DC Universe: Rebirth - Comic Book Review
I'd say next to Star Wars, my biggest geek passion and the biggest influence on my personal tastes, have always been the heroes and villains from the pages of DC Comics and in turn the films and TV shows that sprung from those pages. Christopher Reeve's Superman was like a giant shockwave going off in my young brain, making me a lifelong fan of the Man of Steel, while Caped Crusaders Adam West and Michael Keaton also made their bat-shaped mark on my psyche. My love for these movies lead me to local news-stands (ask your parents) and seedy comic shops where I reveled in the adventures of Superman and his compatriots in the Justice League. While I also grew to love the heroes of rival publisher Marvel (and much much later the books of Image Comics as well), DC was my introduction to the art-form and has always been where my heart really lied when its come to the funny books.
That's why it's been disheartening in the last few years to see the direction that DC has gone. While the company has been having problems launching their cinematic universe (I think Man of Steel is underrated personally, while BvS is an ambitious mess) the pages of their graphic content have stalled creatively since the introduction of The New 52; a company-wide reboot of their entire line of comics. While technically Superman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash were the same characters, gone were their long mythic histories, their decades of stories and legacies gone in favor of a corporate mandated reset button.
Origins were tweaked, supporting characters were changed or lost, and so much of the personality of what made DC Comics feel like DC was missing. Lois Lane and Clark Kent were no longer together. Wally West, a character that had inherited the mantle of The Flash for more than 20 years after Barry Allen, the Silver-Age version of the hero, died in 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, was changed to a completely different character, losing all of his rich mythology. It was like listening to a great song, but played in the wrong key and with a few of its best verses missing.
Thankfully, the powers that be at the home of Batman and Green Lantern heard their own tin-eared renditions and decided it was time again to make a change. With DC Universe: Rebirth, the company has course corrected, and much of what was off-key suddenly rings true. Not only that, writer Geoff Johns (recently anointed as part of the braintrust that will guide DC's big screen adventures) has crafted a story that brings heart and hope back to the comic pages of the original superhero factory, while also telling a meta-narrative that calls into question the direction the company has taken since the release of DC's two biggest ever artistic successes; Alan Moore's immortal Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.
So my Spoiler-Free recommendation? Read this comic. Buy it, borrow it, read it over someone else's shoulder who is already reading it, but don't miss out. This is the best DC story in close to a decade. A comic with real passion for its characters and what makes them great. This is the real DC, but guess what? If you're not like me and have treasured what the publisher has done since 2011, you get to keep those stories too. It's all here. It's all true.
So if you haven't read the comic yet, do so before going on with this review.
Alright, you caught up?
So here we go, SPOILERS from here on out.
So Rebirth is groundbreaking on so many levels. First, I'd like to mention that this story isn't another cold reboot, but more of a course correction. Do you like the new Wally West? Great, you get to keep him, but Rebirth also features the return of the old Wally West, in his awesome 1980s Kid-Flash costume. The Post-Crisis version of Superman, maybe my favorite literary character of all time, has also returns to save the Earth, and he and Lois are married again. The list goes on from there as other characters that were torn asunder due to a company mandate that heroes "can't be very happy" are reunited due to this new direction, giving fans back the characters and relationships they loved in the first place.
On a personal level, I just can't tell you how gratifying it is to have what is to me the "real" Superman back. Imagine if Christopher Reeve miraculously returned for one more big screen adventure as Big Blue. That's the feeling I get when I see the character I know and love return for more pursuits in truth and justice.
Also, the reunion of Wally West and his mentor, the original and current Flash, Barry Allen, is a moment of pure joy and heartfelt emotion. I haven't been moved by a comic in a long while, but watching these friends embrace, finally realizing how much was missing without each other's friendship, is pure beauty, helped immensely by Ivan Reis' incredible, soon-to-be iconic artwork in that moment.
Now if Rebirth were just these shifting storylines, (including the one’s I’ve talked about above as well as a curious new direction for Batman and his relationship to Joker, and the return of Golden Age hero Johnny Thunder), it would be enough for me to recommend it, but writer Geoff Johns had much more in mind when it came to writing this story, especially when it comes to Rebirth’s unseen and astounding villain.
Now again, if you haven’t read Rebirth, please do so, and if you’ve purchased it but haven’t read it yet, PLEASE DO NOT FLIP THROUGH IT. Trust me, you don’t want to ruin this reveal.
Rebirth’s big bad? The one who has manipulated the DCU into losing its way, and making the whole universe darker and more cynical? It turns out it’s none-other than Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan, and the moment of his reveal is breathtaking. On a pure surface level, combining the DC’s Universe with that of Watchmen’s alternate Earth is an opportunity rich with potential. Dr. Manhattan is one of the most powerful beings ever to grace a comic page, and if the rest of the characters come along with him the matchups simply make my geek heart soar. Superman vs Manhattan? Sign me up. Rorschach vs The Question? Batman vs Ozymandias? Nite-owl vs Blue Beetle? Just take my money already!
It’s underneath the surface though, where the story really gets interesting. You see, by making Manhattan the villain, Geoff Johns is saying that it’s been Watchmen as a story that’s been the cause of DC’s downfall over the last three decades. Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns were such creative highs that DC just kept wanting to emulate those books over and over again, when they weren’t ever meant to be repeated. Both of those volumes were deconstructions of the myths that DC had built for decades, which worked well for those particular stories, but when applied to the universe as a whole they couldn’t be sustained. In essence it was DC that was responsible for its own failures. The publisher itself is actually the villain of Rebirth when all is said and done, and I don’t know that I’ve ever read a comic that tried to pull off a storytelling feat such as this. Thankfully though, this isn’t just a condemnation, Rebirth is a chance for redemption.
In the end, DC Universe: Rebirth is not only a thrilling tale of superheroism, but also a heartfelt apology to a fanbase that simply wants awesome comic book storytelling. DC’s heroes can come back into the light and bring joy and hope to its world and its readers once again. Like the Justice League itself, the DCU has been beaten down, but now can come back and save itself from darkness, and Rebirth is the moment of that reckoning. The past is not forgotten, and the future looks very bright indeed.