Bottom of the Pile: DC Universe Rebirth Edition

Hi, and welcome back to Bottom of the Pile--the column on Jumping in Headfirst where I discuss my favorite comics of the week.  As my interest in comics from the current era had started to fade, this column was absolutely, positively dead.  And really only one thing could've brought it back.

That's right, the long-awaited DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot.  After several months of build-up to the grand reveal, we're finally here, and DC Universe: Rebirth has found its way into the hands of the public.  Working our way up to this release, there've been tons of opinions on whether DC can "get it right" this time, or whether there's even anything to get right at all.   How'd it do?  Well, let's get into that.

To kick things off, I'll admit that I am EXACTLY who this comic book was aimed at: A fan who had been reading DC the majority of his life, one who became engrossed in what felt like this living, breathing universe--where characters had these long, rich histories filled with friends, foes, lovers, ex-lovers, children--everything people experience in real life just on a more grand, mythical scale. And then it was unceremoniously ripped from me and replaced with the New 52.   And if you've already read the comic, you'll know I'm not alone in having those thoughts.  A certain Scarlet Speedster agrees with me, which brings me to my first point:

This comic book is exceptionally meta.  Some of the earliest pieces of dialogue echo the sentiments of many DC fans: "I look down at it and know without question: I love this world.  But there's something missing."  It's so on the nose it's going to ring as fake or tryhard to some of DC's more cynical fans, but I have no doubt it's exactly how writer Geoff Johns has felt from the moment The New 52 started, and if we're being honest about returning the hope and optimism to the DC Universe, sometimes things are going to get a little corny.   It just depends on how okay you can be with that.

Not even five pages in and we're already into the continuity changes.  There's no longer a single Joker, but actually three--each from different time periods.  The original, from the "Clown Prince of Crime" era.  The second pulled from the infamously iconic "The Killing Joke" period.  And the current one, created by Scott Snyder--responsible for the "Death of the Family" and "Endgame" storylines of the New 52.  When I first saw this panel, I got kind of excited at the idea that maybe we could pull the character back from being this hyper-murderous guy who any Bat-person or even regular cop should instantly kill on sight, to someone who's just hyper clever and has ridiculous yet dangerous schemes.

But honestly, original Joker aside the second and the third are basically the same person. There's no story you can do other than some nightmarish experience Batman has attempting to deal with all three of the bastards at once, so I'm guessing this is more of a dimensional error that'll play into a much more cosmic story than Batman is used to.

This is where tons of fans started actually crying, as we haven't heard those particular words ("My name is Wally West. And I'm the Fastest Man Alive") in a very, very long time.  And Ethan Van Sciver was the best possible artist they could've picked for this.  Hate or love Flash: Rebirth, the art behind it is the best the Flash has ever looked--shrouded in lightning, looking like speed gods from a distant dimension. 

The next six pages are devoted to recapping Wally West's history, ending in this.  Though we're literally drowning in exposition at this point, each of these pages are crucial.   For one thing, it explains why so many fans had such a problem with The New 52.  Wally started out as a young kid sidekick, but when Barry died he gradually grew into so much more.  He took his mentor's place, graduated from the Teen Titans to the Justice League, got married and had children who eventually followed in his footsteps.  More than any other character in the DC Universe, Wally represented a sense of progression in comics.  He made readers feel like they weren't just running in place--his life changed the same way ours did....until it was undone.

Here's the next retcon.  The old man Wally's talking to here is Johnny Thunder, once a member of the Justice Society of America, the world's first super-team.  Geoff wrote these guys for the better part of a decade, but during Flashpoint they were retconned and placed on "Earth 2", a comic with its own set of problems.  But what ultimately made DC get rid of the JSA is that many of them were veterans from World War II, which creates a rather unbelievable age gap. 

Here Johns takes advantage of existing continuity and does something very smart: the reason the JSA "went away" in story is that during the McCarthy era they were asked to unmask to prove they were truly for the American cause.  They refused, and went into hiding instead.  But here Johns is saying that Johnny Thunder, who was actually powerless but had control of an immortal "genie" from the fifth dimension, actually sealed them off so they couldn't be found and erased the world's memory of them all.

The end result here being that the JSA can return again, young and ready to teach the (hopefully) burgeoning next generation of heroes.  What I'm *also* hoping is that Johns has made Johnny Thunder's great-grandson Jakeem Thunder.

The lack of narration here is necessary because there's been so much exposition, but it also makes it harder to know what's happening here.  Blond-haired woman + "I've seen the future" + "Legion Flight Ring" = this is probably Saturn Girl, one of the three founders of the Legion of Super-Heroes, a team of heroes from the 30th century inspired by Superman.  But it does raise all sorts of questions.  The New 52 Superman, outside of a largely ignored issue of Grant Morrison's Action Comics, has never met the Legion.  So the whole "I'll wait until he gets back" bit, while cutely self-aware, doesn't work.  (Yet.)

The other problem is with The Legion in general.  They're some of my favorite characters, but they've also become *much* too confusing, having had three reboots in the past twenty years.  If they're going to work again, someone with a VERY clear vision for who they are and what stories will get fans in the seats will have to be found.  And as much as I'd love to see Geoff Johns back at the wheel of his babies the Justice Society, he still owes the Legion for abandoning them at the most crucial moment.
There's a lot to unpack, here.  For one thing, no matter what happens with continuity, there's a good chance Identity Crisis is undone for good, since otherwise there'd be no need to bring up Ray's wife.  That's a good thing.  Although it helped give the DCU that united, "living universe" feel, it was also a pretty ugly story. 

Equally important, Ryan Choi is back!  Admittedly, it's frustrating to have to do the guy's whole origin story over again.  And he wasn't THAT much of a mess when writer Gail Simone wrote his character back in 2006's All-New Atom.  But I'm letting it go for a variety of reasons: one, I think it's cool that THIS time around, he'll be teaming up with Ray Palmer directly.  Two, I love that there are multiple heroes trying to figure out what's wrong with the timestream.  And finally, long before outrage warriors took to the mean "streets" of social media to complain about how "white" superhero comics were, DC had already set to work fixing the problem by adding tons of diverse characters like Jason Rusch, Ryan Choi, and...

Jaime Reyes.  Even though Blue Beetle existed in The New 52 beforehand, this feels like a minor reboot. For one thing, Jaime was pretty used to using the scarab's power to be a hero before, so to have him trying to get rid of it now feels a tad strange.  And I'm not sure how I feel about Doctor Fate randomly popping in to decide that BB's scarab is magic and not alien tech.  The Reach (creators of the Scarab) is one of the few times DC has tried to expand the space corner of their universe--it's weird to just ditch it.  Still, I'm glad to have Ted Kord back--now I just need someone to retcon the foolishness that happened to Booster Gold so we can have him back as well.

This is probably going to cause a bit of whining.  But first, it's pretty awesome to see Aqualad return to the DC Universe.  There's no place for him yet, but then again there wasn't the first time he popped up.  Flashpoint took away any chance he had at joining the Titans or any other team, which is a shame because he was the coolest part of Young Justice.  Speaking of YJ, you might think that Kaldur'ahm suddenly being gay is a random change but it's not.  Greg Weisman hinted at wanting him to be bisexual, and since we only get this piece of dialogue that might still be true--he's just dating a boy right now. 

I actually didn't catch the significance of this page on the first go-around.  It feels kind of...routine, right?  A bunch of superheroes just standing around in a splash page is something we've seen a billion times before.  But, that's the thing.  Its only Pre-Flashpoint that this sort of thing was routine.  If something major happened in the superhero community, you'd have heroes from various teams pop up to see what they could do to help.  Because that's what they were: a community.

But since Flashpoint, with the timeline changed so heavily--the heroes don't know one another anymore, and no matter how desperate the situation nothing has ever really brought them together...until now.  Until this "Death of Superman"--their world's first, biggest hero.  It's fitting, and while it's a sad occasion, I look forward to seeing this happen much more often soon.

This is less about what's missing and more about what's to come in the "Rebirth" era.  As excited as I'd like to be about this, there's a difference between what happens here and what's happened with Ryan Choi and Jaime Reyes.  Their origins are being redone, but there are subtle yet important differences that make it worth hearing the story re-told.  That's not what's happening here. 

We're starting from scratch, and even them getting to know each other isn't enough when there's still so many missing pieces.  Connor Hawke as Ollie's son.  Roy Harper and Mia Dearden as Ollie's proteges.  It wasn't just Oliver and Dinah, there was an entire "family" and they're still gone.  Having the new Green Arrow comic be billed as "Oliver and Dinah...together again for the first time!" just makes me roll my eyes and wonder if there's a way I can fast-forward to the part of the movie I hadn't seen yet.

I wish I had some sort of explanation for this.  But there is no "Mr. Oz" in DC Universe history that immediately comes to mind unless we're talking about the big shocker at the end of the series.  It's hilarious that they're basically invalidating Convergence barely a year after it happened, though.  It feels like they're claiming Kal-El and Lois actually aren't from a parallel Earth, but from THIS Earth that's simply been altered.  That's my current crackpot theory--shake the 8-ball again in six months to see if I still feel that way.

This is definitely the heartbreaking moment of the comic.  No matter what sort of retcons made to Flash canon, one unchangeable Flash Fact is that Wally West has survived more trips inside the Speed Force than anyone else.  He's dipped in and out time and again, but only because he had his lightning rod--a person with a strong emotional connection--he could focus on to escape and return to Earth.  Linda Park, Wally's wife, has been there time and again for Wally...until now.  After several pages of trying to find someone, anyone who would recognize him and help pull him out of the Speed Force, he reaches Linda and she has absolutely no idea who he is.  Whatever's happened to the DC Universe is so strong it actually broke their connection...and wiped out their kids, which is truly a shame. 

For what its worth, I'm glad we're not just unceremoniously tossing the new Wally out.  Wrong-headed as the decision was to make him black just to make up for all the diversity characters you (also) got rid of, you can't just replace a black character with a white one. It looks bad, and more importantly there's no reason for it.  During Flash: Rebirth you admitted you were going to have no less than THREE Flashes, after all.  Having both Geoff *and* Wally give the new kid a nod is all kinds of cool.  

I want to nitpick at this moment because Linda wasn't able to bring him back, but honestly that's all just fake-ass comic book "science" that doesn't matter and this is just such a strong visual.  Take it how you want--two old friends, mentor and protege, father and son.  They haven't seen each other in forever and Phil Jimenez perfectly nailed the love these two characters have and should have for one another.

And yeah, maybe we did this with Flash: Rebirth but it actually feels different this time.  The stakes are so much higher since they exist both in real life and in-universe.

When I first read these panels, they felt a little awkward. They're so meta, they also feel somewhat nitpicky.  Like, who cares if some friendships and relationships got forgotten?!  (If you got this far its obvious I do, but that's not quite the point here.)  There's someone screwing with time!  But if I'm being honest here, the dialogue does make sense. If your bonds were that strong, wouldn't having them wiped out be the first thing you noticed?   

*deep breath, exhales*  Okay, this is...this is big.  Honestly, it's downright ballsy, though I'm not sure how I feel about it one way or the other.  The reference here, is to Alan Moore's seminal work, Watchmen.  Watchmen is known for being probably the first, and definitely the biggest, deconstruction of the superhero genre.  The comic was groundbreaking in countless ways--from sales, to critical reception, to the impact it had on the industry as a whole.  Now, one thing that needs to be talked about is that by the time Watchmen hit, the Silver Age had long been over for DC *and* Marvel.  Gwen Stacy and Aquaman's son were the unfortunate sacrifices that led to the coming of the Bronze Age, which led to darker, more mature stories being told in both universes. 

However.  Watchmen was different.  Watchmen treated superheroes with contempt, and disdain.  The heroes that weren't rendered ineffectual were revealed to be just as monstrous as the villains "classic" caped heroes fought on a daily basis.  But Alan Moore's creation elevated the artform in a way that hadn't been seen before (and scarcely since), bringing with it new discussions of how to merge words and pictures in unique ways that were impossible to copy in other artforms, as well as a new level of emotional maturity and "relevance" to both the characters and stories.  The problem is, when lesser writers "analzyed" Moore's work with the intent of learning from it, they missed all the stuff I was talking about and just took the easily grasped stuff.  The cruelty, the violence, the way Moore's heroes ended up more a threat than they ever could be a help to society.   All of THAT is what lead to some of the darker comics that have been made in the thirty years since Moore's creation first hit the shelves.

Here, Johns is directly attacking the effect those stories had on the DCU by inserting characters from the story that started it all directly into the DC Universe.  As near as we can tell, it's just Dr. Manhattan, but that alone has some curious implications.  In this story's epilogue, are some of the final words of Watchmen, where Manhattan is talking with Ozymandias after his plan is a success.  He begins to justify his reasoning for having caused the deaths of millions, when Manhattan wards him off, claiming that he's abandoning their galaxy "for one less complicated."  When Ozymandias points out that he'd regained interest in human life, Manhattan then responds "Yes, I have.  I think perhaps I'll create some."   The implication here is that Manhattan has, somehow, either created the DC Universe or had a major hand in what's happened to weaken it. 

Hopefully there's more to it than that, though.  Which leaves me with my only problem with this comic: the epilogue doesn't point anywhere, save to picking up the Rebirth comics themselves.  Despite the great amount of care and thought that must have gone into this one-shot, if it's not followed up on it's just as empty as what's been happening with the DC Universe for the past five years.  They claim we'll be seeing the storyline play out in multiple comic books over the next two years though, and I can only hope they keep their word.

For now, Bottom of the Pile is back as of next week, looking at the Rebirth comics as well as what's going on with Marvel, IDW, and maybe even the Valiant stuff.  I'll be trying to keep everything down to the best ten comics of the week, though.  Still, look forward to it!


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