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The Death and Rebirth of DC Comics

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
The Death and Rebirth of DC Comics

Last month, DC Comics began releasing details on their upcoming “Rebirth” event.

Kicking off with “DC Universe: Rebirth” #1 on May 25, the event will pick up steam in June with the relaunch of many titles. Many titles will start with a new first issue, and a number of them will be published with greater frequency, resulting in two issues per month.

New titles, new creative teams, new design, and an appealing price point of $2.99 across the entire superhero line.

RELATED: DC Unveils its “Rebirth” Creative Teams

Many people have discussed the “Rebirth” of DC Comics over the past few months, but within this event and all related announcements is a singular truth, which lies at the core of DC Comics as a publisher, the DC Comics superhero universe, and the feeling extending throughout our community of consumers and idealists.

DC Comics is dead.

For something to be reborn, it must have died. Since the rebirth is upon us, from our perspective, the DC Comics superhero universe is dead. Knowing this, we are compelled to ask ourselves: “When did DC Comics die?”

The answer to that question is subjective, and certainly between the inquiry and the revelation is a considerable amount of debate. In trying to answer the question for myself, I could only arrive at one conclusion: the publication of “Identity Crisis” in 2004.

The rape of a superhero’s spouse ripped through the superhero community, broke rules of corporate superhero fiction, and left the spirit of the DC Comics universe in tatters.

It was not the first violation of a female character within the DC Comics universe, but this one was at the core of a major event involving the Justice League of America and all of their enemies, all of the supervillains. Trace the line from the “Identity Crisis” series to “Infinite Crisis” to “52” to “Final Crisis,” and you can see the thematic descent of a bright, shining universe into its Ragnarok.

On the other side of a mythological Armageddon, we have the DC Universe, trying to right itself back to standing position, to walk, to run, propelling itself head first into “Flashpoint,” which led to the “New 52,” to “Convergence,” to “DC You.”

Now, 12 years after “Identity Crisis,” five years after the “New 52,” and one year after “DC You,” another DC Comics event is upon us.

What lessons have been learned on the part of DC Comics?

How does the “Rebirth” reveal an evolution of approach, a shift in strategy to address popular concerns within the industry?

Let’s see.

Cultural diversity of writing talent? Check.

Gene Luen Yang is writing “New Super-Man.” Phil Jimenez is writing “Superwoman.” John Semper is writing “Cyborg.”

DC Comics even outmaneuvered their competitor Marvel Comics by putting a Black writer on a non-Black character led book, with Christopher Priest writing “Deathstroke.”

Women writers? Check.

Hope Larson is writing “Batgirl.” Julie Benson and Shawna Benson are writing “Batgirl & the Birds of Prey.”

Characters of color in high-profile books? Check.

The main character in “New Super-Man” is Chinese. “Cyborg” is Black. “Blue Beetle” is Latino. The two main heroes of “Green Lanterns” are Latina and Lebanese-American. The former Asian Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, will be a regular supporting character in “Detective Comics.” The “Justice League” will include Cyborg and both the Lebanese-American and Latino Green Lanterns.

New female superhero-led books?

“Superwoman”

Do these lists represent an improvement for DC Comics? Yes. Could these lists be improved further? Yes.

Will they be improved further?

RELATED: DC’s DiDio & Lee Explain Exactly How Rebirth Differs From the New 52

Maybe, but even if they are, even though DC Comics is responding to the need for more female writers and more creators of color, are we excited enough to help one of the top American publishers of comic books pull themselves out of the quicksand of their history and back into the light?

I’m not excited. I am an idealistic sucker. I know there are good people working at DC Comics, busting their humps on a regular basis, fighting every day against unfavorable industry perception.

I know there are good creators, veteran and new, utilizing their considerable talents to try and make this event stick.

I know that any month in which DC Comics gets only 50% of the market their competitor earns is not a reality which exists in a vacuum, having far-reaching ramifications for the industry, creators and employees.

What I also know, is that DC Comics, the publisher, has not had women the likes of Jenette Kahn and Karen Berger in leadership positions of true influence and impact for some time. Women who ushered in eras of brilliant imagination, visionary writers, and great change.

I know that DC Comics has a superhero universe built on the foundation of crazy imaginative ideas, extending from the distant past to the far future.

“Challengers of the Unknown.” “Doom Patrol.” “Kamandi.” “Legion of Super-Heroes.”

Where are such titles and ideas in the “Rebirth” lineup?

Where is that feeling of wonder which once defined the DC superhero universe, but has been missing for some time?

It’s still there, in the husk of the DC Universe. A dead thing, supposedly being reborn in weeks to come. I know that a lot of people are getting tired, tired of believing that DC Comics will embrace its legacy with love and pride, with open-mindedness, with an abandonment of hubris, with open hands to more visionary creators to produce without fear of having their ideas choked in the crib.

I hope this is the beginning of a true “Rebirth,” for DC Comics, its creators, employees, fans and the industry, in general, because there are so many brilliant creative voices in comic books now.

If the #2 publisher in comics cannot regain its magic, then great and imaginative ideas can be found elsewhere.


Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by The New York Times, CNN Money, the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, The School of Visual Arts, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.

Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels and web-based entertainment.

His graphic novel project, “The Ren,” about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.

Joseph’s newest comic book project is the upcoming Scout Comics miniseries “Solarman,” a revamp of a teenage superhero originally written by Stan Lee.

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