The DC Universe: ‘Rebirth #1’- Two Endings and a Beginning

Reading Time: 12 minutes
Rebirth #1 cover, image via DC Comics
Rebirth #1 cover, image via DC Comics

Corrina: DC Comic’s Rebirth, which DC has been at pains to say is not a reboot, debuts this week, at the same time two other stories that play directly into the event end.

If you’re a long-standing DC reader, as Ray is, you might be having a little fanboy squee at Rebirth #1. If you’re like me, who has read every DC reboot in real-time, starting with Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986, you might just sigh and think “here we go again.”

Technically, DC is right. Rebirth isn’t a reboot. But it’s certainly a reordering of their universe yet again. We’re reviewing the endings first, with Rebirth at the bottom, but if you want to scroll to the bottom to those spoilers, be my guest.

Ray: For me, I came in a few years after Crisis on Infinite Earths and was here for Flashpoint with very mixed feelings. There’s definitely a sense of familiarity to the proceedings, as we’ve been through storylines like this before, but what’s different here is that Geoff Johns seems to understand exactly what DC has been missing. The issue feels like a vivid statement that the DCU I grew up with is coming back, is fighting its way back from purgatory, complete with the biggest twist ending I can remember in a comic. I am sold, in a big way.

Justice League #50 – Geoff Johns, Writer; Jason Fabok, Artist; Brad Anderson, Colorist

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: It’s Over! Yay! (Except, It’s Not Really)

Ray: I’ve expressed my misgivings with this whole story for a while now, and while the biggest problem with it remains the blank slate of villains, I’d be lying if I said this story didn’t work as a big, explosive, and ultimately satisfying final showdown.

It starts with the Anti-Monitor dead, Steve Trevor possessed by the Anti-Life Equation, and the Justice League on their last legs. As Diana fights to bring Steve back to sanity and the Green Lantern corps show up to try to turn the tide of the battle, Grail kills Superwoman (the first of many deaths in this issue) and claims the baby, which she uses to steal the powers of the various Gods that the JL is possessed by. As the child – the son of Superwoman, Alexander Luthor, and the powers of Earth-3 Shazam – takes the powers, it transforms – into the new Darkseid, in thrall to its mother. When it steals Barry’s powers, it unleashes the Black Racer, which attempts to track the Flash down, until Jessica Cruz uses her newfound willpower to take control back from Volthoom and throw herself in front of the Racer’s grip, seemingly losing her life. It’s a dramatic moment, but we all know where this is going. Hal gives up his ring to help Bruce escape the Mobius chair, Barda leads the female furies into battle, and in the end, it’s Myrina Black’s sacrifice as a mother that ends the threat.

There are a lot of powerful moments in this issue that would have been more powerful if it felt like we had more of a connection to Myrina or Grail. It’s once the big threat is over that this issue gets really strong. Jessica Cruz gets her GL ring via a nice end-run around the rules of death, a dying Myrina spills the beans about Diana’s twin brother (the big hook of Greg Rucka’s new Wonder Woman run), Barda returns to the female furies, Grail retreats with the infant Darkseid, and in the best scene of the issue, Luthor forges his new Superman armor and takes on his new position as the ruler of Apokalips. We get a hint of the truth about the Joker, but the real scene that will have everyone talking is the finale, as Owlman and Metron fight over the Mobius chair, only for someone to realize they’re looking where they shouldn’t be – and incinerate these two powerful beings offhandedly. I imagine there would have been a lot of speculation about this scene – if we didn’t know exactly who it was. Overall, it’s a bit of an overstuffed mess, but damn if it isn’t a very entertaining one. A great appetizer for Rebirth.

This series as a whole started out really strong, with three excellent stories in a row and a fantastic Aquaman crossover. It always delivered big action combined with strong characterization. Something seemed to change, however, with Forever Evil, and it became more bound to whatever was going on around it, rarely allowed to be its own book the way it was during the Jim Lee era. That dragged it down for me. Johns doesn’t write bad comics. I can think of only a few off the top of my head, and most were under weird circumstances. But I don’t think his JL ever reached the highs of his Teen Titans, his Justice Society of America, his Flash, his Superman, or his Green Lantern, and that’s because it was never its own book the way the others were. An entertaining read, but not the final act of his comic career I would have expected. Fortunately, he does have one last act in him, and it’s a doozy before he heads off to Hollywood.

Corrina: Just what I wanted. An ending that’s not really an ending but that leads into yet another big event story. ::throws up hands:: DC has done this a ton lately, with events that lead into other events and going down that rabbit hole once again isn’t high on my list of things to do.

I’d much rather DC did what they did with the DC You initiative, find a bunch of talented creators and let them create unique stories. But, guess what? I’m not your typical DC reader and most of those books didn’t sell. Regular DC readers, you have the type of stories you’ve voted for with your dollars. Congratulations?

In short, Ray says “great appetizer,” I say, what? That’s it? After myriad crossovers, one-shots, and this whole arc that probably cost, oh about $70 or so?

Ah, the story. Yes, there are some fine moments. Jessica Cruz is a highlight, though I’d have been more worried that she was dead if I hadn’t already seen the advertisements for a book with her in a starring role. Myrina’s sacrifice could have been poignant but this story was too long and too convoluted for me to bond to her or Grail. Also, what’s with the baby Darkseid? That’s the second baby who’s supposedly the reincarnation of a god in the DC Universe. Little Zeke worked well in Wonder Woman until he was aged up, but I can’t imagine bonding at all to baby Darkseid, especially since he’s going to end up aged up too.

Can we please have a mortarium on the “babies infused with everyone’s powers and is dangerous to the universe” plot? Oh, wait, nope because it seems that might play out in Wonder Woman.

Superman #52 – Peter Tomasi, Writer; Mikel Janin, Miguel Sepulveda, Artists; Jeromy Cox, Letterer

Ray – 6/10

Corrina: Superman Isn’t Who You Thought He Was! All You Know is Wrong!

Ray: I got into comic books with the Death of Superman back in 1992, so looking at this story, it’s kind of fascinating to see the parallels. Both stories pick up abruptly, with the normal flow of stories stopping for the inevitable march of death. Both feature a new, implacable enemy that appears out of nowhere and can only be stopped by Superman giving everything he has. Here, Doomsday is replaced with Denny Swan, the deranged escaped con possessed by Superman’s lost energy who is convinced he’s Superman. As the power corrupts his body from within, he gets closer and closer to detonating and taking everyone with him. Superman’s body is betraying him too, of course, as the Kryptonite poisoning eats away at him.

I will say the best part of the issue is the final battle, as Supergirl, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the older Superman all play their roles backing Superman up until the end, when only one final desperate move by Superman can save the day – but cost him everything in the process. Once it comes time for the death scene, though, this comic falls flat compared to the original.

The method of death – Superman explodes in a burst of green energy after saying his final words – lacks the dramatic power of him collapsing and dying after defeating Doomsday. Most of the last words were nice, but the cursory attention he gives to Lois combined with the longing romantic glances as he expired in Wonder Woman’s arms was weird. In the end, the biggest problem was the lack of emotion I felt at the death of Superman. The ambiguity was part of it, but the bigger problem was that this just never felt like Superman. He was all wrong, from minute one. So many things about the New 52 Superman felt off, and watching him die was sad – but in the same way that watching Ben Reilly or Artemis the Amazon die so the original could come back was sad. It was a nice send-off to New 52 Superman, but in the end, I was already looking forward to the real Superman taking his rightful place.

Corrina: Superman is dead and, well, I feel nothing. Maybe I shouldn’t because, hey, that Superman isn’t who I thought he was and neither is the parallel universe Superman. What? No, I don’t know what’s going on here except some meta-commentary on those who might have seen Superman as a douchebro, like I did. Silly me, who knew there were plot reasons for this characterization?

That sarcasm isn’t directed at the creative team, by the way, but at the very idea of needing a reboot to tell readers that, yeah, the Superman of the last four years was kinda off. I’d much prefer if they just put aside the bad stories and told good ones, instead of having a multi-event story where he dies so they can explain that this isn’t quite what you thought you were reading.

But if it puts a final stake in the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship, I’m all for it. That coupling did neither character any good. It added no depth to Superman and it warped Wonder Woman and made her lesser.

Nope, this isn’t the 1992 Death of Superman tale. It’s not even close. This story was basically created to boost sales and maybe cover over creative mistakes made in the last few years.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 – Geoff Johns, Writer; Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Phil Jiminez; Artists; Joe Prado, Matt Santorelli, Inkers; Brad Anderson, Jason Wright, Gabe Eltaeb; Hi-Fi, Colorists

Ray – 10/10

Ray: This is a really hard comic to talk about because it’s so many things in one. It’s over sixty pages of story, and as writer Geoff Johns has a near-impossible task to pull off here. This comic serves as a deft advertisement for almost the entire Rebirth line, giving us teases of what’s to come for major characters and enticing us to pick up what’s next, but it does that in a smooth narrative as opposed to the often clumsy anthology format that these teaser books often come in. It also serves as a kick-off to what’s certain to be the next big DC event, although I’m not quite sure where that’ll play out. The yet-to-be-announced Justice League of America title, maybe? However, this book also serves a third function,and that’s the most fascinating one: this book is essentially a brutal indictment of the New 52 era of DC Comics and all that it ripped away from the history of DC. I’m not sure if this was the plan all along. I find that hard to believe, but if the entire post-Flashpoint era was all a set-up for this storyline, this battle for the soul of comics, I give all my kudos to Geoff Johns for the sheer guts involved.

There’s so much going on in this comic that it’s impossible to really get into all of it, but the heart of this book is one person – Wally West. Not the teenage boy just coming into his own as Kid Flash, but the young man who became the Flash. It’s through his eyes that we see the loss that Flashpoint caused, as he became essentially a ghost in his own world, desperately using the Speed Force to try to contact people who might recognize him and give him his life back – Batman, even his own wife. It’s not until he finds Barry and makes contact that someone finally remembers what was lost. It’s through Wally that we see that the Flashpoint wasn’t a quirk of fate – it was something intentional and malicious. Something was stolen from the DCU, and the heroes are finally ready to put it back.

From there, the comic goes into a series of segments focusing on the various heroes of the DCU and what’s coming next for them. I’m particularly intrigued by two – the new partnership between Jaime Reyes and Ted Kord, which has the fun vibe of the greatest buddy comedies, and Ryan Choi’s awkward inheritance of the legacy of Ray Palmer. These two segments perfectly captured that awkward young-hero vibe that makes for great comics like Ms. Marvel and the classic Ultimate Spider-Man run. I also liked that the book went out of its way to explain the connection between classic Wally and NuWally, and assure us that NuWally’s development as Kid Flash will not be interrupted. This book feels as much about legacy as anything. The teases for Legion of Super-Heroes and the Justice Society of America were just that, teases, but they left me wanting more. I loved seeing classic Superman and his family, and there are interesting hints that the other Superman may not have been what he appeared.

So, let’s talk about the big spoiler. The one that no one saw coming. The death of Pandora, while partially a door-slam for that whole era, also serves to intrigue because the character’s whole thing is that she’s unkillable. This basically indicates that our big bad is someone who does not play by the rules. I was spoiled on the reveal, but even so, I found myself gasping through it. Batman discovering the Comedian’s pin, that segment between Doctor Manhattan and Ozymandias…the implications are unbelievable. There are only a few things that I could safely say “That will never happen”, and I can now scratch one more off the list (along with Bucky coming back, hehe). Is JLA vs. Watchmen a good idea? I can’t say until I know who’s writing it. Is this opening a spectacular teaser? Absolutely. It’s being set up as a battle of hope vs. cynicism for the fate of the DCU. Geoff Johns has, in fact, been accused of being torn between the two a lot in his work. This comic, more than any other, shows where his heart lies. This is a comic about hope, about love, about legacy, and about building a better future. This is the best vision of what the DCU can be that I’ve read in a very long time. If this is in fact that last regular comic Geoff Johns writes for DC, I cannot think of a better ending and beginning in one. DC Universe Rebirth is a triumph in every way.

So, now there are two Wally Wests, I guess? image from Rebirth #1, via DC Comics
So, now there are two Wally Wests, I guess? image from Rebirth #1, via DC Comics

Corrina: This is where the difference between Ray’s readership and mine truly shows. If DC is aiming for his demographic – regular weekly comic customers with pull lists at direct market stores–and I suspect it is, then DC has clearly accomplished its goal and Geoff Johns and this all-star team of artists who produced some spectacular comics can take a bow.

For me? I cannot see how this comic is going to pull anyone into the DC Universe. It’s designed for the long-term fan, it’s not designed to attract new readers, and it’s full of meta-commentary about how much the DC Universe lost after Flashpoint and how they’re going to get it back, and how it’s a war of hope and love against despair.

I can’t see any other way to read it than Johns saying to DC readers that he understands they’ve been unhappy and missing the old DCU and that it’s okay, he (Barry) will remember who they are (Wally) and pull them back out of the midst so they can read their own favorite comics and characters again.

It’s cute that Ray thinks this was the plan four years ago. I submit if sales hadn’t been a steady trickle downward, this story never, ever would have happened.

This comic is Johns is “Big Yellow Fear Monster” mode. Years ago, when Johns wanted to bring Hal Jordan back as the primary Green Lantern, he explained that Hal wasn’t really a mass-murdering of the Corps and the guy who tried to reset the entire universe, but was possessed by the Big Yellow Fear Monster. Instead of telling a new story, Johns went in and had to explain why the old story still made sense.

That’s what Johns is doing with Rebirth, Only this is the “Silver Lightning” retcon punch, with an addedspecteror that we can see” involved. (Is this specter named Voldemort?Nowhere can this need to explain the criticism of comic stories inside another comic story be better seen than in the forgiveness of Barry Allen for creating the whole Flashpoint event by saving his mother. See, per Flashpoint, Barry saving his mother caused the universe to go nuts, so he had to let her die at the end so the universe could right itself. Only, whoops, Rebirth reveals that wasn’t really Barry but the Being-Who-Shall-Not-Be -Named.

In other works, instead of telling something new, Johns is continuing to tell readers why the other stories all made sense. He’s a fine writer when he sticks with original tales but when he’s writing the overall DC Universe, his inner fanboy takes over. He’s taking a Mopee story and instead of sweeping it under the rug where it belongs, creating a whole universe around it.

I gave this comic to two of my teenagers to read. They agreed with me, that the parts with Wally and Barry are poignant and well done, but my son stopped at one point and asked: “What the heck is this random Swamp Thing panel doing in here?”

The answers to that and other questions, kids, is “to tease the series starring those characters,” or what Ray calls “deft advertising.” Deft isn’t the word I’d use.

That’s the purpose of Rebirth : to get old-school fans excited about their characters. If you’re Ray, you’re thrilled. If you’re me, you tilt your head, roll your eyes, check out the creative teams on the new comics and make reading choices based on whether you believe those creative teams can tell a good story, whatever the heck continuity looks like.

Which is really the only way to ever decide on what comic to buy. Not nostalgia or familiarity with character but “will this be a good story?”

And Rebirth? It’s an advertisement, not a story.

Can you name all the characters included in Rebirth? image via  DC Comics.
Can you name all the characters included in Rebirth? image via DC Comics.

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