This week DC Comics released their first installment to the Rebirth initiative to much hype and controversy based around the books content, usage of non New 52 characters and strong allusion’s to Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons seminal classic, The Watchmen. After all that, I can safely report that DC Rebirth feels like a Geoff Johns comic, nothing more and nothing less. There are some great moments, some points of tedium and a confusing internal logic that are all hallmarks of the writers back catalogue and they are on full display here.
Geoff Johns has been perhaps DC Comics most successful creator since the Silver Age in terms of the success and influence he’s had on the company at large. The amount of comics he’s done is immense, he’s taking a turn on almost every major character or team at the publisher, he’s consistently been a top seller and he’s ascended to the role of Chief Creative Officer with the company where he has worked on DC’s successful TV adaptations. Throughout the years, Johns has often been called on by DC to do event comics that, at least partially, had the intention of straightening out the publisher’s patch worked continuity of a shared universe. These are typically his worst comics as the books painstakingly go out of there way to find semi-plausible solutions while tacking on an emotional moment at the conclusion to give the story gravitas. DC Rebirth is a similar format but it’s much better then his past work in that regard. While having 60+ pages in total content, DC Rebirth #1 actually feels relatively concise for the amount of content and the main-line plot about Wally West trying to escape the speed force ends up being pretty touching as a whole. The plot’s finale between West & Allen is especially heartfelt while being aided in some beautiful artwork. The books art is an assemblage of Johns closest collaborators off iconic runs from the writers past including Ethan Van Sciver, Garry Frank, Ivan Reis and Phil Jimenez. At points it feels inspired while other pages read as “generic superhero” New 52 house style that’s always seemed like Johns preferred aesthetic for his comics anyway. DC Universe Rebirth as a comic is fine and at times inspired, by compressing itself to one single issue it manages to tell it’s story and advance it’s plot in a way that never feels listless or boring. But DC Rebirth is also a meta-commentary, and in a lot of ways it’s a very self serving one.
Spoilers start now
The entire premise of the DC Rebirth is predicated on this idea that the New 52 was caused by a shift in the timeline that is alluded to as being the consequence of The Watchmen. Geoff Johns has said that the conceit of the issue and his use of the Watchmen iconography is his take on the fact that DC comics needs more “optimism” and that Watchmen represents “pessimism”. There is a lot to unpack here but I’ll do my best. If you lack critical thinking skills, please stop reading going forward as I don’t have time for whatever verbal diarrhea you plan on sharing in the comments section.
First off, there is the big question, that being should DC Comics and it’s creators be using The Watchmen character’s or story in any way for their own work and the answer is a very simple Fuck & No. Hedi McDonald covered this very sufficiently in a Comics Beat post during the Before Watchmen days with a detailed timeline of DC Comics fractured relationship with Alan Moore that I’d reccomend reading before making any judgement on the matter. Furthermore, I understand the arguments for DC making Watchmen comics and I plan on addressing them on some level in my explanation. Alan Moore is the co-creator of The Watchmen, while the idea originally came to him from Charlton Comics characters, what they became was something very different right from the outset; Rorsach may be based off The Question but Rorsach became something else entirely in The Watchmen partially because of Alan Moore. Alan Moore created the book with the intent that it was a single, twelve issue story. He did not make it to be an ongoing comic series the way Siegel & Shuster did for Superman or Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko did for early Marvel. Those were comics that were made in a time period where the conception of Watchmen structurally was impossible. It was understood that their character’s were being created for the company they worked for and that if they chose to leave the books, someone would be taking their place. That doesn’t make the way those creators were treated by Marvel & DC any less shitty, but it’s not a viable comparrision with Watchmen for those reasons. This was Alan Moore’s story that he wanted to be twelve issues with characters and a setting that were his co-creations. So putting aside all the ways that DC Comics screwed over Moore and whether or not you think he was right or wrong; taking somebodies work that they created against that creators will and then using it for personal gain just because you can is a shitty thing to do as a creator. It was shitty of all the creators of Before Watchmen and depending on where Johns takes this story, it would be a pretty shitty thing for him to do as well. I say depending because The Watchmen’s role in Rebirth is brief and more used as a symbol then as participants of the story. Now, if a a year or two from now this issue turns out to be a setup where all of Moore’s co-creation becomes an active force within the DC Universe, that’s a really shitty thing for Johns to do fundamentally for the reason explained above. If they’re just purely symbols, then Johns get a pass on some level as the characters archetypes are being used as contrasts although it’s still a little gross just in the way that he’s leveraging his own executive power to use another creators work against that creators wishes.
The metaphorical concept that The Watchmen represent how DC made their superhero’s too dark during the New 52 is both a misread of Watchmen and revisionist history. Yes, Watchmen is a dark book but but that’s not all it is. There is equal part’s pessemism to optimism in addition to the Dr Manhattan concept which ultimately renders either idea a moot point. Personally, I find the ending of Watchmen, where humanity has not only survived but thrived following apocolypse to be far more optomistic then anything I’ve read from Geoff Johns. Which leads to the third point being that it’s arguable that Johns has as much to do with the direction DC Comics had taken to get to the New 52 and in reality, he’s probably more responsible for The New 52 then anything else. What’s made Johns such an iconic figure in comics, and DC Comics especially, has been his ability to modernize silver age charachters, most prominently in the writers excellent work on The Flash and Green Lantern solo titles. But what constitute modern is entirely fluid, what’s modern today won’t be ten years from now and while the current concept of modernizing comics owes a great debt to Johns for what he did at DC in the 2000’s, it’s also passed him by on some level in recent years where what Johns and co consider “modern” feel’s dated. At the start of The New 52, comics were at a tipping point that DC was on the wrong side of and it’s continued to hurt them in terms of market share and sales. Everything about The New 52 from it’s lead up to execution had Johns fingerprints all over it. Reading the backmatter of Flash: Rebirth, Johns alludes to The New 52 without going into details, he wrote and concieved the Flash Point miniseries which was primarily was used to create the New 52 and the entire inaitive in and of itself felt like an attempt to replicate Johns success on DC on Flash & Green Lantern with the entire fictional universe by modernizing it. Johns isn’t solely responsible for The New 52 but he had been a huge part of it from inception to execution. To point at Watchmen, even metaphorically, as the reason for The New 52 and it’s pessemism negates all the ways that Johns himself was involved.
In no way is DC: Universe Rebirth #1 the disaster it could’ve been and it’s has some truly bright spots. But it’s also like Captain America Steve Rogers in the way that it’s manufacturing buzz for it’s story out of manipulating continuity as oppssed to just being a really great comic. For all the talk those two books are getting, they pale in comparrision’s of pure quality to other issues realeased this week like Afterlife With Archie #9 or DC Comics own The Omega Men #12 whose final page is more interesting and penetrating then the entirety of DC Universe: Rebirth #1. This is comics, we talk about the movie’s more then books themselves, we get outraged towards perceived slights to fictional intellectual property that we think we know and the especially gullible actively chose sides between DC & Marvel comics as if they are anything more then corporate subsidiaries. That’s not why I write about comics and that’s not why I’ve devoted so much of myself to making Nothing But Comics whatever it is right now; it’s the idea that the art and expression in and of itself is what’s important to the medium. I could be in the minority in that regard but I believe it with every fiber of my being and I care about it passionately. DC Universe Rebirth could be a great for people who love DC Comics; for those like me that love comics it’s just fine and not much else despite all that it’s being made out to be.