DC Universe Rebirth #1 is a manifesto, an opening barrage, and a masterpiece. In the return of Wally West and the introduction of Doctor Manhattan as the antagonist (not, he says, the villain) who stole time from the DC Universe and infected it with darkness, Geoff Johns has taken the gamble of his career. Given that the Rebirth saga is set to play out over the next two years, it will be quite a while before we know if he is a victor or not. But for sheer daring, Johns belongs in the company of the heroes whose stories he pens.
The most significant panel of this book is not the return of Wally West, affecting and exciting as that was. Rather, it is the death of Pandora, Herald of the New 52. It would be harder to draw a clearer line between past and future, although this being comics one suspects Pandora won’t be gone for long. And, although Johns has come under criticism in many quarters this week for supposedly pointing the finger at Alan Moore for the darkness in modern comics, here he performs an act of clear, silent, self-accusation. Pandora was his creation, and with her destruction, even if it is in a scene deliberately reminiscent of the death of Rorschach in Watchmen, he performs a silent mea culpa for the very aspects of the DC Universe he is criticizing.
One of the more impressive aspects of DC Universe Rebirth #1 is the degree to which the planning for it actually, refreshingly, works. DC had proclaimed its intention to rebuild an integrated universe for their characters, and this exercise in continuity goes far toward building confidence that they actually mean it this time. Titans Hunt, The Final Days of Superman, Superman: Lois and Clark, The Darkseid War, and even Batman and Grayson feed more-or-less smoothly into DC Universe Rebirth #1. It isn’t perfect, but there isn’t anything that an experienced comic book reader can’t take in stride. However, it does raise a question as to how much the success relied on Johns’ personal supervision. As time progresses and he concentrates on the much more profitable business of DC Entertainment’s movies, will this careful and successful coordination continue?
But the chief thing that this book is in addition to all of the above is a meditation on memory and it’s place in the DC Universe. Perhaps one should say it is a meditation on Memory, for we appear to be talking about some kind of force or vital principle in the world, almost a living thing that has turned against the heroes and only now is becoming grudgingly propitiated.
Memory is at the heart of the Titans story, and the saga of Wally West. Memory is the key to whatever happened with Johnny Thunder and the JSA. Memory was stolen from the DC Universe, along with time. Memory is the essence that the watch, the symbol that bookends this tale, represents. Memory is the heart of legacy, the foundation of friendship, the preserver of love. Memory within the universe is what will give the heroes the strength to fight Doctor Manhattan. Memory outside the DC Universe, memory in the real world, may make Rebirth the success DC so badly needs.
Will memory be the salvation of the DC Universe? Will it save DC Comics? Will it prove to be the coin that will pay off Geoff Johns' audacious gamble? None can say, of course, but the fact we are seriously posing these questions proves two points. One is that DC was, indeed, in desperate need of a rebirth. The other is that Johns has succeeded, almost beyond all expectation, in arousing hope. And although hope looks to the future, it is yet another thing that requires memory to endure.