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.
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.
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, Bruce 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 as he tries to summon his Thunderbolt.
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 Badge, still stained with blood.
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.
In Arkham Asylum, several inmates are gathered around a television set to watch a hockey match. One of the inmates is Saturn Girl, who recognizes the game, saying that one of the players will be killed on the ice. She begs for someone to do something, but everyone writes it off as a delusional episode and move to restrain her. She starts crying and screaming, saying that there is no to save them.
In the Batcave, Batman is analyzing the Comedian's Badge while the game plays in the background. Events unfold as Saturn Girl predicts and a fight between two players rapidly escalates. Batman rolls the button around his hand before turning the game off. Seemingly no closer to understanding the enigmatic object, Batman flips it through the air onto the table, where it clicks into the mask of the supervillain Psycho-Pirate. Unexpectedly, the button reacts to the mask, and another bolt from the Speed Force knocks Batman to the ground. As he stands up, he is stunned when he sees another figure standing in the cave: his father, Thomas Wayne, the Flashpoint Batman, who is equally stunned to see his son. Thomas disappears before Batman can interact further. Batman immediately checks his instruments and contacts Flash, telling him what happened and saying they need to meet immadiately. Busy with his duties as a superhero, Flash asks for one minute, which Batman agrees to. He then hears a noise behind him and thinks Flash is early, much to his surprise, only to discover it is Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash. Killed by Thomas in Flashpoint but resurrected by a temporal anomaly, Reverse-Flash decides to take his revenge on Thomas's son.
A battle breaks out over the course of the minute, during which Thawne destroy the letter Thomas wrote to his son. Batman knows he cannot win, but also knows that if he lasts a minute, it won't matter. However, when the timer clicks down to zero, Flash is nowhere to be found and Reverse-Flash knocks out Batman. Noticing the button, Reverse-Flash grabs it, before disappearing in a burst of blue light. Seconds later, he returns without it, half of his body disintegrated. His final words are "God... God... I saw... God."
A moment later, Flash arrives in the cave, revealing he was late because he tried to save the hockey player on the ice. However, he was dead by the time he arrived, proving Saturn Girl's prediction. Flash stops short when he discovers the unconscious Batman and the now deceased Reverse-Flash.
Bruce is resting in recovery while Flash investigates the scene. He discovers his own unique speed force signature on Thawne, wondering if he might have had a hand in Thawne's demise, as Reverse-Flash was a known time-traveler and any amount of time could have passed between his departure and reappearance. Batman reveals that Thawne claimed to have seen "God with a capital G" before he expired and Flash determines that the button is missing. Flash decides to use the Cosmic Treadmill to find where Thawne went after he left the Batcave and despite his protests, Batman insists he come along.
They quickly realize something is very wrong. The very act of time-traveling appears surreal and unstable in contrast to how it has appeared in the past. They see the original Silver Age origin of the Justice League of America, much to their confusion. The imagery quickly becomes twisted when the Silver Age Flash grabs his Batman by the collar and starts screaming before disintegrating to dust. They crash out of the timestream into a cave, which Batman recognizes as his own. However, they are quickly corrected by Thomas Wayne, who reveals that it his cave.
It is revealed that the Flashpoint, while destablized by Barry's actions, is being sustained by a higher power. Fighting off assassins sent by Aquaman and Wonder Woman, Thomas and Bruce share a breif reunion, during which Thomas reveals that he believes that the mantle of Batman will cause nothing but misery to those who weild it. He insists Bruce abandon the cowl and walk away, at which point the Flashpoint finally begins to collapse. Flash quickly repairs the Cosmic Treadmill and they prepare to leave, but Thomas refuses to accompany them. He dies with his world, defiant to the end.
Lost in the timestream again, they are ambushed by Reverse-Flash, who is confused as to how they caught up with him so quickly. Flash tries to warn him about what's going to happen, but Thawne ignores them, saying he is prepared to confront the power behind the button.
Attempting to chase Thawne proves useless as the timestream turns into a maelstrom, destroying the cosmic treadmill. Free to move forward, Thawne arrives at an unknown point in space and time. His previous bravado is quickly drained when he sees what he has been pursuing. Seeming to recognize the entity, he begs for his life to no avail, and is condemned to fate.
In the maelstrom of Hypertime, the heroes hear him scream, and know he is dead. Now struggling to escape the maelstrom, Barry hears a voice calling to him, asking him to say the name "Jay". Doing so temporarily frees the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, who uses what little power he has to get them home. He is quickly pulled back out of time when Barry fails to permenantly restore him. Flash and Batman are both left shaken, with Flash reluctant to continue the investigation, and Batman now struggling to put on the costume.
Back where Reverse Flash was killed, the button is seen lying on the ground, before being picked up by the glowing hand of Doctor Manhattan.
The button is next seen floating through space, the blood gradually peeling off in the zero gravity environment. Gradually the bloodstained button transforms into the battered shield of Superman, now embalzoned atop the Doomsday Clock as the hands near midnight, foreshadowing a confrontation between Doctor Manhattan and the Man of Steel.
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 DC Comics, 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.