DC Rebirth… or, Fifty Years, Seven Universes and What About the Scrap of Red Cloth


It’s five years since Flashpoint reset the DC Universe one time too many for me, as detailed here. It’s considerably longer since I last bought an actual DC mainstream comic, but I’ve not been entirely out of touch. Old habits fade only slowly. The thing about the New 52 Universe was that it broke the thread of continuity that had run through DC since the beginning. It undercut history, removed legacy, deleted the proper Justice Society of America, and took down Superman’s shorts. I borrowed a couple of GNs from the library, on occasions, and the storytelling was incomprehensible.

It’s also been a bust, commercially, which is why the universe is being reset yet again. DC Rebirth is the name of the game, and since ‘Rebirth’ is Geoff Johns’ property, it’s yet again his show. Though only in the set-up: after the appearance this week of DC Rebirth 1 and only, Johns is being shunted over to the films division to apparently counteract the effects of Zack Snyder.

I don’t like Geoff Johns’ writing. This has made following DC awkward for the last ten years and more, since he has been flavour of the decade, to the point of having been appointed DC’s first Chief Creative Officer (first, because they’ve never needed one before). Basically, that means that the DC Universe is run according to the tastes and preferences of one man, and if you generally don’t agree with that man’s perspectives, things are a bit of a wasteland for you.

Reading DC Universe: Rebirth 1, I felt a tremendous sense of deja vu. It was exactly like reading Countdown to Infinite Crisis eleven years ago: the same dynamics, the same focus upon an individual whose fate is the forerunner of change. Even the art was by the same artists , or ones who drew pretty much like the ones who did Countdown.

Whereas that one was the Ted Kord Blue Beetle, on his way to his lonely, but significant death, this character aroused a more immediate sympathy in me, because it’s Kid Flash: the Kid Flash, Wally West, the real Wally West, whose been on the missing list since Flashpoint. And whilst Barry Allen and I may have been born around the same time, Wally was, in a realer sense, ‘my’ Flash, the one I collected assiduously – until Geoff Johns took him over, at least.

What it’s about is that, despite his having been Flash the last time we looked, Wally has spent the years since the Flashpoint trapped in the Speed Force as Kid Flash. Now he’s trying to get out. In fact, he’s desperate to do so. The problem is that, to return to reality, he has to appear to someone who recognises him, and that’s not happening. Not Batman, not Johnny Thunder, not even his beloved Linda Park (who is now a struggling reporter from a very tiny blog about to lose everything. Not even the Flash, Uncle Barry, remembers who he is.

And Wally is utterly desperate. Not because he wants to return to life. He’d be happy to slip away, to dissolve in the Speed Force, to lose all identity forever, but he has to deliver a message, a warning. Five years ago, the Flashpoint, Barry Allen changed time by saving his mother from being killed in the past (odd coincidence that you should bring that up…)

Everybody believes that it was Barry’s action that changed time, created the New 52, but that’s not the case. Wally has a different perspective. There’s someone else, someone who manipulated things, who deliberately chose to steal ten years from everybody’s lives, ten years of incidents and events. It was done to weaken them, for some nefarious purpose…

And in the last possible second, Barry remembers, and Wally is back, to bring this warning. The Universe is about to be reborn, time to be restored, history will come back.

Because Barry, at the last possible instant, says Wally’s name.

Who is behind this, who has done this? That’s the good old fashioned sixty-four thousand dollar question. We get two clues.

One is a pan, from the earth to another planet, one with dark skies, pink sands, desert conditions. There’s a rigid, nine-panel grid page focused upon a watch, Wally’s watch, a gift from his Uncle. Someone is dismantling it, cog by cog, without touching it. There’s also some dialogue, with someone named Adrian, dialogue I remember from thirty years ago.

And meanwhile, Batman has been digging away at something, ever since the unknown stranger with a yellow and red costume and ginger hair manifested himself in the Batcave, pointing to the letter from his father that was an integral part of Flashpoint. There’s something behind the letter, buried in the rock, that Batman chips out in time for the final page. It’s a badge, a simple, yellow, smily-face badge, popular in the year 1985. And it’s got a diagonal streak of red – of blood – across one eye. (Except that it’s the wrong fucking eye…)

So the Watchmen Universe is about to be folded in with the rest of the DC Universe/Multiverse, after thirty years of separation and despite all the paramount reasons not to do so. But then, Johns and DiDio couldn’t give a shit about promises made by previous management, not when they can tangle their shitty fingers in a superior creation. It’s like the ‘let me piss in it and make it taste better’ joke.

So, what do we assume? At the end of Watchmen, Dr Manhattan, who had previously sequestered himself on Mars, decided to leave that Universe and create some life. Are we now to assume that the former Jonathan Osterman created the DC Universe? And that despite the good Doctor being a basically neutral but benevolent individual, he’s decided to play games with his creation? (Of course he will, Johns and DiDio are incapable of imagining that someone with Manhattan’s power wouldn’t act like a dictatorial shit with it. They really are extremely limited in their visions).

Rebirth is good as far as it goes, which is up to the point where the big reveal is intimated, at which point it turns into a possible utter disaster. I’ve signed up to get Earth-2 Rebirth, which is the Justice Society reboot, but that’s on a contingent basis, and depends very much on how authentic that series feels.

Nevertheless, I do not see myself making a return to DC like I used before, even if they restore Superman’s red trunks, an issue that remains to be seen. Too much time has gone by, old habits and old knowledge have been strained beyond repair. Johns may be gone but his spirit lives on, and my place is back among the back issues. Especially if they’re going to start shitting even more on Watchmen.

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