Comic Sans: The Start of DC Rebirth

DC Rebirth

Wow, what a way to start this off. “What do you mean the START of DC Rebirth?” the DC fans say. “It’s been going on for about a year!” Well, TECHNICALLY, yes. You are correct.

Almost one year ago (late May 2016), DC launched a one-shot book of DC Universe Rebirth #1 which… Wait, I’m getting ahead of things. Let’s look at what brought us to today – April 19, 2017.

Pre-2011

The DC Universe existed. For a long time. Characters were created, characters were killed, characters were resurrected. Companies were bought, licenses were granted, and lawsuits were filed between DC and various creators.

Crisis on Infinite EarthsAmidst all of that, a lot of stories were told.

The problem with all of this was that a LOT of stories were told. So much so that creators were having problems in telling stories that already hadn’t been told and the powers that be at DC decided that something needed to be done. They felt that they had hit a brick wall, and they needed something new. They needed to clear the space.

Perhaps a Crisis of some kind to shake things up? Nope, had too many of those. Seriously. Like 4. Maybe more than that. You kinda lose track after time and a large quantity of mega-universe-impacting events with the word Crisis included.

No, this time, they decided to… umm… have a mega-universe-impacting event. BUT. Without the word Crisis in it, which immediately got the attention of all DC readers. And what was this event called?

Flashpoint

FlashpointYes, it was called Flashpoint (which is a familiar name to anyone who watches The Flash on TV; can you guess where they took the name from?). How to describe Flashpoint? Effectively…

Barry Allen – The Flash – wakes up one day and his speed is gone. Not only that, but the world is different. There is no Superman; Cyborg is the biggest hero on the planet; and Barry’s home town of Central City has a new resident super hero, Captain Cold. But somehow Barry remembers. Enlisting the help of Batman (Thomas Wayne, the father of Bruce Wayne, who took on the mantle of the Bat after witnessing his wife and son murdered in Crime Alley many years earlier), Barry tries to recover his powers (and manages to royally screw that up). But then who shows up to rub it in his face? Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash.

Flash Fact: Viewers of The Flash and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow know Thawne as the Reverse Flash from the future who went back in time and killed Barry’s mom. In the shows, the timeline gets screwed up because Barry goes back in time to save his mom and when he returns things have changed. Does this sound familiar at all? Can you guess what happens next?

Yes, the timeline is different because Barry changed the past. (Way to go, Barry.) So how do you fix it? By time travelling again, of course! This time, though, some OTHER shit happens and Barry is tasked with saving 3 universes which exist in parallel with one another, and the only way to fix that is to merge them. And how does he do that? It’s a comic book and this is a guy who runs fast so of course he can merge universes. Who couldn’t?

Which leads to the promised change for the status quo of the DC Universe. Well, that’s been said before, usually after any major event from any comic book publisher. But is it true? Would the readers be disappointed (as has occurred with many other event series) or would they embrace it?

The answer is… Both.

The New 52

New 52

Enter the New 52. Why 52? For a few reasons…

  • DC has had a thing for the number 52 for a while, focusing on weekly series leading up to this point, such as Countdown and – yup, you guessed it – 52.
  • Channel 52 displays prominently in every series as the news channel of the DC Universe. (Seriously. And this also holds over to the CW TV series as well – watch for it.)
  • 52 is the number of parallel universes that existed within this newly redefined DC Multiverse.
  • 52 is the number of books that DC chose to publish each month within their new universe.

Wait, did that say “New Universe”? Yes, it did.

No, not the Marvel “New Universe” from the 1980s (that’s a WHOLE other discussion that requires copious amounts of alcohol to address). No, this was a new DC Universe dubbed the “New 52” which reset everything so that the characters did not have the history they once did. In fact, the premise discussed was “What if the DC heroes had only been around for 5 years?” And that’s where the seriesè picked up.

With the flagship title of Justice League, the New 52 let everything start from scratch. Creators were no longer bound by years of stories and continuity that, when broken, sent long-time fans into a lurch (no matter how much the story would actually make sense after time). No, they could take some fresh new takes on the long-time characters and create some new stories without being bound by anything that came before it.

Except for the fact that some of them LIKED being bound by what came before.

Geoff Johns had put a lot of creative juice into a number of Green Lantern stories for many years leading up to the New 52, and it seemed incredulous to abandon them so much of them were kept within the new continuity, but not all (more on that in a minute). Also, when you consider that heroes should only have been around for 5 years, a lot of things just did not seem possible in that time frame… Like how many Robins could Batman have had in that time period?

The DC folks basically tried to sweep those concerns under the rug by focusing on telling stories that were new and (hopefully) intrigued the reader. Basically, they tried to flash a new shiny thing in front of the readers and hope they focused their attention on that.

But they still managed to screw things up when they did that. Editorial retconned story elements from when they were published in the monthly titles to what was printed in the collected trade, which led to even more confusion by readers, but they held strong. At one point the message from the DC editorial offices was effectively “screw continuity of any kind, we’ll tell what we want”. (Guess how well THAT sentiment went over with fans?) Series survived, and series failed. So what was the problem that was upsetting fans?

(Author’s Note: I can honestly say that I picked up at least  the first 5 issues of every single New 52 title. Seriously. I gave every single one a shot before deciding what I would stick around with and focus on. And I can honestly say that I felt that some were really good, and some were bad. But my main complaint was the same as many other readers…)

Who were these characters? Yes, we all could recognize the bright chest shield with an S on it, but we couldn’t recognize the man in the costume. This was not the Superman of old, who was a hero of the people; this was an uber-powerful douchebag who lived above the rest of humanity. Well, sometimes. Depending on who was writing his story that week. What about Wonder Woman? Well, she was now the God of War, replacing the mantle previously held by Ares. She, too, was above the rest of humanity… Depending on who was writing her in any given story. Oh, and she was hooking up with Superman so they could be better than humanity together.

Some characters were effectively the same. Batman was still Batman (whose story was crafted perfectly across a number of concurrent titles). Green Lantern was still Green Lantern (primarily because of the oversight of Geoff Johns who took careful care in bringing the character back to greatness, no matter what you might think of the movie).

And others were changed drastically. The members of the JSA were now young and existing on a parallel world. They had no backstories, not even the 5 years the main universe got; they started fresh. And DC editorial changed too much of the characters to even truly make them recognizable. Hell, some were missing and the versions of them that appeared in the New 52 were so unrecognizable that in some cases it tarnished the original characters (I’m looking at you. most of the New 52 Teen Titans).

DC took so much effort to recreate the universe that they forgot what made the characters great after all. Their personas. Their supporting cast. Their heart.

Their legacy.

And this element of “Legacy” is what led DC to have Geoff Johns craft yet-another world impacting change to the DC Universe.

DC Rebirth

DC RebirtIn May 2016, DC Universe Rebirth #1 was published. Geoff Johns had a daunting task ahead of him in crafting a story that made readers care again about the DC universe. But he was up to the task, as he had proven time and again that he was the writer who best understood EVERYTHING about the DC Universe.

He understood the characters and all of their motivations. He knew who they were, secret identity and under their cowls and masks. He knew what made them tick, each and every one of them. He brought back Hal Jordan from the dead. He brought back Barry Allen. He made the JSA relevant. He was the gatekeeper of the soul of the DC universe characters.

He knew that Superman needed to be the Man of Steel with the Heart of Gold. He knew that Batman needed to re-embrace the detective element of his persona, which was missing in many cases. He knew that something was missing from the Flash mythos. That failed experiments of the New 52 needed to cease (such as that whole Pandora character and arc). That certain heroes needed to return to set the stage right and prepare for what was to come.

And boy, did he deliver. And then some.

The entire one-shot was focused on a single character trying to come back into being after being written out of continuity (kind-of). For many Flash fans of the late 1980s through to early 2000s, there was only one Flash: Wally West. And their Flash was nowhere to be found in the New 52. Sure, there was a version of Wally West, but it wasn’t theirs. It just didn’t click.

The Rebirth one-shot brought back the Wally West many people wanted, while managing to keep the current iteration of the character around still. Original Wally had been trapped in the Speed Force and was trying to get back to reality, but no one could remember him. He visited his old friends – nothing. His wife from the pre-Flashpoint universe… nothing. Villains he fought… Nope. He did a last ditch effort to reach out to his mentor and uncle, Barry Allen, in order to restore himself. Even Barry didn’t remember him… at first.

Just as Wally was being forgotten entirely, something snapped in Barry. His relationship with the Speed Force most likely, especially with his ties to creating the new universe post-Flashpoint allowed him to remember Wally, which allowed Wally to fully emerge from the Speed Force into “reality”. Bringing back a central part of DC’s history brought back a number of things to the DCU that was lacking throughout much of the New 52: The notion of family. The notion of comraderie.

The notion of hope.

Not every character was a brooding dark version of who they were before. Effectively, the New 52 turned most characters into the most Zack Snyder version of them they could be without being in a Zack Snyder movie. Rebirth brought back the impact of who these characters were, what they stood for. And it brought it back in spades.

And over the past year we’ve seen the changes come into play, with the restoration of the Green Lantern Corps. The New 52 Superman being killed off and replaced with the pre-Flashpoint Superman. Wonder Woman getting yet another origin, but at least acknowledging that she has had WAY too many over the years. Dick Grayson once again donning a costume and becoming Nightwing.

And we’ve also seen hints of something unexpected at first. Of another universe potentially having a hand in creating the New 52. That it wasn’t all Barry’s fault in merging the universe (running fast cannot be the only catalyst to bring multiple universes together, DUH), but that another power had a hand in its creation. A very powerful force. a nuclear force. Potentially with blue hands…

The Button

This is where I say the Rebirth Universe is now truly getting started. If the Rebirth era was a novel, everything up until now was the prologue. It was stage setting. It was redefining the characters to who they should have been before taking that next step.

And all of that begins this week in Batman #21, part 1 of “The Button”, a 4-part story crossing over between Batman and The Flash. What is the Button you ask?

The Button

At the end of the Rebirth one-shot, Batman found an item embedded in the wall of the Batcave. To comic readers, it was a familiar looking item. Nothing that was present in any DCU book to date, but familiar nonetheless.

For those who can’t place it, this is the button that The Comedian was wearing when he plummeted to his death in the pages of The Watchmen, a graphic novel used in many creative communications classes to this day. (Let’s also remember it was made into a movie by Zach Snyder… Notice a pattern?) Never before had the characters from that series been part of the DCU proper, but now it appears that they have a hand in things in creating the New 52. And the clues in both the one-shot and many other DC books over the last year tend to lean in that direction:

  • The same Mars-scape from various scenes of Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen appear near the end of the one-shot.
  • The same Doomsday Clock countdown visuals that occurred throughout that miniseries is prominent.
  • A character as powerful as Doctor Manhattan could have breached a universal barrier and had a hand in molding and shaping things.
  • A mysterious character has been appearing throughout the Rebirth titles (and even just before) taking in interest in things, kidnapping certain characters (such as Tim Drake and Doomsday) and keeping them prisoner for an as-yet-to-be-revealed plan. This character’s name? Mr. Oz. (Maybe it’s too obvious that this is Ozymandias, but you never know. That obviousness will have people second guessing, which very well could simply make it the best answer.)

Regardless, we don’t know what’s to come. But my belief is that this crossover begins the reveal of what is truly going on in the Rebirth DCU, which is why I think this is the true start.

We’re past the soup and salad, folks. It’s now time to get on to the main course.

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Kelly Cassidy
Staff Writer at Digital Fiasco

Anyone who knows him links “Kelly Cassidy” to comics. A collector and reader for over 30 years, he is a weekly regular at his local comic shop and is usually found trying to catch up with the stack of books he buys weekly. (He is usually 1-2 weeks behind on his reading stack.) He is always up for talking comics here on Digital Fiasco or on Twitter (or anywhere else he can be found in the wild).