[WARNING: This article contains spoilers for "DC Universe: Rebirth" and "Justice League: Darkseid War"]
Enough years have passed since the launch of DC Comics' "New 52" company-wide reboot for yet another high-profile launch to be called upon to help boost sales, and reclaim some of the comic book spotlight. But where comic fans are used to the regular events, crossovers, deaths, and resurrections, the DC Comics "Rebirth" is doing something different: it's not a reboot, but a return to form - at least that's the hope - calling on some of the best writers and artists in the entire industry.
The "Rebirth" started with a bang, thanks to the first issue, "DC Universe: Rebirth" #1 written by Geoff Johns and bringing one beloved, presumed-retconned out of continuity hero. Earning critical acclaim (including our own on the recent Total Geekall podcast) and ramping the excitement around the next chapter of DC's biggest heroes to new heights, new and lapsed fans are likely headed to check out all the buzz. And while the issue may be a fitting place to start, there are plenty of storylines, recent twists, and teases contained within it to confuse new readers.
To make sure that those moments, cameos and teases aren't just confusing, but understood, we're breaking down the moments that could strike an uninformed reader as just plain weird. Mind you, even though they may be understood... some of them are weird no matter what.
20. There Are Three Jokers?
After some disembodied narration, the story of the comic shifts to Batman, hard at work on his Bat Computer in the Batcave. We're willing to bet that this moment seemed completely inexplicable to readers having just picked up the issue, so a little backstory. "DC Universe: Rebirth" follows hot on the heels of "Justice League" #50 - the concluding chapter of the "Darkseid War" story which saw the team of heroes take up various posts as New Gods. Since Batman was the most strategic and tactical of the group, he took it upon himself to replace the New God Metron atop the Mobius Chair; a literal floating throne that possessed all knowledge in the universe, and could pass that knowledge onto the one who sits upon it.
Knowing the chair could answer any question he asked, Batman immediately asked "what is The Joker's real name?" and, having gotten a response heard only by him, replied that the answer was "impossible." It was a heck of a tease, but Bruce ended up spilling the beans to Hal Jordan: the Mobius Chair hadn't given him a name, but a statement: "there are three." This page from "Rebirth" helps explain the comment to readers more than the Dark Knight, since the three Jokers being shown are actually the three different versions of the character in DC Comics history. The first is the first-published version, made famous by artist Jerry Robinson. The second, best-known version (who appeared in Alan Moore's "The Killing Joke") and finally, the version created in DC's New 52.
That's one version from each era of DC Comics - and according to the Mobius Chair, all three may still currently exist. Considering the complex story of parallel universes or realities on its way, this could be the most clearly-worded clue that the hourglasses seen to be trapping the Golden Age heroes, and the Silver Age heroes on the issue's alternate artwork are literal prisons, yet to be cracked open...
19. The Return of Wally West
It was the moment that fans of the former Kid Flash had been waiting years for: the return of Wally West. After the New 52 relaunch made each and every character in the comics a decade younger (at least), the days of Barry Allen and Wally West sharing duties as The Flash were over - Barry still had to meet Wally before he could get powers, become a sidekick, meet his future wife, etc., etc.. But when Wally did arrive in the New 52, it was a completely different version (closer to that introduced in The CW's Flash series). Which meant Wally, his wife Linda, and their children were... gone. Erased. Forgotten.
Being the world's biggest "Flash" fan, writer Geoff Johns clearly had a much larger role in mind - or came up with one - positioning Wally as the one person who deduced the real threat looming outside of time and space and, no surprise, sought out Bruce Wayne first. The "Rebirth" issue does a good job of highlighting - and often recreating - the most memorable scenes of Wally's superhero career, but this splash page will go down in DC history as the moment Geoff Johns repeated the trick of returning a Flash to the DCU (and bringing world-changing twists with them).
18. Johnny Thunder's Mistake
As evidence that no DC character is too old or forgotten to get some love, Wally is drawn to another figure in the DC Universe connected not to lightning, like most DC speedsters, but thunder. For those who didn't recognize the name, the elderly man is actually Johnny Thunder, former member of the Justice Society of America. It's no coincidence that Johns should give Johnny an admittedly tragic shout-out, since he made his debut in 1940 - in the pages of "Flash Comics" #1. The story saw Johnny encounter a genie named Thunderbolt, who soon helped his luck improve, and set him on the path to being a certified superhero.
Sadly, while other JSA heroes were seemingly written out of existence with the New 52 changes, old Johnny wound up in care homes, spinning tales about his superheroic past. It's not yet clear exactly how he retained those memories (possibly tied to his former mental illness in the comics), but in a truly sad twist, Johnny misunderstand Wally's electric appearance as Thunderbolt returning to its former master. Johnny would eventually contain Thunderbolt in a pen that wound up passed onto new generations of the hero, and here he confirms that it was an accident: "I didn't mean to throw you away!"
17. The Legion of Super-Heroes
In the first of many confusing or seemingly random scenes in the issue, two police officers are interrogating an unseen woman. A woman who is most definitely from somewhere distant: speaking with an unknown accent and claiming that where she comes from, food isn't traded for money, but free to all. The scene, and the woman's comments only make sense once the only item she was carrying is revealed: a Legionnaire ring, worn by members of The Legion of Super-Heroes. The question isn't where the woman is from, but when; the Legion was only founded in the 30th Century.
The Legion was founded by three future teens (including Saturn Girl, who is likely shown here) seeking to use their powers to become heroes, just like Superman did a thousand years prior. Eventually the team used time travel to visit him, and formed lasting friendships with him and Supergirl over the decades since they first appeared. It makes sense, then, that this woman claims to be a friend of Superman looking to talk to him. When it's said that she may have to wait a while since he could be dead, she remains unfazed - knowing that Superman has died once before, and returned (in another past).
Why has she returned, and why does she believe that "everything's going to be all right"? Not yet clear. But being both a telepath AND from the future, we'd say she knows best.
16. The Atom
The name 'Ray Palmer' will be recognizable to any fan of The CW's Arrow or Legends of Tomorrow, but the version here is a bit different: a university professor having developed a shrinking belt to explore time and space itself. It's actually Ryan Choi who we meet first - a young man who is clearly being mentored by Palmer - having to cover for the absent professor. In the previous DC continuity, a (older) version of Choi actually replaced Palmer in his position, discovering one of his old belts, and becoming the new Atom himself.
Playing on the idea that despite the age differences, the DC heroes are beginning to return to how things should be, Ryan is recruited to use Palmer's shrinking technology and follow him into The Microverse - a plane of reality on beyond-microscopic scale (previously referred to as Nanoverse or Palmerverse). Aside from the fact that Ray Palmer might have also discovered evidence of the theft of time that Wally West has sensed, the theme of legacy in the issue is echoed here, where both, not just one version of the Atom is being called into action.
15. The Blue Beetle(s)
Another pair of characters that may seem out of place for those not versed in DC Comics - or the animated TV shows - are Jaime Reyes and Ted Kord. It was Ted Kord who popularized the superhero title 'Blue Beetle' for modern audiences, taking on the name and using gadgets to fight crime, typically alongside his close friend Booster Gold. Eventually (thanks to Kord's death, which has obviously been changed) the moniker passed to Jaime, when a mystical scarab latched onto his back, turning him into an armored soldier and back again.
Eventually, the scarab was revealed to be alien tech designed to take over a planetary champion and decimate the entire population, but Jaime's glitched out, making him a hero instead. Until this scene, a new Ted Kord hasn't appeared in more than a few glimpses in the new universe, so Geoff Johns is planting yet another seed to be delivered upon later. And again, legacy and generational teamwork is the main theme, with Jaime just looking for a scarab removal, and Ted seeing it as a chance to become a crimefighting duo. The arrival of Dr. Fate and the revelation that the scarab is once again magical... we'll have to wait and see where that's headed.
14. Adding an Aqualad
One of the first preview pages from "Rebirth" #1 that really got comic fans talking was the one featuring a teen named 'Jackson' dealing with two major issues: one, how he displayed unique abilities in the water, and two, his mother is clearly not supportive of his boyfriend. Fans of the "Aquaman" series or Young Justice cartoon will instantly recognize the boy as Kaldur'ahm a.k.a. Jackson Hyde a.k.a. Aqualad. Not the original Aquaman sidekick, but a creation for Young Justice that gave him an even stranger origin story. The son of black Manta and given powers thanks to experiments conducted by resident of an Atlantean penal colony, Jackson was stolen and given to human parents for his own protection.
Although Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis worked the character into the main DC continuity alongside the launch of Young Justice, he's been nowhere to be seen since the New 52. That means this is yet another reveal of a returning hero to the "Rebirth" storyline, although the long term plans are still unknown.
13. Pandora's End
Another scene that will seem completely nonsense to new readers follows a woman robed in red fleeing from an unknown assailant. An unknown assailant who, according to her, believes in skepticism, doubt, corruption - and is likely the "lonely, cruel monster" who has messed with the time and heroes of the New 52. Before she can finish her final words, vowing that the good heroes will emerge victorious over him, she explodes in a violent burst of blue light.
This woman is Pandora - the one from the myths, who unleashed the Seven Sins upon the world to begin with - and played a major role in the creation and establishment of the New 52. When Barry Allen "fixed" the timeline he had broken in the climactic finish of the "Flashpoint" series, Pandora first appeared to him, claiming that the universe had been split into three to weaken them for a coming threat - the DC, Vertigo, and WildStorm universes (DC and its two main imprints). She and Barry forged the three into one (the New 52), and she set the events of the "Trinity War" in motion.
Those events don't have a ton of direct influence on the story here, but the looming threats, the fact that Pandora was tricked into opening the box in the first place, and the manner in which she is erased all hint towards the figure planning the attack. Fitting, at least: Pandora brought the New 52 into being, and is erased from it as the next chapter begins.
12. Wonder Woman's Twin & Baby Darkseid
Another scene following directly out of "Darkseid War" here, with the claims made, the woman shown, and the baby Darkseid all explained in the previous "Justice League" series (seriously, if "Rebirth" has left you hungry for more top-tier DC, then "Darkseid War" is where to go next). In that storyline, it was revealed that before Wonder Woman was born, the top assassin of the Amazons set out to find, seduce, and be impregnated by Darkseid. Believing the child could be raised and trained to defeat her father, Grail was born the same night as Diana, and her training began.
Once she reached adulthood, Grail (pictured above) set out to find forces powerful enough to kill Darkseid, but proving that a little power leads to hunger for even more, she betrayed her mother and sought to transfer Darkseid's life force into a newborn baby, whom she would command. The plan and battle ended in catastrophe, leaving Grail scattered, but intent on learning to love by raising Darkseid as her son. She also knows the secret that her mother passed to her, and passed to Diana (Wonder Woman) before her death: that Diana had a twin brother, who may be capable of great good or evil, depending on who finds him first.
11. The Death of Superman (Again)
The "Rebirth" issue doesn't actually explain what happened to the New 52 Superman, simply claiming that he has "disappeared" or is "missing." Unfortunately, a clearer answer is offered in "Superman" #52, released the same day as "Rebirth." In it, suffering from both the fallout of "Darkseid War" and kryponite poisoning, Superman enters his final fight. He emerges victorious, but is completely drained. With his friends and fellow heroes around him - including the Superman of the pre-New 52 universe, removed from the timeline when it was re-written (and set to take over the title in "Rebirth") - the New 52 Superman died. As in, turned to ash or stone before their eyes.
10. Green Arrow & Canary
This might seem like poetic language or the writer toying with the well-known romantic history between Green Arrow and Black Canary in prior universes and stories, but it's actually much more. With the New 52 introducing younger heroes, earlier on in their careers, it separated characters who would normally be in love, or married by this point. But as Wally West uncovers the theft of ten years, and the love that is has robbed the heroes of, this scene has even greater importance.
It isn't that the New 52 universe is set ten years earlier, but that when Barry Allen returned from the past to the present day, everyone around him (including himself) was somehow ten years younger. The answer is that the decade was stolen from time itself, meaning the heroes who should be stronger, experienced, united - and in the case of Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance, in love - are still just rookies. It's what's prepared them to be more easily attacked by the villain hiding outside of time, but the looks shared by Arrow and Canary prove that the heroes still feel the way things should be - a theme picked up on by both Barry and Batman later in the story.
9. The Bearded Superman
For those not following the recent DC Comics events, this moment is about as confusing as it gets: after seeing on the news that Superman has likely been killed, the story jumps to: Superman... older... with a beard... and a son. Thankfully, the explanation is both incredibly simple and somewhat weirdly complicated. We'll do our best to be clear, and start with: the man with the beard is Superman. Not the New 52 Superman (created by Barry Allen messing with time). This is the version that has thrived in the comics for decades leading up to the New 52, and he's married to Lois, with a ten-year-old son.
So how are they living in this new universe, with another Superman running around? Superman and Lois happened to be snagged up by Brainiac during the recent "Convergence" event, gathered along with other heroes from throughout time and the Multiverse at the Vanishing Point - a location in the DC Universe divorced from time. When "Flashpoint" rewrote reality of their Earth, Clark and Lois (and Jonathan, their son) weren't on it, meaning they lived on as normal. They then had a choice of worlds to return to, and headed home. But seeing how the world of the New 52 distrusted this younger Superman, figured it would be best to take the last name 'White' and lay low.
Until, of course, the death of Superman forces him to step back into the spotlight. The world needs one, after all.
8. The Mysterious 'Mr. Oz'
We now arrive at what may be the strangest, and most intentionally mysterious point of the story: the arrival of 'Mr. Oz.' The robed, hooded man appears before Superman (the pre-New 52 one hiding out with Lois and their son) to give him a message that, frankly, doesn't really accomplish anything. It's meant to be cryptic, just like every other appearance of this man in the previous "Superman" comics he's cropped up in. Claiming to have "taught" Superman all he knows, having watched his exploits from an unknown location, delivered Clark a blank notebook bearing the Superman "S", and hinting that he has another mystery person in his custody, Mr. Oz is a complete unknown.
At least, he was. Since the final "Rebirth" reveal showed an overlap between the DC Universe and that of "Watchmen," people have assumed that 'Mr. Oz' is actually a completely accurate nickname for Adrian Veidt a.k.a. Ozymandias. But the important thing is that this isn't the first time he's appeared, or shown an interest in Superman. But this is the first time he's communicated directly, meaning his plan - whatever it is - is starting to be put in motion.
7. Glimpses of Rebirth
Scattered throughout the issue are brief panels showing totally unexplained scenes across the DC Universe (or, more accurately, Wally is seeing them). They may seem random, but they're actually teaser scenes from a handful of new titles being relaunched under the "Rebirth" banner. There's Boomerang from the new "Suicide Squad," Dick Grayson picking up his old "Nightwing" uniform, Damien Wayne creepily celebrating his 13th birthday (before attempting to reform the "Teen Titans" under his leadership), the first look at 'Gotham,' the new hero coming to challenge "Batman" for the title of Gotham City's protector, and a look at John Constantine and Swamp Thing, co-stars of the upcoming "Hellblazer" series.
Not to mention a look at (one of) the new Green Lanterns of Earth, Jessica Cruz (having also been recruited to the Corps in "Darkseid War"). Besides voicing her disinterest in sharing duties with "the Green Lantern that carries a gun" - Simon Baz, whom she'll be co-starring in the new "Green Lanterns" series with - Jessica also hears firsthand that Hal Jordan is busy elsewhere, tangling with Sinestro in the also-incoming "Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps." For a full list of the new titles and relaunches, be sure to check out our complete DC Rebirth guide.
6. The Wally/Wally Situation Explained
In his travels around the globe, visiting key figures from his past (or those soon to appear in new comics) Wally also happens upon the other Wally West. This version, the former delinquent Wally who had just recently started exhibiting superspeed of his own, was originally introduced as the New 52 version of Wally. Which meant that a role as Kid Flash was in his future, among other things. But it also meant that the origins of Wally West had been more fundamentally changed than other heroes - until "Rebirth" did some creative retconning.
The older Wally claims that the younger Wally is not actually him in this new universe, and not the son of Rudolph West, but the son of Rudolph's brother Daniel. Which means the New 52 Wally is actually the cousin that original Wally always had, but just never met (they were both named after their great-grandfather). It opens the door to explaining why an alternative version of the original Wally never appeared in the New 52, since there may be only one version of him. Either way, it's a case of letting them both fit into the Flash Family without any contradictions, which is welcome.
5. Wally's 'Death'
The issue does a fairly good job of explaining the speedster version of the afterlife, when they surrender to the Speed Force that gives them their powers, and are turned into kinetic energy to power future speedsters. It's a new way of wording the relationship, but fits perfectly in the with more mystical side of the power, considered the kind of power that would be easier accessed through mediation than brute force. And as Wally explains in the issue, he's no stranger to skirting the edges of the Speed Force, even beginning to lose himself to it until his loved ones brought him home.
Since it was always Linda, his wife that filled the role of 'lightning rod' (a term Wally coined), the fact that she had been rewritten could have been reason enough for him to be lost forever. But giving one last try for Barry, Geoff Johns gave Wally the goodbye that, in may ways, he was completely robbed of before being erased thanks to "Flashpoint" (with not a single comment). Thankfully, Wally's tearful but peaceful farewell pays off the relationship he's shared with Barry in recent years, while also being what eventually saves him.
4. Barry Remembers - But How?
It's one of the most memorable/powerful/satisfying/triumphant moments of the issue, when Barry Allen suddenly remembers Wally West, saving him from death at the last possible second, grabbing hold and allowing him to permanently enter this new universe. Their relationship and bond is more than enough for Barry to pull him into reality - but how did Barry actually remember? It's because the very changes that caused Wally to be erased from existence were triggered by Barry - and when it first happened, Barry was more than aware of it.
It was "Flashpoint" - the terrible future created by Barry saving his mother's life, and his ultimate journey to correcting the mistake - that started this whole mess, with Barry returning to the modern day of the New 52 (similar enough, but clearly different). But when he returned, Barry remembered everything he had done; each timeline's differences, and his efforts to fix it. The only answer is that over time, as the New 52 set in, Barry's memories of a different universe or timeline began to fade. Luckily for Wally, the love that Geoff Johns has centered this story on was strong enough to bring those memories screaming back - and not a moment too soon.
3. Batman's Letter
It's a line that Wally first speaks when he arrives in the Batcave, unable to reconnect with Bruce (who doesn't remember Wally at all) he urges him to remember how he got the letter from his father, proudly displayed next to his work station. Bruce apparently never is able to do what Wally asks, but he does seek out the letter in the comic's final panels - a letter that, to the unfamiliar, is completely unexplained.
The letter is actually a handwritten one from Thomas Wayne, delivered to Barry during his "Flashpoint" exploits. In the alternate timeline created by Barry saving his mother - in which Barry has no powers, and it was Thomas Wayne who became Batman to avenge the murder ofhis son - the older Batman actually saves the day, returning Barry's powers and killing the Reverse-Flash. But when the world starts crumbling to pieces, Barry has to be on his way to set the timeline right. But Thomas gives him one parting gift: a letter from a father to his dead son, or a letter from a dead father to his living son, whichever way you want to look at it.
It reduces Bruce to tears, but it's a letter that shouldn't exist; the mere fact that it does is proof that the timeline has been messed with, even though nobody seems to be worried about it anymore. It's that memory that Wally is trying to jog, reminding Bruce - the ultimate analyzer - that he should look closer at the fact Barry Allen rewrote history (and put the universe in jeopardy thanks to an opportunistic villain).
2. The Button
While Batman approaches the letter, it's a glinting in the background that attracts his attention. Upon digging out the culprit, it's revealed to be the Comedian's smiley face button, a signature of the "Watchmen" character and of Alan Moore's work as a whole. So, how did it get there? What does it mean? Both those questions are actually answered in that first scene of Wally's arrival. Specifically, the moment when he is sucked back into the Speed Force.
As Wally describes it, time "rips open" as he's pulled back out of the world, allowing "reality from across existence" to "spill out." It's at this moment that an unknown object can be seen firing from the rift created by Wally and embedded itself into the cave wall with a "TNK". It's easy to miss, but once you spot it, it's clear that the button being "spilled" into the DC Universe from perhaps another "reality from across existence" is meant to show that the two worlds can be combined. Or, things can be passed between them, at least. Considering that an object can make the trip, a being of supreme power and knowledge of the universe could do it even easier...
1. The End Narration & Manhattan Reveal
If the "Watchmen" logo wasn't enough of a clue that the all-powerful, divorced-from-humanity-and-time character from the series wasn't the culprit behind the scheme, the epilogue removes any doubt. Heading to Mars - a key location that Doctor Manhattan, a former human who achieved awareness of the whole of time and space frequented - is obvious enough, but adding the hovering watch (telekinesis was another of Manhattan's traits), including the creation of metal makes it clear that the clockwork imagery is no coincidence, either. Doctor Manhattan is the blue hand manipulating the DCU, but why?
The only hint is offered in the speech boxes, lifted completely from the original "Watchmen," font and all. It follows an exchange between Adrian Veidt a.k.a. Ozymandias and Manhattan a.k.a. Jon Osterman, soon after Veidt succeeded in killing millions of people in order to unite humanity against a new threat, staving off nuclear war. With the mission ended, and the blood of millions on his hands, Veidt asks Manhattan if he did the right thing - since it all worked out in the end. Manhattan's reply that "nothing ever ends" is the chilling note on which the story ends, leading the reader and Veidt to question his meaning.
Placed here, readers are forced to imagine how distanced from goodness, love, faith and hope Manhattan could become, that he would steal away the happiness of an entire world of heroes. And whether his claim that "nothing ever ends" means a more direct link between the events of "Watchmen" and the DC "Rebirth."
Those are the most confusing moments we could spot, and hopefully have given the necessary details for readers to feel like they've got a grasp on the story going forward. The Rebirth continues with more titles each week, so taking the next steps is best done with an understanding of what may be coming.
If you have any other questions about the storylines being alluded to, or have answers or theories of your own, be sure to leave them in the comments!