[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for "Justice League: Rebirth" #1 and "Superman" #2]
Now that we're well into the company wide initiative known as DC Rebirth, we can confirm that the stories surrounding the Man of Steel have gotten... weird. As in, 'this is some next-level crazy' weird. First came the not totally surprising death of the New 52 Universe's Superman, soon to be replaced by the older version fans knew from the 1990s and 2000s (having escaped the rewriting of history and hiding in this strange new world). Before long, the former hero took up the role left vacant - but not before Lex Luthor could claim it for himself (and not as part of some evil plan, either). Oh and also, the New 52 Clark Kent survived somehow.
Thankfully, this week brought with it two spotlight appearances for the Man of Steel that cast off these small mysteries for hints and teases of a far larger one: the real cause of the New 52 Universe's sweeping changes to the status quo. They pack plenty of action themselves, but with the release of "Justice League: Rebirth" #1 and "Superman" #2, it's clear the writers and editors are trying to tell fans... something. But all we can tell so far is that whatever the mystery, it's tied up in the "Watchmen" world.
The First Hints of Watchmen
On the off chance that there are some fans who missed out on the massive bombshells dropped in "DC Universe: Rebirth" - the comic that kicked off the resurgence of nostalgia and conspiracies in the DCU - we'll catch you up to speed. We'll skip over the actual plot of the comic for now, since it was really the small hints offered along the way, leading to the conclusion of the issue that fans are talking about. In short, the ten-year-younger premise of the New 52 Universe wasn't some editorial move (wink), but the act of an unknown entity; someone, or something that wanted Earth's heroes to be younger, weaker, and less unified when they decided to finally... well, that's still the mystery.
But the identity of the entity behind the vast conspiracy was revealed, thanks to a bright yellow button fired out of the fabric of another reality as Wally West tried (successfully) to inform the Justice League of this new threat. The button hails from the world of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' "Watchmen" - and it's Dr. Manhattan himself who's pulling the DCU's strings. Not in a nebulous way, either: both "Rebirth" and the "Justice League" issue that preceded it implied he has taken a physical form to kill the biggest threats on this universe's Earth.
So, the villain has been revealed (to us, at least). But with his plan unknown, and presence still a secret, we continue with our regular programming: the long-awaited and highly-coveted "Justice League: Rebirth" #1 by Bryan Hitch.
Justice League: Rebirth #1
The comic wastes no time getting into the fight, even if the threat the League is facing is on the absurd side of things: a city-sized, crustacean/bug-like alien monster launching massive tentacles, and releasing psychic, mind-controlling parasites out of, and leading people into(?) its gaping maw. Weirdly enough, the monster is completely impervious to the superheroes' attacks: Cyborg's sonic weaponry can't harm it, it's too big for him to Boom-Tube-it away, and it's somehow impervious to the magical weaponry of both Aquaman and Wonder Woman. If one were so inclined, they might even think that this creature had been designed to be unbeatable by the League's heroes.
But, as Lois Lane reminds her husband: there's no League without Superman (even if he's not the version that they first met). After biding his time, Supes arrives on the scene with a shockingly quick solution to the problem. His actual thought processes or attack is noticably kept secret: he simply flies into the creature, determines it is of a "techno-organic" nature, and "pinpoints" crucial areas for the team to attack. The creature's plan is thwarted, and it heads off into space.
That may sound like standard fodder for the Justice League (and is more than a little bit of a callback to the team's very first issue, battling a giant squid-like monster), but it's the glimpses into the moments leading up to the attack that seem the most important for the larger mystery of the DCU.
We should mention here that when Barry Allen/The Flash regained his memories of Wally West, and the world that was before the New 52 rewrote it, he first sought out Batman to help him solve the case. Yet analysis of the button only showed radiation, no concrete answers. Still, when Bruce Wayne believes that something is not right, it's usually best to listen. So the scenes in "Rebirth" #1 that highlight his intuition are key: he doesn't know who's behind the changes to the timeline, or what they're after... but he knows this new Superman is somehow involved. And the Man of Steel seems to sense it, as well.
Whether or not the men are right, and they're being used as pawns in an unknown game, the readers are (or should be) seeing a different story unfold. For those unaware, the master plan of "Watchmen"s main villain also involved an engineered, techno-organic, psychic squid-like monster, being used (through serious deception) to unite mankind against an unknown, but presumably approaching alien menace (all a lie). And in "Justice League: Rebirth" - with "Watchmen" and Dr. Manhattan purposefully placed on readers' minds - we get the exact same premise: an engineered, psychic, city-killing monster that can only be stopped when Superman joins the Justice League.
Again, how Superman actually defeats the creature is unknown. He simply identifies crucial targets, the team attacks as they have been, the mind-control ceases, and the monster leaves, promising that more of its kind (Reavers) will be on the way. It's a little too obvious a parallel to take it as the same trick over again, right? Luckily, it's not the only Superman story we have releasing this week.
While it's the "Action Comics" series that's dealing with Superman's showdown with Lex Luthor over the title of Metropolis' protector, the "Superman" series is dealing with the Man of Steel's son, approaching puberty to find that his Kryptonian powers are beginning to emerge. The story being told by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason is a refreshing one for Clark Kent, as he's forced to put himself in the shoes of his own Earth parents, deciding to do things a bit differently than they did.
Instead of telling Jonathan to hide his powers, Clark decides to take him along on a mission, to learn why the family business is so important, not just how to prevent your heat vision from vaporizing the family cat (too soon?). So it's off to the Arctic they go, to respond to a distress signal from a Coast Guard icebreaker. A little warming of the propeller, and the job is done. UNTIL...
That's right, yet another squid-like creature attacks when least suspected, apparently looking to harm the Man of Steel (or his son...?). The bulging eye of this creature makes it a bit clearer of an allusion to the creature created in "Watchmen," but it's the monster's reason for attacking that drives home the parallels. After delivering a few potent punches, Superman realizes that there is actually a "crystal contraption" that's "controlling the poor creature." In other words, somebody apparently fused yet another tentacled beast with unknown tech for their own purposes.
Presenting itself as every bit the opportunity for teamwork as it did in "Justice League: Rebirth," Superman tells his son to use his heat vision to disable the tech harnessing the squid, and after a few failed attempts, he hits a bullseye. Although he begins to realize that somebody rigged the squid to stall the icebreaker, drawing him to the site, Superman soon forgets about the mission to focus on his son (again, just as he did with the League). So if the creatures are related (and that seems like a MASSIVE coincidence), meaning they're supposed to both draw comparisons to the master plan of "Watchmen," then the person pulling the strings is wasting no time - a person who the reader, we assume is fully aware of by now.
We would like to come up with a polished, nuanced, and intricate theory getting to the bottom of what DC's writers are up to. Unfortunately, the true nature of both the New 52 Superman and this returning champion is being kept intentionally vague. That isn't to say it's unclear, just a mystery that the writers are patiently unraveling. In the pages of "DC Universe: Rebirth" a mysterious man known only as 'Mr. Oz' arrived to warn Clark that neither he, nor the version that had been killed were really what they thought they were. That's about as vague a statement as it gets, but when the mysterious man - who had been monitoring Superman's actions for months from an unknown location via massive video screen - revealed his name, fans had one theory. 'Mr. Oz' may be Ozymandias a.k.a. Adrian Veidt, the aforementioned villain of "Watchmen."
The scenes involving Mr. Oz and his servants were cryptically scattered through books over the course of months, generally implying that this unknown man was keeping a close eye on Superman's progress, almost in the way a distant parent might a son. So, combine the facts: Mr. Oz is looking to see Superman grow as a hero, and now monsters similar to the kind Ozymandias constructed to unite the world's armies are now appearing to unite the Justice League, and do... something with Superman's son.
For those who believe that the simplest answer is the right one, Mr. Oz is Ozymandias, perhaps having emerged in the New 52 reality to help usher Earth's heroes towards unity, as a means of foiling Dr. Manhattan's plan to keep them weak. It's definitely a serviceable theory for now, and the evidence does support it. But if "DC Universe: Rebirth" laid bare the real coming villain of the story (Dr. Manhattan) and his mission (to weaken and deprive Earth's heroes of love and strength), the actual mystery that's impacting the present narrative is Mr. Oz, and just what he believes Superman and his predecessor actually are.
While we're on the subject, there's one other moment from the early days of "Superman: Rebirth" that remains a confusing (but obviously important) detail. In the "Rebirth" issue, old Superman assists this world's Lana Lang in depositing her Kryptonian friend's ashes with his parents, on the Kent Farm. It was the moment that the last Man of Steel left standing was forced to accept that this New 52 incarnation wasn't going to be resurrected like he was (in the famous "Death of Superman" arc).
But in the issue that followed, Clark returned to the young man's grave, and something... weird happened once again.
Pressing his hand into the grass over the ashes of the New 52 Superman, Clark finds the handprint glowing with a blue radiation (one he's obviously not encountered before). Unfortunately, he immediately forgets this potentially-world-changing revelation and leaves the scene. But he does make the link for the audience between the claims that he's something more than he knows, and this strange phenomenon so close to the remains of the New 52 Superman.
Is it a sign that either he, or the late young hero encountered Dr. Manhattan directly without their knowledge? Is it a sign of a strange (perhaps Manhattan-aided) resurrection finally taking place? It remains completely unclear, but if the arrival of two hard-to-miss "Watchmen" nods so early in the "Rebirth" story is anything to go by, more reveals and plot twists may be coming a lot sooner than anticipated.
What do you make of these way-too-obvious coincidences? Do you have your own theories on where Dr. Manhattan, Mr. Oz and the blue handprint connect in the bigger story? Be sure to share them in the comments below, and we'll keep you up as more bombshells drop in the new DC Universe.
Superman #1 and Justice League: Rebirth #1 are available now.
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