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Thursday, May 26, 2016

DAMN Good Comics -- DC UNIVERSE: REBIRTH #1


Fair warning, there will be spoilers here, even though just about every comics news site already spoiled this issue a week ago.

Almost five years ago, DC Comics rebooted their fictional universe as "The New 52," which featured a few successes with Batman, Justice League and Harley Quinn, but largely was considered a creative disappointment.  DC's legendary heroes of hope and optimism were replaced by younger, grimdark versions that lacked the essential charm and appeal of their pre-Flashpoint incarnations, and declining sales soon reflected that.

So at long last, DC is taking major steps to address their mistakes without completely hitting the shiny, candy-like reset button, and who better to set the tone for this "DC Rebirth" than DC's Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns?  Ever since his days writing JSA and The Flash, one of Johns' greatest strengths as a mainstream comics writer has been his ability to zero in on what fans once enjoyed about DC characters and incorporate that into modern storytelling.  Sometimes that comes off as personal self-indulgence or fan service, but for the most part, Johns is great at getting readers to remember why they love comics.

And that's exactly what he does with DC Universe: Rebirth #1.  Armed with some outstanding art from Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis and Phil Jimenez, Johns frames the entire issue around the return of none other than Wally West -- the original green-eyed redhead who many still consider to be their Flash instead of Barry Allen.  DC fans (including myself) were upset when Wally was erased from the DC Universe with The New 52, only to eventually be reintroduced in The Flash Annual #3 as a younger, biracial version that wasn't The Flash anymore, wasn't married to Linda Park, and bore little resemblance to the character we loved.

Johns makes some important statements with Wally's return, primarily that the post-Flashpoint DCU has been missing something, that sense of legacy where a new generation takes over while honoring what came before.  As Wally struggles to return from the Speed Force, we take a tour of the reborn DCU to give readers and jaded DC fans a taste of the greatness to come.  Ryan Choi is tasked with suiting up as The Atom to find a microscopic Ray Palmer, current Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes is working with Ted Kord, Green Arrow and Black Canary are being pulled together once again, Aquaman proposes to Mera, senile old Johnny Thunder is tasked with finding the Justice Society, Dream Girl teases the return of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Pandora (an early symbol for The New 52) is murdered for our mutual satisfaction.  And then we get a final payoff, with references to classic Flash imagery, as Wally makes a connection with his mentor Barry Allen and the two share a heartbreaking scene where Barry apologizes to Wally for forgetting him.

Wally realizes that someone out there in the DCU has stolen ten years from them, apparently to make them inexperienced and weaker for some reason yet to be revealed. That someone, which should piss writer Alan Moore off to no end, appears to be Doctor Manhattan from the classic 12-issue series Watchmen.  Now, we don't actually see Dr. Manhattan in this issue, possibly an important point, but we have a character speaking with his traditional blue Watchmen caption font with some imagery and a "The clock in the DC Universe is ticking down" tease clearly meant to imply the character.

So with all this in mind, I have to wonder, is this mysterious Big Bad really Dr. Manhattan or actually someone else?  Dr. Manhattan certainly has the power to pull off these continuity shenanigans, but as we all know, Watchmen wasn't intended to be set in the DC Universe. Bringing Dr. Manhattan into the DCU would be bold, sure, and makes great commentary against Watchmen, which introduced Grimdark storytelling along with Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns back in the '80s.  Wouldn't it be even bolder if we're meant to think that Dr. Manhattan is the Big Bad?  What if it turns out to be someone like the Time Trapper instead...?

Obviously, To Be Continued.  In the meantime, though, the DC Universe is reborn once again and let's just appreciate that, especially since it happened on the same day that Marvel Comics alienated a good chunk of their fanbase by making Captain America a Hydra agent.  If you're a longtime DC Comics fan that felt burned, bitter and betrayed by The New 52, please give this issue a chance and see what you think.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

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