DC Comics released DC Rebirth #1 this past week. The ending proved highly controversial to say the least. But you know what? The controversial ending didn’t have to happen. My thoughts complete with SPOILERS for Rebirth after the cut.
See, the thing is, the ending overshadows some stuff I would argue is actually good stuff, course correction to the New 52 that DC probably needed.
When the New 52 was created, the books got, for lack of a better word, uglier. There was some stuff in there that was worth checking out, but the universe itself seemed to be a shadow of its former self. This was a universe were Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batsoup might not look too out of place. Everything was dark. Additionally, much of the long history of the DCU was more or less wiped away without a second glance. That meant beloved characters like Wally West, onetime Flash, was no more. The Justice Society, such as it was, was a new group of younger heroes on a separate Earth. Gone were the days of older, experienced heroes creating a sense of tradition and continuity with the past. Those were actually some of DC’s strong suits, that hero names and identities were passed down from generation to generation, forming families of heroes that helped each other out, that ideas that were incredibly silly could be brought back and made to work again and again.
Writer Geoff Johns was responsible for much of that, both pre and post Flashpoint, and he wrote the new Rebirth. There may be some speculation that he was using the one-shot to express some of his personal frustrations.
Maybe that’s why there can be a sense of some needed course correction when the narrator of Rebirth is revealed to be a somewhat younger Wally West.
Yes, he’s back in the Kid Flash costume, but he explains it later in a way that makes sense. Something, he says, came along after Barry Allen fiddled with the timeline in Flashpoint and stole time from the universe, making everyone younger. That included himself, but he got sucked into the Speed Force and spends most of the one-shot trying to get out again. This Wally actually remembers the time before Flashpoint, and he’s desperately trying to find someone to remember him so he can leave the Speed Force, or, barring that, at least warn his friends and loved ones of what’s coming.
But as an outside observer, Wally can make note of the things that are missing. He sees the absence of the Justice Society, save one member that no one believes. He sees another Wally West becoming a hero and loving it. He doesn’t see the pre-Flashpoint Superman with his wife Lois Lane and their son, Ray Palmer in an Atom costume, Ted Kord alive with a new Bug, or an unidentified member of the Legion of Superheroes, but the reader does. They’re all there, and they’ve all been missing in the New 52.
But that is something Wally sees as missing. He says there’s no love there. He sees Green Arrow and Black Canary, for example, barely know each other, and that the two seem to understand that something is missing in their respective lives, but Wally alone knows what they are missing is each other.
Johns also takes some time to allow another longtime DC couple whose marriage was apparently dissolved by the New 52 to get engaged again.
Really, aside from some rumblings about Darkseid reborn, Rebirth shows a more hopeful, friendly version of the DCU. How much or how little DC manages to continue this feeling in its upcoming books I couldn’t say, and I don’t necessarily plan to find out. But after all that, the book ends with a surprise revelation as to who stole the time. It’s a visitor from another universe. Batman finds a memento from that universe in the Batcave.
Yes, Batman finds the Comedian’s bloodstained smiley face button in the Batcave. The Watchmen characters are now in the DCU and Dr. Manhattan has already started vaporizing people the same way he did Rorshach.
Now, Jimmy covered this issue already and did his usual Impossibly good job. I won’t say more than I already have. The fact that DC went to the Watchmen well again is rather dispiriting. While the general pessimistic tone of that seminal work, and the effect it would have on Manhattan, could explain why the DCU has been a lot more dour as a whole lately, many fans would probably wish DC had left well enough alone. There’s a reason Alan Moore won’t deal with the company anymore.
The saddest part in my mind is that DC didn’t have to actually use the Watchmen cast. Grant Morrison saw to that in his Multiversity event series.
Morrison’s stated purpose in Multiversity was to tell a story while also creating new playgrounds for future stories. Part of the point was to actually allow other creators to use the toys he left behind. He’d done something similar with his awesome Seven Soldiers event series (there’s really no better way to describe what these stories are aside from a series of interlocking mini-series and one-shots that tell one story on one level and a larger one on another level). Mutliversity‘s various one shots took place on different parallel worlds, where a single threat being faced in the two bookend issues was having various effects on the heroes and villains of those respective worlds. One of those one-shots was called Pax Americana. It was set on Earth-4, which was the home of the Charlton heroes.
Charlton was a company DC had bought the characters from, and the original Crisis on Infinite Earths was the introduction of those characters to the DCU. Alan Moore had wanted to use them for Watchmen but had been denied. So, instead, he made new characters that were knock-offs of the originals. Blue Beetle became Night Owl. Nightshade became the Silk Specter. Peacemaker became the Comedian. The Question became Rorshach. And Captain Atom became Dr. Manhattan. Like the originals, only one of the characters had actual superpowers, and what he had were doozies.
But here’s the thing: Morrison’s Earth-4 was basically a homage to Watchmen. Artist Frank Quietly did some very Watchmen-ish layouts.
So, here’s a universe where the Charlton heroes have been reimagined as being closer to the Watchmen characters which were themselves reimagined versions of the Charlton heroes to begin with.
By the way, here’s what Captain Atom looks like in this one-shot:
Can he do what Dr. Manhattan does? Well, yes.
That’s Captain Atom taking his dog apart to see what would happen. Seconds later, he wonders what would happen if the dog were dead and alive, and a second version of the dog materializes alive and well nearby.
So, it seems to me DC could have very easily told the same story with these characters without dragging the characters of Watchmen into the DCU. The fact that they are new versions of characters that were new versions of themselves can create a sense of meta enjoyment for longtime DC fans, and while they may not have the same level of recognition as the characters of Watchmen, they can have the same impact story wise since they’d be recognizable enough for people to know who they’re supposed to be while still respecting the original Watchmen enough to leave those characters alone. Besides, Grant Morrison created them more or less for that very purpose.
But no, that’s can’t happen. Good work, DC. You missed a real opportunity there.