With last week's DC Rebirth special and this week's four one-shot issues, DC Comics has taken another big leap forward with Rebirth - or backward, depending on whom you ask.
Fan-favorite characters Wally West (the white version) and Donna Troy are set to make returns. Classic romances like Green Arrow and Black Canary are being rekindled. Decades of continuity suddenly matter once again.
Flashpoint In The Pan
It's all an effort to step away from the New 52, the 2011 publisher-wide relaunch that saw new takes on classic characters to bring in new readers. The New 52 wasn't perfect - far from it, actually. Character histories were retooled in an effort to make stories more streamlined at the expense of making sense: Batman's five years as a vigilante were enough to move through four Robins, all at wildly different ages. Other characters like Green Lantern saw roughly no change at all, picking up right where they left off. Books were introduced and cancelled at a staggering pace to keep up the count of 52 series on shelves.
The New 52 was brash and irresponsible. It was also exactly what DC Comics needed.
See, the New 52 hit right about the time when I was getting back into comics. I had grown up on Ultimate Spider-Man and the occasional DC crossover ("Blackest Night" was and always will be a favorite of mine), but there wasn't any one series I would pick up on a regular basis. (Being a broke teenager may have been a factor, but I digress.) Then, in 2011, DC was prepping for its monumental transformation with the excellent "Flashpoint."
"Flashpoint" was a relatively simple, five-issue arc about The Flash doing what he always wished he'd done and saving his mother. This broke the timeline and left us with Thomas Wayne's Batman, Cyborg as a major player and a whole mess of other relatively forgotten characters getting miniseries and one-shots. When it came time for Flash to fix the universe (by running, what else), he wound up forming an entirely new patchwork universe with the intervention of who would be later revealed as a woman named Pandora. DC also used this as a chance to bring in some of its Wildstorm and Vertigo series, not unlike what Marvel did with last summer's "Secret Wars."
"Flashpoint" gave us a great Flash storyline for posterity, but better yet, it gave DC the clean slate it wanted.
Five years later, DC would call take-backsies and undo most of the major editorial decisions with Rebirth. But in its rush to complicate things again, DC overlooked what made the New 52 charming despite its faults. For instance:
DC's Old Continuity Was A Problem For New Readers
I say this with the utmost respect and affection: comics readers are not most people. While we reminisce about the time Arsenal thought a dead cat was his daughter, the general public probably couldn't tell you why Batman was once a pilgrim or recite the Green Lantern oath.
Have you ever read "Batman R.I.P.?" Please explain to me what that storyline is about. Honestly, I'm genuinely asking here.
Geoff Johns' Green Lantern is one of my favorite runs of comics. But it took me God-knows-how-many crossovers and Wikipedia articles to get to a basic place of understanding. That series is tons of fun for anyone willing to dive into the mythology, but I guarantee you that if you ask someone to tell you what a Manhunter is, they'll point to the green guy from the 2000s "Justice League" cartoon.
While there were plenty of ways for new readers to explore the universe, DC loved handing bigger projects to writers like Johns and Grant Morrison, who make mandatory references to Golden Age comics like they're going out of style.
The New 52 Brought Out DC's Fear Of Commitment
Remember "Voodoo?" "OMAC?" "Men of War?" "Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.?" DC might not either, as it cancelled these series after one or two arcs. Say what you will about the quality of the offerings, but the New 52's launch lineup was not lacking for variety. You had your mainstays, your supernatural books, your serious, grounded stories - whatever you wanted, the New 52 probably had something up your alley.
And yet, series were cycled at a blistering pace. As I mentioned before, the first year or so saw DC struggling to keep up its batch of 52 ongoing series on shelves at once. As soon as one was cancelled, another series would be introduced. It didn't do much for the quality of the books, and that count of 52 didn't last very long.
Say what you will about the quality of some books being kept alive way too long or the fact that DC keeps giving Deathstroke chance after chance after chance despite not selling; but for each of the series on life support, there was an "Animal Man" or an "I, Vampire," series that died off from poor sales despite critical acclaim.
There's also the DC YOU problem, the soft reboot of recent memory. Just as books like "Midnighter" and "Omega Men" were hitting their stride, DC was already looking ahead to Rebirth. That's not even considering all the diverse talent and characters that line brought forth.
The New 52 Made A Name For Itself And Stood Out
"Green Lantern" notwithstanding, the New 52 felt like a departure. Between "Flashpoint" and the weekly batches of debuts, the New 52 felt like a real, bona fide comic book event.
I've read the Rebirth one-shot and all four of this week's offerings, and I have one big question: What are we doing here? The Rebirth special, while monumental in its revelations, felt like the finale to a crossover we never got. Rather, the special is a laundry list of remedies to creative decisions that rubbed old fans the wrong way.
This week's four one-shots are good, but they don't quite feel like major first steps. There's a new Superman, but it's actually the old superman; also, he's much less fun than the Clark we saw in Greg Pak's "Action Comics" run for DC YOU. "Green Lanterns" sees yet another Green Lantern of Earth team up with the last new GL - you know, the one who received a grand introduction but with whom DC did diddly. Batman has a new writer and a new costume, and that's about it - it feels very much like a continuation of the last Batman run.
"Green Arrow" might be the nicest surprise, moving in a direction that makes more sense for the character with a solid setup for a new series.
But still, Rebirth doesn't feel like the grand pressing of a reset button like the New 52, just a shift in direction.
Rebirth doesn't do much to hide its motivations. By sharing the same title as the Green Lantern and Flash arcs that brought old characters back into the spotlight, it wears its "Make Comics Great Again" badge on its sleeve. Rebirth is for the older crowd who grew up knowing their "Crisis on Infinite Earths" from their "Infinite Crisis;" the New 52 was for readers like me. The reversion of the more inviting relaunch just feels like a big, "Thanks for playing, maybe we'll see you later."
The New 52 was not perfect. There are so many things DC should have done differently. But at the end of the day, their most glaring oversight was to pump the brakes on a universe just finding its legs.
And DC, please stop changing your logo. We all just got used to that stupid sticker thing.