T. Kyle King’s published work ranges from newspaper columns to film reviews and from short stories to law review articles. Most notably, he served as a site manager and staff writer at DawgSports.com, a daily weblog devoted to University of Georgia athletics, from 2006 to 2013, and he is the author of a book about the history of the college football rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers published by Clemson University Digital Press in 2013. Kyle is a lifelong comic book fan whose thoughts on comic books previously have appeared at ComicsVerse, Progressive Boink, and the Superman Homepage. Kyle is a Superman guy.
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DC Universe: Rebirth #1 was released on Wednesday, signaling the start of a significant shift in the continuity of the DC Universe, even if the publisher insists it is not a reboot. ComiConverse’s Superman writer, T. Kyle King, takes a look at the 80-page giant and its implications.
DC Comics chief creative officer Geoff Johns, whose initial comments about this initiative caused widespread fan concern, authored DC Universe: Rebirth #1, on which he collaborated with artists Gary Frank, Phil Jimenez, Ivan Reis, and Ethan Van Sciver.
Did the story that started the countdown live up to the hype?
(MAJOR UTTER AND ABSOLUTE TOTAL SPOILERS FOLLOW IN A BIG WAY!)
This will not be a conventional review, because this was not a conventional comic book. From a promotional standpoint, DC Universe: Rebirth #1 had to serve as a sampler of the publisher’s new line of comics, so it was necessary to incorporate sufficient snippets from a wide variety of forthcoming series to intrigue as many fans as possible about as many books as possible. As a public relations vehicle, it also had to offer reassurances to fans of every sort that they, too, were being included.
As a critical crossroads in a DC Universe continuity stretching back nearly eight decades, DC Universe: Rebirth #1 was required to turn the corner from the New 52 to a raft of new #1s in a coherent way. Last, but most definitely not least, it had to tell an interesting superhero story, with perhaps a few allusions thrown in for good measure. Johns, whose long list of writing credits includes authoring the Infinite Crisis crossover, succeeded spectacularly at every objective.
Beginning where Justice League #50 and Superman #52 ended, DC Universe: Rebirth #1 firmly establishes itself at the heart of the current continuity, but it looks in on that present reality from the outside through the perspective of Wally West. Since the Flash invariably is at the heart of every multiverse-spanning event comic in the publisher’s history, West was the right choice to tie the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe to the post-Rebirth timeline.
The inclusion of the original Wally West was not without risks, however. Because the initial announcement of Rebirth sounded suspiciously like kowtowing to an older and narrower segment of DC Comics’ fan base, there were valid concerns that the publisher was backtracking on the diversity and inclusivity of the DC You initiative.
Johns deftly addressed this by having the white Wally West look in on his bi-racial first cousin, the younger Wally West, and state unequivocally that the role of Kid Flash is “in good hands” with a newer hero whose days as a costumed crime fighter “are only beginning.” Several other scenes in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 showed readers that the new lineup will not be made up solely of straight cis white men.
In tracing the continuity that preceded the current one, West offers historical callbacks from his very first appearance in quasi-physical form. When attempting to materialize in the Batcave, he stands before such fixtures as the big penny from World’s Finest Comics #30 and the tyrannosaurus rex from Batman #35 while reaching out his hand and asking for help like his mentor, Barry Allen, on the iconic cover of The Flash #163.
To Johns’s credit, he also unabashedly uses West to apologize for the New 52. He confesses that, while he loves this world, he knows “there’s something missing.” When the current continuity began, “it changed everything. Heroes that were legends became novices. Bonds between them were weakened and erased. Legacies were destroyed.” Wally quickly reassures us it’s all still out there — two of his first tries to reconnect with this universe bring him into proximity with members of the Justice Society of America and the Legion of Super-Heroes — but accuses those responsible of taking “years from us to weaken us.” That’s as close as a corporate chief creative officer is ever going to come to admitting that they’re the Gentry.
The most beautiful elements of Johns’s use of Wally West as his narrator, though, are hinted at on the opening page of DC Universe: Rebirth #1, which dollies in from the face of a watch into the mechanisms of its inner workings over the course of a nine-panel grid. This is a brilliant and elegant dual allusion to a pair of masterpieces to which this issue owes a great deal: William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and Alan Moore’s Watchmen.
We learn from the outset that Wally’s watch was a gift given to him by a relative, one that had belonged to his grandfather and been handed down in his family for generations. Wally admits he once was an optimist, but he ceased to view the glass as half-full on “the day the watch broke.” At that point, West “lost time.”
Wally literally now exists outside time, disconnected from those for whom he cares, anguished over the fact that they have forgotten him. Pining for the lost time, West realizes “it wasn’t ten years that was stolen from us. It was love.” Growing more desperate with each attempt to break through to another human being, he laments: “I try and make sense of it. But now I’m not only lost… my body is breaking down.”
As he begins to undergo a physical dissolution, West tells himself, “It’s time to let the past go, Wally… There’s no more time. I’m out of time.” Bidding farewell to Barry, Wally informs him “that there’s something wrong with history.” Everything West experiences literally in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 — being taken out of time, being haunted by forgetting, undergoing utter dissolution — echoes what Quentin Compson experienced metaphorically in his section of The Sound and the Fury. West even mentions that he “had no brothers or sisters”, which gives answer to Quentin’s question: “Did you ever have a sister?” Johns’s overt allusions to The Sound and the Fury tell us that, though the poor players of the New 52 are strutting and fretting their last hours upon the stage before being heard no more, Rebirth is no tale being told by an idiot; it distinctly signifies something.
What that something is becomes clear at the close of the final chapter and in the ensuing epilogue. After Barry has freed Wally from the incorporeal prison of the speed force, we read West’s disembodied words over images of Batman picking away at a mystery. Wally warns his mentor, “There’s going to be a war between hope and despair. Love and apathy. Faith and disbelief.” The battle lines having thus been drawn, we are given our first glimpse of the villain when the Darknight Detective discovers the iconic blood-spattered smiley face pin from Watchmen.
From there, we are off to Mars, where we witness Wally’s watch being disassembled, cleaned, repaired, and reassembled as the words of the unseen Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan replay their farewell from the conclusion of Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan, whose amoral indifference mirrors that of Quentin Compson’s father in Faulkner’s novel, assures Adrian Veidt: “Nothing ever ends.” The hands of the watch begin moving . . . backwards.
This ending to DC Universe: Rebirth #1, tying the renewal of the publisher’s continuity to Watchmen, is what elevated this from merely being a very good comic book to having the potential for beginning something phenomenal. Watchmen — which was released in 1986, the year DC Comics underwent a line-wide reboot in the wake of the first true event comic, Crisis on Infinite Earths — broke down and subverted the conventions of the superhero comics genre. The New 52 carried that grim vision to its inevitable futile conclusion.
Now? Geoff Johns has written a comic book that gives fans of the DC Universe renewed hope. Older fans have been encouraged, yet newer fans have not been excluded. After Flashpoint, Wally West’s watch broke, replacing his optimism with defeatism and taking him out of time. Now the watch has been repaired, the memory of what Wally West represented has been restored, and time appears literally to have been turned back.
In DC Universe: Rebirth #1, two competing visions of superheroes and their place in the world have been set in opposition: Alan Moore’s nihilistic deconstruction, as embodied in Dr. Manhattan and expressed in the brooding disaffection of the New 52, against Geoff Johns’s hopeful reconstruction, as given voice and, finally, form by way of Wally West, who was inspired by Barry Allen, who is “smiling as he saves everyone”, and whose first appearance in Showcase #4 started the Silver Age.
In an issue filled with arresting artwork, vibrant hues, and methodical layouts, Geoff Johns has given fans cause to hope again, and offered the promise that the New 52 will be consigned to the dystopian depths from which superhero comics have been struggling to escape throughout the three decades since Watchmen. Rebirth offers the first sign in a long time that DC Comics believes that superheroes will not merely endure; they will prevail.
Let us know what you thought about DC Universe: Rebirth #1 by joining in the ComiConversation in the comments!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Beautifully drawn and intelligently written, this one-shot began Rebirth with a bang and showed substantial promise.