At last week’s annual ComicsPRO meeting, DC Comics made it official: This summer will see another relaunch of the superhero line, under the umbrella of “Rebirth.” DC has outlined the event’s overarching structure and given a general mission statement, and more details will no doubt be revealed as we get closer to next month’s June solicitations. In the meantime, though, we’re curious about the directions those details might take.
By my count, “Rebirth” will be the fifth time in ten years DC has sought to revitalize its superhero line with a comprehensive relaunch. The first three were tied to Big Event miniseries: 2006’s “One Year Later” (in conjunction with “Infinite Crisis”); 2010’s “Brightest Day” (following “Blackest Night”); and 2011’s New 52 (facilitated by “Flashpoint”). Last year’s “DC You” came on the heels of the not-so-big “Convergence,” prompted by the company’s cross-country move, and “Rebirth” seems to be a direct response to DC You’s reception.
Naturally, throughout each relaunch DC has had to manage its relationships with particular groups of readers. “Infinite Crisis” and “Blackest Night” each sought to address fan criticisms of the superhero books generally, so among other things the former resulted in Batman becoming less of a jerk, and the latter brought several fan-favorite characters back from the dead. Nevertheless, those adjustments were almost trivial compared to the New 52’s wholesale changes and DC You’s shifts in tone.
Running through each relaunch has been a desire to bring in new readers and re-energize the existing fanbase. Lately, though, it seems like DC has had to deal with a few distinct constituencies, including the longtime fans who grew up with the post-“Crisis On Infinite Earths,” pre-“Flashpoint” status quo; any readers brought in by the New 52’s attempts at accessibility; and those readers and fans who valued the diversity and experimentation that DC You tried to promote. Obviously “Rebirth” is trying to attract all of those groups, plus potential new readers who (for example) might be fans of the characters’ TV and film adaptations. By now it’s getting redundant to say there’s a lot at stake.
1) WHICH CHARACTERS ARE RETURNING?
Geoff Johns’ video announcement made a point of showing the New Teen Titans, the Legion of Super-Heroes, the traditional Justice Society of America and Blue Beetles Ted Kord and Jaime Reyes. These are all fan-favorite features which the New 52 has ended up either ignoring or revising. Currently, Jaime and the Legion are in limbo, while the Titans have been broken up and the JSA got “reimagined” as the Wonders of Earth-2. Meanwhile, the tease of Ted Kord in “Forever Evil” has yet to pay off.
Spotlighting these features may be merely symbolic — the Titans and JSA represent the generational “legacy” structure, the Legion stands for an optimistic DC future and the Beetles were light-hearted and diverse — but considering “Rebirth” includes “Titans” and “Blue Beetle” titles, it’s probably more literal than that. Thus, I expect “Titans” to include Nightwing, Starfire, Cyborg, et al.; while “Blue Beetle” may combine Ted and Jaime in a mentor-protege relationship. Despite the continuation of “Earth 2” and the lack of a Legion title, that doesn’t mean the traditional JSA and LSH are necessarily shut out. As we’ll see, there may still be room for “Rebirth” to include both.
2) WHOSE SILHOUETTES ARE THOSE?
The video ends with a handful of characters silhouetted so as to emphasize prominent costume details. From left to right, they look to me like Kon-El/Superboy in his original ’90s leather jacket, the original Jay Garrick/Flash I, an unknown hooded figure, Wally West/Flash III, a female Green Lantern and Supergirl in her ’80s “Crisis-era” costume. Again, for the most part these characters seem more than just symbolic inclusions — although ironically, those symbols may be the key to identifying them. Superboy’s seems obscured by the jacket, Wally’s is the same as his “Flash: Rebirth” costume (which itself came from the “Justice League Unlimited” cartoon), and Supergirl’s extends to her shoulders like her ’80s costume. The female GL could be the current Power Ring, promoted to full Lantern status; the helmet on Jay Garrick looks more Golden Age than New 52/Earth-2; and I think the hooded figure may well be Pandora, who haunted the New 52’s first issues before fading into semi-irrelevance. Again, more about Pandora later.
3) MUST I (RE-)LEARN MORE DC HISTORY?
The only answer which matters should be, “Just enough to be entertained.” Speaking practically, though, I’d say, “Yes, and hopefully it will be fun.” If I had to guess, I would say the original Teen Titans — including less New 52-fied versions of Wally West and Donna Troy — will be re-integrated into the main DC timeline. By and large, this is probably not as big a deal as you might think. Consider: it means that Dick Grayson would have had another set of adventures, separate and apart from his Bat-sidekick days, with super-people his own age. That shouldn’t have much, if any, bearing on his current solo career. If anything, it would only tend to inform any upcoming stories where the old Titans are reunited — and for those stories, all you probably need to know is that the old New Titans (or the new old Titans) were once a group, broke up, and have gotten back together. Other mentors like Green Arrow, the Flash, Aquaman and Wonder Woman would have to get some timeline tweaks as well, but nothing too disruptive.
As for the Justice Society, if it were up to me they’d be put back on Earth-2. That would be the least disruptive to the overall timeline and it would fit well with the continuation of the “Earth-2” series.
4) SHOULD I BE READING “TITANS HUNT” OR “LOIS & CLARK?”
On general principles — yes, of course! They’re quirky approaches to elements which are currently out of continuity, but still fun to explore! Now, whether they factor into the mechanics of “Rebirth” remains to be seen. “Titans Hunt” has reunited Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, Roy Harper, Garth of Atlantis and assorted other New 52-style twenty-somethings (but not Wally West) in order to reawaken some repressed memories about being part of a teenaged super-team; while “L&C” is the adventures of the pre-“Flashpoint” Mr. and Mrs. Superman. They’re two distinct approaches to old continuity, but it’s hard to say at this point whether they’re meant to foreshadow “Rebirth” or if they’re just byproducts of “Convergence.” More pertinent to “Rebirth,” I think, is a certain purple-hooded immortal, which leads us to…
5) WHITHER PANDORA?
In the fall of 2011, Pandora was something of a big deal. She had made cameo appearances in each of the New 52’s first issues, and she was revealed as the mysterious figure behind “Flashpoint’s” changes. However, to make a long story short, her big-deal status wore off rather quickly after “Trinity War” and “Forever Evil,” when her mysterious, three-eyed-skull talisman turned out to be just a gateway to Earth-3. However Geoff Johns decides to structure the cosmic mechanics of “Rebirth,” it would be nice if he told us once and for all what the heck was going on with Pandora. She’s not just a good vehicle for explaining multiversal shenanigans, she’s also one of the New 52’s biggest lingering subplots. If Johns can explain Hal Jordan’s psychotic break (and gray hair) by using a giant yellow space-bug, figuring out Pandora should be a snap.
6) WHAT ABOUT THESE SORT-OF NEW SERIES?
Looks like the Superman line is about to get a whole lot bigger, with the additions of “Super Sons,” “Superwoman” and “The Super-Man.” Bleeding Cool passed on a made-up rumor that “Superwoman” is the long-awaited Lois Lane solo series — and while that rumor turned out not to be true (strictly speaking), I’m hard-pressed to think what else it might be.
Similarly, “The Super-Man” hearkens back to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s original conception of their famous creation as a bald villain — which, combined with the cover of “Justice League” #51, naturally suggests that the upcoming series might focus on Lex Luthor.
“Super Sons” is reminiscent of a series of imaginary stories from the 1970s featuring teenaged versions of Superman and Batman; and while that would be fun for a while, I suspect it’s more along the lines of a Superboy/Robin team-up title. (Video silhouettes notwithstanding, there’s no Robin or Superboy solo series on the “Rebirth” roster.)
Finally, I’m intrigued by the distinction between “Green Lanterns,” plural, and “Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps.” The latter suggests Hal taking a more administrative approach to his leadership of the Corps, while the former may involve combining Jessica “Power Ring” Cruz with one or more of the Earth-based Lanterns who, as we mentioned above, may well be one of the silhouetted characters in the current Rebirth promo art.
7) HOW LONG WILL THESE BOOKS BE TWICE-MONTHLY?
DC’s ventures into high-frequency publishing have historically been limited in scope, as with its year-long weekly or biweekly miniseries, or selected ongoings. For a few summers in the ’80s and ’90s, DC published popular titles like the Bat-books twice monthly, but that only lasted a few months at a time. On a more sustained basis, there were the “biweekly” Bat-books of the mid-’80s (when the monthly “Batman” and “Detective” coordinated to tell the same story in twice-monthly installments) and the “weekly” Superman titles of the ’90s and early ’00s. More recently, Marvel cancelled its various ancillary Spider-titles in favor of a thrice-monthly “Amazing Spider-Man.” That lasted a couple of years, but I’d be surprised if DC kept its twice-monthly frequency going for that long, especially for multiple series.
However it works out, it involves a lot of moving parts and could mean either rotating creative teams or a readiness to use fill-in writers and artists. That might try readers’ patience and lead back to a monthly schedule.
Also, note that the “Rebirth” books are scheduled for June, July and “Fall.” To me this suggests a more flexible schedule for the “Fall” books, so they can come out in August, September or October and fill in slots on the schedule for books which need to go back to monthly status.
8) WHAT ABOUT BOOKS NOT ON THE ROSTER?
Speaking of “Fall,” that bit of ambiguity gives me some hope that features like the Legion may return eventually, just not as part of the initial “Rebirth” push. Remember, “Omega Men” got a reprieve of sorts once fans protested its early cancellation; and “Prez” is coming back in October — probably for just another six issues, but still. We don’t know how digital sales and other fan-appeal metrics factor into DC’s decisions, so books like “Midnighter” and “Martian Manhunter” could yet live on in various forms. Otherwise, with two “Justice League” series in the “Rebirth” lineup, some characters might appear there, or in another team book.
9) WHO ARE THE CREATIVE TEAMS?
This is one of the biggest unknowns, to be answered on Saturday, March 26, at WonderCon and on DC’s YouTube channel. Until then, though, there are some certainties: writer Tom King and artists Clay Mann and John Timms are now DC-exclusive (and Bleeding Cool says Sam Humphries will follow them); Scott Snyder is leaving “Batman” for “Detective Comics”; Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok are leaving “Justice League”; and Van Jensen is leaving “Flash.”
Clearly, DC’s approach to filling these vacancies will give some good indications about “Rebirth’s” overall direction. One prominent rumor has King taking over “Batman,” but one would expect an equally high-profile creative team to follow Johns and Fabok on “Justice League,” and “Flash” has to be a high priority for DC these days as well. It’s hard to say whether DC would go for more established professionals or rising stars, but my guess is for the latter — in part to attract those elusive new readers.
10) WILL DC STILL MAKE COMIC BOOKS FOR ME?
The New 52’s changes brought with them a good bit of outcry from readers upset about its more radical deletions: the loss of legacy characters like Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain, and Wally West; the dissolution of Lois Lane and Clark Kent’s marriage; and the general sense DC was turning away from fans who’d grown up with a long-lived, increasingly-diverse shared universe. Indeed, although Johns’ announcement apparently promises to restore that sense of history and legacy, calling the process “Rebirth” may itself indicate that this is only a restoration of an even older (and arguably less-diverse) status quo akin to the “rebirthed” Hal Jordan and Barry Allen. While “Birds of Prey” and “Supergirl” are returning, “Midnighter,” “Secret Six,” “Catwoman” and “Starfire” are gone.
These are not trivial issues, and I am hoping DC is not simply “rallying the base” by appealing to (ahem) those of us with dozens of longboxes and 40-year fandoms. DC desperately needs new readers, and to do that it will have to reach beyond its comfort zone. “Rebirth’s” lineup includes 8 Bat-books, 7 Superman-family titles (including “Trinity”), and two titles each for Green Lantern, the Justice League, and some form of Titans. That’s 22 out of 32 series, with most of them biweekly — practically doubling down on its most popular franchises. Right now, we don’t know if DC will be using this initial roster as a foundation for subsidizing a less-conservative approach, but I would hope there’s some of that in the works. While there are plenty of old-school fans waiting for more Legion, Doom Patrol, and JSA, the company can only go so far with nostalgic revivals.
Of course, this is not to say new faces and old names can’t do well, because DC did just that for twenty-odd years following “Crisis On Infinite Earths.” Again, it must now serve some distinct constituencies: the lifers like me; the fans who grew up with the legacies of 1986-2011; the New 52 and DC You’s new converts; and those readers who, for whatever reasons, it has yet to reach. How it will resolve all those disparate concerns is the biggest question about “Rebirth,” and it’s one DC literally cannot afford to answer incorrectly.