The word “Rebirth” is such an overused word in comics. We’ve already had to come to terms with the “fact” that comic characters can die (especially after Superman had his solar-powered cells snuffed out by Doomsday back in 1992), and also that they can be reborn at any time. While we still reluctantly play along with all the deaths, it would be nice if the rebirth actually justified the hero’s demise in the first place.
One such death/rebirth event that failed miserably was Batman R.I.P., in which the Dark Knight was supposedly killed by Darkseid’s Omega Sanction beam during the Final Crisis event, only for it to be revealed that he was merely teleported back in time to face a series of over-the-top challenges. Now that was a real R.I.P.O.F.F.
On a larger magnitude, the DC Universe is no stranger to wholesale death and rebirth, having done it before in Crisis On Infinite Earths, Zero Hour and Flashpoint. While these major crossover events offered an opportunity to wipe the universe clean and reboot it, the overall end results have not been great.
Case in point, the New 52 universe that resulted from Flashpoint. The intention was to bring the DC Universe more in line with today’s world, but the decision to (in most cases) depart from the regular continuity, plus the obsession with meeting a fixed quantity (over quality) of 52 titles, led to its downfall.
Hopefully, the current DC Universe Rebirth exercise will put to rest one of the most challenging/confusing eras in DC’s history. Having had positive vibes from reading last month’s DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot, I’m keeping my fingers (and toes) crossed that we are in for better times.
To celebrate the latest rebirth of the DC Universe, we revisit some of the most worthy past rebirths that DC has offered. Let’s hope the new one will be at least as good as these!
Geoff johns’ Green Lantern Rebirth was probably the series that first popularised the R-word in comics. This 2004/05 story with art by Ethan Van Sciver re-establishes Hal Jordan as Sector 2814’s emerald knight a decade after Hal turned into the supervillain Parallax, sacrificed himself to save Earth, and assumed a new guise as the Spectre, with Kyle Rayner taking over as Earth’s Green Lantern in 1994.
However, the new Green Lantern was not working, and with sales rapidly diminishing, DC decided to bring back Hal.
With Johns at the helm, Hal was in good hands. A master in characterisation and a bona fide comic book historian, he skilfully crafted Hal Jordan’s rebirth in this six-part miniseries, and subsequently went on to spend almost a decade making Green Lantern great again.
After Swamp Thing’s lacklustre first run that lasted 24 issues, and an equally disappointing 19-issue second volume, DC decided to go for broke and handed over the creative responsibilities to a then-unknown writer named … Alan Moore, who at the time, could only boast of career achievements across The Pond in 2000 AD, Warrior and Marvel UK.
On paper, Moore didn’t have the credentials to revive a no-hoper like Swamp Thing, but he pulled off the unthinkable by breathing new life into the grotesque walking plant, and elevating it into an award-winning character.
Moore’s “secret” was simple – he rewrote Swamp Thing’s origin by eradicating his human alter ego (Alec Holland) completely. The revised Swamp Thing became a pure 100% creature, composed of swamp vegetation, that had absorbed Holland’s mind and believed itself to be human! Moore also reworked Swamp Thing’s ecosystem with a new supporting cast and gradually expanded its presence in the DC Universe.
While it is simple to transform a time-travelling crook into a Time Cop, Geoff Johns went a few steps further by making Booster Gold the-greatest-hero you never heard of! Despite being the first significant new hero introduced post-Crisis (in 1986), Booster Gold wallowed in the ranks of bit-part players and was used mostly as comic relief.
It took two decades for DC to find the right rebirth formula via Johns’ Midas touch, starting with Booster Gold (Vol 2) #1 in 2007, when he remodelled Booster Gold into a key player who specialises in fixing ravaged time-streams. His new job description has him revisiting major DC milestones such as The Killing Joke and Infinite Crisis, while also getting a painful first-hand lesson on the ramifications of altering history when he tries to save his deceased buddy, Blue Beetle.
He is arguably the worst Robin ever (even Stephanie Brown was better!), but his return from the dead (thanks to Superboy Prime’s reality-altering blows) as the Red Hood offered him a new identity to fulfil his potential. His controversial death at the hands of the Joker in 1988’s Batman #428, a decision made by fan vote through a phone-in campaign, left a bad taste in the mouth, especially when it was revealed later that the results had been rigged by one overzealous participant. Hence, it is only fair that Jason was given a shot at resurrection/redemption, which he received in 2005’s Under The Hood.
As the Red Hood, not only does he get to break away from the sidekick role, most importantly, he can do whatever Batman won’t – that is, kill! His antihero deeds make him stand out among the Batman family, as he is willing to cross the line if the results justify it.
Dial H For Hero
This one is a must-have for every comic fan who wishes to be a superhero. Sadly, it remained inert from the 1960s to the early 2000s. Revolving around a magical dial that can transform its user into a random hero when he or she dials H-E-R-O, this catchy concept never quite fulfilled its potential, mostly due to its focus on just one user – Robert “Robby” Reed, a teenager from a small town called Littleville. Add to that the fact that he had a nemesis named Daffy Dagan, and that Plastic Man was the only “big name” hero involved, and you can see how Dial H For Hero was doomed to fail from the start.
Four decades later, DC revived the title’s fortunes, courtesy of a 22-issue run by writer Will Pfeifer from 2003 to 2005. Besides ditching the long title (it was shortened to just H.E.R.O.), Pfeifer also got rid of Reed, and expanded the dial’s users to different people from different walks of life. The decision paid dividends as we were treated to varying zero-to-hero experiences that made for some great stories.
New Teen Titans
For a long time since they were created in 1964, the Teen Titans (Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and Wonder Girl) were more like a junior version of the Justice League, tasked with saving the world from events that were below the League’s radar.
Things changed in 1980 when Marv Wolfman and George Perez “adopted” the Titans and infused them with so much teen spirit that they even managed to outshine their more illustrious mentors. Under Wolfman and Perez, the Titans ruled the 1980s and gained many awards from epic storylines, including The Trigon Saga, The Judas Contract and Who Is Donna Troy?
Crisis On Infinite Earths killed off A LOT of characters, and one of them was the “original” Wonder Woman (now known as the Wonder Woman of Earth-2), who was blasted into smithereens by the Anti-Monitor, and took with her four decades of comic-book history.
Enter George Perez, who in 1987’s Wonder Woman (Vol 2) #1, remoulded Wonder Woman from fresh clay and turned her into the Amazon warrior princess she is today. Taking a cue from Greek mythology, and inducting Diana into Man’s world as an emissary and ambassador from Themyscira (Paradise Island’s new name), Perez’s rebirth of the character is one that has lasted even until today.
Justice League International
You can pretty much count on at least one revamped League every decade, but none have been quite as unique and witty as JM DeMatteis, Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire’s Justice League #1 in 1987.
Conceived post-Crisis and post-Legends, and at a time when Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman were all undergoing their respective restructuring, the mixed gathering here (surprisingly) gave the League its best roll call.
Moving away from its common and sole objective of protecting America/Earth, the team dynamics offered a mix of experience (Batman), magic (Dr Fate), volatility (Guy Gardner aka Green Lantern), feminine wiles (Black Canary), opportunism (Booster Gold), might (Captain Marvel) and inclusiveness (Blue Beetle representing DC’s Charlton acquisition, Captain Marvel the Fawcett line, and Mr Miracle the “Kirby-verse”).
The nexus binding these characters was the infectious humour that made the first two and a half years of this title such a memorable journey. There may not have been many cataclysmic moments during this League’s stint but moments like Batman knocking out Guy Gardner with one punch eclipsed all shortcomings.