By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
I was hoping last week would be my final column for the year, talking about my favorite hero and how he has become the perfect embodiment of superheroes as paragons of hope and our potential for greatness. But then DC Comics pulled what will probably go down as one of the most earth-shaking revelations in comic history. And, fittingly, it brings us back to the very beginning of this series: when we discussed “The Dark Knight Returns,” “The Watchmen,” and the “Dark Age of Comics.”
Last week, DC Comic’s event “Rebirth” began with issue #1. Seeking to end the polarizing New 52 continuity, Rebirth is the fourth or fifth universe-wide reboot of the comic universe.
For the record, I haven’t gotten to read the comic in its entirety yet, given my inability to find it, but the with most of the panels posted online and the plot outlined, I know they major “reveals.” And the new status quo looks to be a mix of status quo restoration and maddening new revelations. Such examples include the remarriage of Aquaman and Mera, Darkseid being reborn in a new body, and the minimally powered New 52 Superman disappearing as the pre-52 Superman is revealed in hiding. That’s just a small taste of the changes, and more than enough to make this reboot a big changing of the guards (I’m immensely grateful for the effective return of Superman, because nothing has been more frustrating than the miserable butchering of the character). But all of that was just salad dressing for the big bombshell.
This “Rebirth” has been kicked off by the return of Wally West, who had disappeared as Kid Flash and replaced by a younger black teen of the same name. He manages to break through the Speed Force—a sort of endless void where all the different Flash’s get their powers—and finds current Flash Barry Allan. Allan, responsible for kicking off the New 52, feels guilty, having just enough of his memories to know that things aren’t as they should be. West warns him that it wasn’t his fault, but someone all-powerful has been modifying things, altering memories, and changing events to what they currently on. And the answer of who is the culprit is answered when Batman finds a bloodstained smiley-faced pin in the Bat-Cave.
Yes, Rebirth implies that the current state of the DC Universe is result of the God-like Dr. Manhattan. The Watchmen, one of the most iconic, influential comic books of all time, is now a canonical part of DC Comic’s lore.
My initial reaction to this news—which was spoiled out of context—was something along the lines of “Oh God NO.” This felt like the shark jumping to end all shark jumping, DC finally accepting that they can never make something as acclaimed as Watchmen and simply making more of it (the same motivator for making the “Before Watchmen” prequels). Modern DC—or anyone in comics, really—have thoroughly proven they don’t understand the point of Watchmen, focusing on its gritty, morbid style instead of the message that that same style doesn’t belong in the world of superheroes. And it is amazing that almost 30 years later, DC is still finding ways to keep Alan Moore’s work out of his hands.
But then the actual comic came out, revealing what this twist meant in context. The majority of the comic is Wally running through the current status quo of the New 52. Looking over some of the changes, how things have become so dour, how heroes aren’t acting like heroes, how years of stories and adventures have completely disappeared, he notes how “wrong” it is. Even other characters note how hollow their lives feel now.
These are deliberate choices. The characters could have easily noted that things were “off” or “strange.” But choosing exclusively negative adjectives sets a very firm message: the New 52, Dr. Manhattan’s meddling, and by extension Watchmen’s influence, have been insidious for DC Comics. And the only way to fix it is to address and take the source head on. They are so committed to this new direction that Pandora, the hero made in New 52 theoretically created to ‘fix’ the continuity with any changes that people liked, was just killed. Finally—finally—DC is learning and growing and being bold enough to fix their mistakes. And it is largely thanks to the man behind the wheel, Geoff Johns.
Geoff Johns might be one of the ultimate stories of a fan rising through the ranks to rise to the top. An adamant DC fan as a kid, he began working as an intern for Richard Donner till fate found him at the DC offices in New York, talking his way into a writing position. From there, he worked his way up to bigger and bigger properties until he found himself on the throne: Chief Creative Officer. Born at the tail end of the Silver Age of Comics, Johns’ writing has always been heavily influenced by the more colorful, mythic adventures of the characters, and that more hopeful, joyful vision has underlined his work consistently. But this Rebirth, if it is successful, may very well be his crowning achievement. He might finally get DC out of Watchmen’s shadows by making DC’s Rebirth a very meta look at the complicated relationship superhero comics have had with Alan Moore’s classic.
And this is especially reassuring news beyond the comics. Recently, Johns was appointed co-president of DC’s film department, tasked with being the creative supervisor for their upcoming cinematic universe. This can be read a lot of ways: Warner Bros finally accepting that Zack Snyder’s vision for DC has been a complete failure and this is a way of shrinking his authority without the messy publicity of straight up firing him, or WB coming to terms with the fact that their alleged “Director Driven” is impossible. But regardless, it is by all accounts a positive step, as Johns is already promising that the DC-verse will grow past its miserable tone and become more optimistic and a better representation of the characters.
Granted, Geoff’s love of the Silver Age and glorification of classic character’s interpretations may have some negative consequences. Johns was the lead behind both the “Green Lantern: Rebirth” and “The Flash: Rebirth” series, which saw the long dead Silver-Age Hal Jordan and Barry Allen take up their heroic mantels again. While both series were great in their own right and lead to many great stories, they both had a disappointing undertone of pushing out the many positive modern additions to the lore for the sake of reliving the past. As much as I love the Silver Age of comics, there is a great argument to be had about our nostalgia holding back positive progress.
But I don’t see that being too much of a problem here, because by becomimg so reflexive and meta, DC is taking on a far worse nostalgia. For too long, comics as a whole have been obsessively trying to recreate the Watchmen lightning, believing that is the key to being “adult” or “mature.” That insecurity has been ruinous for so much of the comic industry, not to mention nearly killing it. And that attitude seeped into all things superheroes and much of pop culture, making things once upbeat and for everyone bitter and alienating. This is an unprecedented step in right countless wrongs. This could potentially help restore DC to its former glory while also finally properly praising Watchmen, appreciating the messages and criticism it had for the industry, not just trying to ape its style.
Possibly the best moment in the entire issue is when Wally sees Barry saving lives and notes how he is smiling, how happy he is to be a hero. Because superheroes are inherently optimistic, demonstrating the best of humanity in a grand mythic scale, and helping us through the darkness to a brighter future. Perhaps a Renaissance truly is at hand.