DC Universe Rebirth #1: A spoilerful reaction to the new DCU

Spoilers Ahead: DCU Rebirth #1 is available this Wednesday, May 25. Read ahead now if you simply must know what we thought of it. Otherwise, we recommend checking out the book and coming back here afterward.

A voice, our narrator, calls out from the distance. In the opening pages, we begin with an unseen characters looking down at the Earth, descending into a storm within the atmosphere and looking in on Batman in his cave.

As Batman ponders over a mystery (three Jokers are out there now?), the voice tries to reach out to him; it fears he is forgotten.

And on page 6, we learn who our narrator is: Wally West, aka Kid Flash, aka The Flash, aka a casualty of the New 52.

Telling the story from his perspective as he moves through the Speed Force, trying to break back into the universe, Wally reveals 10 years have been “stolen” from the DCU: “Heroes that were legends became novices. Bonds between them were weakened and erased. Legacies were destroyed.”

And although there is a powerful force out there in comic book land that’s responsible for it – a massive reveal I’ll get to in a bit – the not-so-subtle subtext takes to task the last company-wide reboot, 2011’s New 52.

But while writer Geoff Johns, through his storytelling, has sharp words about the New 52, Rebirth reads less like an indictment and more as an acknowledgment that mistakes were made, and some major course corrections were necessary.

Of course, it is not as if Johns could simply erase the existence of the New 52-verse, either. That wouldn’t be fair to the fans, or creators, invested in the last five years. Instead, by using Wally (Johns’ favorite character), Rebirth #1 assumes the herculean task of reconciling the DC Comics past with the present, in order to lay a cohesive groundwork for its future.

And it succeeds exceptionally. Rather than getting caught up in the “rules” of how old Superman is, or how long Batman has been donning the cowl, Johns seems to have started with emotional impact and built up from there. A valentine to DC, Rebirth is Johns’ way of not just fixing continuity, but additionally serves as a promise to the reader that hope and optimism are at the core of the DC Comics DNA.

For instance, as Wally travels via Speed Force through this altered timeline, he attempts to reach out to his loved ones, to be remembered, and to remind them of what else he has lost. As he does so, the story structure serves to update familiar readers, as well as welcome new ones, to what has transpired before. Without being too clunky, but while being very sentimental, Johns deftly gives us a primer on the DCU.

There’s also quite a bit of set up taking place as well, as new stories are teased.

Page after page re-introduces characters such as Johnny Thunde, and Ryan Choi (heading off to the Microverse in an Atom suit). Ted Kord is back, and has a fun, bantering relationship with Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes – and then, Dr. Fate shows up to remind us that the scarab is a magical artifact!

There are new characters as well, such as Aqualad – revealed to be a gay teen -- and the new female Green Lantern, Jessica Cruz. We learn from Grail that Wonder Woman has a twin brother (and it’s not Baby Darkseid, although he seems creepy).

Meanwhile, some conflicting elements are smoothed over; the “other” Wally West, from the New 52, continues to exist after it is revealed he’s a cousin to the original Wally.

Of course, there is still more work to be done. Batman has a triple threat of Jokers, Superman is dead, and Lois and Clark from a “parallel world” are likely not quite what they seem.

But for all the heavy lifting accomplished, there is no shortage of heart in Rebirth. Johns is like a comic book relationship counselor, and makes certain Aquaman and Mera are not just together, but on their way to being married once more. While New 52 versions of Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance aren’t together (yet), they are shown experiencing a mysterious longing for their eradicated relationship.

Then, there is the issue’s best flashpoint, if you will: The reunion between Wally West and Barry Allen.

As Wally is coming to terms with the fact that he cannot break through in this universe, and will cease to exist for all time, he reaches out to Barry to thank him for an amazing life.

The scene plays out across several pages, paced beautifully, which build to an emotional crescendo of Barry grabbing Wally’s arm – just as there is nearly nothing left of the younger speedster – and pulling him into this timeline. Barry, channeling the words of DC Comics, itself, to the fans (and to its characters), embraces Wally, and says, “I’m so sorry...my God...How could I ever forget you?”

Johns’ words, with art by Phil Jimenez and Gary Frank, deliver an emotional punch that’s one of the best in recent comics history. It is a touching moment earned honestly that evokes both a misty eye and cheerful exclamation. These pages sum up the entire book, and tap into nostalgia, but don’t over rely on it. Instead, Barry and Wally together again feels like a new beginning.

This is the scene I hope people talk the most about. But while this hits you in the heart, the big reveal will blow your minds.

Big bad spoiler warning

Rebirth #1 begins with Wally narration as we see images of watches’ gears breaking down. The erstwhile Kid Flash tries to get a message to Batman, and encourages him to remember a letter from his father, Thomas. Before Barry pulls him out of the Speed Force, he tells Flash to deliver the same message to Bats.

Batman’s encounter earlier in the book must have made an impact, because he notices something by Thomas Wayne’s letter in the cave. He chips away at rock and discovers: The Comedian’s pin from Watchmen.   

Yup, it’s all connected; Watchmen are now part of the DCU.

So, what does this mean? It would appear Dr. Manhattan is the creator of the New 52. It makes sense; at the end of Watchmen, he did say he’d set off to create new worlds (and appeared to do so in Before Watchmen: Doctor Manhattan #4). That could easily be interpreted to be his reaching through the blue lightning on the cover. What’s more, Pandora’s death at the end of Chapter 2 – effectively wiping her out of the DCU entirely – is a panel-by-panel recreation of Dr. Manhattan’s murder of another hero: Rorschach.


Interestingly, Rebirth becomes available Wednesday at midnight, the time the Watchmen clock was ticking towards (And even though it is likely insanely coincidental, how wild is it that Thomas Wayne -- the letter from whom Wally said is "how this all started" -- was played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan in Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman, and played The Comedian in Snyder's Watchmen movie?).

This is huge, and is most certainly a mind-blowing reveal that will stir up conversation. Rather than immediately railing against this development, set aside Internet vitriol and gut reactions. Give this a shot. The shocker comes out of nowhere, and opens up a heckuva mystery moving forward. While I cannot say if that resulting storyline will be any good, I do quite enjoy the set up.

But more than anything, the heart and hope proudly on display in Rebirth #1 excite me as a fan. In 80 pages, Geoff Johns has re-wound the clock on the DCU, making it a place for new and established readers. It is no small feat what has been accomplished here. This book is pretty great, and incredibly satisfying. 

This is the DC Comics Universe I remember, but is also the new DC Comics Universe moving forward. And, if the rest of the Rebirth titles follow suit, the future looks refreshingly bright – again.

Check out our preview below of some pages from DCU Rebirth #1, and let us know if you're planning on picking up the book this week!

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