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EXCLUSIVE: Geoff Johns Details “Rebirth” Plan, Seeks to Restore Legacy to DC Universe

by  in Comic News Comment

After weeks of speculation, DC Comics has released the first details on “Rebirth,” an initiative first teased last month. And as made clear early this week, it’s not a reboot — but it is a movement to restore some of what fans have been missing from DC’s publishing line in recent years.

EXCLUSIVE: Johns Announces “Justice League” Departure Ahead Of “Rebirth”

At this week’s ComicsPRO retailer event in Portland, DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns introduced Rebirth in a video message set to debut Thursday afternoon during DC Comics’ presentation. In the video, Johns talks his past DC miniseries “Green Lantern Rebirth” and “The Flash Rebirth,” which restored familiar elements to the Green Lantern and Flash mythos, while also moving the characters forward. “Rebirth” aims to do the same with the entire DC Universe, while also restoring more of a focus on a shared universe. “Rebirth” starts in “DC Universe Rebirth,” an 80-page one-shot scheduled for release on May 25, written by Johns and illustrated by artists Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Gary Frank and Phil Jimenez.

With “Rebirth,” the mainline DC Universe titles will be renumbered with new #1s — except for “Action Comics” and “Detective Comics,” the two longest-running series in DC’s lineup, which will return to their original numbering at #957 and #934, respectively. All DCU books will return to a $2.99 price point (currently their lineup is split between $3.99 and $2.99 single issues), and select core titles (details to come on exactly which) will shift to a twice-monthly schedule.

CBR spoke with Johns in-depth about “Rebirth,” who said that the central element of what he’s felt has been lost in the DC Universe is “legacy” — something he’ll explore in the “DC Universe Rebirth” one-shot, which the writer says will “answer a lot of your questions while raising a whole bunch of new ones.”

CBR News: Geoff, obviously you’ve been focused more on DC’s many movie and TV projects in recent years. At what point did you decide to commit to focusing more on comics with “Rebirth”? When did you see it as something that was needed?

Geoff Johns: Yeah, I’m working on television and now our growing slate of films and I’ve also been doing more writing outside of comics, so all that is keeping me extremely busy, even busier as we get close to wrapping “Wonder Woman” [the film, scheduled for June 2017] and start gearing up for “Justice League.” So first off, to really give everything I can to “Rebirth,” “Justice League” #50 will be my last issue of “Justice League” — I’ll be stepping off the book with Jason Fabok. But by doing that, leaving the book on what Jay and I think is a high for us with the end of “Darkseid War,” it’s given me the time to work on “Rebirth.”


It started when [DC Co-Publishers] Dan [DiDio] and Jim [Lee] came to me and said that they wanted to end things at #52, and work build back to a shared universe and big stories. They wanted to take another look at everything. Dan mentioned the word “Rebirth” to me. I said, look, that word’s incredibly important to me — I feel some pride and ownership of that word. I said it means something extremely specific in my mind, so if we’re going to do something with “Rebirth”, it’s important to me to understand what that means. And like everyone else, I’m skeptical of relaunches. So it had to be something that everyone put everything they had into it. That was special. That had a reason. And “Rebirth” to me is a reason. It’s beyond the back-to-basics approach. It’s not just going back to square one. It’s much, much more than something that simplistic. We all need to do our best to get this right and everyone has come together to create a cohesive universe and terrific stories that work individually as well as together. We’re also doing it by building on everything that’s been published since Action Comics #1 up thru The New 52. The “DC Universe: Rebirth #1” is an 80 page one-shot I’m writing which is re-laying the groundwork for DC’s for the future while celebrating the past and present. It’s not about throwing anything away. It’s quite the opposite.

I’ve been a fan for years — I have over 60,000 comics and 99 percent of them are DC Comics. I really see this as an opportunity, and like I’ve said before, take all the characters and thematics that we love — from the past and the present — and build a story that brought them all together, revealed new secrets and truths and mysteries, and moved it all ahead. Again, as someone who absolutely loves the DC Universe, to me it’s maybe lost some things. Not only characters, but more intangibles. Some essence to what makes the “DC Universe” unique and brilliant and unpredictable. And every single character matters — from Batman to Cassandra Cain to John Stewart to Saturn Girl to Blue Beetle to Lois Lane– everyone is someone’s favorite. And in comics, anything’s possible.

So although I won’t spoil the story of “DC Universe: Rebirth”, I will say it’s a mystery that explores what I think is perhaps the central element that’s gotten lost: legacy.

What has your process of working with the creative teams been like? How hands on are you in shaping these books?

I have a Writers’ Room here at DC, usually we’re breaking film or TV. So editors come in, writers come in, we sit down, we talk about “Rebirth.” What it means, what our goals are, how to build up and forward instead of tear down. I have a whole wall that’s a whiteboard, and an extensive comic library, and we talk about story, about what we love about the characters. Take “Birds of Prey” — we talk about why we first loved the Birds of Prey; why we love Dinah, Barbara and Helena. The runs we loved. The characters then and now. It begins with that. And then where it all goes next. It can’t be doing the same old thing. Or re-telling another story. It’s got to be new. “Blackest Night” was new when we had the dead rise. So what can we build on in this case? What story can only the Birds of Prey tell? And I think there’s a great one coming up.

In terms of the mechanical nuts and bolts of “Rebirth” — we’ve seen the DC Universe changed before, multiple times, from “Crisis on Infinite Earths” to “Zero Hour” to “Flashpoint.” Is the change to the DCU in “Rebirth” something literal like that?

It’s in the same vein as “Green Lantern: Rebirth” and “The Flash: Rebirth.” Some things alter and change, but it’s more character-driven, and it’s also more about revealing secrets and mysteries within the DC Universe about “Flashpoint” and The New 52 that are part of a bigger tapestry. A hidden and forbidden secret. DC has always felt mythic and sprawling. You can’t put boundaries on it or rules. It will break them. And it should. This does. It does in a big way. This is the start of a storyline that continues, not through one book, but through the entire DC Universe — something I’ll be able to talk about after the one-shot is out. Again, I know we’re keeping a lot of details under wraps — frustratingly so for a lot of people — but “DC Universe: Rebirth” #1 will answer a lot of your questions while raising a whole bunch of new ones. It will reverberate for a long, long time and we can talk more after this massive one-shot is in your hands on May 25!


From your perspective, why is “Rebirth” a necessary move right now for DC?

To build on what I’ve said before, I’ve got a lot of comics, I’ve read a lot of great stories, and one of the most compelling things about published, periodical comic books in a mainstream, comic book superhero universe, is that it’s part of a larger universe — and we’ve got a great story to tell about it. A big story.

Given that, there are likely a lot of readers who have felt left behind with DC’s recent moves. But there are also readers who enjoyed initiatives like DC You — where it was kind of the opposite, and continuity was downplayed — and presumably you wouldn’t want to lose that audience, either. What’s the process of balancing that moving forward? Some books have gotten the attention they’ve received exactly because they’re a little different.

This is not about making all the books feel the same, you have individual voices and writers and artists, obviously, and they all have their own particular vision. That’s important. It’s about all of us coming together — not marching on the same narrow path, but living in the same universe again. Working with people who share passion and love for the DC Universe, however they see it. I have absolutely loved every second working with everyone.

Given the amount of success DC has had with film and TV, there seem to be an opportunity there — not to make the comics like the TV shows and movies, but to capitalize on that popularity more than has happened. Does that seem fair?

I know people have been talking about, “They’re going to make the comics like the TV shows or the films!” Why would we do that? These aren’t licensed comics. That’s boring. We already have TV and the films. And those are great. But comics are their own thing. We talked about “Green Arrow’ with the writer; all we talked about were comics. We talked about “Longbow Hunters,” Neal Adams‘ work, all the great “Green Arrow'” runs that have happened — there have been a lot of them. If there’s something interesting that we see in film or TV that we want to nod to or bring over, we do it, but it’s really much more focused on the comic books.

Are there characters that you think haven’t necessarily gotten their due recently that you’re looking to focus on?

There are a ton of characters that people miss. That I miss. You’ll see a lot of them back, but with a story. I don’t want to throw characters back in just to throw them back in. They have to have a purpose. A story that has to be told. Some of my best conversations lately were with James Tynion, [editors] Mark Doyle, Chris Conroy and Rebecca Taylor on several Bat-characters. It was one of the most fulfilling creative discussions I’ve been in. We were in the room just talking about these characters in the Batman universe, that have come in and out for a long time but haven’t really stuck, and suddenly they were coming to life. This specific character suddenly became a vital character to the Bat-universe; that character suddenly became a vital character to this universe. It was exciting because it not only built on these characters, but created story. Great story.

And there are a lot of other characters — a lot of main characters, too, but a lot of background characters — that haven’t had their due, that haven’t had their spotlight in a while, that will be bubbling up to the surface. One in particular, I’m extremely excited to be writing.

This definitely sounds targeted at more long-time fans, more lapsed fans — what about newer or more casual readers?

If you look at “Green Lantern: Rebirth” or “The Flash: Rebirth,” absolutely it’s targeted to fans who’ve read a lot of comics. Who have as many comics as me. But at the same time, people can pick it up, and there’s enough in “Green Lantern: Rebirth” for someone to pick it up who has never read “Green Lantern” and understand what’s happening. With “DC Universe: Rebirth,” it’s the same thing. If you have, like me, long boxes of DC Comics, you will be very happy. If you’ve never read a DC comic before, you won’t be too lost. This is definitely for comic book readers more than it is for casual readers, just like “Green Lantern: Rebirth,” but that doesn’t mean it’s exclusive of them.


You’re stepping away from “Justice League,” and obviously writing a very important 80-page book — not to throw more at you, but is there a plan for you to take on another ongoing in the near future?

For now, I’m concentrated really on this one-shot and then what comes next spinning out of it, which we can talk about soon. I’m putting everything I have into it. It really is important to me to make it the absolute best I possibly I can. And I’m having an absolute blast with it. It’s the most fun I’ve had writing comics ever.

Even though 80 pages sounds like a lot, rebirthing an entire universe is a lot of ground to cover in that space.

It’s the starting pistol and much, much more. Then the focus is spending the time trying to get it right. You look at any TV network — not even HBO has all great shows. It’s really hard to get this stuff right. It’s not easy. I think it’s harder than it looks sometimes, but everyone has so much passion, and it’s a fresh chance for everyone to stop and slow down and reset. To talk it out with new and veteran writers. To help each other. To work together. I love it. My favorite thing is being in the Writer’s Room with passionate people and talking about these characters we love. There’s nothing better. We’re extremely lucky to be doing what we’re doing.

In the start of our conversation, you mentioned “legacy” as something missing from current DC — thinking back to when I started reading, once of the things that made DC feel unique was that there were heroes from World War II, and heroes that would take over a mantle, like Wally West. How much of that are you looking to restore with “Rebirth”?

“Green Lantern: Rebirth” was never just about bringing Hal Jordan back. He’s a great character, but we had to bring the Corps back, Sinestro, Kilowog, John, Guy, the thematics, the scope of what Green Lantern is, the mystery and revelations of the emotional spectrum and “Blackest Night.” “DC Universe: Rebirth” is about bringing back what makes the DC Universe the DC Universe. There are certain things, like legacy, that are missing. There are other things that I don’t want to totally spoil. But there are a lot of things in there that I think are unique to the DC Universe, and really need to be pushed back to the forefront. The world’s greatest heroes and the world’s greatest villains. The epic stories. The expanding mythology. The obscure and legacy characters getting their due alongside the classics. And then, the new and unexpected. The surprising. Inspiration. Threats. Miracles.

If you look at the new Star Wars — it’s kind of a rebirth, right? It goes back to the classic tropes of Star Wars, but it introduces new characters. New threats. It has the spirit of Star Wars, it feels like a Star Wars movie. Probably the first Star Wars movie that’s felt like a Star Wars movie in a long, long time. That’s a perfect example of what I think “Rebirth” is — a celebration, but it doesn’t mean we’re just going backwards. It’s an echo of the past, but looking to the future. That’s what I want to do with this. There’s got to be an umbilical cord that goes all the way back to “Action Comics” #1, that connects the whole DC Universe. Grant Morrison has said it best — DC is a living, breathing universe that’s truly alive — and it gets new life by those who write and draw the books. That’s what makes a better DC Universe, a better line of books, and quite frankly, makes it all much more fun — working together.

And everything’s renumbering with #1 — except “Action” and “Detective” are going back to their original numberings?

Even though most of the books are relaunching at #1, the fact that “Action” and “Detective” are returning to their original numbers says something about the tone of what this is. Dan is and Jim are psyched we’re gonna get to “Action” #1,000!!!

But that alone, even though it seems small, I think it’s a huge symbol of what we’re trying to do. I realize that people will be skeptical, they’ve heard it before, they think they’ve read everything — I totally get that and appreciate and understand it. They should be skeptical! It’s up to all of us to make our respective books worth your time and money. That’s on all of us as individual creators. Jay and I try our best to make “Justice League” a book worth the time and money. Everyone has the same goal. To earn it. To give you something that only DC Comics can give you. With “DC Universe: Rebirth”, I absolutely will.

“DC Universe: Rebirth” is scheduled for release on May 25.