In 1985, during DC Comics’ 50th Anniversary, the company released a mini-series titled CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. In it, DC took their multiverse, which consisted of countless Earths with various differences, and chopped it all down to a single Earth in a single universe. The plan was to clean up 50 years of continuity problems, fix some issues with Superman, and revitalize their comics line.
And, for the most part, it worked. Some of the best DC stories came about because of changes made by CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. Still, some problems persisted. Now that Superman had never been Superboy, the comics of the Legion of Superheroes were in a jam – their origin counted on the existence of Superboy, and without him, they needed a real fix. Pretty much every character had some issues that rose out from CRISIS, but overall, it was a success.
Over the years, DC toyed around some more with their continuity. In 1994, ZERO HOUR was done to try and fix the problems with the Legion books, but it also set up a minor character, Damage, as God (something DC never bothered to ever discuss again). In 2005, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, DC did INFINITE CRISIS, which kinda erased a lot of the work from the original. The multiverse was back, Superman had been Superboy, and the Legion was played with again. Still, everything was within the same “reality.” Things that happened in 1992 still occurred.
One day in 2011, DC decided to blow it all up. What at first appeared to be a minor mini-series focused on Flash, FLASHPOINT became the launching pad for a reboot. What we all at first thought was a quickly planned reboot soon became a clearly unplanned reboot. The heads of DC appeared to be making it all up as they went along, and readers could feel it. Over the course of five years, DC saw theirs sales drop faster than a burglar craps his pants when he sees Batman. The major changes made to the DC Universe seemed to try and make DC more like Marvel circa 1995 – the heroes were all angry, every story included massive destruction, and “extreme” was the driving force. Things that seemed to no longer be allowed were joy, hope, or any aspect of happiness.
Something needed to change. DC couldn’t reboot again, not so soon, but they needed to show readers that they recognized the problem and were fixing it. DC turned to the man who had twice before found a way to bring back something readers loved without erasing everything and starting over. Geoff Johns reinvigorated the Green Lantern line with GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH, bringing back Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps without throwing away Kyle Rayner and his time as the sole GL. Then Johns did the same with Barry Allen in FLASH: REBIRTH. Barry had died in the first CRISIS, and his return was a big deal. Personally, I don’t think it was as successful as GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH. The return of Barry pushed the current Flash, Wally West, out of the picture. Still, it was a solid story and Wally getting lost in the mix wasn’t Johns’ fault.
So here we are with REBIRTH. Johns has been tasked with saving the DC Universe, something he arguably helped mess up in the first place with INFINITE CRISIS. Has he done it? Is it good? I’ll tell ya in the next paragraph! Spoilers to follow!
I don’t know. REBIRTH is great. The story flows well, it sets up a lot of new ideas without feeling forced, and appears to be fixing a lot of mistakes that have been made in the last few years.
The story itself centers around Wally West. When DC rebooted everything with New 52, this version of Wally was erased and fans were, to put it lightly, upset. Wally was one of the most loved characters in DC (he is my personal favorite) and people were angry to see him gone. I guess Geoff Johns was too. Wally is caught outside of reality, being pulled into the Speed Force (the energy that gives speedsters their power). Wally had been pulled into the Speed Force in the past, but was always able to come back from it because of his wife, Linda – their love worked as a tether between dimensions that Wally could follow home. This time, it isn’t working. Wally can’t find Linda.
As he searches for her, Wally comes across various DC heroes, and we see many things that have been missing are now coming to be again. The original Justice Society of America appears to be returning to continuity, as does the Legion of Superheroes. The appearance of Saturn Girl from the Legion is a highlight of the book. Her scene makes it clear that DC is looking to make things brighter. She flat out says so. Sitting in a police station, Saturn Girl is speaking to a detective and, when asked why she is smiling she says “Because everything’s going to be all right”. When asked how she knows that she smiles wider and says “Because I’ve seen the future”. It brought a huge smile to my face too.
The story itself bounces from moment to moment, showing is something in the New 52 Universe that is wrong, and showing is the start of the fix for it. Green Arrow and Black Canary meet and instantly feel a connection between them; a connection so strong that they both realize that their lives are wrong. Doctor Fate appears to Ted Kord to tell him that the Scarab stuck on the back of the current Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes, is not alien tech, but magic. Wally watches the New 52 Wally West use his speed for the first time to save a girl – and he also explains how they can both exist in a very well done retcon that covers the problem but doesn’t create a whole big deal out of it.
And then something happens that will rile the hell out of some readers. I’m hesitant to spoil this, so I want to give you another chance to stop reading if you have any interest in actually reading REBIRTH. This is the final chance…
Throughout the story, Wally knows that something outside of their universe messed with it. When Barry Allen created the Flashpoint, this entity used it to toy with the reality of the DC heroes. This being, according to Wally, took out all hope and love from the universe. This entity, we are lead to believe at the end of the book, was Doctor Manhattan, the blue naked guy from WATCHMEN. Now, I both love and am worried about this idea.
I love that Johns is taking a moment from WATCHMEN when Doctor Manhattan is on Mars trying to understand humanity to explain why the DC Universe has been so funky. What he is basically saying is that Doctor Manhattan, as he was looking to get a handle on why humans are the way humans are, played around with alternate universes to see what would happen if different parts of the human condition were removed. With Wally getting pulled out from non-existence, the elements that Doctor Manhattan removed are returned to the DC Universe. This is, I think, a bit of commentary on DC, and on comics in general. I think what Johns is suggesting is that the critical and massive commercial success of WATCHMEN in the mid-80s has lead comics astray. More and more, comics have become “real” like how WATCHMEN was. More and more, the characters have become “gritty” like the characters in WATCHMEN. Johns is, I think, suggesting that the ripple effects of WATCHMEN have damaged comics in a significant way, but not so badly that these things can’t be fixed.
Now, some people are going to say that Johns is shitting on WATCHMEN. I don’t think that is the case. Geoff Johns is, if nothing else, a guy who loves comics. I don’t doubt that he loves WATCHMEN, but I do think he understands that WATCHMEN should not be the blueprint for all comics. Still, what Johns has done sets up something that makes me real worried…
Throughout REBIRTH, Wally believes that what Doctor Manhattan has done was done to weaken the DC heroes. That there will be a war between hope and despair, between love and apathy. Wally says that he knows that the entity that caused the loss of love and hope will attack again. If Johns and DC are setting up Doctor Manhattan to be a new super evil in the DC Universe, that is a terrible plan. Doctor Manhattan is not evil, and he should not be played out as evil. Doctor Manhattan is analytical, not vengeful. He is contemplative, not conniving. To suggest that the DC heroes will end up battling him makes me real nervous.
Add in that it has been announced that Geoff Johns is stepping away from writing comics to focus on the DC movies, TV series, and video games, and I fear that in the wrong hands, the ideas and overall mission statement Johns has set up in REBIRTH will be lost. There have been no changes in DC editorial – the same guys who gave us New 52 are the powers that be at DC Comics. Can they be trusted not to screw it all up again?
As Geoff Johns reminds us in REBIRTH, every second is a gift. Here’s hoping DC doesn’t waste this one.
Ethan Van Sciver
*All Photos: DC Comics