One of the first comics I ever read was Superman #127, the Titano the Super-Ape story. I got that, along with an Archie, a Richie Rich, and a Classics Illustrated, just prior to having my tonsils taken out. At that point, I was hooked on comics in general--and on DC in particular. I was fascinated with this world where a chimpanzee sent into space could return as a giant ape with super-strength and kryptonite-beam eyes (you'd think that Reed Richards would have heard about this before he sent himself and his three best friends into space, wouldn't you?). I wanted more! Thus began my decades-long fascination with DC.
I haven't been a happy visitor to the DC Universe lately.
I have no problems with iconoclastic, deconstructionist, realistic-bordering-on-naturalistic comics. I was right there reading Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns with everyone else, and eagerly waiting for the next issue. What made these series so popular, though, was that they were different from the norm; they took comics in a new direction, telling a great story that couldn't have been told in the standard comics of the day.
Unfortunately, too many people assumed that the iconoclastic, deconstructionist, realistic-bordering-on-naturalistic was what made these books successful, and not the great storytelling. So over the years, those elements became the norm in comics, gradually invading one comics universe after another.
And finally, in 2011, DC fell to the invasion when The New 52 became the norm. The characters we knew were gone; in their pale were younger versions of the heroes in Nehru-collared costumes, armed with bad attitudes and invested with revamped continuity. How different were they? Well, comics legend George Pérez walked away from Superman after a few issues because it wasn't his Superman; he wasn't enjoying the character whose exploits he was presenting. George was the canary in the coal mine that DC had fouled up... but things only got worse, not better.
But it's actually a later Flash, Wally West (who we first met as Kid Flash almost six decades ago), who is the real catalyst. He is the link to a universe that has been forgotten, and he has been forgotten as well... wiped out of this reality. He wants to return, but he needs a link—he's DC's Tinkerbell, needing someone to believe in him before he fades away entirely. And ultimately, it's Barry Allen who becomes his anchor point, paving the way for a growing realization that something has been missing... intentionally.
And very appropriately, it turns out that it's the most powerful figure in The Watchmen who is responsible: Dr. Manhattan. Metaphorically, the book that changed the tenor of comics becomes symbolized by its aloof hero who has created his own reality... one that contains a skewed version of the true DC Universe.
Superstar storyteller Geoff Johns is the man who brought it all back. That's appropriate: now he's the iconoclast, rejecting the formerly-iconoclastic norm and saying "These are heroes... these are legends... these are stories that inspire us." Along the way, he manages to avoid recasting Dr. Manhattan as a Darkseid-level villain, which is admirable; he isn't condemning the grim 'n' gritty revolution, after all, just saying it's time for a return to something better, something that has been forgotten.
And along the way, we get the return of the classic Batman as a master detective and the classic Superman, the epitome of ethics and justice. Farewell to the New 52 Superman, who was much better in his dying than he was in his living; welcome back the Superman who inspired us--and watch as he now inspires his and Lois Lane's super-son to follow in his footsteps.
Can other writers follow Johns' road map and make the various Rebirth oneshots (and the ongoing series that follow them) equally exciting? I don't know--but I have high hopes. And isn't "hope" what the DC Universe was all about?