The brain trust at DC Comics thinks some things are missing from their superhero comics. With "DC Universe: Rebirth" ($2.99, out now), they have gone metatextual to bring them back. To explain: DC has a history of rebooting its books, going back to 1986-87 and "Crisis on Infinite Earths." The latest reboot was "Flashpoint" in 2011, which once again de-aged most of DC's characters and started them over again.
Now we have "Rebirth," which seems intent on fixing character problems and story deadends created by "Flashpoint." The 80-page "Rebirth" one-shot will be followed by 18 more one-shots intended to update DC's major characters. "Rebirth" addresses a trend that arguably arose from two other books published in 1986, two books that had a long-term impact on all comics: Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns" and Alan Moore's "Watchmen."
Neither was in continuity. "DKR" featured a violent sixty-something Batman, who may or may not ever happen, while "Watchmen" was set outside the DC Universe entirely. But both were incredibly influential. They essentially launched the grim-and-gritty era of comics — an era "Rebirth" is rebelling against.
"Rebirth" was written by Geoff Johns, who has identified several elements he felt "Flashpoint" and its predecessors had erased from DC's books. Those elements are addressed by the four chapters of "Rebirth," titled "Lost," "Legacy," "Love" and "Life." But what they translate to are:
Time: "Flashpoint" de-aged DC's superhero universe. "Rebirth" will have the characters realize that they've lost 10 years of their existence, and strive to get those experiences back.
Legacy: DC has always been about generations of superheroes going back to the 1940s. Eliminated by "Flashpoint," the Justice Society of America will return in "Rebirth," as the champions of the future, the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Love: Relaunching characters in "Flashpoint" meant de-marrying some of them and disentangling others' romances. So "Rebirth" is re-coupling many of those characters. Superman and Lois Lane? They're married (again) — with a 10-year-old superpowered son!
Hope: This is the big one, if DC can pull it off. After decades of grim-and-gritty, the DC Universe will once again feature a sunny Flash, optimistic Teen Titans and a happy Superman. Maybe even Batman will crack a smile.
Here's what makes "Rebirth" a different kind of reboot: The characters are going to know that changes have been made to their lives. No, they're not going to break the fourth wall. Instead, Johns is using a metaphor — a character heretofore not part of the DC Universe, who has literally reached into the DCU and stolen time, legacy, love and hope for his own, so-far-unrevealed reasons.
That character is Dr. Manhattan, the nearly omnipotent, barely human superhero from "Watchmen."
"A darkness from somewhere infected us," says Wally West, a character erased from the DC Universe by "Flashpoint," who struggles to return in "Rebirth." "It has for a long time now, I think even before the Flashpoint."