The Debooting of DC Universe: Rebirth

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Comics DC
Comics DC

“…It’s time for the [DC] universe, then, to confront the legacy of Watchmen the way Watchmen, three decades ago, confronted the legacy of superhero comics.”

– Geoff Johns

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 has arrived in stores and fans are mildly impressed. Legacy fans and internet commentators are dancing for joy as beloved characters return from the old DC to point out how things have changed for the worst. Post Modern Superman is dead, Flash is starting to be a hero again and Batman is no longer in possession of the Mobius Chair. Zooming through the Speed Force to find some sense of what happened, the audience gets to identify with central character Kid Flash. Why are we getting the Wolfman/Perez era Wally West rather than the West we last saw sometime at the start of Flashpoint? Who knows! DC has made it a third of the way through a comic without going grimdark!

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The New 52 wasn’t a complete disaster, but more like 75 percent of one. There were some amazing ideas at the launch and some ideas that got to develop over four and a half years. Morrison’s brief Action Comics run was great, Azzarello killed it on Wonder Woman and Johns fleshed out amazing concepts in Justice League. But, there was that stinky tinge of gimmick covers and also-ran ’90s Marvel creators slipping into the middle years and finale. Gene Luen Yang is great, but you’re giving him a Superman that’s been trashed for a few years. What’s he going to do with that? No one is sure which Green Lantern is which and Darkseid is part Amazon now? How is this happening, people?

Well, Johns appears to be taking a cue from Morrison’s time on Batman. Instead of trying to play it cool and compartmentalizing every aspect of the DC legacy, it’s time to say “everything happened.” Why have a single identifiable Joker when there can be three? The Golden Age and Silver Age had several oddities that can play well in the Modern Era. Plus, who doesn’t love the Bronze Age Legion of Super Heroes? Saying that “everything happened” isn’t a new idea, but it feels desperately needed in an age where inclusion seems to trump the need for canon. But, why the press for it to happen now?

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Wally West as the anchor of “Rebirth” suggests something weird to Johns’ approach to Rebirth. Sure, it’s Johns’ pet character that helped launched his career at DC. Super nerds can stay quiet about Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. as only 20 of us read that book. Choosing Wally West from his later New Teen Titans jaunt furthers the idea of a debooting. There is a need at DC across its entertainment venues to present a unified front of something that evokes the kind of pleasantness you get from the Marvel/Disney/Mousehaus Empire. Is it pleasantness or a desire to represent a world that is mature enough to hit all of the key demos? After all, it appears that audiences have shown the world they don’t want their heroes murdering whole scale or moping with Randian intentions.

But, again… what does Wally West have to do with all of this? West evokes the base DC readership of 30-55 year old males from a certain demographic background. The same background that certain online detractors share when they complain about aspects of the New 52 Wally West and other contemporary shifts. Wally West returning is DC indirectly appealing to its lost fanbase that kept them afloat through terrible film adaptations, insane amounts of DTV product and overpriced Archival books. DC let its treasured writer Johns (who is soon to depart for the film division) serve as the company apologist for years of poorly received decisions. Then, he brought Watchmen into the DC Universe.

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Evoking the legacy of Watchmen is two-fold. Alan Moore has soured in his old age, but the man deserves certain rights as a creator. Moore and Dave Gibbons were promised certain concessions when Watchmen went out of print. The kicker is that DC has never let it go out of print, so they never had to pay up to the initial agreement. Couple that with the multiple corporate screwjobs on Moore’s other properties, he gave up. Now, Moore creates public domain tales about invisible rapists and childhood lit characters playing the Orange is the New Black home game. From the quote that starts this piece, it can be construed that Johns on behalf of DC is blaming Moore for everything that has happened in the last 30 years.

Imagine if you were graduating and you placed somewhere in the middle of the pack, but you chose to blame the Valedictorian for setting an unrealistic standard. How does 12 issues of one series force an entire universe to jump through a hoop of grimdark? Hell, Watchmen isn’t even grimdark so much as it is an examination of how the real world can kill the nature of superheroics. The Doctor Manhattan reveal is asking a lot of readers, as this new version of DC involves a knowledge of Doc Manhattan working as an intelligent designer of a comics universe that can’t ever reconcile its identity. Change is natural, but it needs to lead somewhere. It’s the difference between David Bowie and Whoopi Goldberg’s costume changes at the Oscars.

There is something to be said for change in serial entertainment and I welcome it with few caveats. All of those hesitations surround doing it right. The notion of what’s right or correct in art is troublesome, but there is a need for shared truth. A truth that comes from characters acting naturally in the world built around them and maintaining a naturally growing narrative. If we acknowledge a world where a faulty supreme being is constantly shuffling the board, then why should we keep investing? All answers will be found in the second part of this examination.

NEXT TIME: Captain America is a f**king Nazi now.

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