Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Comic Book Review – DC Universe Rebirth #1 from DC Comics

As you might have heard on the last episode of the Needless Things Podcast, I was not super pumped up for DC Comics’ Rebirth event.

All of my life Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman have been the world’s greatest superheroes. Spider-Man was up there, too, but DC’s Trinity were, to me, the definition of “superhero”. They were what I thought of when someone would use that term. That’s not to say that I have spent my whole life reading all of their comics. I know them from TV, movies, and cartoons more than anything else. I’ve read Batman comics on and off my entire life and I’ve certainly read plenty of comic books featuring Superman and Wonder Woman, but I am by no means a DC expert.

I bought pretty much any Batman book that came out in the 90s. I read Death of Superman and followed the resulting comics pretty much until he came back. I think Bloodlines was the first line-wide event that sucked me in. Then Zero Hour got me. I can’t tell you if I truly enjoyed it or just got caught up in the sweeping epic-ness of the event, but I bought most, if not all, of those tie-ins and waited every week for the newest issues.

Around 2004 and 2005 I was getting back into reading comics and I remember trying both Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis. They were both confusing and deeply mired in the past continuities of DC. As someone with only partial knowledge of the secondary and tertiary charatcers, I was lost. I realize now that I was mistaking these events as an entry point for the DCU. I think I reasoned that a massive, line-wide event was a great time to bring in new readers.

By the time 52 came around I had gleaned enough from my prior attempts and from just being a comic book nerd on the internet to grok what was happening. There were still events that lost me a bit, but the narrative structure kept the momentum going, hopping around from scenario to scenario. None of the segments lasted long enough to truly lose me. And some of them got me invested in heroes I’d never read before, like Adam Strange.
At this point I’ve read Final Crisis, Blackest Night, and all of the other big events that happened up through the launch of the New 52. Some were better than others. Most lost their momentum at some point. Most were spread too thin across many books and sometimes I dropped titles I was enjoying due to their being mired in or sidelined by some big event.

I think if I have a point here – and I can’t guarantee that I do – it’s that DC Comics hasn’t been too concerned about being reader-friendly over the past couple of decades. And they certainly haven’t been worried about new readers. They’ve claimed that they have, but even the most “fresh start” New 52 titles had gobs of continuity hanging around.

But I’m not here today to criticize the New 52. I’ve done plenty of that as DC has disappointed me again and again over the past five years. Today I’m here to celebrate DC’s newest fresh start and the promise it represents for the future.

I have read DC Universe Rebirth #1 twice now and before I get any further I want to tell you to take your $2.99 plus tax to your Local Comic Book Shop and buy this 80-page comic book. It made me very happy and gave me the hope that Geoff Johns claims to want to bring back to the DCU. Every word of the story is an acknowledgement of everything DC has been doing wrong for not just the past five years, but perhaps the past thirty. I cannot help but be excited about what’s coming.

I am not going to spoil any of the major events or story beats of the book because I strongly believe that any comic book fan should experience Rebirth as I did – with no hints of what is to come and the ability to let the narrative sweep over them.

However, there’s no way to talk about the book without at least touching on certain things, so from here on out there could be very minor spoilers in that a few elements will be discussed. If you want to go into the book completely fresh, stop here.

If you need just a bit more convincing before you give DC another chance, read on.


This book was crafted with both new and old readers in mind. The story that unfolds is very easy to follow, both from a writing and artwork standpoint. I never got lost. I never had trouble navigating panels. The whole thing has a very clean, easy to understand layout. There aren’t any interminable strings of story-light splash pages or overwrought arrangements of bizarrely-shaped panels that take an hour to figure out.

I’d love it if this was DC’s new standard going forward and if those shitty, confusing art wank pages were a thing of the past.

While Rebirth relies heavily on continuity, it does so in a way that explains not only the story, but the context of how it fits into what’s going on. All of the exposition is laid out very clearly and the central and most relevant part is covered all at once. It isn’t spread out across the comic, making the reader jump around and struggle to keep track of the references. Each story and sub-plot is clearly laid out and explained. That’s not to say that there aren’t mysteries remaining at the end, but they’re compelling and intriguing rather than frustrating.

This story is meta in a way that I found ingenious. It left me hungry to find out where it will go. No more about that lest we get into big spoilers.

The comic opens with a mystery narrator. As I mentioned above I am no DC historian, but I knew before I got through the page exactly who was talking. It’s a pleasing and mild surprise. We follow this character through to a conclusion, which is both emotionally impactful and satisfying. I got very caught up even though I don’t have a huge attachment to the character. The storytelling did its job and got me invested.

Over the course of this story, the narrator interacts with several characters, some of whom I don’t think we’ve seen in quite some time. They will all fill you with joy because of the implications.

Naturally, our narrator visits Batman first. And naturally Batman already suspects that there is a problem with the DC Universe.

No – that’s not a spoiler – we all know that there’s a problem with the DC Universe.

Also, while I mostly like Batman’s new costume, I hate his new belt.

The characters that the narrator interacts with directly are very rewarding, but we also see many others over the course of the issue, presented for various reasons that I won’t get into here. The storytelling device makes it all work and the central point is that strange things are happening and changes are coming. You will see faces that will fill you with joy and they will be doing things that fill you with hope.

I think I can safely show you these panels, as the general nature of Rebirth is known at this point and, to me, these sum up the book:

If that doesn’t convince you to at least give this book a chance, nothing will. And the idea of who that hand belongs to is so big and so intimidating that I can’t believe it. They managed to introduce a brand new, terrifyingly powerful enemy to the DC Universe that created an immediate “OH SHIT” reaction. I stand in awe of what happened here and can’t wait to see fan response.

There are three genuinely amazing, history-making moments in Rebirth. Panels that will stay with me the rest of my life. It’s possible that DC will totally cock everything up and ruin their significance, but the emotions I felt will stick with me. The first had me welling up, the second dropped my jaw to the floor, and the final… The final sent nerd chills through me that dwarfed the ones created by hearing John William’s Star Wars theme. My whole body was a-tingle with the implications.

I read DC Universe Rebirth #1 without cynicism and I loved it. I opened myself up to the possibility that DC can still get it right, and eighty pages of story made me a believer. If you can shut off that jaded fanboy or fangirl and lock them in the back of your brain for half an hour, I think you might be able to feel the same hope that I do for the future of DC.

Side Note: I’m going to look like an idiot if I don’t acknowledge that DC could drop the ball on the promise of this comic book. So I’ll say I’m cautiously optimistic.

But I’m really not. I’m excited and jubilant and hopeful.

Don’t let me down, DC.

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