Saturday, May 28, 2016

We Finally Read "Rebirth" and Here Is What We Think (SPOILERS)

I did not love every living word and panel of DC's mea culpa in comic form, but it made me realize how long it has been since I've read a new comic book from DC and didn't feel like I needed to just put it down and walk away.  If Rebirth succeeded on any level - it did not make me kind of sad while I was reading it, nor think "well, this is what they're doing these days, and the kids seem to like it, so I guess this is DC Comics now".  I got to just mostly enjoy a DC Comic, even enjoy the familiar frustration of "well, now how is THAT going to work?" as I looked at some of what the book was pitching as the new direction for DC Comics publishing line.

It's been a few days, so I really don't think I need to explain what Rebirth is, except to my brother - so, Jason:  That New 52 thing I've been whining about the past few years?  Turns out sales have been plummeting line-wide for DC since the first year or so, and they've decided that maybe they went too far in the "grim n' gritty" comics direction, and now they're remembering that the idea behind superheroes is that they're a force for positive change.  So, starting here, DC is trying to wrap up the New 52 as a direction for the publishing line while remaining basically in continuity.  They'll start by renumbering most series (again) and remember that it's kind of a bummer to read about people in tights running about feeling miserable every second of the day, so, maybe stop with the endless Pyrrhic victories and mopey heroes.

The "Rebirth" brand at DC was never one of rebooting.  In both Flash Rebirth and Green Lantern Rebirth, continuity remained intact, but DC brought back longstanding characters and principles to characters and concepts that had strayed from the sort of Platonic ideal of those characters.  In Flash, we saw the return of Barry Allen full time for the first time since Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Wally, Bart, Jay and everyone else would be around, but Barry was our focal Flash - complete with a new backstory that didn't reflect the pre-Crisis DCU continuity (Nora Allen was murdered).  Green Lantern saw the return of Hal Jordan to the land of the living, the Parallax storyline transmogrified into epic space opera that spun out the colored rings.  Both of these I enjoyed.

Rebirth is not another Crisis.   It seems to be retaining the New 52 continuity, so far anyway, and is really not so much an answer as a gigantic question mark both from a story and editorial perspective.  Or, rather, a series of questions marks or possible paths for all of us who walked away from DC to consider what teasers from the books we'd be interested in pursuing with our dollars.

Everything from here below contains spoilers.  You're on your own if you keep reading.

Wally West as Narrator

I am hesitant to say Wally is "my Flash", as I've always been as open about characters wearing the name "The Flash" from Jay to even sort of accepting Bart's briefly tenure as The Flash in one of the worst 12-issue runs I've ever seen on a comic.  But Wally was the Post-Crisis Flash, my path into DC Comics as a kid when I wasn't reading Batman or Teen Titans.  And, Johns' writing of Wally was what turned me from a casual Flash reader into a Flash fan.  I don't have anything against Waid, but for whatever reason I didn't pick up those comics in the era when he was writing Wally.

But seeing Wally - a character who I've always thought of as all heart - coming back into a DCU that has a thin line between heroes and villains at any given time, trying to find the anchor point that can take him back - that was good stuff, and it's hard to imagine anyone but Johns coming up with the idea and give it such emotional resonance.

That moment when Barry and Wally are reunited genuinely worked - Wally's acceptance of his fate, Barry's moment of realization, his guilt - all the character moments that DC has been devoid of since Flashpoint.

Of course the New 52 has a Wally West.  So, a lot of handwaving took place on page around that, just as hand waving will, no doubt, be required for continuity changes to take hold across the new DCU.


Oh, what to say about Batman?   I'm not keeping up with Batman or Justice League, but I know the Bat-Cave when I see it.  I dropped the bat-titles the minute the Joker cut off his face, which now appears to be re-attached.  And now he's got a Hitler Youth haircut, it seems.

Batman may be asked to change a bit with Rebirth, but it's difficult to believe it'll be by much.  If any character in the DCU could have used a cleaner slate in recent years, it's Batman and his accumulated Robins, but this may fix a bit of that up, but somehow Batman always gets a pass.  Sales, I guess, but it's created a bit of a mess.

There are now three Jokers, however, and that's maybe one of the largest question marks not of the Bat-mystery to come, but it certainly seems to be suggesting a future for the publishing wing to wrangle.  I don't know if speculating upon either in story or publishing decisions is a great idea, but...  we'll hold off on that one until later.

From that first panel of Superman in the New 52's Justice League, I've never been able to believe that the guy in the red cape was Superman.


I still tend to believe that Grant Morrison's Action Comics run in the New 52 was more or less his commentary upon what he was being told by DC about how the "new" Superman would and should be way kick-ass.  But after a very quick time, DC seemed to have realized that they couldn't really do that - as a "kick-ass" Superman creates a slippery slope to "super powered fascist" or bully.  And, so, we got Clark Kent moping around for 52 issues of his two main titles.

That bad-ass version of Superman that first appeared in the New 52?  Grant Morrison got what Justice League (and Johns himself, it seems) did not - that the cocky Superman of 1938 was having a bit of fun as he took apart crooks and thieves that were preying on the unfortunate - unfortunates that we saw in panel, not in abstraction.  He was upending the dominance the powerful could have over the weak, putting them in the position of the down trodden as he disassembled their machinations.  And he was having fun doing it.  A Superman who just punches first and asks questions later was quite a different thing.

Convergence brought in a version of Lois Lane and Clark Kent who seem to be from the pre-Flashpoint continuity.  They had their own well-received mini-series, and from the first solicitation of that series, it seemed like something at DC was underway.

During the Convergence event, I had intentionally spent money on spin-off issues that harkened back to the pre-Flashpoint era of Superman, winding up with quite a few Superman-in-red-shorts comics along the way (the Convergence series itself was dreadful in almost all respects).  I was voting with my dollars, telling DC they could possibly expect my money might flow back toward their comics if we could expect a Superman who wasn't hiding out and feeling sorry for himself in the main titles and if the character retained any of the personality that I associated with the prior incarnations of Superman.

The Lois and Clark test balloon seems to have been a catalyst for needed change at DC, at least in the Super books, and it seems DC will be putting married Lois and Clark front and center with their son, Jon.  But...

Man, if I thought the "Matrix Supergirl" of the 90's was some tortured storytelling to get us part-way to a Supergirl - this is just painful.  A twice-refugee Superman who isn't the right Superman, and who can't take on the name "Clark Kent" without drawing down all sorts of suspicion...  how is this going to work?

We'll have to see.

Other Tidbits

There really wasn't enough here to comment upon Wonder Woman, but I am looking forward to the semi-monthly Wonder Woman book coming, especially as half of those issues will feature a new Year One Wonder Woman and commentary on Wonder Woman's lack of proper editorial oversight since Karen Berger left the book.

I was not a fan of the Earth-2 concept as executed in the New 52.  DC has a lot of history built around the JSA, whether you refer to pre-Crisis Earth-2 JSA or post-Crisis JSA.  After Johns departed JSA, DC certainly stumbled with the main title, and the New 52 Earth-2 stuff always seemed like it lacked focus.  I guess they took the path of making Superman a bad guy, which, ugh (although I almost picked it up just to see the new Superman of Earth-2).  Seeing an ancient Johnny Thunder was kind of fun and I'd like to see a return of the JSA.  Well, a well executed JSA with ties to by-gone eras.

I have no feel whatsoever for the Green Lantern business.  I don't know theses characters, and I've already got a dozen or so GL's I kinda care about.

We saw something of Aquaman, Mera and Aqualad.  I'm not one to necessarily toss away decades of established continuity when it comes to sexuality of characters, but Aqualad is so new and undefined to date other than "African American youth who seems to swim around a bit", nothing we can't take a new angle on.   Of the JL'ers, Aquaman is maybe the one I know about/ care about the least, and I'm not sure this would change that, but...  I dunno.  Nothing too crazy here.

A few years back, I loved John Rogers' take on Blue Beetle starring Jaime Reyes.  It dropped the whole "Blue Beetle Scarab as mystic artifact" for "Scarab as alien artifact/ precursor to invasion".  The story was fantastic and lifted for the really pretty good Young Justice cartoon.  I liked Jaime, his supporting cast, the location (El Paso, man!  The city itself could have spawned a hundred more stories.),  the alien plot, and Jaime's characterization.  The New 52 Blue Beetle... was not good.  Declaring the scarab is once again magical... I have mixed feelings, at best.  But, will pick up some Blue Beetle if they're going to try this again, especially with Ted Kord alive and involved.

That Whole Watchmen Tie-In

I get it.  I get the meta-commentary, which has been talked to death on the internet and I kind of guessed at in my post a few days ago.  But I also sort of wish they'd just let it be.  I'm okay with the implied Dr. Manhattan connection, but I am far less excited by the notion that Dr. Manhattan's hand is very specifically the one we might see at the beginning of the DCU (as longtime DCU fans will recall) - and very, very unexcited for the idea that there's going to be a Watchmen/ DCU cross-over event of any kind.  I don't care about it, I don't want to see those concepts literally facing off, I simply don't think it's even appropriate to retaining dignity for either (but, man, when did Didio's DC have dignity?  What am I even saying?).

I literally groaned when Batman found the Comedian's button in the Batcave, not just because - jesus, we're really doing this? - but because it's so stupid.  And on the nose.  And easy.  And lazy.

Give me my abstraction, my hint that Dr. Manhattan might have been the one who did this - that's kind of fun!  But turning it into a cross-over event just... zzzzzz....   it's no way to start off a new direction for your comics.  (Also, my god, leave Watchmen alone, DC.  You're carting around the corpse for two-bits a gander at this point.)

Fan Theory/ Idle Speculation

Hey, remember those three Jokers?  One of them clearly a Golden Age homage?  One from the 1980's?  One from this modern era?

I'm just going to put this right here

If we don't have at least two concurrent published universes by the end of 2017, I'll be a little surprised.  This is probably a lot more satisfactory solution to that DC You idea they had going on for a whole month or two.  A "modern" DCU with continuity heaped high, a Bronze Age with - maybe- a clean slate, and a Golden Age with the start of the DCU characters in all new adventures.  I can see it, maybe.

No idea how this works or what they'll actually do, but this image keeps popping up, and it seems like it means something, I guess.


Stuart said...

I would love the three universes theory to be true.

Fantomenos said...

Didn't read it, but Wonder Woman is on my pull list, and I'm not sorry to see the Finch era be done. Rucka's return is promising...

The League said...

If Rebirth got Fantomenos to resurface, I feel like it's already doing some part of its job.