The following piece includes MAJOR SPOILERS for Rebirth #1
DC Comics has always had an interesting relationship with its own continuity, rewriting and "retconning" the interconnected histories and backstories of its various characters almost as frequently as they create new stories for them. Case in point: The now-launching event "Rebirth" has been widely seen as an attempt to soft-reboot aspects of the publisher's line to their status quo (or some semblance thereof) prior to the so-called "New 52" continuity - which was itself an attempt to create a new status quo that has thus far garnered a decidedly mixed reception from readers and industry critics.
But now, DC has lifted the press embargo on key plot details from the event's first issue (following an early leak to reddit); unveiling returning characters, big changes and a final reveal that could be the biggest comic-continuity twist in decades.
For the most part, Rebirth #1 would appear to follow the (by now) well-worn template of prior DC "history shakeup" events' first issues; as various heroes conduct their business amid a growing sense of anxiety that some key piece of their collective memory is missing - and that the inability to connect with it is rendering them vulnerable to some looming existential threat (if you're a DC superhero, this is a thing that happens to you once every four years or so). Most notably, several major shakeups and "retcons" appear to have already taken place, with several characters either realizing that their lives were markedly different before or have very recently changed without their (or the readership's) realization.
Readers are taken on an impromptu "tour" of the present situation by the original Wally West (formerly Kid Flash and, depending on how you count it, the second or third adult Flash), who hasn't been seen since before Flashpoint; the universe-rewriting event that "created" the New 52 continuity in the first place - at least not in this form, though a biracial teenager with the same name and powers recently emerged as part of the New 52 reality in a prior storyline.
Since Flashes are among the few DCU mainstays who can jump (or, rather, run) between alternate-realities under their own power, they typically play major roles in events such as these; so it's not entirely unexpected that it's "Classic" Wally West whose return "kicks off" Rebirth as he throttles through the time-displaced limbo of the Speed Force searching for a "tether" that will allow him to re-enter the physical universe. As he does, readers are appraised of key story points that will (presumably) play a role in Rebirth's main storyline, including but not limited to:
- Batman not only knows The Joker's real name (following the events of the Darkseid War storyline in Justice League), he knows an even bigger secret: The Joker has three real names, implying that the Clown Prince of Crime may be three different men (or a composite of three different pre-Flashpoint possible origins for the original Joker.)
- Jessica Cruz has become a Green Lantern.
- The Legion of Superheroes (or at least a Legion flight-ring) have re-emerged.
- Johnny Thunder, originally of the Justice Society of America (who aren't supposed to have existed anymore) is alive and living in a nursing home.
- Darkseid has been reborn in the body of Superwoman's baby.
- Aquaman and Mera are getting married.
- Green Arrow and Black Canary are not together, but seem to be regaining their memories of a relationship.
- Pandora, the "herald" of the New 52 era, has been killed by an unknown assailant.
- The Atom is trapped in "The Microverse," and Atom #2 Ryan Choi now remembers that he is Atom #2 again.
- Wonder Woman has a twin brother named Jason, identity unknown but presumed to be someone she/we have already met.
- Doctor Fate is back on the "main" Earth, rather than his doppelganger form known to be living on Earth 2.
- Jackson Hyde (Aqualad) has returned and has come out of the closet as a gay man.
- Superman (New 52 version) is missing, potentially setting up the character's rumored death in issue #52 of his own series. Meanwhile, the original (pre-New 52) version of Superman is hiding out with Lois Lane and their son after having been willed back into existence during the Convergence event.
But the issue saves it's biggest reveals for after Wally finally reconnects with reality by finding his "tether" in the form of Silver Age/"Classic" Flash, Barry Allen; who's feeling guilty over having recovered enough of his memories to recognize that he himself created the chaos of the New 52 timeline in Flashpoint - except he didn't. As it turns out, what Wally has come back to reveal is that the history of the DCU didn't "really" change: They're all still in their original reality, but some all-powerful evil(?) being forcibly remade that reality; deleting memories and breaking down the legacy bonds between powerful figures (like superheroes) in order to weaken them prior to some incoming confrontation. Who this "architect" of the New 52 may actually be is left unsaid, but the issue caps off this reveal by closing out on a teaser for a twist so preposterous not even the most diehard DC fan could've seen in coming:
Down in the bowels of the Batcave, Batman unearths a small, long-buried object just as Wally's voiceover has gravelly intoned: "We're being watched." Batman's prize? The blood-flecked smiley-face badge of The Comedian - from Watchmen.
While the DC Universe has always played fast and loose with the separations between "mainstream" and "elseworlds" books (the original Crisis on Infinite Earths' crossover was inspired by annual "Crisis" events that would often bring new stables of previously-independent characters into the mainline universe), the appearance of The Comedian's badge in Rebirth marks the first time - ever - that Alan Moore's landmark Watchmen has been explicitly suggested to be in any way connected to the broader DCU. Attempts have been made at doing so in the past, but had until now always been scrapped in the planning stages; with both Moore and artist Dave Gibbons often voicing strong objections to the idea (Neither Moore nor Gibbons have yet commented on the Rebirth reveal.) Originally, Moore had written Watchmen as a vehicle for a stable of characters DC acquired from defunct Charlton Comics (Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, The Question, etc;) but was asked to rework them into original characters of his own as DC had planned (and later did) bring the Charlton heroes into its main continuity.
Apart from canon-rending shock value, it's yet unclear what the appearance of The Comedian's badge could actually mean for whatever new Crisis is set to befall the DC Universe. While declaring Moore's ultraviolent "deconstructionist" take on superheroes to be part of the "normal" DCU will still be epochal to some all on its own, other fans are already pointing to Rebirth #1's cover as an even bigger clue hiding in plain sight - as it depicts various DC heroes reaching out toward a hand extending from a glowing white singularity. "The hand from the void" is the key recurring "creation myth" imagery of the DCU (the "Let There Be Light" of their universe), but the identity of the hand's owner and what they want has changed several times over the decades. The Rebirth hand appears to be that of a blue-skinned man, leading many to postulate that the event's major pending reveal is that the mastermind of the New 52 will have been Doctor Manhattan, a superhero of godlike reality-warping abilities who, at the end of Watchmen, left (their) known universe after implying that he would soon try his hand at creating one of his own.
More twists and turns are sure to follow, so stay tuned to Screen Rant for more DC Rebirth coverage as it rolls out.