SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Doomsday Clock #10 by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, on sale now.
When the Anti-Monitor attempted to destroy the DC Multiverse in Crisis on Infinite Earths, it was partially salvaged by his world-saving counterpart The Monitor, resulting in a reboot to DC continuity. When Hal Jordan, as Parallax, tried to relaunch the DC timeline in Zero Hour: Crisis in Time, the result was another continuity reboot. And in Infinite Crisis, the former Superboy from Earth Prime restored an altered version of the multiverse -- and continuity changed again.
In all those crises, once reality changed, it stayed changed -- at least until the next reality-changing event came along. DC's latest reboot, though, is different. Reality was changed again in the aftermath of Flashpoint, resulting in what became known as the "New 52." It now looks like reality didn't want to be changed, though, and Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's Doomsday Clock #10 explains that, this time, reality is pushing back.
Enough Changes Already
As Doomsday Clock has shown, the latest change to continuity was brought about by the meddling of Watchmen's Doctor Manhattan. The change was triggered by one single alteration -- preventing Alan Scott from becoming the first Green Lantern. Because of this, the original Justice Society of America never formed, and the effect of Green Lantern's absence cascaded centuries into the future. The revelation explained why there was never a JSA in the "New 52," and subsequently no Legion of Super-Heroes a millennium later.
The "New 52" cranked along for nearly five years until DC Comics: Rebirth shook it all up. That issue featured the return of the original Wally West, who had also been absent from continuity. The ending of the issue also unveiled something never seen in DC continuity, "New 52" or otherwise: A blood-stained smiley face button, the iconic symbol from Watchmen's Comedian, heralding Manhattan's eventual arrival. Until that point, the franchise had long been considered a standalone, independent from the DC Universe.
Don't Mess with Reality – Or Else
Other unexpected characters later turned up. Jay Garrick made an unexpected but brief appearance near the end of the Batman/Flash crossover "The Button." Saturn Girl's alter ego was shown to be a resident at Arkham Asylum in Batman, a thousand years before she was supposed to exist. And an elderly and seemingly dementia-stricken Johnny Thunder appeared early in Doomsday Clock, ranting about a past that never happened.
All these characters were remnants of a reality that no longer existed, so how is it they're here? These appearances are all likely signs that something isn't right in current continuity. As Manhattan puts it, "An innate hope fights back to the surface." It's as though reality is actually a living thing, and now it's pushing back.
Yes, reality is no longer something to be shaped by any being with the power to do so. The so-called "metaverse" isn't a canvas, it's an organism, and if someone like Doctor Manhattan is going to try and destroy it, it's going to fight for its survival. And that's exactly what it's doing.
Reality as a living entity is a comparatively new idea, even among all the continuity changes the DC Universe/Multiverse has faced over the past decades. Curiously, it's the classic, pre-Crisis reality that's trying to assert itself, the longest standing and arguably most favored among fans. And the reality it's muscling in on? The "New 52," which has been frequently maligned since its inception.
The Return of Hope
It's pure physics that the strongest force among many will manifest itself first and leave its largest impact on the weakest. And for many fans, the reality of the decades-old pre-Crisis continuity was a far stronger one than the divisive "New 52." In story terms, perhaps Doctor Manhattan just isn't as good at remaking reality as his predecessors. Or maybe the older but brighter, morally simpler DCU is just too powerful to put down.
Perhaps that's what Rebirth truly refers to: The rebirth of hope in the DC Universe. The hope that seems to have gotten buried as the DCU has grown continuously darker over the past 15 years. And the hope of fans that, after multiple attempts to right itself, Rebirth will finally be the force that fixes the DC Universe for good.