Rebirth: Zero Hour of the New Age

In 1994, DC soft-rebooted its line with Zero Hour, only six years after Crisis on Infinite Earths fully-rebooted the entire company. Despite containing some pretty heavy-handed changes, they were mostly cosmetic. And the alterations that were more serious would go onto be ignored by most writers and eventually revert back to status quo anyway.

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DC’s summer Rebirth event is essentially the new Zero Hour. It is a soft reboot that will continue where the New 52’s continuity ends. Sure, it will attempt to appease some fans of the Modern Age by incorporating aspects of that era. But for anyone already deciding to treat the timeline as brand new, I think that is a ludicrous idea. We don’t even know for sure if anything from the New 52 will actually be fully changed (or erased). Let’s take a look at some of the early Rebirth announcements and predict how they will affect continuity.

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Batgirl’s recent Burnside history remains, as does The Killing Joke (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise). Rumor has it that her time as Oracle will be reinserted to appease fans. I personally think this is a bad idea, but if it is done it shouldn’t affect much New 52 canon. After all, there never was mention of her as Oracle, but there never was anything stating outright that she wasn’t either.

We know for certain that Superman will die before Rebirth, paving the way for Modern Age Superman—who already exists in New 52 continuity—to take his place. This, to me, is one of the most fascinating aspects of Rebirth. I’m looking forward to how this will be handled. While some might view it as an absolute return to ultimate status-quo by simply replacing a current in-the-works Superman with a previous and tested model, it actually is a truly radical departure from anything that’s happened with such a major player in comics before. The way some fans will view it—and the way I am choosing to view it—is that the main-line Earth-0 Superman (i.e. THE one true blue Superman) is being killed off and replaced by an alternate (read “secondary”) version of the character. As far as continuity and narrative both go, Modern Age Superman, while having a ton of history on his side, is still technically an alternate “copy” of the original. He’s an out-an-out doppelgänger. Hell, his banishment to the New 52 happened via Convergence and his kid was born in Convergence, which means the single biggest aspects of his life at the moment both came from something quite stupid and nonsensical. For many fans, especially newer fans, the one-and-only REAL Superman is being ditched for some alt-faker. And they ain’t wrong! This is a big deal. I wonder how long until the CORRECT Man of Steel (New 52 Superman) returns?

Moving on. Helena Bertinelli will supposedly leave Spyral to join the Birds of Prey. This might mean that Spyral becomes defunct before Rebirth. Stay tuned to Grayson to see what happens.

Speaking of Grayson, that series’ conclusion will determine exactly how Dick leaves Spyral, gains his secret ID back (via Somnus Satellite mind-wiping technology), and returns to his Nightwing persona for Rebirth.

Two-Face is returning, which means a resurrection from the dead. Or a retcon. Or a reveal that he never killed himself in the pages of Batman & Robin. After all, Tomasi and Gleason never showed the body after his apparent suicide. Tomasi did confirm Two-Face’s death in interviews, but as the old adage goes: “No body, no death.”

As far as other supporting characters around the DCU, most (if not all) are continuing right where the New 52 will leave off, with all of their New 52 histories intact. This goes for Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, Wally West, Black Canary, and Donna Troy. For anyone that thinks Titans Hunt contradicts Donna Troy’s origin in the pages of the Finches’ Wonder Woman—where donna was seemingly formed out of clay by an evil occult ritual—they just aren’t getting it. Titans Hunt tells us that Donna was around as a hero before the Titans were mind-wiped from the collective memory of the entire world. Titans Hunt shows us what happened to most of the Titans from that point, but it very specifically does not show us what happened to Donna Troy. This is because she disappears. The occult ritual “birthing” scene in Wonder Woman isn’t actually a birth—it is a resurrection or summoning.

Terry McGinnis coming back to Batman Beyond should be interesting. Does he come back from the dead (“Batman Beyond THE GRAVE”)? Will Batman Beyond detail the canon adventures of Terry before his time-jaunt and death (in Futures End)? Or will Batman Beyond return to being an out-of-continuity title? Any of these things could happen.

The insertion of the old Justice Society of America into the history of the DCU proper is problematic. Will this be done with yet another mind-wipe explanation? That’s getting very trite. The New 52 has included various metahumans, supernaturals, and aliens involved in its WWII past—from WRAITH to Enemy Ace to the Creature Commandos to Sergeant Rock and company—but the JSA has never been mentioned. More specifically, the entire idea of the New 52 is that Batman and Superman were the first two legit superheroes, having taken influence from many things, but definitely NOT from the JSA, which never existed.

Wonder Woman is problematic as well. Rumor has it that she will be getting a new origin. Will it resemble her origin in the upcoming film? Or will it be a slightly tweaked version of her New 52 origin? After all, Greg Rucka, who was responsible for her New 52 origin in the first place, is returning to the title. I would imagine that he wouldn’t mess with his own prior narrative too drastically. Suffice to say, any change would likely require small caveats or tiny retcons that hopefully wouldn’t disrupt the history of the timeline too much. Another rumor attached to Rucka’s Wonder Woman is that it will occur ten years after the debut of the New 52 (i.e. ten years after the debuts of Batman and Superman). This would put the entire continuing DCU timeline in Year Ten, which is odd since 2016 is technically Year Nine. (Even Batman Vol. 2 #51, which is setting things up big-time for post-Rebirth has a character refer to Batman’s opening “Court of Owls” arc as having happened “five years ago.” Yes, “five years ago” was 2011, when “Court of Owls” was published and the New 52 began, but in narrative story-time, the “Court of Owls” arc happened four years ago. If this goes down as such, my timeline might need to be slightly adjusted. Is this the beginnings of a poorly-constructed sliding-timescale? Oof. I sure hope not. More realistically, this is likely more terribly bogus specificity in regard to the hallmark DC “five year” mentions that they love oh so much. Don’t do it!

I’m still convinced that Rebirth won’t act as a real reboot, erasing everything before to start from scratch, especially only five years after the New 52 began. But if I were to play Devil’s Advocate and support the idea that Rebirth is a full reboot, my argument would revolve around Wonder Woman and the JSA. We’ll see.

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No matter what, fanwanking comicbookpeople are always going to have their own headcanon and fanon. And editors and creators will be targeted for online assassination over and over again. Debates will surely begin and will surely heat up to boiling temperatures. The puzzle pieces will be scattered onto the sandbox floor. (Am I mixing comicbook metaphors?) Continuity conundrums will arise, but ain’t that half the fun? It’s been a while since these darn “graphic novels” were fun. I welcome the change and I’m excited for Rebirth. This could go a lot of ways and, for once in mainstream comicbookland, that is quite refreshing.

Before I say goodbye, let me close with an injection of truth serum. Not that I’ve been fibbing or sugar-coating, but my excitement for what is to come emanates from my usual cheery disposition and half-glass-full optimism. I mean, exactly how refreshing can a soft-reboot—so shortly after a full-reboot, led by Geoff Johns, and with DiDio and Lee still piloting the ship—really be? The “Lemonade” of corporate comics? Likely not. Big ideas tho. This team of leaders has cultivated strange times for one half of the Big Two. Shelly Bond gone—bummer. Eddie Berganza still around—huge bummer. Gerard Way’s in-continuity Vertigo-esque line—coming in the Fall and should be excellent. Something volcanic is stirring just under the surface. Until we meet again, ta ta for now.

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About Collin Colsher

Collin Colsher is a writer, filmmaker, teacher, and comic book scholar that currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He is the creator of the Real Batman Chronology Project. He also serves on the jury for the annual Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, which is sponsored by the US Library of Congress.

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3 Responses to Rebirth: Zero Hour of the New Age

  1. Hot off the presses. Bleeding Cool showing first Red Hood “Rebirth” issue and what appears to be a return to Jason Todd’s Modern Age origin (where he attempts to steal the hubcaps off the Batmobile). Not sure if this is an out-and-out retcon OR if this is blending somehow with his New 52 origin.

    Again, the Modern Age origin is much better, I think we can all agree. My gripe is why the hell did you let Lobdell write the inane New 52 version if you were going to scrap it in less than four years? Own up to your bullshit, DC. If these sprinkles of change start piling up into mountains, I just might have to start a whole new timeline. Just might—at this point I’m still committed to the current timeline continuing on my website. But WE’LL SEE.

  2. tiptupjr94 says:

    From where I’m sitting, it kind of looks like an Infinite Crisis situation, where it effectively WILL be a new continuity, BUT it will still be the old one… kind of confusing, but not necessarily a bad system. Not only are they talking about Babs’ time as Oracle being canon, but the physical version of the Rebirth Previews catalog mentions Contagion and No Man’s Land as if they are canon. So, that’s interesting!

    I know I’ve brought it up before, but Matthew K. Manning’s “The Batman Files” synthesizes Batman’s publishing history in such a perfect way that I wish that’s what DC would do for their entire universe. On the Batman side, post-Infinite Crisis is kind of where it’s at in terms of the highest number of stories and characters and events being canon as possible. I kind of like that, as opposed to the often barren landscape of New 52 continuity.

    I still think doing a total reboot in 2011 was a mistake, but… who am I to say that Frank Miller is the only person allowed to write Batman’s origin? Or that the other origins can never change or have things added to them? I mean, I guess if someone comes in with a story they want to tell and it’s good and people want to read, they should probably be allowed to tell that story. It’s just hard to get over the fact that a lot of fantastic stories have been replaced by inferior versions in current continuity.

    Wouldn’t Joker’s Daughter be a great villain to tack on to the end of pre-Flashpoint continuity? Maybe Jeannie’s baby survived that apartment explosion but Joker never found out! Wouldn’t the idea of Joker engineering Jason’s Robin career make more sense in the continuity where Joker himself is responsible for ending Dick’s Robin career? Wouldn’t Knightfall gain a bit of context with Jean Paul’s added Mother backstory? I think a lot of New 52 ideas could live in harmony with the old stuff, and maybe DC is starting to think something similar.

    WE’LL SEE.

    • I almost called this article “Rebirth: Infinite Crisis of the New Age,” haha. I sort of regard Infinite Crisis in the same way as Zero Hour. Although, the changes in Infinite Crisis undid/changed a whole hell of a lot more than Zero Hour did. At the time of the publication of Infinite Crisis in 2005, the entire history of the JLA had excluded the Big Three for nearly a decade. Infinite Crisis undid this (along with JLofA Vol. 2), restoring them to status quo as original JLA members. This, of course, fucked with a ton of canon comics, notably JLA: Year One and JLA: Incarnations, both of which instantly became quasi-canon with only certain issues and mere parts of issues remaining in-continuity. A few heroes’ backgrounds were streamlined into more coherent origins as well—but this was at a time when their long confusing histories were a sloppy mess and in need of band-aids. Right now, we don’t really have that. But could Rebirth have a similar effect as Infinite Crisis anyway? Sounds messy to me. Sounds like Superboy-Prime punching.

      “Contagion” was canonized in Batman and… #23.3 (aka Ra’s Al Ghul & The League of Assassins #1), Grayson #12, AND Forever Evil: Arkham War #2, so nothing new there. And, for the past five years, editor Mike Marts has been referring to a New 52 canonical “No Man’s Land” simply as “the undetermined period time after an earthquake hit Gotham” (or something like that). Forever Evil: Arkham War #2 also makes direct reference to the quake. Of course, these things are drastically retcon-altered when referenced or used as Easter Eggs. But, point is, they exist in some form.

      I’m not opposed to the post-Rebirth period as an era that tries to reconcile more of the good stuff from the past with what’s going on in the present. The way I have viewed the New 52 is, in some ways, as an experiment in letting writers pick-and-choose bits of random continuity to canonize with a very weird shortened blank slate. Grayson had a lot of fun with this—making the yellow lemonade room from All-Star Batman canon (!) for example.

      I don’t mind the barren landscape of the New 52 timeline, because it still has plenty of room to be filled! And hopefully Rebirth will allow for that. My MAIN concern is that, while inserting classic bits of history (albeit slightly-altered versions), editors and writers will now be allowed to step all over the New 52, creating confusing and frustrating continuity errors. Like it or not, the New 52 happened and better to stick with it and mold it into something beautiful rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

      But, yes, the only thing to do is wait. WE’LL SEE INDEED!

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