At WonderCon 2016 the electric atmosphere surrounding comic books was incredible much more than other recent comic themed conventions. This was a huge win for comic book fans and helped to generate a ton of buzz for upcoming comic projects. But no announcements were bigger than the DC Comics 90 minute presentation of their upcoming “DC Rebirth” line launching May 25.
The presentation panel allowed DC’s Co-Publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns to shed light on what they are calling the next “chapter” of the ongoing DC Universe. DC Rebirth is seen as a way of getting the DC Coming publishing back on track in a more focused direction. They are resetting everything in the publishing line with new number one issues.
Didio spoke about why rebirth needs to happen, “Sometimes you lose your way a little bit. Sometimes we get a little lost and sometimes we lose our connection inside of our fans. The purpose of Rebirth . . . is to show our recommitment to you the fans.” Didio spoke about finding a united direction for their comic line in front of a packed WonderCon convention room that was streamed live through the publisher’s Youtube channel.
While the “New 52” that preceded the rebirth was initially a huge success in Dido’s own words, “Something was missing.” The missing aspect was something the publisher tried to do with the “DC Convergence” which was a two-month event in the late spring of 2015. This was seen as a chance for the publisher to reinvigorate the fan base and try out some new books. While much of the “Convergence” event, including the accompanying mini-series, was compelling storytelling it was also a reminder of what was missing and that was something Johns hit upon when he talked about the legacy of the characters.
Johns was the first to say that unlike the “New 52” (the publishing initiative that restarted the entire DC Comics Universe in September 2011), “Rebirth is not a reboot. The New 52 . . . what we have come to learn is a chapter in the ongoing saga of the DC Universe since 1938 in “Action Comics” #1 [the first appearance of Superman who launched the superhero genre]. “Rebirth” is the next chapter.”
The Rebirth storytelling theme is something near and dear to John’s heart as he used it to reintroduce Green Lantern in “Green Lantern: Rebirth.” Johns describes it as getting to “the core essence of the mythology. Taking everything past and present, everything wonderful about these characters and bringing it to the front to build to the future.” He described how the “Green Lantern: Rebirth” is what allowed him to build to great stories such as “The Sinestro Corps War” and “Blackest Night,” two of DC’s most successful stories of the last decade and a half.
He stressed that is what this rebirth is about. Restoring the legacy of the characters by honoring what has come before but also launching them into the future. This is something that many critics of the “New 52” say DC abandoned with the publishing launch.
The New 52 tried to build on what had been working for the company with the “Batman” and “Green Lantern” families of books but also tried to deliver changes to other books in the publishing line to try to make them work too. So many of the ideas left fans feeling flat as connections they had forged with characters had been radically altered and left in favor of “new” ideas that had little development behind them.
Superman had become almost unrecognizable as he was cocky and arrogant when compared to the farm boy, the Boy Scout, he had been for years. Plus the original superhero was now wearing Kyrptonian armor, which is superfluous, instead of his classic suit. Other heroes were changed for change’s sake and then changed again when a new idea came along. There was little consistency to the line in terms of quality as far as the writing and art were concerned. That fans who were trying to connect with the heroes they had come to identify with could not find their familiar faces in the books.
DC tried to reinvigorate the line up with new titles replacing those that had failed either due to lack of interest, lack of direction, or lack of quality. Old concepts were tried again but failed to catch on with fans clamoring for what they knew. Instead of approaching books the way Johns says he approached “Green Lantern: Rebirth,” DC was ignoring what had come before and were not looking to the future stories they could tell. They just told the stories that came to mind hoping a fly by the seat of their pants approach would work to endear fans to their product. It did not work.
So after 90 minutes of talking about the DC Rebirth did DC manage to instill the sense that fans will find what they loved in these comics again after May 25? Having Johns as the main speaker about the new books was a good start. Johns is the writer and creative mind that found lots of success in the “New 52.” He reinvigorated the Justice League with a roster of the most powerful heroes. At times the book was short on characterization but the action was big and delivered in big ways. Johns made Aquaman one of DC’s most successful books in the New 52 – a rare feat indeed. Johns also has a tremendous track record of getting to the core of the characters not just the Green Lanterns, but Johns’ first breakout hit was the Justice Society of America, DC’s oldest team, that he infused with a great mix of legacy and new energy.
However, there were no new books announced from Johns. He is writing the 80 page “DC Rebirth” one-shot that kicks off the summer and will feature the return of popular characters, the death of another, and will reveal the biggest secret in the history of the DC Universe all for $2.99. But aside from co-writing other books and helping in what is described as the “writer’s room” of DC there is no ongoing book. He needs a consistent voice in the books. Maybe it is not announced, like the creative team behind a new “Justice League of America” title coming in August, but for fans to really draw themselves to this reborn DC they need to know Johns is present.
Johns and Lee did reveal new designs for costumes that are much more in line with the classic takes on the characters. The “New 52” featured intense art lines on costumes with high collars. The new looks will see a great reduction in that style. The audience at the panel made a resounding cheer when Green Arrow’s post-Rebirth look revealed him to once again have his signature goatee.
A huge get for DC Comics was to woo Greg Rucka in to write “Wonder Woman.” The writer departed DC several years ago over creative difficulties on titles and not getting the books he had been promised. One of the core writers of DC’s massive weekly hit “52,” Rucka had always desired to write Wonder Woman and now he’ll tell her tales with two artists, Liam Sharpe and Nicola Scott, so the book can ship twice a month. This is a book fans want to read by a writer who they know “gets” this character.
Fans will get a classic take on Superman in “Action Comics” from Dan Jurgens but there will be a Chinese take on the character in a book called “New Super-Man.” Gene Luen Yang the series’ writer excelled writing Clark Kent and this take has some promise but as DC is trying to restore fans faith in their books is it wise to dilute the originality of Superman with a different Superman?
“Supergirl” will return to comics which fans have been clamoring for since the television series debuted in the fall of 2015. It took too long for DC to get this book up and running and it still will not be released until the fall of 2016 when the second season of the TV series is ready to start. “Supergirl” the comic will be joined on the publishing slate by “Superwoman,” but this addition feels perplexing as fans should just get to focus on one heroine.
As always DC’s bread and butter will be the “Batman” line of books and the announced creators look to have Gotham’s protector in good hands. Plus Scott Snyder the writer responsible for the New 52’s most memorable take on the Caped Crusader will get to launch “All Star Batman” with John Romita Jr. The book will feature rotating art teams showcasing top talents telling “crazy” stories and keeping Snyder firmly entrenched in the DC books.
Where DC seems to be half-heartedly putting one foot in the boat is with the “Titans” and “Teen Titans” series. The lineups are in line with the classic takes on the characters from the past, but they also seem to be missing a golden opportunity by not showcasing the characters from the hit “Teen Titans Go” Cartoon Network series (Robin, Beast Boy, Rave, Starfire, and Cyborg). They should not duplicate the slapstick nature of the cartoon but a comic that focuses on this core cast would be a huge hit with fans that recognize these characters. The Justice League has always worked best focusing on the core of the DC Universe so the same should work well with the Titans. The direction that DC is going in here will need a wait and see approach.
The same goes for two Green Lanterns that will receive their own “Green Lanterns” series as well as be featured in the “Justice League” title. The most popular Green Lanterns Hal Jordan and John Stewart will be around and be part of “Hal Jordan and the Green lantern Corps.” But the two new Green Lanterns get the prime Justice League appearances. While new stories can be told with these new Green Lanterns it seems to be running against the legacy direction of the publishing line.
There looks to be more diversity in titles which fans want, but many of the creators feel like “ho hum been there before” choices for books. If there is a more focused editorial that allows creators to tell stories while still keeping a high quality on the books then DC is in for a true “Rebirth” in their publishing line. But with everything starting brand new again in May how will DC get fans to take notice of new books and what looks good all at once? There looks like a lot of potential but good books often get lost in a sea of new number one issues.
Unlike the “New 52” the “DC Rebirth” is a slower release schedule with fans not getting bombarded with 52 new comics all in one month. Instead the books will roll out over the course of the summer. There are 17 titles that will ship twice-monthly and 14 additional monthly books. All comics will be priced at $2.99 to encourage fans to stick with books for less of a financial commitment – but on some books $2.99 twice a month is a struggle.
After a few less than well received years and a lack of focus from the publisher, DC will need to come out of the gates hot with the “DC Rebirth” line. Fans will be quick to chop off books from their pull lists after the last two rounds of reinventing the comic lines have failed. With Johns taking a more active role and the commitment to the legacy of its characters DC might be able to restore the luster to their proud 70 plus year lineage of comic books.