Today, Spencer and Michael are discussing DC Universe Rebirth 1, originally released May 25th, 2016.
Spencer: To me, one of the most interesting things about the mythology surrounding DC’s “Rebirth” initiative is that, despite its being touted as DC “canonically admitting that they screwed up the New 52,” DC didn’t take this opportunity to reboot or return to their old continuity. Instead, writer/creative director/all-around DC miracle worker Geoff Johns is using Rebirth to course correct their fledgling universe, making a concerted effort to turn away from the darkness that largely came to define the New 52 and instead embrace the ideas of love, hope, and legacy that DC was once famous for.
It’s an effort that warms my heart. I’ll admit to feeling maybe just the slightest, tiniest bit cynical (the upcoming “war” leaves a back-door open to restore the pre-Flashpoint continuity should Rebirth falter as well), but that barely matters. My favorite character in all of comics is back, and thus, I couldn’t be happier.
Even putting all affection aside, there is not a more perfect character to reintroduce the ideas of legacy, hope, and love than Wally West. First of all, a Flash has always led DC into each new era — the debut of Barry Allen marked the beginning of the Silver Age of comics, while his death in Crisis on Infinite Earths ushered in DC’s first big reboot — so of course Rebirth will uphold that tradition. More importantly, Wally absolutely embodies the qualities Johns and his bosses want to bring back to the DC universe.
There’s always been an element of fan wish-fulfillment to Wally’s character. Like many comic readers, he was a sad kid who found inspiration in superheroes — unlike us, though, he actually gets to work alongside his heroes, and eventually succeeds his mentor, becoming one of comics’ most recognizable icons in the process. Throughout the 90s and early 2000s DC was defined by the concept of legacy, by the idea that the universe’s heroic history spanned back for decades, and that its heroes actively worked to pass those values onto the next generation. Wally West — the sidekick who “made it” to the next level — was quite literally the living embodiment of this idea, and The Flash, which regularly featured three generations of speedsters (Wally, the JSA’s Jay Garrick, and Young Justice’s Bart Allen), was the title that brought the idea of legacy to the forefront of DC.
That’s what makes Wally such a perfect character to center the Rebirth one-shot around. Not only does he remind readers of the qualities DC wants to restore to their comics — inspirational, aspirational, iconic heroes backed by decades of history — but his very existence in this new DC Universe seems to start bringing these ideas to fruition. The same goes for another quality DC’s hoping to push, something Wally also has in abundance: love.
Love’s been in short supply in the New 52. Sure, there’s been romance, but very little in the way of long-term or stable ones. In fact, DC stirred up quite a controversy a few years ago when they essentially banned marriage from the pages of their books, not allowing Batwoman to marry her girlfriend and demoting Aquaman and Mera from “married couple” to “long-term partners.” Heck, Gail Simone was barely allowed to let Barbara go on a date during her Batgirl run. Wally West, though, is a character whose title was often a “love story disguised as a superhero story” (to paraphrase Mark Waid), and the focus on his love for Linda allows Rebirth to focus on rekindling other relationships as well. I’ve seen a lot of excitement about Green Arrow and Black Canary, but, at least symbolically, the most important relationship here is obvious.
Aquaman and Mera having never been married was a major point of contention among fans; including this moment in Rebirth, then, sends a clear, direct message that DC is embracing love, families, and relationships again.
It really is remarkable to me how well DC Universe Rebirth works as both a character-focused narrative for Wally West and as a mission statement for DC Comics going forward, and the fact that the direction DC is taking is such an inspired one — and that they candidly admit the flaws in their much-touted New 52 initiative — fills me with hope. Still, as I mentioned at the outset of this article, it is just a bit difficult to suppress my inner cynic here; like I said, it’s hard not to see DC hedging their bets against Rebirth with the upcoming “war,” and as much as I love seeing the likes of Ryan Choi, Jaime Reyes, and the “new” Aqualad again, I can’t help but remember the last time DC pushed these new legacy characters only to abandon them for their “iconic” predecessors. Comics are cyclical, and that can be frustrating, but you know what? Rebirth seems like it will be a fun cycle to live through, and I plan on enjoying it while I can.
Another aspect of this issue worth noting is the art. I’m used to these specials — especially ones featuring multiple artists — being artistically bland, but Rebirth bucks that trend, not only featuring A-List artists with history with Johns, but giving them room to assert their own style as well. Van Sciver, Frank, and Reis all put in fantastic work, but I’m most enamored by Phil Jimenez.
Not only is Jimenez’s Wally a dead ringer for George Perez’s — leaving this sequence to deliver twice the emotional punch to this old-school Titans fan — but his design work here is impeccable, juggling storytelling and symbolism masterfully. If Rebirth means that DC is putting this much thought into selecting artists for their upcoming line of titles, then it’s a smart move.
Michael and I have been tweeting each other excitedly about this issue — and this piece! — since its release, so I’m pumped to see your thoughts, brother. Are you as happy to see Wally as I am? What’s your favorite Rebirth teaser? (I gotta admit, the Constantine/Swamp Thing panel really made me laugh.) And I hate to dump perhaps Rebirth‘s most bizarre revelation on you, but: What’s your take on the Watchmen crossover?
Michael: Oh I willingly and eagerly accept your Watchmen crossover hand-off, Spencer. I could feel DC Universe Rebirth 1 wrapping up after the Barry/Wally reunion, but Batman discovering The Comedian’s trademark smiley face pin in the Batcave totally caught me off-guard. While the opening sequence of the watch had to have made me think of Dr. Manhattan, I must’ve simply thought it was an homage and nothing more. I had been riding high on the joy of Rebirth’s story up until that very moment, when I was filled with dual tingles of hope and fear. I feared that DC was trying to co-op Rebirth’s promise with finally shoehorning Watchmen into the DC proper; which gave me pause. After some brief reflection however I theorized (and later confirmed via Geoff Johns’ numerous interviews) that this inclusion of (the visibly absent) Dr. Manhattan etc. was an apology of a different sort.
Rebirth is being promoted as “the return of hope, optimism and legacy to the DCU” and by placing Watchmen as the antagonist of all of that, Johns calls into question the legacy of Watchmen. Stating the obvious: Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns completely changed the comic book/superhero genre — for better and for worse (see Zack Snyder’s filmography). While we’ve certainly had amazing and joyous superhero adventures in the 28 years since, there have been plenty of books that want their superheroes to wallow in morbid seriousness and angst.
I love Geoff Johns. I love Geoff Johns so much that you could probably go back in the Retcon Punch archives and note me apologizing for the soullessness of his writing in any Justice League write-up I covered. And though I might be more comfortable with my other comics love, Grant Morrison, covering such a grandiose meta-commentary about comics’ tone, I believe that if Johns follows his heart and stays true to what he loves about these characters, this whole Rebirth will be a worthwhile endeavor. I’m excited.
Speaking of digging into the Retcon Punch archives, I was having a spot of deja-vu as I read Spencer’s lead and was preparing my response. A little over a year ago, Spencer and I were covering Convergence: The Speed Force (you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here). In those pieces, we talked about what we loved/missed about Wally West and it is essentially everything that DC Universe Rebirth 1 has given us: legacy, love and family. Barring a handful worthwhile tie-ins, Convergence was pretty much a shit show, but it allowed DC to dip its toes back into the classic DCU waters. And here we are, straight-up jumping back into the pool! (More or less.)
I have no qualms, disagreements or counterpoints to make for everything Spencer has said about Rebirth thus far. I will say however that I was jazzed that he didn’t use my absolute favorite page of the book:
Oh my god you guys. Every time I look at that image I get goddamn goosebumps — I had to stifle squeals of emotions while I was on the train to work reading it. It’s such a simple layout by Phil Jimenez, but it doesn’t need to be more complicated than it is: a father and a son/two brothers reuniting after a lifetime apart — and we get to see the teary-eyed joy from each perspective. I think it’s such an emotionally-resonating sequence that you can map any relationship with a loved one on top of it.
The series of people that Wally visits in an attempt to tether himself to reality are Batman, Johnny Thunder, Linda and finally Barry. In a less powerful story, I might criticize the structure and say that obviously Wally should’ve gone to Barry in the first place. But Johns’ script really makes you feel the necessity of those transitions — especially as Wally goes from crushed by the fact that Linda doesn’t remember him to at peace with dying, as long as he can say thank you and goodbye to Barry.
While some of the teaser scenes were simply just that, it didn’t seem to be as much of a commercial for individual comic book series as past events were. The whole “Mr. Oz” bit seemed to tie in to what Johns had hinted at during his brief Superman run, but I still have no idea what the new ongoing Superman will be about. The Justice League Darkseid War epilogue was just OK for me, as I am hoping to never have to focus on the particulars of that again; though I’m cool with Darkseid being a baby.
I think that the Ted Kord/Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle dynamic is very interesting: you have a kid who wants nothing to do with the powers he’s been given while the grown man scientist seems to be having the time of his life. Gary Frank is a master of giving child-like wonder and enthusiasm to his characters.
Stray thoughts on the Damian/Jessica Cruz/Aqualad teaser page: I like that Damian is growing up (though I don’t understand why he’s so jazzed about blowing out his birthday candles alone.) The Jessica Cruz scene greatly sets the stage for the conflict between her and Simon Baz in the buddy cop Green Lanterns; also Jessica is bougie because she’s slicing up cheese. Finally I love how Johns indicates that Jackson is gay — not in some big press release reveal, but in a quiet conversation with his mother. Jackson’s mother is more concerned that her son is interested in boys than the fact that he has super powers.
There are bound to be books and creative teams that I won’t love under this banner, but until further notice, I am 100% on board with Rebirth; it’s been a long time that I’ve said that about something with this kind of scope at DC. As I said, I’m most worried about the Watchmen stuff — but if the execution is as good as the intent of DC Universe Rebirth 1, I’ll be just fine. To misquote The Long Halloween: I believe in Geoff Johns.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?