This week, DC Comics relaunches their entire line of comics with DC Universe Rebirth #1. In the wake of Flashpoint, the New 52 universe was born, but it wasn’t as fans remembered – and now we know why!
Rebirth is very much a course correction for DC Comics, returning years of history, characters, and continuity that were erased with the New 52. And being such an exciting prospect for fans both new and old, Sarah and Matt got together to chat about this momentous issue. Read on below!
[WARNING – This Hangout includes SPOILERS for DC Universe Rebirth #1]
Matt: So… let’s start with you. What did you think of DC Universe Rebirth?
Sarah: I ended up enjoying more than I thought I would. It was different than I was expecting, and I didn’t see the twist ending coming at all. And even with the issue being spoiled over the weekend, I was generally surprised by Rebirth.
Matt: Yeah, I had a fair bit of it spoiled for me as well. But there was a lot of it which surprised me in spite of that. And I also liked it.
Sarah: Oh! Sorry, I was saying I was able to avoid spoilers. And I’m glad, because I think this was a case of had I just been told what happened, it wouldn’t have had the same impact. It was pretty exciting in the context of the story. Are you interested in what this means for the DC Universe going forward?
Matt: Well, being more of a DC fan than a Marvel one, I was already interested in where Rebirth would be leading the line. I grew up on Superfriends and Super Powers toys in the ’80s, back when the only Marvel cartoons were Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and The Incredible Hulk. I didn’t get into comics until college. But after reading this I’m more hopeful about the direction things are going.
Sarah: I began reading comics regularly, actually having a pull at the comic book store, not too long after Final Crisis. So I remember taking the time to visit the library and check out the trades of all DC’s previous crises to learn the history. So once Flashpoint and New 52 erased much of that, I remember being like, “What the hell?” Now, I soon got over that, and loved quite a few series throughout the New 52, but I consider DC’s weird and long and convoluted history to be what made it special. So for me as well, Rebirth has me very excited for where they’re taking things.
Matt: Yeah. It had a sense of history and legacy that Marvel Comics, for better or worse, didn’t. Even though the universe reset a few times, there was a sense of progress from the mid-1980s onward. Which makes the narrator of this issue doubly fitting.
Sarah: And LEGACY – yes, all caps – is a big theme of this issue.
Matt: Well, my excitement is balanced by a healthy bit of skepticism. If it were just Geoff Johns writing this, I’d be happier than a hog in slop. Unfortunately, Geoff can’t write everything. And there’s only so much he can do in his grand poobah chair to keep the editors and writers in line with the grand vision. So while I love the blueprint that Johns the architect has created, I question the abilities of some of the construction crew.
Sarah: Oh me too, for being skeptical. It’s a promising start, but this could become a real mess very soon. It’s very complicated and it’s across the entire DC Comics line. Some book is going to drop the ball. But anyway, enough pessimism. This all about HOPE and OPTIMISM. That narrator…
Matt: Wally West being the narrator is the perfect choice for two reasons. First, it was Wally becoming The Flash in the opening days of The Dark Age of comics that really started DC Comics’ modern concept of Legacy. It was the first time we had that sense of time progressing in comics, that the sidekicks would become their mentors some day. I think Aqualad is the only one of the original Titans who didn’t wind up replacing their mentor at some point and that’s only because Garth was so beyond Arthur’s level at that point as Tempest.
Sarah: That and the popularity of the Aqua-titles was never near the others, not until very recently
Matt: The other reason it’s perfect is that Johns is, for a generation of comics fans, the definitive Flash writer, and his run with Wally West is still fondly remembered over a decade later. Actually, it’s a little less than a decade since it ended, I think.
Sarah: And isn’t Wally a character he began on? It was one of his first gigs, I believe. So that’s very fitting. In fact, this book is absolutely dripping in meta-commentary about DC Comics, the brand and the state of its comics.
Matt: Yes, it is. In fact, this whole book drips in metatext in a way that I think Grant Morrison tried to go for in Multiversity but didn’t pull off half as well.
Sarah: That’s because Morrison goes too deep, as Morrison is want to do. Johns is using Wally West, a character that anyone who’s watched Justice League/Unlimited or Young Justice is familiar with.
Matt: And you’re right. I think The Flash was Johns first major solo gig. He was doing JSA and Hawkman at the same time, but he started out both of those with David Goyer and James Robinson. Speaking of Young Justice the animated series, for amoment when we first see the Kid Flash costume, I thought maybe this might be that version of Wally, who disappeared in the last episode.
Sarah: So Rebirth begins will Wally, as Kid Flash, kind of eulogizing the old universe and trying to find anyone who will remember him. And we get a sight-seeing tour of the universe as it stands now.
Matt: And him talking about the watch his uncle gave him, before we even have any idea it is Wally. And we find out that he’s trapped in the Speed Force and trying to break through and connect with someone, but he keeps getting pulled back.
Sarah: Yes, using the watch as a narrative device clearly becomes very, very important later on. And honestly, I even had the thought when I saw the opening page. I was like, “Huh? That panel layout sure looks a lot like…” But then it was just out of mind once Wally showed up and I got into it.
Matt: One thing about that opening page did bug me. The editorial note to read Justice League #50 and Superman #52 first. I mean, this is a first issue, an introduction to a whole new world, an entry point for some new readers, in theory… and BAM! Big note saying “Um… before you read this….”
Sarah: Right? I didn’t find it necessary, because whenever I can’t exactly place something, I just tell myself, eh, it’s comics. But there certainly were developments referenced in this book that came from those issues. I was also thinking back on how Johns said in some interview that this book would be both for longtime fans and new readers, and I think using a Flash character and involving the Speed Force was a brilliant but of synergy. The TV show is by far their most popular and a likely entry point for a lot of new fans into their universe.
Matt: That’s true, and the flashback sequences sum up Flashpoint very well for those who hadn’t read it. Ironic, given The Flash‘s season finale, but I digress.
Sarah: They do! And it has me convinced the TV show is going to attempt a Flashpoint of sorts, but that’s another topic.
Matt: Talking of multimedia crossover… did you feel a moment of dread when Wally tried talking to Bruce in the Batcave? The Flash? Trying to break through reality to deliver Batman a warning about the future? (BRRRUUUUUUCE! YOU HAVE TO SAVE LOIS LAAAAANE!)
Sarah: Haha! A little. I did wonder if Wally was going to burst through in some weird portal, but thankfully they took it another route. I also like that Johns summarized not only what occurred in Flashpoint, but also Wally’s entire history.
Matt: Oh yeah. The breakdown of how Wally became Kid Flash, a Teen Titan and then The Flash was great.
Sarah: That history also serves as a good primer on what the pre-New 52 universe was like, how characters progressed, how they grew, had lives where they were married and people died. But the reason Wally comes to Bruce first is he’s the only one with any evidence of Barry’s previous reshuffling of the timeline. He has a letter written by the Thomas Wayne from the Flashpoint universe. But he doesn’t recognize Wally, so we move to Johnny Thunder? I’ll admit I had to look this one up. This is deep.
Matt: Which brings us to how they’re apparently going to bring back the original WWII-era Justice Society.
Sarah: Legion of Superheroes, too.
Matt: Yeah. That was one of the few bits that wasn’t accessible to new readers. Of course, as a long-time fan of Johns JSA run I loved the Johnny Thunder cameo
Sarah: I found those scenes to be well-balanced. Like, after those we have a bunch of these “legacy” scenes. Moments between mentors and their charges. Atom, Blue Beetle…
Matt: Yeah. For giving us Ted Kord and Ryan Choi back, I can forgive a lot. And I just love that between the two of them, Jaime is the sane one. Kind of reminds me of the dynamic between Professor Stein and Jefferson Jackson on Legends of Tomorrow. And it’s nice to see Ray Palmer as a professor again after he was just some generic scientist in the New 52.
Sarah: That’s why these little interludes work. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t familiar with these characters specifically, but you can relate to what’s happening. The interactions they’re having.
Matt: Right. The quick flashes of the kid with the birthday cake, the new Green Lantern, the new Aqualad (another Young Justice transplant). And there’s more metatext – the blonde woman being held by the Metropolis Police who has a Legion Flight ring says, “Everything is going to be alright. I’ve seen the future.”
Sarah: Yes, there are quite a few characters who are borderline aware they’re in a comic book. They’re at the very least aware their universe is again being changed. Pandora sure does, and then she goes POOF!
Matt: Pandora’s death is another big hint at the ending… Of course, for every scene like that which works, you have another one that doesn’t, like the whole bit with Wonder Woman’s long lost twin.
Sarah: Oh yeah, I had no clue what that page was about at all. But again, easy enough to move right past and assume it’ll be explained if I ever need to know. From here, though, we move to the site of Superman’s disappearance and possible death. Did you happen to read Superman and/or Justice League? I’m curious how much it matters to know the specifics of what happened. Or is it just like, Superman died, that happens some times.
Matt: I’m afraid the only Superman book I’ve been reading is the excellent Superman: Lois and Clark , which centers on the original pre-New 52 Lois Lane and Clark Kent, living on New Earth with their ten-year-old son, who just discovered his dad is a Superman different than the one he’s seen on TV… and, oh yes, he has powers.
Sarah: Well they show up soon after! And if that guy I think was The Spectre is to be believed, they and this Earth’s Superman are not what they seem.
Matt: Actually, that guy wasn’t The Spectre. He’s Mr. Oz, who is a character from Geoff Johns’ run on Superman who never quite got a chance to pay off… so apparently now he is. And the scene with them also has a quick comment about certain patterns repeating themselves, with this Superman dying and Lois and Clark both being certain he isn’t really dead.
Sarah: Okay, so whatever happened to Superman is just another ‘Death of Superman’ like event, which is why the other Superman, Clark, is familiar with it, having lived through one himself. Ah, comics.
Matt: Well, Dan Jurgens has been playing with that idea a bit, having Superman stop things that happen on New Earth before his younger counterpart even knows they’re happening. But I digress… to answer your question, no I hadn’t been reading Justice League and “The Darkseid War”. I have been keeping up on Superman, though, and the Superman books in the last month have been centered around, well, Peter Tomasi is basically retelling the ending of All-Star Superman where Superman finds out his body is going to burn out and he prepares to die. But it’s also setting up all the other upcoming Superman books, including Gene Yang’s upcoming series about a Chinese Superman. So really, you don’t need to know more than what is mentioned here – apparently Superman died but there’s no body.
Sarah: To be honest, I’m more intrigued by what Mr. Oz is referring to, and I imagine that’ll be revealed in one of the Superman books. But we do have one of my favorite moments – the glance between Green Arrow and Black Canary! Sure, it was cheesy, but I dug it. And along with that scene, we also have a nice Aquaman/Mera scene which I also loved. It’s basically like a reminder that, “Hey! These couples exist, and since the theme in this chapter is love, well, here we have romantic love.” Lois and Clark count here, too, obviously.
Matt: Yeah. That’s another metatextual comment. The New 52 got rid of all these couples. Lois and Clark weren’t even dating. Arthur and Mera were together but were quickly driven apart and it was revealed they were never married. Heck, even Barry Allen was dating a co-worker instead of Iris West. And apart from being seen as part of the Justice League reserves during “Throne of Atlantis”, I don’t think Ollie and Dinah have had any interaction in The New 52 at all.
Sarah: So all these couples lead us into a meeting between Wally and Linda… and she doesn’t remember him! The one person he was sure would. Heartbreaking, poor Wally. Though I’m not shocked it didn’t work.
Matt: We have to give Wally something to work for.
Sarah: And from there Wally comes across the other Wally West. What do you think about that?
Matt: Well, there were two more quick interludes including one with Constantine and Swamp Thing, but yes, Dual Overhead Wallys.
Sarah: Yes, and the other was of these two mysterious characters coming to Detective Comics.
Matt: Oh! And Wally trying to contact Cyborg and Dick Grayson, where we see Dick is back in black and blue.
Sarah: Yup! Like Wally phases in at the moment Dick is reconsidering getting back into the old costume.
Matt: I think it was a neat nod that they’re explaining how there are two Wally Wests within the context of both worlds so we don’t have to get rid of one or the other. All about the Legacy again.
Sarah: I think it’s a little weird, and a very obvious leftover of trying to fix some of the New 52’s most blatant changes. You cannot convince me this was the plan all along. But I’m happy they aren’t just replacing the new with the old.
Matt: Especially since – let’s not kid ourselves – Wally West is getting speed eventually on The Flash, the TV show.
Sarah: Totally. And I thought that was the point of having Wally now be black in the comics, create synergy with the TV show.
Matt: And this brings us to one of my favorite pages. The one where Barry Allen saves a whole apartment from a fire, brings pizza when one of the kids is hungry, and pays for it by renovating the pizzeria’s kitchen.
Sarah: It’s a pitch perfect encapsulation of Barry at his best. That’s what Johns nails with these characters.
Matt: Yeah. That is everything a DC Comics hero should be in one page.
Sarah: But I was wondering if you were going to say the scene following that. I need to look up how the art breaks down between creators, but I loved what was done by whoever tackled the scene between Barry and Wally. Okay, it’s Phil Jiminez and Gary Frank on pencils, Frank and Matt Santorelli inking, and Gabe Eltaeb and Brad Anderson doing color. It’s gorgeous!
Matt: It’s an amazing sequence. And if Wally had died here for real it would have been a fitting one.
Sarah: It would have been poignant, but Barry reaching out at the last moment is perfect.
Matt: And that brings to mind another irony about this issue. Geoff Johns gets a lot of flack as a writer for being unable to start a series without killing people off or doing something horrible to the characters. Yet in this issue…. nobody dies. Just this once Rose, everybody lives!
Sarah: Horrible things may yet come, but you’re right, this story is about saving someone.
Matt: Oh more than saving Wally. Ted Kord is alive with no explanation. Ryan Choi is alive. Ray Palmer is back where he’s supposed to be.
Sarah: That’s true, so how are they back? That isn’t made clear.
Matt: No clue. Don’t care. They’re back. All I need to know at this point.
Sarah: Haha! It might be that pieces of that history are slowly bleeding back in. Wally would have been the only one in the Speed Force, but other characters could just begin reappearing. Which also has me wondering how quickly will character’s memories return? Guess that’s what these upcoming Rebirth issues are for.
Matt: So that brings us to the big reveal. The Daffy Duck, “WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS?!” moment.
Sarah: I really like how the panel layout returned to the nine boxes.
Matt: Yeah. Nice subtle nod in the art there.
Sarah: And then… The Comedian’s button in the Batcave? What!? That was a big ‘what the hell?’ moment for me. It’s at least somewhat explained with Dr. Manhattan being who’s behind it all, the one who manipulated the universe after Flashpoint. Still… why that button is there, I have no idea. But I demand a good explanation! Which I’ll probably never get.
Matt: And he stole Wally West’s watch!
Sarah: Yes! The watch. That’s what I mean, it’s all so obvious but I never would have guessed. DC versus Watchmen or whatever is happening.
Matt: There’s one bit about the Epilogue I found interesting – what isn’t there. The voice over repeats the final conversation between Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias, but it doesn’t include the exchange right before the lines they quote. Ozymandias says that he thought Dr. Manhattan had regained his interest in human life, and Dr. Mahattan says “Yes. I have. I think perhaps I’ll create some.”
Sarah: Yes, I was wondering if this is the implication, that Dr. Manhattan is the architect of the DC Universe. Interesting they didn’t include that bit. But perhaps that’s what they’re referring to, they just didn’t want to be quite so implicit. It’s presumably his hand on the cover, then?
Matt: Now I don’t know if you know your Green Lantern history all that well, but this bit made it into Justice League animated series as well. Ever hear of The Hand of the Creator? The race that became The Guardians of the the Universe had a scientist named Krona. He was obsessed with learning the origins of the universe. Despite an Oan legend forbidding people trying to learn that, he built a device that let him look back to that moment where he saw… a giant blue hand reaching out of the void! And the act of observing that somehow altered the moment of creation, which was what caused the original single universe to splinter into the multiverse.
Sarah: Ha! So Johns is just connecting dots. That was never the real intention for these characters, but here it works so well.
Matt: Exactly. And Johns does that better than no other writer I can think of except for maybe Mark Waid.
Sarah: It just shows such a deep understanding of the history. I love it!
Matt: And of course all of this is yet another gigantic metatextual commentary.
Sarah: With Watchmen being a starting point for when cynicism and despair entered the universe? I found that a great comment.
Matt: Would you agree it’s fair to say that Watchmen wound up altering the DC Comics universe for the worst? That more people tried to emulate the dark tone of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work without mimicking the depth?
Sarah: I would agree. Telling stories that are dark is fine, but they need to be done with purpose. With stakes. Not just because you like a hero that kills or is morally grey. And I would agree that having heroes who are so true and right all the time is what’s unique about DC. It is a little silly, and overly optimistic, but it’s fantasy and it’s fun.
Matt: Johns has just taken the metatextual commentary of multiple people – including Alan Moore himself – and made it literal. Watchmen destroyed the DC Universe. And here’s another bit of commentary that I’m not altogether sure might not have been unintentional given Johns work on DC’s TV shows and movie lines. Who is being blamed for making DC Comics movies into dark, depressing non-heroic slogs to sit through? Same guy who made the Watchmen movie.
Sarah: Ding, ding! And who is now overseeing the DC Extended Universe? Johns. And I want to be clear that I like Watchmen. I even like Snyder’s film, way more than any of his others. But I don’t need all my superheroes to be like Watchmen.
Matt: Same here. I think Snyder is a great filmmaker with an amazing sense of style. The thing is that style doesn’t lend itself well to four-color heroism.
Sarah: I’ll be interested in how much this plays out in the coming titles. Since there isn’t a proper Rebirth #2, I’ll only be reading the Rebirth titles of the characters I’m interested in: Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Harley Quinn… But, are we to expect Watchmen characters to show up there? I don’t really think so. This may be the only hint, just a way of explaining who was responsible for the New 52. Well except… I think Wally suggests that Manhattan is still a threat. So I guess we’ll see.
Matt: Or we’ll be seeing Justice League VS Watchmen as the big crossover next summer.
Sarah: And see, that could either be amazing or terrible. There’s no middle ground.
Matt: Yeah. I’m going to read the books with the characters I like or by the creators I enjoy.
Sarah: Same here. But I’ll say, I think DC could start to steal a little of Marvel’s limelight with this relaunch. Especially after that Captain America issue today, yeesh!
Matt: Sadly, most of my friends were in an uproar over that. And I don’t think my telling all the enraged Captain America fans, “You know… we have a nice heroic comic here.” will help. Of course, all I read from them is Howard The Duck, Squirrel Girl and All-New Wolverine now.
Sarah: Yeah, it wouldn’t ease their pain, but some may soon have more room in their pull. And as long as the Marvel books I read aren’t horrible altered by Civil War II, all is good. As for the DC Universe, the future is certainly promising after Rebirth. Well done, DC!