DC Universe: Rebirth #1

Dave Gibbon's response to Watchmen's role in DC Rebirth and his thoughts on Batman V Superman (via Alexander Lu). 

Here were my initial thoughts on the announcement of  DC Universe: Rebirth #1:

Does Geoff Johns even hear the words he's spewing when justifying the use of Doctor Manhattan as the antagonist for DC Rebirth?

“It felt like there were things that had gone missing — not the characters but an overall feeling of hope and optimism... ” 
“If you’re going to have a conflict between optimism and pessimism, you need to have someone who represents a cynical view of life and also has the ability to affect this. I know it’s crazy but he felt like the right character to use.”

This is about as ethically and creatively challenged a statement as Johns can make - pinning on Watchmen the trend of dark and cynical comics while ignoring his own complicity in DC's creative output during the last two decades. I haven't forgotten his abuse of the characters from Crisis on Infinite Earths in the horrible Infinite Crisis. Not to mention the gorefest that was Flashpoint. And others could probably point to his time on JLA, JSA, or Blackest Night. So Johns is either being extremely cynical himself, or is demonstrating a staggering lack of self-awareness. Or he's misleading his readers for some reason.

Heidi MacDonald points out that there's a behind the scenes struggle between Johns and co-publisher Dan DiDio. DC Rebirth apparently represents Johns asserting more control over the entire lineup, as Johns has used the "Rebirth" tag on two previous stories which were written as course corrections to what he perceived as mishandlings of those properties. Both stories were characterized by their nostalgic approach. Hal Jordan and Barry Allen were brought back from limbo to reclaim the superhero mantles from their replacements. So it's not hard to read in his call for hope and optimism as code for a repudiation of the whole DC New 52 enterprise (and the DCYou initiative) in order to return to his cherished fundamentals.

This is the first time that Watchmen will play a central role in a mainstream crossover event. From a continuity standpoint, there's no real precedent for using Doctor Manhattan (or any of the other Watchmen characters) as the in-universe antagonist. So the only reasons for DC to make such a move are: (a) to keep pissing on the ashes of their relationship with Alan Moore by taking the final step of reducing his characters into just another mediocre corporate property (b) to grab headlines. For the last two decades, DC's stewards have been swinging back and forth between the two poles of being embarrassed by the company's own superhero properties, and celebrating their childlike appeal. The stakes for this infighting are a lot higher, now that Time-Warner is paying a lot more attention to what happens at their HQ. But coming after so many soft reboots, corporate reshufflings, and marketing gimmicks, this latest move feels like a tacit admission that the DC Universe is broken in such a way that it can't be fixed anymore with yet another editorially mandated change.


DC Universe: Rebirth #1: Story: Geoff Johns Art: Phil Jimenez, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Gary Frank, Alex Sinclair Colors: Brad Anderson, Jason Wright, Joe Prado, Gabe Eltaeb, Hi-Fi Inks: Matt Santorelli Letters: Nick Napolitano.
Story: Geoff Johns
Art: Phil Jimenez, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Gary Frank, Alex Sinclair
Colors: Brad Anderson, Jason Wright, Joe Prado, Gabe Eltaeb, Hi-Fi
Inks: Matt Santorelli
Letters: Nick Napolitano

Having now gotten around to reading Rebirth. I'm struck by how much the comic is aimed at DC's core fanbase. There's an overwhelming sense of familiarity for anyone who's been following DC crossovers since 1985: the time travelling/dimension hopping shenanigans, a speedster delivering an ominous message, a mysterious antagonist with the power to threaten all of existence, the universal timeline needing to be fixed, yet again. And this is also marks Geoff Johns going back again to the well and returning a character from limbo, in this case Wally West. Not to mention that the artists employed here are among the most capable exponents of DC's house style within the last decade.

What is new is the unprecedented level of backtracking on display. The whole comic is basically a parade of ideas that were discarded by the New 52 relaunch five years ago, but whose absence is now being presented as symptoms of how things having gone very wrong since then. The whole spectacle doesn't feel so much an apology as Johns unleashing his venom on his colleagues for letting things get so out of hand. Change is being invoked for the sake of returning to some previous status quo (represented by a teenage Wally), and opposed by unseen forces (Doctor Manhattan). The ham-handed symbolism is only surpassed by the depressingly conservative* message designed to appease the preferences of entitled fans. Furthermore, this backward looking approach has the unfortunate effect of rendering every recent attempt to update, expand and diversify the DC lineup appear insincere in retrospect.

And Rebirth probably won't accomplish streamlining the DC Universe. Johns might believe that returning Wally to his long-abandoned Kid Flash role marks the return of hope and optimism. But this just seems to indulge his usual habit of engaging in intertextually dense storytelling meaningful only to the initiated.
*by that I mean that superhero comics are incredibly resistant to change/character growth, not their politics.