I briefly considered making a video about this… but I have other work to do – a Chain Reaction, a 400th episode, just life in general… so here’s a lengthy discussion of DC Universe Rebirth.

Beware: here there be spoilers… and we’re going to talk about spoilers first.

People have been asking for my opinions about the DC Rebirth thing for a while now and I had hoped that talking briefly about it during the Blue-Skying retrospective would get people to stop asking, but unfortunately that was not the case – with continual requests of my thoughts and opinions about a thing that we had zero knowledge about beyond teaser posters and vague interview answers. I know that people would like to hear my speculation, but honestly I don’t feel comfortable sharing a bunch of speculation about stuff like this, especially when we’ve been burned so many times before. I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know.

And unfortunately, people have this tendency to tell me things I didn’t know… and didn’t want to know.

If you’ve been paying attention to my twitter from the last few days, I’ve been on kind of a kick lately. Namely that kick is: PLEASE STOP SENDING ME SPOILERS. I’m not angry at anyone in particular, but it IS a bit frustrating. I actively try to avoid leaks and spoiler info. I especially am not going to share thoughts publically about something if it’s a major spoiler for people who haven’t seen/read/etc. yet and ALSO want to be surprised. Now some people admitted their wrongdoing in that way because they didn’t realize the Rebirth hadn’t been released yet. Fair enough… but please exercise discretion. While it’s still a BIT of a spoiler since it reveals there’s something to be spoiled, it is MUCH better to ask, “Have you heard about this book yet?” rather than outright saying, “What are your thoughts on [MAJOR SPOILER]?” It alters how I end up experiencing the book. Instead of just embracing DC Rebirth as it was intended, my entire view on it was colored by the spoiler.

I know people are interested in my thoughts, but please exercise some common courtesy. Remember, guys: I am a windbag. I just spent all these paragraphs talking about spoilers instead of what you actually clicked this message about. If I have something to say, I will say it. Usually at annoying length.

But let’s get to finally talking about Rebirth. And because I DO want people to be warned about it: spoilers. A lot of ‘em.

The reason why I’ve been so silent about this whole thing is because… well, we knew nothing. And now… we still know nothing. Well, I tell a lie, we know a few things. One is the major spoiler that I’ll be discussing here (not the Captain America one – you want my opinion there, go read my tumblr or my twitter – it’s much more brief), but the others are the actual story of DC Universe Rebirth Special #1, which really feels more like a tease. It’s a GOOD tease, I will grant you, and follows a pattern that Geoff Johns has done before. The best comparison I could make to this comic would be Countdown to Infinite Crisis, since it follows a somewhat similar structure, although zigs in several places. So what is DC Rebirth? I dunno. It LOOKS like it’ll be another reboot, or just what I had BRIEFLY speculated on before: a soft-reboot wherein they’ll just incorporate the pre-New52 universe into the New 52 universe in the hopes of not alienating the audience of the New 52 while placating people lost from the New52.

The story is about Wally West, trapped in the Speed Force thanks to the events of Flashpoint, trying to break into the New 52 universe and get people to remember how things were before. Somehow he’s been deaged and is in the Kid Flash costume… because. He does explain that someone saw the events of Flashpoint and, when the comic was being resolved, intervened and screwed things up, resulting in the New 52. Specifically, “ten years” were stolen. That could mean anything from the Golden Age to ten various years throughout the DC Universe (a year here, a year there) that were changed in dramatic ways, or even just pushing things forward. It’s not entirely clear other than someone is responsible for all of this, resulting in a world that is darker, legacies being erased, and bonds between heroes were broken. You know, basically listing all the larger issues with the New 52, although of course this is also mentioned that the darkness had been drifting in for some time before this.

Now let me back up for a second and once again point out Geoff Johns’ main failing as a writer: he treats retcons like a hammer – he keeps using them to smash down the problems that rise up from the book. Now the good use of a retcon here is implying that the New 52 is the fault of a specific figure, a villain or some such thing that the heroes will have to confront in the hopes of making things right again. That’s okay – that’s trying to take a bad story and building on it to turn it into something good. For example, Marvel did something similar in “Avengers Forever,” a limited series that took a bunch of continuity errors, character derailment, and just downright stupidity that had happened in several storylines and tied it altogether into a GOOD story. Sure, it was never the original INTENT when those stories were made, but it retconned things to try to take something that was derided and build on it, fixing mistakes instead of ignoring them.

The bad use of a retcon, however, is when Geoff can’t remember that he’s already done this before. There are several examples of this that I pointed out in the Blackest Night review – he creates a retcon to fix something… and then forgets years later that he ALREADY retconned it. It’s just that the original retcon didn’t stick or that he doesn’t care about that explanation anymore, since he just feels like he has a BETTER story to tell. Sometimes, he does genuinely have a better story, but that kind of fast and loose playing with continuity is a bit of a dick move, especially when it comes to completely UNNECESSARY retcons.

The retcon I refer to here is this “Darkening” of the DC Universe, that it had been happening for a while. The problem is that he HAS already addressed this. Back in Infinite Crisis, the villains of that story believed that the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths single universe was a joyless, dark place where moral complexity had replaced moral absolutes… and that this was a corruption, some kind of dark infection that showed their world wasn’t worth saving. It was a meta commentary on how superhero comics, since the mid-80s with stuff like Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns and other such tales, had encouraged writers to be darker in their stories, with more antiheroes and heroes that were more willing to do ethically-questionable things. However, the ultimate point of the story was that… no, the nostalgic world that came before was not as perfect as you might think and that ultimately there was no dark infection or corruption, just that… well, things change. The villains of Infinite Crisis were unwilling to recognize that while crappy things had happened post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, there had been a whole lot of GOOD, too.

Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t like the New 52. I don’t like how haphazardly it was created, I don’t like the general dark atmosphere (sometimes literally, since some of the digital coloring techniques don’t want to acknowledge that the afternoon exists) that permeates a lot of characters’ outlooks, the resetting of personalities and retelling of stories done better before, or just the general incompetence of some of the creative decisions made. But there HAVE been good books in the New 52. There have been well-told stories, heartwarming and heartbreaking stories, and plenty of GOOD creative decisions, as well. Don’t get me wrong – I’d love nothing more than to return to the Pre-New 52 stuff, but it feels a little hypocritical that the hero we’re rooting for is now espousing an outlook that had been expressed by villains ten years ago in a story Geoff Johns also wrote. That could just be Goeff Johns himself changing his attitudes about such things. That could also be just different situations because the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DCU is a very different one to the New 52 DCU, where the villains would have had a point if they were talking about THIS version of events. I don’t know, though, it just feels a bit off.

However, one of the things that is DEFINITELY acknowledged as a mistake made by the New 52 was erasing the Justice Society – making it so that the Golden Age of Heroes had never happened. Admittedly, the problem with the sliding scale of comic book time means that in thirty years, it’s going to be even more unbelievable that there’d be World War II heroes running around in modern day, so I think they were trying to head that off at the pass, but the solution is to retire them peacefully, not pretend they didn’t happen at all. Maybe even start undoing the sliding scale altogether and start building on the DCU’s legacy even further. Superman is an alien and will probably live forever, fine… but that just means he can serve as a guide to a true newer generation taking up the legacies of others, continuing to act as an inspiration. Sure, movies and TV shows will always have Bruce Wayne as Batman and Dick Grayson as Robin, but the comics are not beholden to anything like that. The market share is just too small these days. You want your shared universe to have an ongoing story? Actually make it BE an ongoing story. People get old, get married, have kids, and eventually die or at least retire. But that’s just my opinion on it. One of the things that DC HAS proven though is that legacy characters DO work and sometimes will be more popular than those who came before them. Still, I’m looking forward to another return of the JSA.

There’s hinting for other storylines coming in the Rebirth books. Some of it is stuff I care about, others not so much. But I also appreciate that it’s stuff that others DO care about. On the subject of stuff I do care about is the return of Ted Kord, now working with Jaime. It’s continuing on from his New52 stuff, so I guess the end of Threshold DID send him home (I feel like I should review the individual issues of that, but I don’t know what else I’d say beyond what I said in Blue-Skying: that it’s just dumb and boring and nonsensical and the ending is a big middle finger to the readers for not embracing its dumb, boring, nonsensicalness). He’s come to Ted Kord to try to get the scarab off of him, but Ted sees it as a calling for them to work together and make the world better. One thing I REALLY appreciate after reading his New52 series, though, is that Ted IS indeed a nice guy in this world who isn’t trying to exploit Jaime or anything like that or start a fight with him. Jaime finally has a BREAK, and given that he has to leave to go to school in this, he was probably reunited with his friends and family.

GOOD.

Not so good, however, is Johns hammering the Retcon again. Dr. Fate shows up to warn Ted that the scarab is NOT alien technology, but magic.

Are you kidding me with this? What the hell purpose does it serve to do change it BACK to magic? Was there anyone out there who was clamoring for a magic scarab? It makes absolutely zero sense for it to be magic given everything we’ve seen in the New 52… and if this is an attempt to restore things to how they were Pre-New 52, it wasn’t REALLY magic there, either! And what, does this mean the scarab talking to him was an illusion by “the darkest of sorcerers,” as Dr. Fate calls them? The only thing I will grant this, however, is Ted’s reaction: a big grin as he exclaims, “Magic?” as if this idea is absolutely fascinating to him. It’s good to see characters smile and be excited about this. And hell, I will grant you that the idea of Ted, a tech wizard, mentoring a magical superhero is a pretty nifty idea… but at the same time, it’s just a completely unnecessary retcon that makes no sense. I’m hoping it won’t actually play out that way, but we’ll see. It’s the kind of hook that I want to know more about and see where they go with it, because while it’d be a completely unnecessary retcon, it might make for a really damn good story. But again: we’ll see.

And then there’s Geoff Johns being Geoff Johns with needing to kill a character. In this case it is Pandora, the new character who was supposed to be a big deal when the New 52 launched… when in reality it was just set up for Trinity War and the event comic “Forever Evil,” neither of which were particularly all that good. Somehow, she knows who is responsible for all this and swears the heroes of the DCU embody hope and that they’ll win through, but then she’s disintegrated. It’s just cruel and unnecessary death for a character who probably had some potential.

But while Geoff Johns has this problem of killing or maiming characters for dumb, DUMB reasons, he will also still try to justify the existence of ones that some might find redundant. For example, when he did Green Lantern: Rebirth, he could have killed off Kyle Rayner to make way for Hal, but instead he made it clear that they were equals and both deserved to exsit. In this case, there’s been a lot of growling about the Wally West of the New 52 – namely that he’s a black kid. Some just don’t like it because they’re kinda racist, others just don’t like the resetting and changing of a character that came before, but here it’s a retcon that justifies both existing – that they’re NOT the same Wally West, but rather cousins, both named after the same Grandfather. I can dig it.

Wally ultimately meets up with Barry and says his farewells, as the Speed Force is starting to claim him. He warns him about trying to get Batman to piece together the real culprit behind this and for a second it looks like he’s going to die… but here’s one of this zigs I mentioned from before from Countdown to Infinite Crisis. In that story, Ted Kord was killed after his heroic last stand. Here, Wally makes his heroic speech about having an amazing life and finally accepts death… and Barry says “screw that” and saves him. What’s more, the universe is actually incorporating him into the New52 universe, trying to erase his memories and replace them, even pointing out the Teen Titans stuff that was going on over in Titans Hunt. I’m excited to see where things go from here…

…but of course there’s the big spoiler. The thing that people have REALLY been asking me about the last several days. Last chance, people. Stop reading here if you don’t want more spoilers.

Ready?

Okay, so we soon see Batman discovering something in the batcave – specifically… the Comedian’s smiley-face pin with a bloodstain on it. The one from Watchmen.

Yeah. Watchmen.

The implication in the Epilogue is that Dr. Manhattan is the one who created the New 52 universe. It is NOT, as some have stated in the spoilers said to me, that he created the DCU altogether. I can understand why some might think that given his remarks at the end of Watchmen, but no, this was clearly something that was altered.

Anyway, people want my thoughts about the Watchmen thing… except of course it’s pretty obvious what my thoughts are, because as I said I’m not exactly quiet when it comes to expressing my opinions: that it’s stupid, that it infringes on a classic, that it’s not intended to be a part of the DCU, blah blah blah.

Yeah, no. We’re not talking about that. We’re going to talk about WHY. Because decisions are not made arbitrarily. No one woke up one day at DC and said, “Hey, Watchmen as part of the DC Universe canon! LET’S DO IT.” No, this was a decision that required thought and planning and a REASON for why they chose to do it. So what IS that reason?

Well, it was joked on twitter recently that DC seems to only remember that it’s ever done three stories: The Dark Knight Returns, the Killing Joke, and Watchmen. These three stories in particular get a lot of attention and a lot of referencing, oftentimes even by people who otherwise don’t normally read comics. The Dark Knight Returns in particular has entire sequences being lifted for Batman v Superman and is attributed (sometimes incorrectly) for things about Batman and how the character works up to today.

Watchmen, in that regard, is often cited as the Citizen Kane of superhero comics – as in “The best” ever made. Whether it deserves that honor or not is up for debate, but its place in history cannot be denied. With such an honor, though, comes attention and marketing and, well, money. It’s money that has prevented the rights of Watchmen to revert back to Alan Moore, as was initially agreed and one of the many things that rightfully has pissed him off. For those who don’t know, Alan Moore made an agreement with DC when he wrote the book that he would own it once it officially left print. It didn’t seem like an unfair agreement at the time since graphic novels and trade paperbacks back in the 80s were not exactly something you saw continually being printed. While the amount of readers of comics would continue to grow significantly until the market crash, books enter print for a while and then stop being printed, since eventually there comes a point where demand has waned because, well, everybody who wants one has it. However, Watchmen has never left print. Ever. Because a book like that, which again is heralded as THE superhero comic, the hugest book and most “important,” for lack of a better term, comic that deconstructs the genre is something that gets people’s attention, gets them to read it and continually buy it 30 years later.

But here’s the problem with Watchmen: it’s just one book. Money is not made on just one book. Money is made on movies, toys, video games, statues, essays, advertising, TV shows, tie-in material, T-shirts, crossovers… in other words: money is made on franchises. But Watchmen is just. One. Book. In 2010, DC made an offer to Alan Moore – that they would finally just GIVE the rights to Watchmen back to him if he agreed to produce a sequel and a prequel. He turned them down, but two years later DC went ahead with “Before Watchmen,” a series of prequel miniseries that DC could churn out. Of course there was outrage and turning of heads and a general gnashing of teeth… but they sold. The first four prequel comics each broke 100,000 sales upon their release, with others either at those same numbers or close to them, often putting them in the Top 10 sales for the month. Now, in terms of the grand scheme of things, comic sales of that high are great for the comic market, but not for the greater public at large to consume… but it’s also nothing to scoff at. It’s still PROFITABLE.

But the Watchmen characters, by design, are limited to what you can do with them when they’re stuck in their own world. Once you’ve done the prequels, the only place you can go from there is a sequel, which while I’m sure WOULD be profitable, would have the same problem that the prequels had and the original book has – you can’t really bring these characters into the mainstream while they’re stuck in their own little universe. Marvel has proven with the cinematic universe that even Ant-Man can have a successful movie, that characters who the general public will look at you funny if you mention them and ask “Who?” can have widespread appeal and attention if they’re given a larger focus. The Watchmen movie was just an adaptation of the source material. It did fine on its own, made back its budget and a small profit, but again: limited by what can be done with it. You can’t franchise this one story. Harry Potter’s popularity has not been built around JUST the first novel. Marvel’s cinematic universe is not built around ONE film being retold and with prequels leading up to it.

Watchmen is a well-known, popular, critically-acclaimed graphic novel that has been in print for 30 years. And DC can’t exploit that to its fullest potential because it’s just. One. Book.

Batman movies will keep getting rebooted every 10-20 years as new filmmakers make their own versions of his first adventure. There will be MULTIPLE comics headlining Batman and his expanded cast of characters that tell new stories and create new toys and new storylines for cartoons to be made about him. But Watchmen is just one story. You can certainly still profit on it with merchandising, but it’s a 30 year-old comic that was groundbreaking for its time and while still critically-acclaimed, is also just a singular story that isn’t producing new material. It’s something that is still in the public eye, and yet not churning out the merchandising and licensing and MONEY that DC so desperately needs.

So why is DC incorporating Watchmen into the continuity of the main DC Universe? Because it is a property under their control that is wildly popular but by its nature cannot be exploited to make them more money. So the only way to correct that… is to change its nature and make it a part of the DC Universe. There can be new stories featuring these characters, new crossovers and story potentials, and new marketing possibilities as their appearances are put into a new lens and a potential new audience who will buy them up in droves if they take off in popularity. The Before Watchmen comics proved that you could slap the name onto comics featuring these characters that did not involve the original creators and that people would buy them.

Do I think this is a good thing? Of course I don’t. I’m going to make jokes about it and mock it, but it doesn’t matter what I say about it. DC has been getting its ass kicked for a while now, so they’re doing what they can to try to make themselves more money. I will not support their decision in this regard, but I get why they’re doing it.

That all having been said, despite several hiccups and problems with it, I enjoyed the Rebirth special. I’m hoping this DOES mean a turnaround for DC, a better DC Universe as a whole, and just altogether a renaissance of creativity. That’s all we can really hope for in the end.

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