*WARNING: Spoilers ahead for DC Universe: Rebirth Issue 1. Read at your own risk.*
Yesterday was a big day in the world of comics, with the start of a major shift in the DC Comics Universe thanks to the release of DC Universe: Rebirth Issue 1. The new event, spearheaded by writer and DC Comics creative chief Geoff Johns, is intended to bring a new sense of hope, optimism and positivity to the books. And it will do so by directly addressing the deconstructionist take on superheroes, as seen in the critically acclaimed Watchmen.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Johns discussed the influence of Watchmen on the comic book world, how Rebirth will address that and the big reveal at the end of Rebirth Issue 1.
Writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons broke the mold with Watchmen in 1986, weaving an intricate tale of washed-up superheroes past their prime and outlawed by the government. Their story flipped on its head the standard superhero story, showing characters who weren't paragons of truth, justice or the American way. Rather, their heroes were complicated, twisted and riddled with anxieties all their own. Of course, the story also had plenty of sex, drugs, murder and political intrigue. That grim and gritty style was revolutionary at the time, but to Johns it isn't the definitive mold for superhero storytelling. As the creator noted:
“I think ‘Watchmen’ is a great book, but I don’t think a cynical take on superheroes is the truthful one. Everyone says that’s the realistic look. I reject that because I think people at their base core are good.”
Bringing Everything Back
That's part of what Johns wants to get away from with Rebirth. The new narrative push spins out of DC's New 52 initiative, which started five years ago as a fresh reboot of the comics universe. DC's most iconic characters were reintroduced to fans with new costumes and at earlier points in their heroic careers, but to Johns something was lost in translation. Decades of continuity were essentially left by the wayside, and much of the dark influence of Watchmen and similar books crept back into the DCU. With Rebirth, Johns wants to acknowledge the positive aspects of The New 52 while bringing back the legacy of DC's past:
“I wanted to put all of it back. It all was real. I wanted to get away from the idea of a slash and burn reboot and more into an inclusive universe that was only growing by addition, not changing by subtraction.”
Rebirth Issue 1 attributes the darkness that's crept into the DCU to Watchmen. The new title reveals that Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan, an omnipotent superbeing with the ability to transcend and manipulate time and space, altered the original DCU to give birth to The New 52 Universe. That's a big deal for a couple of reasons. First, it adds Dr. Manhattan, and the entire cast of Watchmen, into the main DC Universe. The characters have traditionally existed in their own world. But more importantly, it's a direct critique of Watchmen's influence. Reflecting on the Dr. Manhattan reveal, the creator had this to say:
“He took things away that are starting to come back. I think that’s a compelling story to tell. Ultimately, what is the more powerful force, is it belief or disbelief?"
Johns isn't saying Moore and Gibbons' book doesn't have merit, but he is saying that it's had too much influence on the way superhero stories are told. To Johns, the optimism and legacy of the DC Universe is important. And while Watchmen is undoubtedly an influential book, it isn't the definitive take on superheroes.
Adding Dr. Manhattan as the antagonist of Rebirth adds a unique piece of meta-criticism to the new event. Johns is partially criticizing his own company and the comics community as a whole for the proliferating the dark, gritty and "realistic" style of Watchmen. He's saying that creators don't have to take that as the pinnacle of comic book storytelling, and in turn something they must emulate. In a sense, Rebirth is the anti-Watchmen, reconstructing a more optimistic superhero universe after decades of deconstruction.
What did you think of DC Universe: Rebirth Issue 1? Is it smart for Geoff Johns to tackle the influence of Watchmen head-on? Let us know in the comments.