I’ve been unrelenting in my criticism of the whole concept of Rebirth since the moment Geoff Johns’s reboot of the DCU hit shelves. However, Titans Rebirth #1 is the first one-shot to make me think that it’s maybe not such a worthless idea.
It is frankly impressive how enjoyable the issue is considering it mostly just reiterates information already known to anyone who read Rebirth #1. Yet such is the skill with which writer Dan Abnett (who also helms Aquaman) conveys who these characters are and the connections between them. The importance of touch in bringing Wally West back into time–a.k.a. back into the active DCU–was well-established in Rebirth #1 and Abnett lets that drive the narrative here. Rather than have Wally sit his friends down in a circle and literally spark their memories one-by-one, he makes them fight.
It takes a skilled artist to make a fight that lasts almost an entire issue and features multiple characters good let alone coherent, but penciller Brett Booth makes it look easy. While his figures are done in the muscle-bound style typical of a mainstream comic, his panel structure is nothing short of incredible. There’s not a single, standard panel grid throughout. Instead, the layouts and panel sizes vary with the action as Booth intersperses the memories that flash through the characters’ minds after Wally touches them with the movements of the fight.
Rather than make those memories about battles fought or victories won, Abnett smartly goes for something more pedestrian and ultimately more meaningful. While Dick Grayson a.k.a. Nightwing remembers the time he and Wally took the Batmobile out for a spin without Batman’s permission, Roy Harper a.k.a. Red Arrow remembers bringing Wally to his home to share a couple of beers without Green Arrow’s permission. Both are moments of genuine friendship, but they also convey that these kids really grew up together while they fought as the Teen Titans. Those moments make the characters seem real and you want to come back to spend more time with them. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and Wally eventually stops the lovefest to get to the why and how of it all.
There’s a fundamental problem with the whole Rebirth conceit that I haven’t been able to address before, but this issue provides the perfect opportunity. Ever since he narrated the 80-page issue that kicked off this whole event, Wally has been railing against the unseen forces who changed the DCU in the first place. While the actual villains are characters from Watchmen, you could argue that they’re just a metaphor for DC and the writers. Like the Watchmen characters, comic book writers have the power to change a character’s history at will, to kill whoever they want or delete whole decades of history. The New 52 was DC and its writers executing their artistic license and whatever its faults, that reboot made the DCU easier for new readers to understand. Rebirth, on the other hand, is DC publicly flogging themselves to apologize for taking a risk that angered longtime readers.
By issue’s end, the Titans promise to make sure that whoever and whatever tore them apart and changed history won’t be able to do it again. And while that promise may be comforting to readers in the moment, it’s ultimately hollow. Reboots are an inevitable part of comics. Something big has to happen every few years to shift the status quo. Maybe next time DC will realize it shouldn’t apologize for being creative.