This article contains minor spoilers for recent issues of Batman and The Flash.
Still notable by their absence from DC’s fine return to form with their Rebirth initiative are many of the core members of the Justice Society. Sure, Earth 2: Society recently wrapped, but that’s not exactly the Rebirth version of the team that was first hinted at in the DC Universe: Rebirth special last year.
Y’see, one of the side effects of the New 52 was that the concept of the Justice Society as Earth’s first team of superheroes, who then inspired future generations, was lost. But Rebirth indicated that they did indeed exist, but were somehow wiped from everybody’s memory. Of course, the reasoning for that appears to be meddling from none other than Watchmen‘s Doctor Manhattan, a plot point that has been a little contentious with fans, even if the general consensus is that across the line, Rebirth finally feels like the DC Comics we’ve been missing for a few years.
And even those skeptical about how the whole “Watchmen characters in the DC Universe” thing will work out (including this writer) seem to be enjoying the slow build as more clues are revealed in a select handful of books. Things accelerated in April with “The Button,” a four-part story that rolled out across issues #21-22 of both Batman (by Tom King and Jason Fabok) and The Flash (by Josh Williamson and Howard Porter). “The Button” sees the Fastest Man Alive and the World’s Greatest Detective get together to finally figure out what the heck the Comedian’s button was doing in the Batcave, and it ties into the reality altering events of Flashpoint, which is how we ended up with the New 52 in the first place.
While I have thoroughly enjoyed the DC Universe again in the wake of Rebirth over the last year, “The Button” was one of those things that reminded me how uncomfortable I am with the whole Watchmen/DCU collision concept. Fortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly given the quality of the creative teams, “The Button” is a remarkably tight, personal story that not only expanded the scope of the current DC Universe, but wrapped up some lingering Flashpoint issues, as well. While Flashpoint is now generally considered to be a touchstone of DC lore, it has never exactly been a favorite of mine, so the fact that “The Button” turned out to be such a fun ride in spite of two major objections on my part is remarkable. But the biggest deal, the one that has the most impact for longtime DC fans, came in the story’s final chapter in The Flash #22, with the return of original Flash Jay Garrick.
OK, so…as someone who counts Garrick as his favorite speedster, the cover of The Flash #22 (art by Jason Fabok) is spectacular. While lightly updated, this is very much the classic Jay Garrick Flash look, and it fits in with the overall “respect the past but have a little fun with things” aesthetic of Rebirth redesigns. The cover that he’s “burning through” is the original Flash Comics #1 from 1940, while his pose there is reminiscent of the cover of 2009’s The Flash: Rebirth, the hugely influential comic by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver that helped set the table for The Flash TV series, among other things.
Jay’s actual return in the story is illustrated by Howard Porter, and the full page reveal when he emerges from the Speed Force for the first time in years is positively triumphant. It’s probably not my imagination that Porter’s Jay Garrick looks a little bit like John Wesley Shipp, the actor who played Barry Allen in the 1990s Flash TV series and currently brings Jay Garrick to life on the current TV series.
Despite all this, Jay’s return is short lived, and we’re going to have to wait a while longer before we get that Justice Society reunion we’re all craving. But again, like what we saw in the book that launched Rebirth last year, the pieces are now in place for DC’s first super team to return.
The return of Jay Garrick mirrors the recent reset of Superman continuity over in the pages of Action Comics, and the quiet way DC has gone about the business of cleaning up the New 52. Rather than do another hard reset last year with the DC Universe: Rebirth special, they’ve rolled out these changes organically, often in the pages of other, larger stories, in ways that appeal to older readers and are unlikely to alienate new ones. Making Garrick the first member of the classic JSA to properly return is a bit of a meta treat, as well, since his first meeting with Barry Allen in 1961’s The Flash #123 is what introduced the very concept of the Multiverse to the DC Universe, a signifier of the seismic changes to come.
And make no mistake, “The Button” points the way to what’s next for the DC Universe. In this case, it’s Doomsday Clock, by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, the book that will likely solve the Dr. Manhattan mystery and finally answer Rebirth’s lingering questions. We have more details on Doomsday Clock right here.
I may remain skeptical of using Watchmen concepts within the DCU, but I can’t argue with results. Right now, DC is reinvigorating old concepts and perfecting its own message with a purpose that I haven’t seen from them in nearly a decade. So far, the execution of Jay Garrick’s return is another feather for their winged helmet. If it takes another year to reintroduce the rest of the Justice Society, I have a feeling it will be worth the wait.