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DC Rebirth is a 2016 relaunch by DC Comics of its entire line of ongoing monthly superhero comic books. Using the end of The New 52 initiative in May 2016 as its launching point, DC Rebirth is intended to restore the DC Universe to a form much like that which existed prior to the 2011 "Flashpoint" storyline while still incorporating numerous elements of The New 52, including its continuity.

Among the many adjustments and alterations involved with the relaunch, the largest change introduced by DC Rebirth was the official inclusion of Watchmen into the DC Universe.

Background

In 2011, DC Comics rebooted their entire continuity with The New 52. The purpose of this relaunch was to act as a jumping on point for readers at a time when the comic book industry as a whole was facing record low sales. While it was a financial success, it was overall considered a critical failure as fans and critics alike found many of the drastic changes to characters and storytelling unnecessary and unappealing. Only a small number of series were received positively in the initial rollout, including Batman, Green Lantern, Justice League, and Wonder Woman.

While critical reception to The New 52 improved as the initiative progressed and DC Comics had significantly improved its market share, it steadily dwindled as both new and old readers became increasingly dissatisfied. This culminated in 2014 with the release of Future's End, an event which was critically panned by fans and critics, and is considered the lowest ebb of the New 52 releases. In 2015, following another event titled Convergence, The New 52 was officially discontinued. Lacking an immediate replacement, very little actually changed as a result, and a new wave of titles received mixed reviews.

DC co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee approached Geoff Johns, CCO of DC. Johns, whose work was highly regarded by fans and critics alike, was informed they were planning to remove the increasingly unpopular line-up of titles from circulation and begin a new initiative, which they asked him to helm. Johns, who had previously written the critically acclaimed Green Lantern: Rebirth and The Flash: Rebirth, agreed. It was announced as DC Rebirth. Currently slated for two years of publication, its stated purpose is to restore the DC Universe to a state similar to that which existed prior to Flashpoint, and correct the perceived flaws of The New 52. An 80 page one-shot special was released on May 25th, 2016 to launch the initiative.

Plot Summary

DC Universe: Rebirth

Chapter 1 - Lost

The story opens displaying the inner-workings of an antique watch. An unseen narrator states that the watch was given to him by his uncle when he graduated college, owned by his father and grandfather before him. An inscription on the back reads “Every Second is a Gift”. The narrator states his uncle was an optimist, and that he was too until the watch broke, and lost time. A gear is shown to have been worn down by rust.

At Wayne Manor, Bruce Wayne (Batman) is keeping tabs on police reports, as well as watching ongoing news coverage on the apparent disappearance of Superman. He is informed by his butler Alfred Pennyworth that his nemesis, the Joker, has taken hostages in Civic City. In response, Batman reveals that the Joker was also captured outside Baltimore and is currently in custody. Reflecting on a cryptic statement made to him by the Mobius Chair, he concludes that it was correct: there are three Jokers. Uncertain of the implications of this, he prepares to investigate further, but is cut off by a sudden burst of energy inside the cave. The narrator reveals himself physically as Wally West, the original Kid Flash and previous Flash, now trapped outside of reality. He pleads with Bruce to help him, but it is futile; Bruce does not recognize him. He Wally’s connection to reality is broken and he is pulled back into the Speed Force, the only thing keeping him in existence, but as he is pulled back he reminds Bruce that the letter from his father was where this universe began. A lightning bolt strikes the far wall as he departs, leaving Bruce to stare at the letter in question.

Wally warps through time and space in the Speed Force, reciting his past. He speaks of his mentor Barry Allen (Flash) and of his friends in the Teen Titans. He remembers that one day the skies went red and Barry died, leaving him to become the Flash. He remembers that one day Barry came back from the dead and for a moment everything seemed perfect, until everything suddenly went wrong. Barry went back in time to stop the murder of his mother and while he was successful, he created a Flashpoint, a warped and damaged reality. While Barry undid the damage he had caused, another force unknown to the heroes tampered with the fabric of the universe during the chaos, and removed ten years from history. This change turned the universe for the worse and brought about an era of despair and apathy in a once vibrant and hopeful place. Wally, while determined to come back, has a far more pressing concern: it’s about to happen again.

Chapter 2 - Legacy

He arrives in front of a ragged and aged Johnny Thunder, a former member of the Justice Society of America. The Society, the first ever team of superheroes, covertly participated in World War II and helped win the war for the Allies. However, during the Cold War, Joseph McCarthy used political power to disband the team and ensure their very existence was concealed from the public. Johnny has been searching for his comrades, and his own powers, ever since. Confined to a nursing home he is believed senile, but Wally declares that Johnny is right, and pleads with him to find them as he is certain they will be needed. Johnny’s panicked and fragile state of mind quickly causes Wally to be pulled back from reality, leaving Johnny in tears as he begs for him to come back.

Wally begins to see the rest of reality as he searches for another avenue to return. He catches a glimpse of someone else displaced in time, but is unable to get a hold of them. They are shown to be a woman, detained by the authorities and believed to be mentally ill, but of no danger. She seeks to speak to Superman and claims to be a friend. When the authorities state he may very well be dead, she replies by saying she’s seen the future and everything will be okay. The police prepare to transfer her to mental services as she shows no sign of violent behavior and possessed no weapons, only a gold ring. The ring is shown to be a flight ring from the Legion of Superheroes, originating in the 31st century, and the woman is revealed as Saturn Girl.

The second image he sees is of Ryan Choi, Professor Ray Palmer’s prized student. After being scolded by his racist dean, he tries to locate Professor Palmer, only to find he has vanished. Palmer, also the superhero known as The Atom, leaves a message revealing he discovered the existence of a microscopic universe underlying their own. Unfortunately, he also discovered something terrible, which he claims could destroy everything. He tells Ryan to come into the so-called Microverse after him and as he is in the process of warning him about something the message ends, leaving Ryan unsettled.

The third image he receives is of Ted Kord and Jaime Reyes, both the superheroes Blue Beetle. After discussing their partnership, Jaime activates the Blue Beetle Scarab, donning his armor, and flies off as he is late for school. Before Ted can do anything else he is confronted by Dr. Fate, another Justice Society member who informs that their theory on the origin of the Scarab is incorrect; it is not alien, but magic.

Several more random flashes occur, showing Damian Wayne (Robin) and Jessica Cruz (Green Lantern) before focusing in on a young man named Jackson Hyde, who is revealed to be Aqualad. Wally continues to fall through reality as the images suddenly stop.

Pandora, the long-believed architect of the current universe, is shown to be fleeing for her life. When she is finally cornered, she stands defiant against her unseen assailant, reciting her own myth. She states that when she opened Pandora’s Box and allowed evil into the world, hope followed, and that hope manifested as the heroes of the universe. She states that her assailant will fail, that the heroes will overcome, and that they will prove they are nothing but a “lonely, cruel monster”. She screams as she is disintegrated in a burst of blue light.

Chapter 3 - Love

Wally hears Pandora's screams in the Speed Force, but is unable to help, nor does he recognize her voice. He briefly rematerializes in front of Paradise Island, home of the Amazons, where Darkseid’s daughter Grail nurses an infant, her father reincarnated, and tells him about Jason, Wonder Woman’s brother. Wally is suddenly pulled away to Metropolis, where he confirms that Superman has been killed, though he can’t see it clearly. He notices Green Arrow and Black Canary among the assembled heroes, remembering they had a loving relationship in the universe he knew, and they appear to know something is missing.

At a motel outside Metropolis, Post-Crisis Superman, displaced in reality due to an unrelated incident, is discussing with Lois Lane about the demise of The New 52 Superman. He exits the room momentarily to gather his thoughts, only to encounter a hooded figure wielding a staff. The figure comments on the continued growth of Jonathan Kent, Superman’s son, and when confronted on his identity he states that his true name does not currently matter. He asks to be called Mr. Oz in the meantime. He leaves with a peculiar statement, declaring that Superman and his family are not what they think they are, and neither was his counterpart.

Wally witnesses Aquaman proposing to his long-time lover Mera, showing that the damage done to history is healing. Witnessing this he has a sudden strike of inspiration, and locates Linda Park, who in the previous timeline was his wife. Believing that she would remember him, and their love would pull him back into the universe, he asks Linda to take his hand. To his utter horror, Linda not only fails to recognize him but appears visibly terrified. Screaming in agony and despair, he is dragged back into the Speed Force.

Chapter 4 - Life

His hope in tatters, his will to live starts to fade, and he begins to physically destabilize inside the Speed Force. He receives brief flashes of John Constantine and Swamp Thing, as well as two new superheroes in Gotham City. Desperately he pleads with former friends and foes alike to save him, but they all fail to recognize him, and react with similar fear to Linda. Finally, he sees someone he does not recognize: the new Wally West, his counterpart in this timeline. He is learning to master his own powers, performing small acts of heroism and not taking credit for them. Distraught but somewhat reassured, Wally finally decides to give up, but not before going to speak to his mentor. While Barry does not remember him either, Wally doesn't care, and thanks Barry for giving him an amazing life. He finally allows himself to disintegrate. At the last moment, though, Barry suddenly remembers everything. Grasping hold of Wally's arm, he pulls him out, and the two share a tearful reunion.

Wally tells Barry about everything that has happened, and while Barry worries he might have caused the disaster, Wally assures him it is was not his fault. He finishes his statement by saying, ominously, that they are all being watched.

At the same time, Batman scours through the Batcave in the wake of Wally’s incursion, and looks at the letter from his father that Wally had mentioned. Just past it, he sees the spot where Wally’s lightning struck, and something is amiss when light reflects off something in the rocks. Investigating further, he finds something lodged in the cave wall, and chips it lose.

It is the Comedian’s Pin, stained with fresh blood.

Epilogue

The view shifts away from Earth to Mars, where Wally’s watch is shown to be lying against a rock in the barren terrain. It is stopped at 11:59, the moment Adrian Veidt's alien destroyed New York City. Suddenly it is lifted into the air, hovering there for a moment before being deconstructed down to its base components. The rusted gear is shown before being miraculously repaired to pristine conditions. The same appears to occur to the entire watch, returning it to perfect condition. The final conversation between Ozymandias and Doctor Manhattan echoes as the watch rapidly begins to tick backwards before taking on the appearance of the doomsday clock.  

The Flash

Wally leaves to find his former teammates, leaving Barry Allen to consider his options. Knowing that Bruce is the only other person even vaguely aware that history has been changed, he goes to speak with him. Arriving at Wayne Manor, Barry finds Bruce running tests on the Comedian’s Pin, believing it to have been left by the Joker. Barry informs Bruce of all that has transpired, and they realize that they’re actually pursuing the same enemy. Comparing and contrasting with the letter Barry gave Bruce after the Flashpoint was resolved, they share theories, but ultimately they are both uncertain. The pin has a unique radiation signature, one that neither Bruce nor Barry have ever seen before.

Superman

After discovering that he cannot return his counterpart to life like he himself was, Post-Crisis Superman visits the grave of the New 52 Superman in Smallville. When he places his hand on the grave, a glowing blue handprint is left on the grave, causing Post-Crisis to recall his meeting with Mr. Oz. He quickly departs.

Action Comics

Post-Crisis Clark, Lois, and Jon Kent are moving into their new farmhouse outside Metropolis. As they are from New Earth, the previous universe and timeline, they are initially determined to stay out of events in this new universe. However, that plan is swiftly derailed when Lex Luthor appears on national television in a suit of Apokoliptian power armor to declare that he is replacing Superman. Unwilling to allow this, Clark dons his old costume, and goes off to challenge Luthor as he is observed by Mr. Oz.

The two engage each other, with Luthor claiming Post-Crisis to be an imposter, and Post-Crisis claiming Luthor is manipulating people to his own ends. They engage each other, fighting across the skies of Metropolis. They are interrupted by the arrival of Doomsday, a monster previously responsible for killing Post-Crisis Superman. Recognizing the threat posed by the creature, they both move to fight it, but find themselves outmatched individually.

At the Daily Planet, the company is moving to report on the ongoing crisis. Perry White prepares to send Jimmy Olsen to the scene, but they are both shocked to find Clark Kent volunteering to go. Kent had previously been outed by Lois Lane as Superman, so his appearance is problematic as his alter-ego is deceased. Kent insists he is the genuine article and accompanies Olsen to the scene.

Neither Superman nor Luthor are able to gain ground on Doomsday. During the fighting, Doomsday demonstrates strategic thinking, a significant and dangerous evolution of the creature which does not go unnoticed by Superman. The two men reluctantly decide to work together to try and minimize the damage to the surrounding city and people. During this combined effort, they both notice Jimmy and the human Clark. Superman decides to lure Doomsday underground, hoping to trap him beneath the city so they can finish him off. Mr. Oz continues observation, declaring that he cannot make his move until they make theirs. In luring Doomsday beneath the ground, he accidentally forces the human Clark below as well, who mistakes him for The New 52 Superman. He states that Superman encountered him and told him to hide months earlier, to which Post-Crisis is utterly baffled. Luthor moves Clark out of the area, and shortly thereafter Superman’s heat vision hits a gas line, destroying several city blocks. Clark investigates the rubble and finds Doomsday still lurking, but is saved by the intervention of Wonder Woman. Meanwhile, Lex is evacuating civilians, and briefly encounters Superwoman, one of two currently active. Superman reemerges beneath the rubble and begins to relentlessly assault Doomsday, but is stunned when he suddenly departs seeming of his own volition. He is horrified when he remembers that Doomsday can sense, and more importantly hunts, Kryptonians. Realizing his son is the target, he races out to save him. At the same time his family comes to the same conclusion and they link up on the roads outside Metropolis.

Noticing Wonder Woman intercepted Doomsday on a nearby hill, Superman takes over the fight alone, telling Wonder Woman to get his family to safety. However, as she departs, Mr. Oz summons an army of black-clad soldiers, using technology much more sophisticated than the standard array witnessed thus far, to restrain Doomsday. They are overwhelmed, but not before weakening him significantly, and with the return of Wonder Woman it is enough for Superman to gain the upper-hand and lure the creature to his Fortress of Solitude, where he uses a Phantom Zone Projector to imprison the beast. Before reuniting with his family, Superman offers his partnership, if not his friendship, to Lex. He agrees, though both remain suspicious of each other. Mr. Oz is then revealed to have intercepted the Phantom Zone projection and now has Doomsday in captivity.

Detective Comics

Colonel Jacob Kane, father of Kate Kane AKA Batwoman, believes in the existence of an enemy known as the League of Shadows, said to frighten even the disciples of legendary assassin Ra’s al Ghul. Using a rogue section of the army called the Colony, he plans to eliminate them. Encountering the Colony, Batman recruits Kate, as well as Tim Drake (Red Robin), Stephanie Brown (Spoiler), Cassandra Cain (Orphan), and Clayface to wage war on the Colony. Batman is captured early on, but Batwoman proves to be a capable commander due to her own military background, and mounts a rescue mission. During his imprisonment, Batman denies the existence of the League of Shadows, stating they are a myth. Jacob is adamant they are real. Batman is rescued, and armed with data taken from Jacob’s computer systems, prepares to expose the Colony.

Jacob executes a final contingency before he is exposed. A swarm of automated drones target the so-called members of the League of Shadows, and while the team is able to bring down some of them, they realize they are overwhelmed. Tim Drake, in a desperate gambit, hacks them and, unable to shut them down remotely fast enough, changes their target to him. Despite the team’s intervention, he is seemingly killed, leaving them distraught even as the Colony is shut down.

Elsewhere, Tim Drake is revealed to be alive. Transported out at the very last moment, he is currently imprisoned in an unknown location. His captor reveals himself to be Mr. Oz, who tells Drake he will not be harmed, but he will not be leaving either. He states that Drake was making connections that he could not yet allow, and must now be removed from play. Though Drake swears his friends will rescue him, Oz is adamant their is no escape. 

Justice League

The Justice League defends New York City from a monstrous alien in the wake of The New 52 Superman's death. While powerful, the team is severely outgunned until the arrival of Post-Crisis Superman, who immediately takes charge. Aquaman communicates with the alien, and while initially horrified at its intention to devour humanity, he delivers the Justice League's demands for surrender. The creature reluctantly accepts and departs, warning them that its actions would have been a kindness compared to what is coming. The League is unfazed, and Superman agrees to continue assisting the team.

Shortly thereafter, an army of bio-mechanical machines assault the planet. In the midst of dealing with worldwide earthquakes, they find themselves unprepared for the attack. Several heroes have their powers weakened and Wonder Woman is captured. Using this power, the machines construct the Kindred, four unstoppable giants who quickly begin a ritual. The captured Wonder Woman asks what their plan is, and they reiterate Wally’s claim that an attack on the universe is about to begin. The vague speech patterns of the Kindred leaves it unclear as to whether they are trying to bring it about or stop it.

The Justice League rallies, and the Kindred are destroyed by Superman, who officially joins the League as a full-time member. Before they fall, the Kindred achieve their mysterious purpose, and declare ominously that "The Forever Crisis" is coming.

Titans

Wally adopts a new costume, officially becoming the Flash once again at Barry’s insistence, and races off to locate his former teammates. Unknown to Wally, most have either died or put away their costumes, leaving only Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, Roy Harper, Lilith Clay, and a boy from Atlantis named Garth. They too have moved on from their younger identities, becoming the superheroes Nightwing, Wonder Girl, Arsenal, Omen, and Tempest respectively. Wally breaks into Grayson’s apartment, sifting through old photographs. The team returns after an engagement with Mister Twister, the first enemy they had ever faced, and find Wally. With their own pasts in question and history unclear, they take no chances and attack Wally. Each is struck by the Speed Force, now glowing a vibrant blue, and suddenly remember everything. Wally brings them up to speed, and the Titans are reformed to stop history from being erased again. 

In Wally’s hometown of Central City, an old and unskilled magician suddenly falls over in a plume of smoke in the midst of a child’s birthday. The magician reappears, much younger, and introduces himself properly as Abra Kadabra. He claims to have made Wally disappear and plots to destroy him. 

His plans are swiftly put into motion. Doppelgangers of the Titans attack the city, forcing them to intervene. Abra watches the fighting, as does Linda Park, who now has a keen interest in Wally but is uncertain as to why. When Abra realizes she is there looking for Wally, he too realizes time is wrong, but resolves to destroy Wally anyway before being found by Grath. Wally spots them, and recognizes Abra to his horror. Knowing Grath cannot stop him alone, Wally tries to get him clear, but Tempest is struck point blank by a magic burst. 

Reception

DC Rebirth has been widely acclaimed by fans and critics as a return to form for DC Comics after The New 52. DC Comics had record sales throughout July 2016, and the following month the industry as a whole reported a twenty-year high in sales, with specific statistics showing DC having the largest market share, dwarfing major competitor Marvel Comics by almost ten-percent. On August 3rd, it was confirmed that Geoff Johns had been promoted to President of the company, while still maintaining his post of CCO.

The induction of Watchmen was considered controversial, though reception was largely positive. Alan Moore offered no comment, while lead artist David Gibbons simply said they weren't informed of the decision prior to release. Some have speculated that Rebirth may have been a factor in Alan Moore's decision to retire from comics in September 2016.

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