DC Comics has been reborn — or, rather, it’s about to be reborn. The publisher revealed details about Rebirth, their massive linewide relaunch, last weekend during Los Angeles’ WonderCon convention. The initiative isn’t a hard reboot, unlike what DC did in 2011 with the launch of the New 52; instead, Rebirth continues the New 52 continuity but, as DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee told CBR, revisits what came before to make sure “we haven’t jettisoned things from the past that we might have thrown out with the bathwater initially.”
Lee, along with fellow Co-Publisher Dan DiDio, spoke extensively about Rebirth’s origins and what else separates it from DC’s previous relaunches. DiDio and Lee also touch on a number of other topics, including DC’s new price point, what lies ahead for books like “Wonder Woman” and “Detective Comics,” and how they got writer Christopher Priest on board.
On how “Rebirth” compares to DC’s New 52 reboot:
Jim Lee: Someone asked, “Is this as ambitious as the New 52?” I think Dan had a great point which is it’s more ambitious because with the New 52 we needed a break, we needed to move these characters forward. This time around we’re really focusing on story and character and making sure that we’re still sticking with the New 52, but making sure that we haven’t jettisoned things from the past that we might have thrown out with the bathwater initially. Geoff Johns has put an enormous amount of time in with all the different writers of the books and all the editors to make sure they understand the characters and the premises. We actually have charted out six months to a year of each title, so in many ways there’s a more coherent vision of the universe going forward as we launch with “Rebirth” and go forward.
Dan DiDio For me, for the time that I’ve been at DC, my two seminal moments are the lead-in — that “Countdown to Infinite Crisis” and the “Infinite Crisis” period of time that gets you to the New 52, and then the launch of [New] 52. Both have a very distinct — one is about a real cohesive operating universe that really runs in lock step with each other that really builds a world. And with New 52 it was really a cold start, in some way some things worked from before, some things were new from before and it was really double paddles to the system and really jump starting the line.
What we’ve done with this is we’ve really taken both things out. We’ve taken what really worked with the continuity of that “Infinite Crisis” period and then taking the freshness and newness of the New 52 and pulling them together. Rebirth, for me, is an amalgam of — at least in my period of time — of everything we’ve been working on to this point.
On how Christopher Priest ended up returning to DC:
DiDio: It’s interesting. We called him. [Laughter]
It’s so weird because what you think is — certain people, you take for granted, you think they’re always busy. We’re sitting around, we’re talking about what a wonderful job, what an amazing job he did on “Black Panther.” Everybody’s going, “I don’t know, are we gonna call him?” Everybody’s like, “He must be busy, we haven’t heard from him.” Because if we don’t hear from somebody obviously they must be too busy, and that’s not the case. So we called him up, we talked to him about one book and it didn’t click but he’s interested in doing something. Okay, what’s open? We pitched a whole [bunch of] different ideas to him and he really latched onto “Deathstroke.” Because of that, this is a massive win. It was great to have him come on board. Editorially and across the board, we’re all huge fans of his work. The fact that he’s coming back to DC to do this is something really special.
DiDio: I had to go through that with the people following “Hush.” You gotta remember that, there was a period of time when “Hush” was that one-year run which was the body of work for Batman. People come on board, it was tough. You want to find somebody with the passion and vision to come on and take the book behind them. They’re not gonna worry about what preceded them, they’re more concerned with what they’re gonna do. Who says, “This is Batman, and that’s all that matters.” And when you get that you know you’re in.
With Tom, he was nervous, but he communicates a lot with Scott so there’s a lot of understanding there about what was planned for the character. He was in the Batman universe through “Grayson” peripherally so he knew a lot about the character and the book. Tom’s stuff has been just so strong, and we have the same faith that we did in Scott when Scott first took over “Detective [Comics].” I think this is a book that’s going to grow with the two working together. I think the seasoned strength of David Finch and Mikel Janin working with Tom King is really gonna be able to keep that book as strong as we hope it to be.
Lee: To his credit, he’s doing a very different type of Batman tonality-wise. The first issue is just like one amazing chase scene adventure-action scene. He’s exploring a different part of the Batman mythology which I think is super smart.
In part two of DiDio and Lee’s conversation with CBR, the pair discuss the different ways creative teams are rotating their artists and how they plan on reengaging the core audience of “Wednesday warriors” — and keeping them engaged.
On where the new “Superwoman” series fits into the Rebirth lineup:
DiDio: It fits completely into the “Super League” story that’s coming out. … It comes out of the “Super League” story where we establish all these new potential characters to inhabit and be part of Superman’s world. There might be something recognizable about Superwoman, and there might be something massively unexpected that happens very quickly in the series.
On how each twice-monthly book is approaching a rotating art team:
Lee: In sitting down with all the editors and trying to hear where we’re at with all these books, almost every creative team is handling it differently. Some people are doing arc and then the next artist comes and does the next five or six stories. With [“Wonder Woman”], they’ve come up with a real novel way of telling a story in the present and through flashback and having the different artist take turns telling that story. I think that’s really cool. In terms of like “Suicide Squad,” I’m working with Philip Tan and we’ll probably do stuff where it’s mostly my arc and then the issue or two in between might be a transition issue where we work together to kind of pass the baton. There’s a lot of ways you can do it, very organic, and I think it speaks to the creativity of all the that we have that they’re not just throwing their hands up and saying, “This is impossible.” They’re all working together figuring out a way to make it happen and have it be aesthetically pleasing and make sense story-wise.
On feeling a disconnect with DC’s core audience and actively trying to reengage them:
DiDio: We went to New York Comic Con and we did a panel and we had all our best talent on it. … Not only did when the panel portion ended did half the people leave, when we did the Q&A portion nobody had questions about story. They asked about superficial material or something else that had nothing to do with the fact that you read the book and you were excited about what happening in there and what was happening to your characters. That was one of the first times I felt that disconnect with our core fanbase, and it scared me. If we can’t connect these people and they’re fading away then there’s no one to buy our books. That’s when we sat down and said, “Let’s redouble our efforts. Let’s connect with our core and then build out from there.”
And as Jim pointed out in our panel, this isn’t just about DC You where we’re pushing diversity and we’re pushing other things. We have this incredible wealth of product that we do. We’re doubling down on our super hero line, but Vertigo is still vibrant and important to us; the Hanna-Barbera material is important to us; the material derivative of the media products is important to us. We produce a lot of books. The DC Universe is just a portion of our line and we will continue to push out to new audiences and new people through the DCU and through every other product we have available. We want to make sure that our core fanbase, that Wednesday warrior, is reengaged. I think they’re at the heart of what makes comics great. They’re the ones driving the interest in the films and the television. They’re the ones that are actively participating in everything that our comics are. What we’ve gotta do is create comics they love.
On how they maintain interest in Rebirth beyond initial buzz:
Lee: I think that’s the hardest part of this. When you talk about Rebirth, to me, it’s all about a renewed focus on story and character. I’m sure people are going, “Wait, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do every day?” It’s like working out or being on a diet. It is probably the hardest thing to do, and that’s how you end up with Green Lantern as a mass murderer and the Green Lantern Corps no longer around. I think that’s what happens when you follow your inner muse and that muse leads you astray. I think it’s a renewed effort and determination to look at the entire line and say, “Look, let’s figure out the fundamentals of each and every character.” We don’t want a homogenous line — in fact we want every book to have its own voice. But we’ve gotta make sure that they have a voice, that they aren’t just interchangeable characters with different costumes. So that’s really the creative mission here and that’s what will keep people engaged and coming back for more after month six.
DiDio: I’ll go one step further. We have our “DC Universe: Rebirth” special, and I think where Geoff [Johns] does a brilliant job is touch upon so many characters and so many potential storylines that it will be stuff that can play out not just in six months but for almost two years to play. Once you have that book in your hand you’re gonna see something totally different than you would expect the DC Universe to have, which is in a good way.
From the other side of the coin, as Jim was saying, Geoff’s been working intimately with all the talent and really getting and addressing the heart and core of each character. This isn’t just about that story that you’re telling to launch your arc, it’s about readdressing what people’s expectations of the character are, understanding what their purpose is and then building stories around that purpose so there’s a sense of consistency and continuity that will make you want to follow not just six months, but hopefully six years.