DC's 'Rebirth': Decoding the Superhero Comic Book Relaunch

WonderCon DC Entertainment Rebirth - H 2016
Courtesy of DC Entertainment
A spoiler-filled dive into DC's comic book history.

Warning: This story spoils plot elements and revelations from DC Universe: Rebirth. Continue at your own risk.

DC Entertainment's DC Universe: Rebirth hits comic book stores and digital outlets Wednesday, spearheading the company's comic book relaunch of its superhero line with an oversized (80 page) issue that sets up a number of new directions for its heroes and opens quite a few mysteries and plot threads to be explored in the months and years to come.

For an issue intended to lure new readers into the fold, however, there are many Easter eggs and references to DC's history to be found — as befits a narrative about "stolen" history and characters finding their way back to the fictional reality of the DC comic book universe.

But for those who aren't well-versed in the minutiae of the comic book DCU, here are the most important moments that might have been missed.

"The Chair Said There Are Three."

This is a reference to the recent Justice League storyline in which Batman temporarily had possession of a device — actually a chair, as he says — that acted as a conduit to all information in the universe. He asked for the Joker's real name … only to find out, as revealed in Justice League No. 50, that there is no one single Joker. There are, apparently, three. On the screen in front of him, notably, are Jokers from three separate timelines in DC mythology. Expect this storyline to play out in the new Batman comic book series.

"My Name Is Wally West. I'm the Fastest Man Alive."

Fans of The CW's The Flash TV show might be used to Barry Allen saying those words, but Wally West originated the catchphrase when he was Flash — actually, writer Mark Waid did, during his time on the Flash comic book from 1992 through 2000 (he returned to the series briefly in 2008). As he explains in Rebirth, Wally was Barry's sidekick who stepped into his shoes when Barry died in the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries, and went on to serve as "the" Flash until 2008, when Barry returned in the Final Crisis series.

"Remember How You Got the Letter, Bruce!"

The letter Wally refers to is literally an impossible object, and therefore a sign that time is broken in the DC comic book universe. It comes from the 2011 miniseries Flashpoint, and was written by the Thomas Wayne of an alternate timeline to be given to the Bruce Wayne of the "primary" timeline when reality was restored to its proper order. The problem being, reality wasn't restored entirely; instead, DC used the opportunity to reboot its entire comic book line as the Sept. 2011 New 52 publishing relaunch. The letter, however, survived, even if the original timeline and temporary replacement where Thomas Wayne lived on did not — which is the contradiction Wally is talking about in this scene.

"Use the Genie. Find the Justice Society!"

One of the primary changes to the New 52 timeline was that Superman was now the first superhero to emerge, at some point in the mid-2000s. That did away with the Justice Society of America, a group of superheroes who had been active in the 1940s and fought in World War II (a move that many longtime fans were not in favor of). In the scene in Rebirth, Wally is talking to Johnny Thunder — a character who debuted in 1940's Flash Comics No. 1 — and suggesting that he use his Thunderbolt — a genie-esque character who appears when Johnny says the magic words, "Cei-u, Thunderbolt!" (a homonym for "See you, Thunderbolt!") — to rescue the missing JSA.

"Because I've Seen the Future."

The ring is the key to the scene in which police interview a mysterious blonde woman who claims to have seen the future. It's a giveaway to longtime fans that she really has, and with good reason — she's actually from the future. That ring is a "flight ring" from the mythology of the Legion of Super-Heroes, a group of teenagers in the 31st century who become superheroes after being inspired by the legend of Superman. Judging by her hair color and the color of her top, the woman being questioned is likely Saturn Girl, a telepath who was one of the original three members of the team. (She debuted, along with the other two founding members Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad, in 1958's Adventure Comics No. 258.)

It's perhaps worth pointing out that the Legion traveling back in time to seed future stories is something that Johns has done before; both his 2007 Justice Society of America series and 2009 Adventure Comics revival featured a variation on this plot, as the Legion had sent sleeper agents back in order to ensure certain historical events occurred the way they should.

"It's Been My Burden to Carry."

This is a minor, but telling, interlude — the character railing against the unseen evil before getting blown up is Pandora, a character who appeared in every single first issue of the initial New 52 comic book series, before being the catalyst for the line's first crossover event, "Trinity War." Consider her death a particularly brutal underscoring of the end of DC's New 52 era.

"Superman's Death Is All Over the News."

This is in reference to the just-concluded "Final Days of Superman" storyline that ran through each of the Superman comic book series for the last two months. The Superman of the New 52 died as the result of Kryptonite poisoning caused by recent adventures, but as can be seen, there's another Superman (and Lois, and their child, Jonathan) running around. They had previously been established to be the Superman and Lois of the pre-New 52 continuity, rescued by last year's Convergence storyline, but as Rebirth suggests, something else is apparently going on …

"We're Being Watched."

Yes, that pin is exactly what you think it is. To underscore the surprising introduction of Watchmen into the larger DC mythology, the issue ends with the last dialogue from the character of Doctor Manhattan in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' original Watchmen series, as he disappears to locations unknown. An omnipotent being disappearing from one universe to another, referenced in a story about a mysterious omnipotent being with the power to affect reality …? Whatever could that mean …?

DC Universe: Rebirth is available in comic book stores and digitally right now; future Rebirth issues of DC titles will be released throughout June, July, August and September.