I think it’s that (I’ve already written about the Watchmen issue elsewhere).
This isn’t a rebirth, not for DC. When this issue ends, it’s still the New 52, but now the original Wally West is running around telling people that some god like force is messing with them. There are some other changes, like a retro version of Ted Kord and Ray Palmer as the Atom and not a scientist working for S.H.A.D.E. Why did these changes happen? There’s no explanation. If this is supposed to switch direction for DC, shouldn’t there be more changes? Is this really it? Why would we believe that DC going forward is going to be anything different than what we’ve seen for the last five years when everything is more or less the same?
Because that story is still to come and will, presumably, unfold over the course of however long in all of DC’s comics.
That’s a bit frustrating and only serves to underscore that much of Rebirth #1 is an ad for Rebirth. Wally trying to find a connection to this new world so he can return and warn the others about the entity that stole 10 years of their lives is a story. If we’re being generous (as more could probably fit this criteria), there are 22 pages of story that have nothing to do with Wally’s journey or the mysterious entity. That’s 22 pages of teasers for other comics. That’s a third of the comic!
Even more problematic is that they’re not even particularly good teasers. They are, of course, wholly dependent upon the reader having some knowledge of these characters (Ted’s back! Ted’s back! Who the fuck is Ted?), but, fine, I can go with that. But aside from promising the return of characters many people loved, they don’t sell concepts of any kind. Aquaman proposed to Mera! Hot damn, I HAVE to read that comic! Is old man Thunder a selling point for anyone wasn’t automatically going to buy a Justice Society comic?
I have no problems with DC catering to superhero fans, even the long time superhero crowd, but they should at least be trying to win them over with a promise of something exciting in the future. Pulling in the Watchmen isn’t that. That just makes most of us feel a little dirty.
If this was to set the stage for a bold new era for DC, it failed. If it was meant to give old fans an emotional story featuring a forgotten character, it succeeded. But the latter isn’t the launching point for the future, which is what this was supposed to be.
We’ve been waiting years for you to get your shit together, DC; all this did was tell us we have to wait longer.
Alex Lu: I come to superhero comics from a different perspective than the average reader. I didn’t grow up with these heroes. For the most part, I actively shunned them, preferring what I saw as the more complex artistry of anime and manga. I bought the whole “superheroes are for kids” bit hook line and sinker. Thus, when I started reading books like Batman: Arkham Asylum and All-Star Superman, I realized that I deserved to have whole cartons of eggs thrown at my face. There was wonder in these stories. There was heart. Something that was missing from the New 52 books I transitioned into– until Wednesday’s release of Rebirth #1.
I agree with Kyle that the title is a bit of a misnomer. DC’s marketing has been emphasizing the phrase “don’t call it a relaunch,” and yes, a lot of the baggage that the New 52 has carried over the past five years still remains. We’re still forced to face the fact that in this world, Superman was coupled with Wonder Woman rather than the classic Lois Lane. However, beauty in Rebirth #1 is that it acknowledges all the things we missed about the old DC Universe. Aquaman and Mera are once again the king and queen of the seas. In the wake of the New 52 Superman’s death, it is revealed that there is another Superman that is married to Lois Lane and has a kid with her. Most importantly, these new status quos don’t overrule great strides the New 52 has made– the beloved black Wally West is still in canon, cousin to the original Wally West who has been restored to the timeline.
I’d like to dwell on this last part a bit longer. While I’ve thought and pontificated enough about the heinous addition of the Watchmen franchise to the DC Universe, I think the general additive approach Johns takes in Rebirth #1 is a positive step forward for a company that had been telling increasingly base and reductive stories. To be sure, Rebirth #1 is less a story than a promise that there will be better stories, but that promise is more than audiences have gotten in a long while from DC. Mark Stack pointed out that the original Wally West’s return to the canon is harmful to the standing of the New 52’s POC Wally, and while I certainly agree with that, I hope DC can find a way for them to co-exist. Geoff Johns certainly hopes for that, ret-conning the universe so that the two Wests are cousins rather than alternate-dimension versions of one another.
To be frank, I’m scared that Rebirth #1 is waving a false flag. I feel this way because while Rebirth #1 is a great work of fiction, the infrastructural problems that have plagued DC as a real world publishing house are still there. Geoff Johns has written a lot of work I enjoy, but Rebirth #1 is the last book he will be writing for a while, as he is now consumed with work surrounding the television and film adaptations of the DC properties. Dan DiDio, whose editorial mandates Rebirth #1 basically shakes a giant finger at for 80 pages, is still in charge of the editorial department. Even on a micro level, Rebirth #1 is edited by Eddie Berganza, a known sexual harasser who remains employed by DC Comics despite repeated complaints and an enormous HR file. How much change can there really be when all the bad blood is still circulating through the DC Comics system?
In my opinion, Rebirth #1 was a great book and is a strong way to kick off a new era of DC Comics. It gives me hope that the rest of the line will be as strong. Still though, I’m worried. Above all, I’m praying that my hope has not been misplaced.
Daniel Gehen: I guess you could say I’m the middle ground between Kyle and Alex. I grew up with these characters on shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited, but I didn’t fully entrench myself as a comic reader until the mid-2000s. Since its announcement, DC Comics’ “Rebirth” initiative has been met by equal parts excitement and trepidation from the comics community – myself included. Is it a reboot, or is it just a fresh jumping on point? Is this an effort to win back longtime readers, or pull in new ones? Can it possibly do both? With the release of DC Universe Rebirth #1 by Geoff Johns and a healthy stable of artists (10 are credited on the cover), some of those answers are finally answered. And in examining this one-shot special, it’s easy to see how this comic can make many readers extremely happy. It’s also easy to see how this issue can make people pissed off.
Structurally, as an comic tasked with closing out the New 52 continuity as we know it and reintegrating decades the publisher’s history, DC Universe Rebirth #1 is a success. Throughout the issue, there are flashes of vintage Geoff Johns. In an issue comprised of multiversal and space-time fluctuations, it is the emotional beats which resonate the most. Helping the cause is Johns’ return to the character that made him DC’s star writer, as Wally West is the focal point of the issue. Not the controversial character that has appeared throughout the current Flash comic, but the red-headed hero that is DC’s legacy incarnate. Throughout DC Universe Rebirth #1, readers follow Wally as he jumps from character to character, only to discover that they have no memory of him. The anguish he feels jumps off the page, and with each rejection the pain stings more and more. This reaches its peak when Linda Park, the love of his life and mother of his children, states “I don’t know you.” From here, all hope seems lost, and during a heartbreaking conversation with Barry, readers get the sense that this is Wally West’s proper send off. His last hurrah. Until it isn’t. The moment that immediately follows this brought tears to my eyes. It is the culmination of the book’s mission statement – that heart has been missing from DC’s books.
This is a theme which is carried on throughout DC Universe Rebirth #1, as Johns and his various art teams sprinkle in bits and pieces hinting at legacies within the DC Universe that have been lost in the chaotic reshuffling of time that was the New 52. There’s Ray Palmer and Ryan Choi. There’s Ted Kord and Jaime Reyes. There’s an unnamed member of the Legion of Superheroes. There are also hints at lost relationships, specifically between Green Arrow and Black Canary, while Aquaman and Mera indicated that married superheroes are back on the table. These numerous developments are exciting as an avid reader, but can confuse those unfamiliar with these concepts.
Johns’ ambition to follow Grant Morrison’s “it’s all connected” approach is admirable, but what works for The Multiversity does not work here. Despite being the culmination of a career’s work, and a thesis on the true potential of comic books, The Multiversity is a rather accessible work because it is not burdened by continuity. Conversely, DC Universe Rebirth #1 is an attempt to tie together the entire history of the DC Universe dating back to 1938’s Action Comics #1, and can only truly be appreciated by those with a PhD in DC Comics, or at the very least a healthy knowledge of the past 30+ years of published comics. What makes this an even bigger problem is that the growth of the DC Universe is a muddier journey than the rival Marvel Universe. Whereas Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others built Marvel organically, DC’s stable of heroes grew via corporate acquisitions. Look no further than their handling of
Captain Marvel Shazam for proof. Considering the material Johns is required to pull together, it’s impressive this issue is as coherent as it is.
We might as well address the elephant in the room. DC Universe Rebirth #1 marks the incorporation of Watchmen into the DC Universe. More specifically, Johns makes Doctor Manhattan the reason that New 52 timeline was so screwed up, shifting the blame from Pandora (remember her?) and Barry Allen. Given Watchmen‘s status as one of the medium’s all-time great works, this is a very risky move by Johns – and it’s unclear if it paid off.
Does this tarnish the original book’s legacy while simultaneously giving Alan Moore another kick to the groin? Perhaps, but in that case Watchmen is already tainted thanks to the 2009 movie and the Before Watchmen books. Some have said that this is DC’s attempt to exorcise themselves from the grim and gritty approach to superheroes that was kicked off by the success of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. That may be the case, but the choice of art styles, the main events of contained within the book, and who the writer is point to something else.
Geoff Johns, at his core, is a fan of superhero comics. His forte is big, superhero action while striking an emotional chord for readers. His works to not attempt to provide a metatextual analysis of genre conventions or socio-political commentary. It’s why in an era where independent and creator-owned content grows stronger each month, he remains firmly entrenched in the DC Universe. Because it is Geoff Johns, the decision to bring Doctor Manhattan and the rest of the Watchmen crew to the DC Universe was not likely made to anger Alan Moore even more, or make a statement on comic books published since the late 1980s. It was likely made because Johns thought it was a cool idea that hadn’t been tried before. And he might very well be right.
DC Universe Rebirth #1 is by no means a perfect comic. Parts of the narrative feel rushed, despite the 80-page count. And the Watchmen inclusion is a head-scratcher. However, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the hell out of this issue. I remain cautiously optimistic about “Rebirth” as a whole, but if the books manage to follow the lead of this one-shot special, Wednesdays are going to become a hell of a lot more fun.