Continuity, Crossovers and (Doomsday) Clocks – Keeping Track of DC Rebirth
As even the most ardent fanboy (or fangirl, fanperson, or fanbot) will tell you, it can often be hard to keep track of how storylines match up across a comic line. This is especially true when you’ve not only had a huge continuity shake-up, but also have multiple comic events running simultaneously, as is the case with DC just now.
In fact, and I say this as someone who binged a year’s worth of DC comics over the summer, if it wasn’t for a throwaway comment in the current issue of Teen Titans (#13) I’m still not sure I’d be completely sure.
So hold on to your butts, folks, as we try to help you make sense of the post-Rebirth continuity, and think more generally about what’s worth spending your pennies on.
And, you know, SPOILER WARNING, obviously (although hopefully not too many).
In brief, there are two major ongoing storylines: the overarching post-New 52 Rebirth saga featuring the mysterious Mr Oz, building towards the soon-to-start Doomsday Clock; and the crossover event comic, Dark Knights: Metal.
New 52 ends during the cataclysmic events caused by the invasion by the Crime Syndicate of America (the evil Justice League of Earth-3), leading to the death (for real, permanently this time) of Superman. However, there is some high-level cosmic meddling going on, and characters are beginning to realise that someone seems to have altered reality and removed people from the timeline. And when Wally West, caught within the Speed Force throughout the New 52 era, reaches out and reconnects to Barry Allen, fragmented memories begin to return.
There have been lots of hints dropped about the nature of the involvement of The Watchmen, from Bruce finding the Comedian’s button lodged in the rock of the Batcave, to the Guardians of the Universe seeing a giant blue hand when they peer back to the moment of Creation. It’s the thread that runs throughout the Rebirth line, exploring the mysterious Mr Oz (acting as agent of Rebirth’s architect) primarily within the Super and Bat titles, and preparing us for the upcoming Doomsday Clock crossover.
Dark Knights: Metal is an ongoing storyline set to run into next year, is part of the main continuity of Rebirth, and will have a follow-on event. However, it is not concurrent with the main Rebirth titles. It is considered to have “finished” chronologically – in Teen Titans #13, they refer to it as being in the recent past. It’s a glorious, disturbing and at times even nostalgic romp through a dark multiverse of fallen Batmen, featuring the demise of the Court of Owls and the Batman himself (sorta) and the entire DCU taking on the Batman who Laughs and his Dark Knights in the thrall of Barbatos, the Bat Demon. With echoes of Crises past, this is a tremendously enjoyable event series for any Bat-fan.
So, to try to help you navigate the bigger picture outside of these two main ongoing events, we’ve tried to group together the other major storyline threads (with the key titles in bold).
SUPER FAMILY – Action Comics, Superman, Super-Sons, Super Woman, New Super-Man, Super Girl
Honestly, I’ve never been a huge fan of the Big Blue Boy Scout, but he has leapt (in a single bound, no less) to the top of my to-read pile. Why? Because at the end of New 52, Superman dies, with some very strange side-effects: Lois and Lana gain powers, and Lex Luthor, seeing Superman for the saviour he always claimed to be, decides to take on the mantle. Oh, and there’s this guy called Clark Kent running around, too (actually Mister Mxyzptlk, trapped inside with no memory, at the whim of Mr Oz).
Currently Superman isn’t our Superman, but rather an exile from another Earth, married to Lois with a son, Jonathan. So this becomes a story about fatherhood – often brilliantly explored in tandem with Bruce’s relationship with Damian (there’s a pie-eating scene that’s not to be missed), and the burgeoning friendship between the boys as explored in the excellent Super-Sons. Action Comics gives other characters room to breathe, as it always has: Lex Luthor genuinely trying to be a better man, Lois as an in-field reporter; it’s very satisfying, whilst Superman as a title allows other facets to be explored – Sinestro, for example, is suddenly a fresh character as an antagonist for Superman, whilst classic characters such as Zod get their proper “screen time” too.
Across AC and Superman the Rebirth storyline continues, culminating in the BIG REVEAL that Mr Oz is (or claims to be) Jor-El. This makes for a fantastic, self-contained read. New Super-Man, on the other hand, at times feels a bit tokenistic, and Super Girl suffers by comparison to the CW (despite the glorious Mr Bones as head of the DEO). Super Woman lies somewhere in the middle – it pulled a great bait-and-switch at the start where we assumed it would focus on this Earth’s Lois (who dies a couple of issues in), and it’s a shame to see it end with #18, but it’s never quite found its feet as a comic, exploring anxiety through Lana Lang’s relationships and emerging powers.
BAT FAMILY – Batman, Detective Comics, Nightwing, Batgirl, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, All-Star Batman, Batwoman, Batman Beyond.
Detective Comics and Batman serve very different purposes within Rebirth, which is no bad thing, as there are plenty of times over the years where they’ve blurred together to the point that they’ve been indistinguishable and lacked separate identity. It’s actually rather impressive that, fundamentally, Detective Comics is the lead title in the ongoing timeline. Batman, as a title, was always going to struggle in comparison to the Snyder era; once we got past the initial jitters and the introduction of Gotham Girl however, and a slightly strange crossover in the Rise of the Monster Men, the phenomenal War of Jokes and Riddles (against the background of Bruce proposing to Selina, which it turns out makes a lot of sense in the wake of the loss of Tim Drake) has given a completely fresh insight into a whole raft of classic characters. Against this, we have the broader story moving forward, and the growing relationship of Cat and Bat.
Detective Comics, on the other hand, is the core of Rebirth – and remarkably, it does this without Batman most of the time. The core premise is that Bruce enlists Batwoman to lead a team to guard Gotham, acknowledging from the outset that Batman can’t be everywhere. With Tim/Red Robin as the brains of the team, and a roster of Gotham Knights including Clayface (who’s being given a chance at redemption within the team), this has been thrilling from the outset. But it’s with the “death” of Tim that everything changes, and time and space is given to exploring the range of Bat-Family characters – the unraveling of Spoiler is particularly well done, but equally Batwing sits much more comfortably as a character in this team rather than as part of Batman, Inc.
Also, it seems to gradually aligning with pre-New 52 continuity, such as Azrael struggling against his programming (yes, we see the Knightfall suit return). Most recently, with Tim’s escape from Mr Oz (and his pet Doomsday) thanks to his psychotic future self, who has taken on the role of Batman, blaming Batwoman for failing in her role and planning her death. Not only is it gripping stuff, it becomes apparent that future Tim’s continuity is pre-Rebirth, if not pre-New 52, as he mentions Connor Kent, Superboy of old – a character no-one seems to know. Oh, and this week’s issue sees the return to continuity of one of Bruce’s most flawed creations, who evolves into a major threat to the inhabitants of Gotham and the wider DCU. It’s testament to the creative team at DC that the flagship title is simply unmissable.
It’s perhaps a little unfair to put the other Bat Family titles alongside these as they’re telling very different stories, and there’s some slightly knotty continuity issues here too.
Nightwing, back from his time as a secret agent at the end of New 52, has a lot of loose ends to tidy up. Now this is not vital crossover reading, but the character has been brilliantly re-examined by Tim Seeley. Rebirth as an event has given so much creative freedom to writers and it’s rarely more evident than in Dick’s return to Blüdhaven, trying to lead a semi-normal life. Nightwing is a comic about the effect that the life has on others. Equally, there’s some really disturbing material with Professor Pyg, the consequences of which have genuine knock-on effects for the Metal storyline.
Batgirl explores the new territory idea again with mixed success, starting by taking Barbara to Japan, more successfully introduces a major new player in the form of the Penguin’s son, and is currently looking back to her early days with then-Robin. It’s broadly effective, but sags slightly in places – young fresh Batgirl jars somewhat with jaded experienced formerly Oracle and BoP Batgirl. The two titles are at times at odds with each other; and the current Birds of Prey storyline, with echoes of Contagion, seems out of step with rest of the DCU. This is frustrating as, generally, it’s Batgirl & the BoP has been a great title but it’s that awkward storyline mismatch that can be so frustrating (and indeed, is likely what brought you to read this in the first place).
All-Star Batman fills much the same role as Shadow of the Bat used to, filling in tales of Batman’s past. I will say that anyone who scoffs at the depiction of Alfred in BvS, however, should make a beeline for this as we now have a far more detailed history of Mr Pennyworth. Batwoman, interestingly, fulfills a similar role for Kate Kane – it’s not essential reading per se, but so much has been done to raise her profile that it’s great to see the character’s history.
You might be understandably surprised to see me finish up with Batman Beyond in here. Fair enough, I always liked the cartoon. And hey, it’s only one possible future right? Yeah, bonkers Damian as R’as Al Ghûl makes sense but still. Why not talk about Nightwing The New Order, it’s pretty good too? Well, yes, except the current issue of Beyond – as well as being a sheer masterpiece of sequential art storytelling, 5/5 stuff – happens to reintroduce THE SAME character to continuity as the new issue of Detective Comics.
Just saying. I’d keep an eye on this one, brother.
These aside, there are a number of other major events, storylines and themes playing out across the DCU…
COMIC RELIEF – Harley Quinn; Suicide Squad, Red Hood and the Outlaws.
First, let’s clear something up. Harley Quinn as a title, in all its glorious bonkersness (yes, that’s a word, I’m a professional!) essentially exists in its own bubble universe exempt from continuity, except when it feels like. It’s a deliriously entertaining romp, if you like that sort of thing.
It’s pretty unreasonable of me, actually, to put the other two titles alongside this, as Suicide Squad overlaps significantly with other Super and Bat family stories. It’s dark, funny (Killer Croc especially) and compelling, and the self-contained Suicide Squad Vs Justice League 6-parter is also the best outing of the League in the Rebirth era. Batman’s… complex relationship with Amanda Waller is explored well, General Zod cutting the bomb out of his own brain brilliant and terrifying in equal measure, and the recurring theme of the villain Reborn makes this as satisfying a read as it was in the early days of New 52.
Honestly, I’ve never really liked Red Hood as a character or a title – it’s always seemed like a pretty cheap gimmick to me.
I was dead wrong.
This title is the top of my pull-list, my absolute must-read title. Yes, it’s mostly not interacting with the rest of Rebirth (although there is some great stuff with new Super Lex), but the Dark Trinity of Red Hood, Artemis, and Bizarro (also a character that I’m not especially fond of) is just brilliant.
LAZARUS – Deathstroke/Teen Titans
Deathstroke has been re-imagined in terms of style and tone in Rebirth, feeling more like a Brubaker-style super-noir in the vein of Sleeper, and very satisfying it is too. But the crossover event between the two titles involves him enlisting the new Kid Flash to change the timeline, with some predictable and some not so predictable results – his own Rebirth, starting over and running a team of mercenary heroes. The Teen Titans meanwhile nearly implode under the tyrannical leadership of Damian, only surviving with Starfire nominally in charge.
TIMELINE MYSTERIES – Titans/The Flash
Titans is playing out a very different story to the other titles, suffering a bit from overlap syndrome with Nightwing’s standalone title. However, there are still the fascinating questions that surround Wally… This is serious spoiler territory, however, so I can’t delve into things too deeply. Titans is a tricky title as I say. It seems to be touching on the deeper questions of Rebirth, but it’s not quite clear. I leave that up to you.
The Flash is quite a separate matter. First and foremost, it’s not required reading from a continuity perspective. However, it’s utterly riveting, introducing a diverse range of new rogues (Godspeed and Bloodwork stand out) and asking a lot of difficult questions about Barry’s place in the world. Where it goes from here is anybody’s guess, and it’s a credit to the team that it goes from strength to strength.
THE DARK SIDE OF THE DCU – Wonder Woman/Mister Miracle
Yes, terrible pun, leave me alone.
I’m slightly pushing it by linking these two, but bear with me. Wonder Woman, after a stunning year under Greg Rucka that re-examined her mythos superbly (with a dash of a homage to Gail Simone’s run), has managed to stay on track and finds itself at the leading edge of the return of Darkseid after his demise at the end of the New 52 era. This is going to be, inevitably, one of the major DC storylines going forward – so get your head round it from the outset.
I also can’t not talk about Mister Miracle. It’s a profound and profoundly disturbing slice of life, love and metaphysics against the backdrop of the wars of the New Gods. I’ve never cared for Orion, Highfather et al – it’s always where I thought Marvel did it better (sorry Mr Kirby!) – but this is exceptionally good stuff.
FROM BAD TO GOOD – AQUAMAN/THE HELLBLAZER
Now there’s a strange pairing if ever there was. Saying that though, whilst Abnett’s writing had always been strong, it’s only now that the art is compelling that the story – with Arthur deposed as King – really shines. As for Hellblazer, meanwhile, it’s all about the bloody writing mate, ain’t it? Yes, John’s back in (scruffy, rumpled, Scouse) style – and it’s about damn time.
And of course, there’s the rest. I’ll be honest, I’m not terribly impressed. There are some great moments – Killer Frost’s quest for redemption (explored within the pages of Justice League, Suicide Squad and her one-shot) being the stand-out – but in terms of keeping track of continuity, they are fairly forgettable.
Equally there’s many titles I’ve not mentioned that I’ve loved, such as Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death, Catwoman Election Special (Penguin as Trump – genius), and the ongoing Bane Conquest from the mighty Chuck Dixon. Ah, paralysis of choice!
So, as always let us know what you think in the comments!
The Writer of this piece was: Sam Graven
Article Archive: Geeking Out
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