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DC Universe Rebirth #1 Review

After months of questions, announcements and even a leak, DC Comics finally launched their new Rebirth initiative Wednesday, with the the release of DC Universe Rebirth #1. The 80-page, one-shot comic is written by DC COO and universe architect Geoff Johns with art from several famed artists including Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis and Phil Jimenez. The book sets the stage for the relaunch, which will meld elements of classic DC continuity with the company’s 2011 New 52 reboot timeline.

The book itself is broken up into four distinct chapters and an epilogue, each written by Johns with art from one or two of the previously referenced artists. The first chapter, featuring art from Frank and Van Sciver, begins with an initially unknown narrator watching Batman work in the Batcave. Said narrator discusses how they’re trapped outside the normal flow of time, one remembers them and that they have to make contact with someone before it’s too late. Suddenly the narrator reveals himself to Batman as the pre-New 52 version of Wally West. He retains his memories from his time as the Flash, but looks noticeably younger and is wearing his old Kid Flash costume. He’s briefly able to communicate with Bruce before he once again loses physical form. From there, Wally narrates over flashbacks of his back story and the 2011 Flashpoint event that reset the DCU and birthed the New 52. However, West reveals that an unknown force actually orchestrated the event, and that the New 52 Universe isn’t entirely an alternate one. Rather it’s one where this god-like force completely removed 10 years of history, leading to many people disappearing, heroes getting younger, relationships changing, etc.

The next two chapters, with restive art from Frank and Reis, find Wally checking in on various people in the DC Universe attempting to contact any of them. We also catch glimpses of other characters well. Wally eventually tracks down the person he’s been looking for–his wife, Linda Park. Believing her to be the only person who can bring him back, he’s devastated to learn she has no memory of him. Heartbroken, Wally resigns himself to fading away into the speed force and losing all memory of himself and his history. First though he decides to visit his uncle Barry Allen aka Flash to thank him for everything. Initially, Barry, like everyone else, has no idea who Wally is. However, Barry suddenly remembers and is able to pull Wally out of the speed force and give him physical form. The two pontificate on what cosmic force it is that’s been pulling the universe’s strings, revealed in the epilogue to be Doctor Manhattan of Watchmen fame.

There is a great deal to unpack from DC Universe Rebirth #1, both as a single comic book and as a launching point for the entire Rebirth initiative. The best place to start is with the two major continuity shake-ups the book brings. I like the way Johns’ handles the melding of the classic and New 52 universes. The concept that the two aren’t distinct parallel realities but rather that the 2011-created universe is the original one with a decade of time removed from it is an interesting one. It essentially allows DC to have their cake and eat it to by giving them the freedom to reintroduce elements of the classic continuity that fans like myself have yearned for while at the same time keeping the elements of the reboot continuity that worked. I also liked the thought that went into explaining the seeming contradictions that that approach would bring up, such as the New 52 Wally West not being an alternate version but rather a cousin who was named after the same distant relative. There are still some remaining questions of course, like how were the JSA’s 1940s exploits erased if only a recent decade was removed from the timeline, or what exactly the point of revealing there have actually been three separate Jokers is, but I’m optimistic those will be answered in tone.

The somewhat more controversial change has been the introduction of characters from Watchmen into the DC Universe proper. In the 30 years since its run, the characters from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons magnum opus have remained completely separate from the company’s other offerings. Personally it doesn’t bother me, perhaps because I don’t hold Watchmen in quite the same regard as others. It’s a great book, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t see it as something that can never be revisited. Beyond that, I don’t see how introducing Doctor Manhattan as a recurring character or potential antagonist in any way damages the standalone readability of the original work. I’m also curious about how the other Watchmen characters fit into the DC Universe, which they apparently will judging by Batman’s discovery of the Comedian’s button in the Batcave.

Moving beyond the major continuity changes, DC Universe Rebirth #1 is a strong read as a standalone comic, however, it does have some issues. Choosing Wally West as the narrator and main character was wise. Not only was he the most missed classic DCU character fans were clamoring for, he’s also the character Geoff John has historically written best for. This issue proves to be no different as Wally’s narration immediately pulls readers in and gives them a personal stake in the conflict.

Longtime DC fans will also enjoy some of the cameos from other characters Wally attempts to contact, who include an aged and nursing home-bound Johnny Thunder who maintains memories of the pre-New 52 Justice Society of America, Ryan Choi is reintroduced to the DCU as a protege of Ray Palmer, and old and new Blue Beetle’s Ted Kord and Jamie Reyes are working together. Therein lies the issue’s one major plot problem however. While DC super-fans will enjoy these appearances, and the litany of other references to the company’s history and legacy, new fans who don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the characters may find the story confusing and disjointed. While that’s an issue anytime it happens, it’s exacerbated by the fact that this one-shot is supposed to draw in readers to the new DC line.

Artistically, the book is a bit all over the place. Reis, Van Sciver, Frank and Jimenez are all very different artists with very different styles that don’t mesh together. The chapter divisions help ease transitions between pencillers, and no section is bad. However the book doesn’t really have any artistic flow to speak of. Jimenez’s portion is probably m personal favorite of the four, if for no other reason than the  gorgeous two-page spread of Barry and Wally’s reunion.

Though it does have a few issues, I would absolutely recommend DC Universe Rebirth #1 to any fans of the company who’ve fallen off since the New 52 began. It reestablishes old continuity, returns beloved characters and lays the groundwork for a potential future conflict with Doctor Manhattan that will be very interesting to read if for no other reason than to see if it can be pulled off.

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