The spoilers for DC Universe: Rebirth start immediately, so don’t read this if you haven’t already read the book!
DC Universe: Rebirth is something of a controversial comic. However, it’s one that, controversy aside, is meant to appeal squarely to long time DC Comics fans. Rebirth isn’t a reboot that unravels the last five years of New 52 continuity, nor does it fully restore the pre-Flashpoint DCU.
Instead, Rebirth is meant to give the post-Flashpoint DC Universe what it’s been missing: the feeling of history, legacy, and relationships between the characters that vanished when DC rebooted their entire publishing line in 2011. So while much of what’s introduced in Rebirth may feel very familiar (and it’s intended to), this is still intended to be the same DC Universe you’ve been reading (or that you quit reading) during the last five years. Only one that feels more like the previous model.
Join me as I try and unpack all of the craziness packed into nearly every panel of this book…
Page 1: By now you’ve probably heard about the Watchmen connection to DC Universe: Rebirth. If the watch itself isn’t enough of a clue, the 9 panel grid, a hallmark of Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen pages, is another one. I wrote in MUCH more detail about the Watchmen connections and controversy right here.
I’m not sure what the significance of the watch being stopped at 9 minutes to 5 is. If you have any ideas, let me know.
Page 2: Your narrator is Wally West. Like any big DC Comics continuity altering event, a Flash is the central figure. Barry Allen was crucial to the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Flash family was key to Infinite Crisis, Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis marked the return of Barry Allen after his death in CoIE, and, of course, the Barry Allen adventure, Flashpoint, was the excuse DC used to reset their continuity with the New 52.
Using Wally as a narrator here is strongly reminiscent of the prelude to Final Crisis, which saw a disembodied Barry Allen observing and narrating little flashes (ahem) of the DCU during a thunderstorm before his own return to the land of the superheroic living.
Usually, continuity altering events are known as “Crisis” of some kind in the DCU. Not this time. Since this one doesn’t involve the multiverse (there’s no actual reference to the Multiverse whatsoever in this), it’s crucial that the first thing we see (other than the watch) is a singular Earth, not multiples, and certainly not infinites.
Page 3: It’s significant that Batman is the first character we actually see in this book. For one thing, Batman is a character who has never had an official, page one reboot. Although his origin has been altered several times through history (most famously with Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Year One and Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Zero Year), there’s never been a moment where they’ve said “everything starts right here” and then continued on from there (unlike, for example, Superman, who has had two…which doesn’t take into account soft reboots and retcons, Wonder Woman, who has also had two, and others in the DC pantheon).
You’re also seeing the first hints of the end of one of those Superman reboots on Batman’s monitor screens, but I’ll get into that during the Superman portion of this article.
Page 4: The Joker stuff here is a reference to how DC is about to reveal the true name, and perhaps true nature of the Joker in upcoming books. The “three Jokers” he’s referring to seem to be the the “Clown Prince of Crime” of the Golden and Silver Age, the murderous prankster of the Bronze Age/Killing Joke era, and the creepy chameleon of the New 52.
Page 5-7: Wally making contact with Batman in an attempt to send a distress signal is a direct callback to the opening pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths, where Barry Allen materialized in front of Batman to ask for help…while he was actually busy dying 8 issues later.
Page 8-9: The letter from Thomas Wayne that Wally is referring to comes from the events of Flashpoint, where Barry Allen was able to bring a message to Bruce from the Thomas Wayne of that event’s altered timeline.
Page 10-13: This is an effective primer on Wally West’s history. But what’s interesting is that every single event on these pages didn’t take place in current New 52 continuity. It’s perhaps the most effective illustration of just how much was cut out of the DC Universe in the 2011 reboot.
Page 14: That “someone else” (and the giant hand in the lightning bolt glimpsed earlier) is Doctor Manhattan, but you know that by now, right? Don’t freak out, because this isn’t meant to be taken literally.
Page 15: Welcome to the first hints of the Justice Society of America returning to the DC Universe main continuity! The Justice Society were the first superhero team in comics (if you don’t count Doc Savage’s team or the Shadow’s operatives), and like Wally, they’re a perfect illustration of what was lost in the New 52 reboot.
It’s assuming that the “Good Life Home For The Elderly” was established in 1940, the same year that All-Star Comics #3, the first appearance of the JSA, was published.
The old man who has “things to do” is Johnny Thunder, who along with his pet thunderbolt (kind of like a genie) was a member of the JSA (you can spot him in the upper right hand corner in the above portrait of the JSA and Infinity Inc). What everyone perceives as a senile old man’s delusions are in fact memories of things that have been hidden from reality in the DCU.
Page 16-17: Johnny can see Wally, but I suspect he doesn’t know what he’s looking at. It’s likely that Johnny thinks he’s talking to his old pal, the Thunderbolt, who could essentially grant wishes. When Wally vanishes, Johnny tries to call him back by saying the magic words, “Cei-U!” (pronounced “say, you!”) he used to summon his Thunderbolt.
And it seems that Johnny might be the reason that the world has forgotten the JSA. His reference to famous asshole Senator Joe McCarthy calling on the JSA to “take off your masks” is kind of a sideways nod to James Robinson and Paul Smith’s (awesome) The Golden Age, and there are hints of Watchmen here, as well.
It appears that in an attempt to help his pals, Johnny essentially wished them out of existence, not only hiding them from the world, but wiping the world’s memories of them!
Since legacy is a key component of the JSA, and since elder Johnny is in no shape to be adventuring these days, it would make sense if he passes his legacy on to the Great-Grandson they mention here (the only one who doesn’t think he’s crazy). I do hope we get a happy ending for Mr. Thunder before he passes that legacy on, though. He’s a good-hearted (if not terribly bright) character and a wonderful component of the golden age.
Page 18-19: While the Legion of Super-Heroes hasn’t been completely absent from the New 52 (they had a fun story in Justice League United, for one thing), they haven’t felt like an integral piece of the DCU in quite some time. That needs to change.
The mysterious woman with the “accent” is Saturn Girl, a founding member of the Legion with tremendous telepathic powers. Her future is the 31st Century, and with the idea that “food is free,” there is an indication of a brighter, more hopeful future than we’re generally treated to in sci-fi comics these days. It’s more of the hopeful future depicted in Star Trek than in more dystopian fantasies.
And she is indeed a friend of Superman’s. Young Superman honed his powers and leadership skills by jaunting off into the future to hang with the superpowered teens. The Legion was actually formed because they were inspired by the legend of Superman. A future where “food is free” and where “everything is going to be alright” implies a future shaped by the heroic ideals of Superman and a generally more hopeful DC Universe.
Also, this entire chapter is drawn by Gary Frank. You absolutely must read Geoff Johns’ and Gary Frank’s Superman and the Legion of Super Heroes. It’s glorious.
The police captain is Maggie Sawyer, a Superman supporting character, and one of DC’s very first openly gay characters. I can’t remember if we’ve actually seen her show up at all in the last five years.
Page 20-21: Meet Ryan Choi. Again. Ryan took over the mantle of The Atom for a time in a tremendously underrated series by Gail Simone, John Byrne, and others. It’s wonderful.
Page 22: Two key things here: Ray Palmer did indeed disappear into the Microverse during the really cool Sword of the Atom mini-series.
Ray is estranged from Jean Loring here. But what this means is that the generally not-very-nice Identity Crisis is safely and forever out of continuity. That book turned Jean Loring into a murderer and Dr. Light into a rapist and is generally symptomatic of the “hey, we totally missed the point of Watchmen, but we’re still trying to do serious comics” thing. Good riddance!
Page 23-24: So, while the JSA is the “first generation” of DC heroes, and Wally West is the “third,” you could conceivably say that Ryan is the “fourth.” He was the third Atom, though.
Page 25: If you know me, you know I put my fist in the air at the first sign of Ted Kord looking alive, well, and healthy.
So, yeah, here are two generations of Blue Beetles teaming up. The tech-themed Ted Kord Beetle was created by Steve Ditko (yes, of Spider-Man fame), and just to continue the Watchmen theme, he was the inspiration for Nite Owl.
The other fella here is Jaime Reyes, a tech/magic based Blue Beetle who first appeared in another Geoff Johns penned book, Infinite Crisis.
Page 26: Did I say this represents two generations of Blue Beetles? Well, maybe not. Y’see, if you read between the lines, this really represents three generations of Blue Beetles. Why? Because the scarab that powers Jaime isn’t a piece of alien technology, it’s magical. And it was a magical scarab that gave another Blue Beetle, Dan Garrett, his powers.
Kaji Dha!!! (sorry, couldn’t help myself).
Also, the next time you see me, I might be rocking one of those Ted Kord Beetle t-shirts.
It’s awesome to see Doctor Fate looking like Doctor Fate again, but I hope this doesn’t mean that the awesome and underrated recent Doctor Fate series by Paul Levitz and Sonny Liew is being paved over. I hope that’s still Khalid Nassour under the shiny helmet, albeit with some cool new/classic duds.
So, the next batch of pages is mostly concerned with teasing other upcoming DC Comics books, so not too many of them need all that much explanation.
Page 27: That’s Damian Wayne celebrating a rather solitary 13th birthday. Damian has traditionally been depicted as a bit younger, but having him turn 13 “on camera” here sets up his role with the Teen Titans. After all, he’s eligible now!
The new Green Lantern there is Jessica Cruz, who could have become evil thanks to her connection to Earth-3 but…ummmm…look, don’t worry too much about it. She’ll be prominently featured in Green Lanterns (plural).
– So, this is Aqualad. And not just any Aqualad, it’s the Jackson Hyde Aqualad from the dearly departed Young Justice animated series! I believe this is the first time there’s been any reference to Jackson’s sexuality.
Page 28: Pandora was generally considered to be responsible for the reshuffling of the DC Universe in the wake of Flashpoint and the start of the New 52. Her death here is certainly symbolic, that’s for sure.
I’ll just let Geoff Johns take it from here…
“That’s laid out exactly like the death of Rorschach. That’s the first hint that Dr. Manhattan is the antagonist. That’s why the first page is a 9-panel grid.”
“My commentary on that character [Pandora] is that obviously she came out of the New 52,” Johns said, “but the thing I like about her demise…is that she also dies saying ‘hope is there, too.’ That’s the whole premise of the entire book.”
Page 30-31: So, the red puff of energy/smoke there seems to be all that remains of the New 52 Superman. Superman’s powers have been building up in strange ways over the last year or so, resulting in him getting a new “solar flare” power where he could expend tremendous amounts of energy all at once.
Anyway, New 52 Superman has been a real struggle for the last five years, with no creative team ever quite managing to reconcile the character’s new status quo with his classic voice (and there have been some good ones: Grant Morrison and Rags Morales, Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder, but Geoff Johns with John Romita Jr. perhaps came the closest).
But why kill Superman?
Well…let’s skip ahead really quick
Page 33-34: See, the Superman and Lois Lane (and their son Jon) of the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe have been secretly living here in the New 52 Universe.
Also, they’re staying at the Siegel Motel, and Jerry Siegel was the writer who co-created Superman with artist Joe Shuster. So, c’mon, shouldn’t the coffee shop be “The Shuster” instead? Anyway…
The most Superman thing Clark can possibly say here, when Lois offers the possibility that this other Superman might return from the dead is, “Let’s hope so.” It’s great.
This slightly older Clark is clearly going to take his place as Superman now. But the mysterious “Mr. Oz” indicates that none of the Supermen were what they seemed to be. I get the feeling that within the year, all of the stray Superman mythology will be merged, and we’ll be left with a world where this Clark was pretty much always the only Clark via continuity jiggery-pokery, but don’t hold me to that. Whether Lois & Clark will continue to remember the pre-Flashpoint version of the DCU is anybody’s guess. I got a headache just typing this.
Okay, back to chronology…kinda…
Page 32: “That page to me embodies what I think has been lost but why we don’t have to reboot anything,” Johns told us.
Black Canary and Green Arrow weren’t just a thing on TV, they were probably the longest standing superheroic romance (as in, between two costumed characters) in the entire DC Universe before the New 52 happened.
Page 35-36: Their relationship wasn’t the only casualty, and Rebirth isn’t just about bringing back specifics (although the marriage of Aquaman and Mera is certainly a specific being brought back), this is also a commentary on the dopey editorial idea (which Marvel and DC are both guilty of) that superheroes can’t be married because it places restrictions on their adventuring, makes them appear too old, or any number of other excuses.
In the space of a few pages we get an older Superman with a wife and child, the return of Green Arrow and Black Canary, and the engagement of Aquaman and Mera, which leads nicely to…
Page 37-42: Linda Park is to Wally West as Iris West is to Barry Allen. Remember how I said a Flash is always the key to these massive DC Universe events? Well, a key component of any Flash worth his lightning bolts is love.
Since Flashes have a tendency to vanish into the Speed Force if they aren’t careful, they need a “lightning rod” to keep them grounded and bring them back. That lightning rod is always someone they love above all else. So Barry/Iris and Wally/Linda.
So this is where things get a little confusing about what Wally remembers versus what the rest of the world has actually experienced. It’s clear that Wally and Linda (who even had kids pre-Flashpoint!) have never had a relationship here, but Wally remembers that they did…even though he remembers other aspects of history a little differently than readers do. Does this mean that they never did, or is this a case like the JSA where something has happened and the world has simply forgotten?
Page 43: The love/relationship fest continues in the most unlikely of places with Swamp Thing and John Constantine. The Abby Arcane that they’re talking about is Swamp Thing’s spiritual (and psychedelic, in a brilliant Alan Moore/Rick Veitch comic) lover.
“If it’s about reconnecting with loved ones,” Johns said, “the first thing Swamp Thing is gonna do is, why hasn’t he gone after Abby?”
Page 44: Ivan Reis’ art on this page is a wonderful little nod to Barry’s pre-death journey as illustrated by George Perez in Crisis on Infinite Earths, with Wally appearing to folks he’s been connected with.
Boomerang is here because he’s a member of Flash’s rogues’ gallery, but also because without him we’d be more than halfway through this book without so much as a nod to the Suicide Squad, stars of the next DCEU movie.
Cyborg and Dick Grayson were Wally’s teammates during the most beloved and acclaimed version of the Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Dick is pretty much the only character who comes as close to embodying DC’s legacy elements as Wally does.
The implication of these rapid fire visits, and the juxtaposition with the new Wally West seems to indicate that Wally is doomed. This is fun misdirection, though.
Page 45: This is the new Wally West, who was introduced in recent issues of The Flash. This is the first time they’ve tried to explain that he isn’t a “replacement” for the original Wally, he just happens to share the same name.
The explanation that Geoff Johns gave was (and sadly, I didn’t record this part of the conversation, so I don’t have his exact quote) that this is a nod to the Bronze Age version of Air Wave. Air Wave was a character with a cool name and perhaps less cool costume whose name was…Harold Jordan. He was a cousin of Hal “Green Lantern” Jordan, they just happened to share a similar name, and there was a fairly nerdy explanation for it, hence what we get here.
Page 46-51: Here we have Wally making peace with his impending death. Even though this proves to be a fakeout, I can’t remember a single comic with a major character about to bite it where death is treated this reflectively, honestly, and lovingly. Had this indeed proved to be the final end of this version of Wally West, I can’t imagine how it could have been more satisfying. But…
Page 52: I somehow don’t think it’s a coincidence that Wally actually re-enters the DC Universe on Page 52 of this book, when 52 has been the “magic number” of the DC Multiverse for the last decade.
Page 53-54: “I think that page sums it up, for me personally. It was the most emotional page I could write.”
Page 55: So Barry now remembers his history with Wally, and as you can see from the Titans panel, it’s still not exactly the continuity of the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe.
But Wally says “that’s not all you forgot. There used to be more.” Once again implying that Wally has all the answers. It’s possible/probable that even the history that Wally remembers isn’t exactly the history of the pre-Flashpoint DCU…there will still be new things to learn. Like I keep saying, Rebirth isn’t a reboot. It’s just kind of a reordering of priorities. The little details about which stories took place and which ones didn’t aren’t all that important. It’s just about the tone, and this once again very much feels like the right tone for the DC Universe.
Page 56-60: Don’t worry, there isn’t a Watchmen crossover coming. Even though this teases that Watchmen is in continuity with the rest of the DCU, and that Dr. Manhattan did all of this, I don’t think we’re going to see the Justice League fighting Dr. Manhattan any time soon. Think of Dr. Manhattan’s involvement as purely allegorical, and it’s really not relevant to the actual mission statement of this book.
Page 62: Note that the clouds surrounding Earth at the beginning of the book have lifted and are dissipating.
Page 63-64: The quotes here shouldn’t be read as a new dialogue taking place between Adrian Veidt and Dr. Manhattan, it’s simply an echo of the ending of Watchmen. “Nothing ever ends” is note about how comics themselves never truly end.
But perhaps most importantly, the hands on the clock, meant to symbolize the Doomsday Clock, are set at 15 minutes to midnight. That’s further back than they were set at the start of Watchmen. In other words, don’t expect that crossover any time soon. I wrote in MUCH more detail about the ending right here.
If you spotted anything I missed, drop ’em in the comments or shout at me on Twitter. I’ll continue to update and correct this as we go!