Late last month, DC Comics began teasing an upcoming event to their major DC Universe comic book line called “Rebirth.” Few details have been confirmed about the event, despite ample rumors, outside of the fact that writer and DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and artist Ethan Van Sciver will have some level of involvement. Both creators were the main forces behind DC’s previous “Rebirth” stories: “Green Lantern: Rebirth” and “The Flash: Rebirth.” Regardless of what form “Rebirth” takes, the end result needs to be an iconic representation of the DC Universe with exciting creator collaborations.
Amongst the speculation surrounding “Rebirth” is whether or not it will result in another near complete reboot of the DC Universe or just a restarting of a number of DC’s major titles. Simply rebooting continuity or relaunching titles will not stop DC’s dramatic loss of market share over the last few years. In the recently reported January 2016 direct market sales figures, DC Comics’ market share was half of Marvel’s (22.16% and 44.38%, respectively). 2011’s “New 52” line wide reboot showed that it is was only good for short term success, as DC was back down to the #2 position within months. The publisher has significantly less good will these days, so results of another reboot would, likely, be even less successful. 2015’s (re-)launching of a number of titles under the “DC You” banner failed to produce any stand out hits. Therefore, the focus of the post-“Rebirth” DC Universe should not rely predominantly on a reboot or relaunch.
What readers really want from a long running super hero comic book line like DC Comics is familiarity. Now, this does not mean flood the line with Batman and Superman books or just rehash old stories. What it means is that each title must appeal to the base consciousness of the general audience. The books and characters need to be identifiable. Readers do not need to be able to personally identify with the characters, they just need to be able to identify the characters as who they are represented to be. The star of “Green Lantern” should, well, be a Green Lantern. Bruce Wayne should be Batman. The line should be composed of DC’s most well known properties and reflect the most iconic versions of those characters. Readers, old, new and lapsed, should be able to recognize them on the surface. No overly cumbersome costume redesigns or putting Superman in jeans and a t-shirt. Beyond the title character, the setting, supporting cast and villains should resonate with fans. When promoting the post-“Rebirth” books, DC should not hesitate to reveal this information. Give readers as much insight as to what will be featured in the series. There is always a “Superman” title, so why should readers buy this “Superman” title now? The fact that it stars Superman and he will face some form of large scale adversity peaks no one’s interest, ever. Give specifics. Give battles against classic villains across established DCU settings. Speak freely about the direction of the book and draw readers in to the new title. Even for someone who has never read a Superman comic, it still needs to “feel” like a Superman comic to them, he or she still has a preconceived notion of what a Superman comic should be and focusing on the iconic form of that character best achieves that vision across the board.
The DC Universe has been about legacy since the 1950s and this is something that was lost with the “New 52” universe. DC needs to go back and embrace the legacies of its characters. Again, this is a familiar component of the DC Universe and one that readers will respond to. Additionally, DC should not be hesitant to have congruent titles starring different versions of the same character in the same universe. Much as Marvel is showing with both Peter Parker and Miles Morales as Spider-Man, DC could have two “Blue Beetle” titles, one starring Ted Kord and one starring Jaime Reyes. DC could really embrace the legacy of that character and give Dan Garrett, the Golden Age Blue Beetle, a title as well. Set each in a different era and simultaneously flesh out the whole post-“Rebirth” DC Universe. The same goes for Firestorm. A title each for Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch. Rather than try to do some balancing act with the two versions, give each character’s fans exactly what they want.
Another point of speculation regarding the post-“Rebirth” DC Universe is whether, and to what extent, the comic line will tie-in with DC Entertainment’s TV and movie projects. The above focus on the iconic versions of the DC Universe would create the perfect level of synergy with the multimedia versions as they, for the most part, reflect the iconic versions of the DC Comics characters, as well. A line up of DC Comics titles showcasing their most recognizable characters would encompass their TV and movie properties. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Supergirl, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, The Flash, Cyborg, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, The Atom, Suicide Squad, Justice League, etc. would all be covered.
Just as important as making the title characters feel familiar, the creative teams assigned to those titles should resonate with readers. DC has some legendary talent in their stable. The publisher needs to stop utilizing them on short term, non-DC Universe projects and reconnect them with some of the properties they are most associated with. Much like Johns and Van Sciver are synonymous with “Rebirth,” there are many other possibilities with DC titles. Imagine Jim Lee and/or Neal Adams on one of the main Batman titles (obviously, keep Greg Capullo on “Batman” for as long as he wants). Adams would also be amazing on “Green Arrow,” “Green Lantern” or a “The Brave and The Bold” series, pairing the two “Hard Traveling Heroes.” Think of how well a Wildstorm Rebirth would do with Lee on “WildC.A.T.s” again and Brett Booth on “Stormwatch” or “Backlash.” DC has already begun to do this to some degree, with writers working on characters they co-created, like Len Wein (“Swamp Thing”), Gerry Conway (on a Firestorm story) or Mike W. Barr (on a Katana story versus Kobra, a villain Barr frequently used in “The Outsiders”). DC just needs to expand this practice across as much of the board as possible and do it with regular series, not just mini-series or anthologies.
Too many of DC’s most popular artists, like Gary Frank, are working on “Earth One” original graphic novels when those artists could be used to bolster the main line on an ongoing basis. DC has ’90s superstar artist Stephen Platt (“Moon Knight,” “Prophet”) providing a variant cover to “Grayson” #18, how big of a get would it be if DC could get Platt to do interiors on a book? Much like the excitement Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen collaborating on “Spawn” brought to that title, DC could replicate that across a significant part of their line.
Iconic versions of DC Comics’ most popular characters written and drawn by creators best suited to garner excitement for those properties is what needs to be the focus of DC’s “Rebirth.” Only then will it begin to reverse the tide. Fans will not give the publisher endless opportunities to right the ship. There are too many great comics out there. This may be their final shot at maintaining their position in the industry.