I’ll be reading and reviewing, in some sense of the word, the contents of each upcoming first issue (the Rebirth one-shot if the series has one or the traditional #1 if the series does not have one) to gauge exactly what the line ends up looking like.
Spoilers for DC Universe: Rebirth #1 below, as if you don’t already know.
That was just an awfully boring comic.
On a purely mechanical level, I didn’t really think there was anything wrong with it. Scenes have a nice flow to them, end when they feel like they should, and the frame narrative keeps the ball rolling with a sense of momentum. Geoff Johns, the Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics since 2010, knows how to write a comic. I never thought he forgot how to do that seeing as how I’ve enjoyed a whole lot of Geoff Johns’ comics over the last five years
The vignettes in this comic are meant to give readers a taste of what to expect out of this Rebirth relaunch and they establish some threads better than others. The dialogue really does a lot of heavy lifting with characters telling each other how loved they are, how important legacy is, and what the future may hold. There’s a lot of telling going on here which is disappointing to me as a reader who likes to see stories play out visually and finds that to be a pretty necessary element of comics.
This comic lives or dies by the reader’s engagement with DC Comics and its publishing history. The protagonist and narrator is Wally West, a character who debuted as the Kid Flash in 1959, became the Flash in 1986, and stopped making appearances on the page in 2011. In 2014, Wally West returned to comics following the reboot of the New 52 as a younger black character. I never read a comic with the newer Wally West in them. Until this year, I never read a single Flash comic with the white Wally West in it either. My emotional investment in them is nil and I have no thoughts or comments about the quality of the new Wally West in comparison to the old one. My understanding is that the comics where the new version of the character debuted are not well-liked.
The old Wally West comes back and I recognize the iconography of his suit and, with the history lesson about him and the DC universe’s history of retcon events, I understand his importance as a linchpin of that universe that symbolizes the “love and legacy” this issue says has been lost. Having read some of those old Flash comics now, he makes a good symbol for that self-criticism that Johns has injected into DC Universe: Rebirth #1 as a mea culpa to the long term readers. The problem lies in the assumption of an emotional investment in this character to power a series of high stakes reunions. Readers of DC Comics with a longer history (specifically with this Wally West) are likely to supply their own emotion as the book’s narration often speaks directly to this reader, verbalizing their distaste for the changes brought on by the New 52.
I am a bit disturbed by the reintegration of the old Wally West back into the DC universe. The black Wally West is still a character but it has been retconned that he was never the Wally West; rather, he’s his younger cousin with the same name who he never met and also received the same powers in a similar accident. Readers were led to believe that the black Wally West was going to be the Wally West moving forward, a sign of DC Comics’ commitment to improving the diversity of their characters on the page (if not always behind it) by taking the opportunity of the reboot to update classic characters. Revealing that this new Wally West was never the “real” one and using the reappearance of the white Wally to signal a return to DC’s traditional values feels more than a little disheartening.
If the white Wally West movement is indicative of a failure to uphold progressive standards while shifting back to an emphasis on legacy then the further pilfering of Watchmen is another example of an active antagonism towards creators. The big revelation of this comic book is that when the DC universe was reset by the Flashpoint event, Doctor Manhattan of Watchmen reached inside the universe and took out ten years along with a series of relationships and legacies that “weakened” the universe. That’s why characters are younger, certain relationships/characters don’t exist, and the universe has taken on a bleak tone. Geoff Johns lets himself and Barry Allen off the hook for creating the New 52 and quickly points the finger at someone else.
As someone who reads Watchmen as part allegory about Alan Moore becoming jaded with and eventually revitalizing his interest in superhero comics, I certainly find it insulting to see Doctor Manhattan (and Moore by proxy) characterized in such a reductive way with: “Skepticism. Doubt. Corruption. All things your cold heart believes in.”
That’s a pretty big misreading of Watchmen that, more than anything, is responding to how creators after its release took the “wrong” lessons from the book and made their corporate superhero comics increasingly violent and dark in an attempt at maturity. So making Doctor Manhattan the figure responsible for corrupting DC universe doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when he wasn’t the Vice President of Editorial in 2004 who allegedly said, “We need a rape.” I understand it would be hard to make a figure like him the villain when he’s still performing his duties as Co-Publisher. Watchmen didn’t ruin DC Comics. If you want to argue that they were “ruined” then you blame the people in charge who made the decision to try emulating it. Alan Moore didn’t hold a gun to Geoff Johns and demand that he write a Justice League comic described as “fail[ing] with a focus and intensity normally seen only in success” or with “very few members of the cast [being] particularly likable.” Johns may think that what he has written here is a condemnation of himself and others for misshaping the DC universe but the inclusion of Doctor Manhattan and Johns’ point to take the blame off of Flashpoint (and therefore himself since he’s the one who wrote it) doesn’t entirely support that reading. There will be those who will read it that way. You could say either conclusion is the result of confirmation bias.
DC Comics and Alan Moore have had an antagonistic relationship. Moore signed a bad contract that he thought meant he would be able to own Watchmen in the future but he never will. He wrote for small publishers that ended up being purchased by DC Comics and the bad blood got worse. DC Comics also launched Before Watchmen, a wave of prequel series written and drawn by neither Moore nor co-creator Dave Gibbons, in 2012 that sought to exploit Moore’s work. It was not particularly well-received upon announcement or release. Dipping into Watchmen again and folding characters from it into the DC universe is just another case of the publisher spitting in the eye of one of the most widely celebrated writers in the medium. This wouldn’t be appropriate even if this weren’t a case of DC Comics using Watchmen to blame Moore for the publisher and the larger corporate comics industry’s problems.
Just look over at Frank Miller, a creator who continues to have a positive relationship with the publisher after releasing a work held in similar esteem as Watchmen in 1986. Frank Miller played ball and kept returning to the company to produce work for them even as his star waned in the superhero comics reading community. The man was (perhaps unfairly) turned into a joke when All-Star Batman and Robin was released. The same claims being made about Watchmen ruining comics with “Skepticism. Doubt. Corruption” could and have been made about The Dark Knight Returns as well. Yet when DC Comics seeks to continue profiting off of that, they make DK3 a prestige release and celebrate Frank Miller. The message is clear: play ball and grab some cash or you can go fuck yourself while they continue to profit off of your work.
It’s understandable if creators in the industry want to take sort that deal. It’s a small industry, the publisher does have an established audience along with brand recognition, and work can come in waves of famine or flood. But degrading and insulting a writer who has continually refused to play that game is unacceptable. Regardless of how one feels about Moore’s work, politics, or sporadic interviews dogging on the state of comics industry, I would expect one to feel uncomfortable with the facts of his treatment. If putting one creator down in a comic is designed to prop the publisher up like Tucker Stone deadlifting 116kg at crossfit, does the publisher as it currently exists deserve to be lifted?
When I hit the credits page, I zeroed in on a name.
Eddie Berganza is, of course, the Group Editor on the Superman family of titles with a known history of sexual harassment that has allegedly resulted in an informal policy preventing women from working in his office. You read that right. It appears that the man remains employed even though the publisher seems to think that letting him work directly with women is a bad idea. Makes you think.