IF YOU HAVE NOT READ DC UNIVERSE REBIRTH #1, DO NOT GO ANY FURTHER. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
It’s all Alan Moore’s fault.
There have been three major events in the world of comics:
1. Action Comics #1 (1938): Superman is introduced to the world [The Golden Age begins]
2. Showcase #1 (1956): The first appearance of The Flash [The Silver Age begins]
3. The Dark Knight Returns #1 / Watchmen #1 (1986): The deconstruction of the superhero and the introduction of reality into the four-colored world [The Bronze Age begins]
In 1986, the one-two punch of Dark Knight and Watchmen knocked us all out. True works of art that redefined what comic books could do and should do. But something went wrong. These two testaments became the gospel that the industry followed religiously. Left unchecked for decades, the world of comics became shrouded in darkness and despair. Heroes that once inspired hope became tainted by “our” world and no one seemed to know how to stop it.
Enter Geoff Johns. Johns is what I would call a comic book archivist; his stories always derive from the past and the legacies of the heroes he writes. Neverending stories, steeped in continuity, Johns takes the muddled and polishes it – everything becomes crystal clear. It’s what he does best and he knows it.
Back in 2011 things were such a mess in the DCU that Johns was called in to make the old new again – the result was The New 52. Wiping away everything that went on before, the DCU started over with all new #1 issues. A daring move that paid off… for about a year or so.
Much like before, the shadow of The Dark knight and Watchmen hung heavy over it all. Soon the excitement and luster of The New 52 began to fade. The bleakness weighed this new universe down. It surrounded every nine-panel grid, every word balloon, every caption. It was there all along.
“Why didn’t the new 52 work?” I’m sure Geoff Johns asked himself this question time and time again, and now, at long last, he has found the answer…
…it’s all Alan Moore’s fault.
Watchmen was the anomaly that has plagued the DCU since 1986. Alan Moore’s greatest work is a juggernaut that cannot be stopped. It cannot be contained; it is a virus that was unleashed and can never be put back. It has infected us all. The problem, that no one ever seemed to see as a problem is – “How do you cure the Watchmen disease?” Johns’s answer is simple: inoculation. Like a flu shot, Johns put the Watchmen into a syringe and gave the DCU a shot in the arm. Instead of trying to ignore or eradicate the virus, he took a little bit of it and used it against itself.
Rebirth #1 is the first step in restoring hope and love and wonder in the DCU, by saying that all the darkness that has corrupted it was Dr. Manhattan’s doing. That’s right, the Watchmen universe has now collided with the DCU.
Throughout the story of Rebirth, a “pre-New 52” Wally West (Kid Flash/The Flash) is traveling through the Speed Force, looking for people in the current “New 52” universe to warn. Warn them that there is a Force, a Being, that no one has ever seen before, that no hero has encountered before, that has been toying with the DCU. Like some kind of angry god, this never-before-seen threat is behind it all. Behind all the despair and apathy. This new enemy is Jon Osterman – Dr. Manhattan.
In the last act of Rebirth, Batman uncovers The Comedian’s bloodstained smiley face button in the back recesses of his Bat Cave. We then cut to Mars where a wrist-watch is reassembling itself, no doubt the work of an off-panel Dr. Manhattan. We then read the words written by Alan Moore all those years ago.
Adrian Veidt: “I did the right thing. It all worked out in the end.”
Dr. Manhattan: “End? Nothing ever ends.”
Bold stuff from Geoff Johns and stuff that I wasn’t sure how I felt about at first. When I got to the big reveal I stopped reading and said, “No. Don’t mess with Watchmen.” Watchmen is the Holy Grail of comics; you can’t defile its grandeur. But after a second reading and much pondering, I think it’s the only way to bring back the light into the DCU, and I’m all for it. Taking on Watchmen, Geoff Johns has made himself into David, ready to slay the Goliath that has dominated for far too long.
Go get’em Geoff!