Ten years ago, DC had its first great rebirth in One Year Later
DC Rebirth is hogging all the headlines lately, thanks to an effort to make comic books fun again. There’s been a massive shift towards creating a more relatable universe as well, fostering in a new generation of characters who better represent not only the challenges of today but the people who face them as well. And it’s working. So far, the DC Universe is feeling energised again, crackling with a potential for groundbreaking stories that were last seen ten years ago during another massive tonal shift in titles.
It’s one of my all-time favourite eras as well, as One Year Later was a massive breath of fresh air needed after a particularly and purposefully dark period in DC Comics. It was an age where Batman was more paranoid than ever before, Wonder Woman was on the run and Superman had no direction in life. Missed out on that Crisis? Here’s how it all went down:
Trouble had been brewing for a while in the DCU, but this one event that really drove home the idea of superheroes not being so perfect. It was a story with a murder mystery at its core, but also about the Justice League having to face the consequences of its darkest secret. Someone is hunting down the loved ones of the League, with the Elongated Man suffering the first casualty in this series as his wife Sue Dibny is burnt alive.
The big revelation though? That the Justice League decided to use Zatanna’s magic to tamper with the minds of criminals, after Doctor Light had raped Dibny in the JLA Satellite headquarters. Dark as f*** man. Doctor Light was turned into a human punching bag for the Teen Titans, while various other villains had their memories altered so that JLA secrets could be kept safe. Which Batman objected to of course. So the League decided to tamper with his mind as well, erasing ten minutes of his memory.
Identity Crisis was a polarising series, but one that had massive repercussions across the DCU. The worst was yet to come however.
Because this is when the super-crap really hit the fan. The lead-up to Infinite Crisis was brutal stuff. The second Blue Beetle Ted Kord died after he discovered that former Justice League International boss Max Lord had been running an anti-Metahuman organisation with super-powered genocide planned. Batman’s paranoia reached peak tinfoil-level, as his metahuman monitoring device Br
Day of Vengeance saw the Spectre completely destroy the ninth age of magic and claim thousands of lives in the process.
The Rann-Thanagar war kicked off, Wonder Woman committed murder to save Superman and the Villains of the DCU finally organised themselves into a Secret Society that had the power to topple the status quo. All this, before the Infinite Crisis itself. Times were tough, and hope was in short supply.
Well shit. Between a Superboy from another dimension literally punching typos into continuity and Alexander enacting a plot from Invader Zim to squish planets together to create the perfect world, this series was mental. And also home to the ultimate Bat-burn, as the DC Trinity were divided. Everyone eventually got their emotional baggage crap together in the end however, but not without some sacrifices along the way. Several Flashes vanished into the Speed Force, a Superman died and the city of Blúdhaven was demolished as scores of other heroes were wiped out.
But it also led to the DCU realising that now was the time to not only rebuild, but to become better heroes in the process.
And cue the event titled above. This was the big tonal shift that the DCU needed after years of dark and grim storylines. A rebirth that resulted in an energetic new approach to fighting super-crime and what it really meant to be a superhero. Batman had left Gotham for a year to rebuild his nocturnal persona alongside his wards Nightwing and Tim Drake. Superman had a blissful year without powers as an ordinary person, Bart Allen became the newest Flash and the Justice League was rebuilt.
One Year Later was comic book storytelling at its best. Tales of wonder and excitement, in an age where multiple dangling threads of continuity had been resolved and forgiveness wasn’t in short supply. DC Rebirth echoes a lot of that sentiment, even if it didn’t have as dark a build-up as One Year Later. It’s all cyclical in the end, but the point is: It’s good to be a hero.