Saturday, May 28, 2016

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 —Johns's love letter to hope, optimism, and legacy

The first issue of DC Universe: Rebirth is out, and everybody seems to be in love with it. It is yet another revision to the DC Universe continuity, it is driven by nostalgia, and it threatens to commit sacrilege to the most sacrosanct masterpiece of Alan Moore... But with good reason, it was well received.
Rebirth in a nutshell.
The issue, written by Geoff Johns, opens by showing a perfectly good watch clockwork with one bad gear preventing it from working. By the end,

—minor spoiler— 

the gear is fixed. This metaphor is a no-brainer: the DC Universe is all wrong. This first chapter promises to fix the DC Universe and starts by satisfying a demand of many long time fans; more hope and optimism. The metaphor works as a possible presage to the way this series will change the DC Universe.
The Renaissance of the DC Universe.
The narrator of Rebirth criticizes the continuity created in 2011, officially called the New 52 and created after the Flashpoint mini-series. Like all previous continuities, it didn't start with the new origins of each character —those came later—, but with new stories that didn't rely on a baggage of previous stories. It was an efficient introduction for many new readers, but a sacrifice of millions of pages of DC history.

As the past of this new "the New 52" continuity was revealed, long time readers learned that many of their favorite characters and storylines never happened. In the New 52 multiverse sidekicks like Wally West and Donna Troy don't exist, the new versions of the golden age characters like Jay Garrick or Alan Scott are way too different, the Martina Manhunter, the Elongated Man, and Zatanna never belong to the Justice League, Tim Drake barely knows Batman, and so on. Furthermore, all titles lost their numbering, even those that started it in the 1930s. For many readers, the New 52 seemed to be denialism.
One of the inaugural images of the New 52.
Another perceived problem was the excess of violence and pessimism. After Flashpoint (2011, also by Geoff Johns), the first issue of Detective Comics shows the face of the Joker peeled off, the first Red Hood and the Outlaws shows a Starfire with no memoríes or emotional attachment, the first Batman shows a psychopath version of James Gordon Jr. And along with that, many marriages and love relationships (Arthur and Mera, Lois and Clark, Ollie and Dinah) ceased to exist.
This is what is at stake in Rebirth.
Wally West narrates the story (no spoiler there) and he talks about all the hope and optimism that was lost after Flashpoint. Not that things were exactly happy after Identity Crisis (2004), but all the previous DC history was still there. In Rebirth, the cause is recovering DC's legacy.

Geoff Johns also did Infinite Crisis in 2005, which is also about the perception of the DC Universe as a pessimistic dark place, only that time the guy who wanted to restore hope and optimism, Superboy Prime, was the villain and a parody of nostalgic fanboys. In Flashpoint nostalgia and legacy is perceived and celebrated as a good thing, something that the heroes want.

The identity of the antagonist of the story, of course, is a meta-commentary on Watchmen (Alan Moore, 1986) and it's influence on comics. This raises many questions. Is the story actually blaming the pessimism on it? Will Rebirth keep the point of Watchmen? This seems like a cliffhanger of the 1966 Batman show ("Tune in tomorrow. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel, same Bat-peril") with Watchmen in Geoff's trap, but it's too soon to think negatively. Dealing with that franchise and its characters is a complex task, we will see if Johns is able to pull it in the upcoming issues.

 As a first act, it offers previews of Ted Kord and Ray Palmer having Jaime Reyes and Ryan Choi as their protegees instead of their replacements, as well as a promise to bring back the golden-agers, and love relationships. This is what is at stake for the rest of the series.

As a story it is fine. As it usually happens in Johns's stories there is a lot of emphasis on father-and-son issues, on the stuff that heroes remember as absolutely great or terribly tragic, and on how they have their hearts in the right place and they overcome after school special bullies.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 isn't a Moorean masterpiece, but an effective hit with lots of teasing and a long expected editorial message of optimism and hope. It works fine as a story but excellent as a mission statement.
Hope, optimism and legacy.

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