When I first started writing this column, we were two years into DC’s New 52, a totally rebooted version of the line that included Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. The output from DC was pretty much uniformly rubbish, with only a handful of exceptions (Dial H, Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman, and Grant Morrison’s Action Comics & Multiversity), strangled by an overbearingly grim house style, an incoherent and poorly thought out series of retcons, and very little sense of fun. It seems that finally DC have noticed this was a problem, and have given us DC Rebirth: a brand new reboot which aims to fold not just the New 52 and old DC universes together, but even more besides that. The big question though is, does it succeed?
Well that all depends on what you think it is that you’re reading.
DC Rebirth is written by Geoff Johns, a one man production factory of cinematic event comics. He has a style, and it works quite nicely for big, loud events like this. Every line of dialogue is expositional, character motivations are all fairly bland and simple, and everything is about as on-the-nose as a nostril. That’s not a problem. Hell, most of the Marvel movies operate in the same way, and the heavily Geoff Johns inspired series of The Flash makes it work too. DC Rebirth kind of falters at times, and maybe to try and explain the plot of it will help to make sense of its failures.
Wally West has returned! One of the pre-New 52’s most beloved characters is back, and he’s stuck inside the speed force. He journeys across the DC universe trying to find someone who can tether him to the world, before the speed force destroys him for good. The reason he’s free? Something to do with a battle with Darkseid (not covered in this issue). He visits Batman who has been told by a chair that there are three Jokers (not covered in this issue). He visits the site where Superman died (not covered in this issue), finds Clark Kent (death and return not covered in this issue), before finally coming across Barry Allen, The Flash, who helps him return. That moment, when he finally reunites with The Flash is the kind of joyful scene DC comics have been lacking over the past few years. But the stuff beforehand? Your guess is as good as mine.
Now, perhaps that’s unfair of me. Perhaps, as a reviewer I should be up on all the mainstream comic book stories. I should know what the hell kind of chair tells Batman about three Jokers, I should know how Superman died – but I don’t, and a book like DC Rebirth, which promises to be a launching pad for a whole new world of comics (there are twelve adverts in the back of this book, showing off all the lovely new titles) should be a starting point for new readers, shouldn’t it?
It’s not as if Johns is telling all that interesting a story to survive on its own merits either. This is a book of trailers for other books. It’s all set-up, and the only brief thematic conclusion that the book comes to (the mentor/mentee reunion) is so flagrantly telegraphed from the start, that the only reason it lands as well as it does, is down to the wonderful art from Phil Jimenez and Gary Frank.
What this appears to be more than anything is a manifesto. A “here’s what DC Comics is going to be like now” statement from Johns. In a way, it feels like an apology for what’s gone before, and that’s definitely a good thing. If this is the tone the books are going to take, then more power to them. It’s the right direction.
I said at the start of this article that the success of Rebirth depends on what you think it is that you’re reading and that’s very much true. If you’re coming here for the story then you’re going to be disappointed. But if what you’re seeking out is a promise from DC Comics that the future holds hope, that their comics might have a bright spark in them that’s been missing from the past few years, then you’re likely to come out of it excited about the future.
Let’s maybe just not talk about the Watchmen stuff though shall we?