A Quarter To Midnight – A Few Thoughts About DC Universe: Rebirth #1… And Justice League #50

Posted by May 24, 2016 Comment

It’s on sale. Forbidden Planet in London opened a couple of hours ago. DC Universe: Rebirth #1 is on the shelf, along with a bunch of other comics. Now Advance copies of DC Universe: Rebirth #1 have been dissected by a number of sites, but I think there’s plenty more to talk about.

Continuity technicalities first.

Yes, you should read Justice League #50 and Superman #52 first, especially the former. A number of the surprises in Rebirth #1 are actually revealed in Justice League #50, Rebirth #1 just follows them up.

Especially since there’s a presumed appearance of Dr Manhattan there as well as in DC Universe: Rebirth…

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However, it will make for a challenge for the continuity folk. We wondered if the recent run of Superman losing his secret identity and powers, as well as his relationship with Wonder Woman being on the rocks happened before his journey to Apokolips in Justice League. Or if it was the other way round, and there were conflicting notes either way. Well, we are still none the wise, both comics seem to dovetail into DC Rebirth. But there is a scene in Justice League that suggests it is, at least, ahead of the recent story in Superman in which he dies. And it’s all down to his time on Apokolips . So there’s that at least.

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And there’s even some cheeky lampshading of the new Green Lantern, getting ahead of the internet commentators.

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But let’s get back to DC Universe Rebirth. It  starts, and ends, with the story of a watch. One that belonged to Barry Allen’s grandfather and passed down the line to a certain Wally West. And intricately detailed and portrayed – something common in this title. Ethan Van Sciver, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez, all well known for their intricate pen lines. And it’s a look that defines the artists that Geoff Johns most likes to work with at DC. And the cogs all turn so smoothly..

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And that is what this comic book is, a watch, that needs fixing.  A continuity that needs rewriting. A comic book publisher that needs mending. And, yes, tapping into a certain comic book that most everyone loves to provide the glue. Does it work? Let’s find out.

Know this, this comic book is full. This is compressed storytelling, ideas after idea after idea thrown at the page before focus moves on. That’s courtesy of one Wally West running through the DC Universe, trying to find a foothold, and leaping from life to life hoping the next leap will be the leap home. The first time this happens, it rather reminds me of a similar scene with the Flash in Batman V Superman.  Just as Bendis has run youthful flashback of Tony Stark to play off the young Robert Downey Jr scene in Civil War, so Geoff Johns is giving us something similar – though if anything, as a whole it reminds me more of Animal Man, trying to contact and influence his previous life.

You can read up on many of those moments, from gay Aqualads to Damian Wayne turning a teenage Teen Titan here, here and here.

So we learn, as we suspected, that Wally West was Kid Flash and was one of the Teen Titans, all forgotten until now.

The Justice Society Of America did indeed exist in the forties and were wiped from existence as we also heard – and we meet an aged , Johnny Thunder- Thunderbolt, who tells us that it was, in part, down to McCarthy, who told them to “take off your masks!” And yes that’s rather Watchmen too – especially since with a different Thunderbolt as the original model for Ozymandias.

Yes, this is a comic that is drenched in Watchmen. We’ve already given you an earlier theory that states that Geoff Johns has been placing Watchmen characters in the New 52 for a whole now.

Now. How meta do you want to get? Could you see Dr Manhattan as Dan DiDio, a cold, unfeeling aloof creature who took the life from the DC Universe, who made it darker, who robbed it of its essence, its joy and its history – and it’s up to Geoff now to try and put it all back?

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Or is this blaming the likes of Watchmen and the Dark Knight for darkening superhero comic books, and Rebirth is a way to get rid of that taint?

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Or could you see how drenched this comic is with Watchmen, opening and closing with the watch, the death of Pandora like Rorschach, the clock ticking backwards away from midnight, away from disaster, back to a quarter to midnight.

In the original Watchmen, Manhattan was a stand-in for the reader, the powers of the gods over time and reality, that were shared with the reader of the comic book. We were the ones who watched the Watchmen, we could stop, start, go back or just roll it up and stick it down out back pockets.

That is not the case here. Manhattan is the bad creative choice. The numbercruncher, the beancounter, who has seen one thing work and tried to make everything like that. Who has tried to exploit creators and make wide-sweeping decisions that have affected everything – and now need fixing.

Which is ironic as by putting this kind of work with the opposition of at least one of the  Watchmen creators, is exactly that kind of decision. This is a comic book with a message that is anti-corporate and pro-creator, and using characters ripped away from their creator all those years ago to make that point. Frankly, it feels as there is an inherent disrespect for that work, with Watchmen being used as a cog, a lever, a means to an end. If falls into the trap of being about something negative, but then becoming that negative thing itself, the snake eating its own tail.

But yes, so much of this comic is about teasing.  Constantine is helping Swamp Thing bring back Abby Arcane. Gotham and his partner are preparing to go to war. Baby Darkseid. Geoff Johns has spent time with all the writers of the DC Rebirth books. Look for his seeds to sprout in the weeks to come.  How long will he be gone? Well, someone has to write JSA don’t they?

There are two big questions for me that hang in the air. Firstly – how did the blood stained Comedian badge get into the bat cave, and does that mean that the Comedian is one of the three Jokers, and does that mean the Joker got into the Batcave after all? Picking up on that possibility that Scott Snyder left dangling?

Oh and how exactly did Wally West’s watch get lost on Mars, ready for a possible Dr Manhattan to put it back together again?

IMG_2849And this equally symbolic? A Manhattan and all that he might represent in this story can piece together a piece of clockwork. But doing such to a human being, to a life, to a story, is something else entirely… is that what was done to the New 52? And now being undone.

I think everyone is going to have a theory on this one. But it’s a ridiculous, surprising silly comic book, the emotional impact will depend on your involvement in the different characters. For me, the Watchmen integrations into the DC Universe gave me my strongest reaction – one of gut ache. But I have to admire the chutzpah of the man. And hope he takes precautions against the Moore curse that is no doubt heading Geoff Johns’ way.

Also, I really need to send him a copy of Watchmensch now.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 by Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Sciver, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez is published at midnight Tuesday or Wednesday morning.

(Last Updated May 24, 2016 9:55 pm )

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