All the questions and rumors about DC's "Rebirth" boil down to three areas to me -- what's staying, what's going, and what's new.
To be sure, with DC Comics not much is especially "new," and I suspect that's even more true this time around. That makes it easier to speculate on the post-Rebirth structure, but it also means the publisher has to avoid any perception of retreat. Essentially, DC is caught once again between the Direct Market's desire for stability (and, ideally, predictability) and the need to cultivate new fans. This time, though, the doomsday rhetoric seems to be even more dire.
After sprinkling some fairy dust and speaking some magic words backwards (as you do), here are my educated guesses regarding what "Rebirth" could mean in terms of DC's future publishing slate.
In April, DC intends to publish about 38 ongoing series. I say "about" because the number includes the maybe-it's-a-miniseries "Omega Men;" and the bimonthly "Harley's Little Black Book." These include:
- 8 series which define DC and will be published until its last printing press crumbles: "Action Comics," "Batman," "Detective Comics," "The Flash," "Green Lantern," "Justice League," "Superman" and "Wonder Woman."
- 4 series with what I call "first-tier multimedia support" (i.e., having a corresponding current or upcoming movie or TV adaptation): "Aquaman," "Cyborg," "Green Arrow" and "Suicide Squad." I think these particular series would be safe anyway, but their multimedia exposure definitely doesn't hurt.
- 6 series with second-tier multimedia support (i.e., starring a character who's part of a movie or TV supporting cast): "Black Canary," "Constantine," "Deathstroke," "Harley Quinn" & "Little Black Book" and "Martian Manhunter." Clearly Harley's two titles are safe, and we might argue about the value of "Arrow" and "Supergirl" to "Black Canary" and "Martian Manhunter"; but on balance I suspect DC would rather retool those books if necessary and continue to capitalize on whatever goodwill their TV counterparts might generate.
- 4 fairly-safe second-tier Bat-books, because the Bat-books tend not to be cancelled capriciously: "Batgirl," "Catwoman," "Grayson" (which could revert to "Nightwing") and "Robin Son Of Batman."
That leaves 16 books on the bubble. In December's sales-rank order, they are Bryan Hitch's "JLA" (35), "Batman/Superman" (87), "We Are Robin" (93), "Teen Titans" (105/100 for two issues), "Red Hood/Arsenal" (107), "Superman/Wonder Woman" (110), "Earth 2: Society" (112), "Batman Beyond" (124), "Starfire" (129), "Sinestro" (151), "Gotham Academy" (two issues, 157/120), "Secret Six" (167), "Justice League 3001" (171), "Doctor Fate" (183), "Midnighter" (191), and "Omega Men" (213).
Let's get "Omega Men" out of the way first: unless digital and trade sales are exponentially higher than print, it's a goner. Of the remaining 15, I think four more titles -- "Sinestro," "Secret Six," "Doctor Fate" and "JL 3001" -- will probably be cancelled as well. The "Green Lantern Corps" movie isn't close enough to boost "Sinestro," and the other three books are somewhat niche-y as well. I'm not especially happy about that, since I read all of those except "Sinestro;" but put simply, DC doesn't strike me as a company willing to take too many risks with this relaunch. Again, I could see one or two of these surviving unscathed on the strength of digital sales, but not all of them.
A handful of titles could be reconfigured and/or combined into new series. If Geoff Johns' "Justice League" is relaunched, I bet it's retitled "Justice League of America" or "JLA," because why not? Likewise, I can believe DC would combine "Batman/Superman" and "Superman/Wonder Woman" into a "Trinity" team-up; and I think it would likewise create a sort of omnibus Robin book featuring the We Are kids and Jason Todd. "Earth 2" and "Batman Beyond" sell surprisingly well (21K apiece in December), but it's hard to see DC going forward with both.
Along those lines, with all the Justice Society teases surrounding "Legends of Tomorrow," DC might be getting ready to reintroduce the original Golden Agers. "Earth 2's" numbers aren't great, but they could show a baseline demand for at least some version of those characters -- and I have a hard time seeing too many of "Earth 2's" readers turning down an old-school JSA book.
That might not be the only old-school team reunited by Rebirth. The "Titans Hunt" miniseries looks like it'll wrap up (early) in time for Rebirth; and that could foreshadow a new "New Titans" series. Cancelling "Red Hood/Arsenal" and "Starfire," and turning "Grayson" back into "Nightwing" (which "Titans Hunt" has done, albeit temporarily), would set the stage nicely. Again, I'm not sure there are a lot of readers following the existing books who would turn down a new Titans series with those characters.
Finally, I'm picking "Gotham Academy" and "Midnighter" to weather the Rebirth culling. I suspect they have enough digital readership to stave off cancellation, even if it's just for now.
Thus, DC should keep about two-thirds of its pre-Rebirth roster (including 10 Bat-books): "Action," "Aquaman," "Batgirl," "Batman," "Black Canary," "Catwoman," "Constantine," "Cyborg," "Deathstroke," "Detective," "Flash," "Gotham Academy," "Grayson/Nightwing," "Green Arrow," "Green Lantern," "Harley Quinn," "Harley's Little Black Book," "Justice League (of America?)," "Martian Manhunter," "Midnighter," "Robin Son of Batman," "Suicide Squad," "Superman," "Teen Titans," and "Wonder Woman."
However, those 25 titles are about half its capacity, so let's add the aforementioned "Trinity," "We Are/Red Hood," "Justice Society" and "New Titans" to get to 29 -- still 7 fewer than DC is soliciting for April, and 19 fewer than a more robust (but not 52-strong) lineup.
For this category let's look once again at multimedia adaptations. There's already a "Legends of Tomorrow" anthology miniseries (with Firestorm the only TV-familiar character), but there's no "Rip Hunter" or "Supergirl" series. I'll go ahead and pencil in series for them, and for Hawkgirl and the Atom as well. It's tempting to give Vixen an ongoing series too, with her live-action debut imminent.
Similarly, "LoT" also promises TV versions of Sgt. Rock and Jonah Hex. Normally that wouldn't be enough to warrant an ongoing series, but both have held down long-running series (Jonah more steadily) and if I were DC, I'd want to make more of a statement with them than just a couple of miniseries or a spot in an anthology. Admittedly, it's indicative of the kind of market which has developed where a new Rock or Hex miniseries is a real gamble. I don't see much room for anthologies in this lineup, given the poor reception of the New 52's "DC Universe Presents," but maybe DC will revive "Adventure Comics" as a catch-all for Vixen, Rock, or similarly risky projects.
We're up to 36 ongoings, but DC still has room for a few more. Here the publisher can draw on some perennially-popular DC titles, starting with the Legion of Super-Heroes. Notwithstanding their current hiatus, the Legion was a constant presence in the superhero line, and the Rebirth is a good opportunity for the feature to return. Other stalwarts include the Doom Patrol (recently reintroduced to the New 52 in Justice League), the Demon (represented in the New 52 by "Demon Knights"), and the Spectre.
That's a nice round 40 titles (10 per week), but I'll add 4 more so DC can go to 11. "Green Lantern Corps" has been a steady seller ever since its 2005 debut, and is currently represented by a miniseries, so it's pretty much just a format upgrade. Likewise, "Birds of Prey" is due for a relaunch, most likely following in "Batgirl" and "Black Canary's" footsteps. Captain Marv-- er, Shazam was promoted heavily via a Justice League backup and his Earth-5 counterpart got a couple of well-received specials in "Multiversity" and "Convergence." Speaking of the Multiverse, I vote for a new Booster Gold series, because by going back to corporate-shill basics (at least in part) it could distinguish itself from the Rip Hunter series mentioned above.
To summarize, your post-Rebirth DCU could look like this:
Birds of Prey
Green Lantern Corps
Harley's Little Black Book
Justice League (of America?)
Justice Society of America
Legion of Super-Heroes
Robin, Son Of Batman
We Are Red Hood
One more thing before wrapping up: while the point of these relaunches is to attract attention with a bunch of new No. 1 issues, it's worth mentioning that DC's five Trinitarian series are approaching three- and four-digit milestones. When the current runs of "Action," "Detective," "Superman," "Batman" and "Wonder Woman" end, they will have published 53 issues (1-52 plus 0) each. Adding that figure to their previous final-issue numbers means that "Superman" is 32 issues away from 800, "Wonder Woman" is 33 issues from 700, and "Batman" is 34 from 800. Those three big anniversaries in (potentially) three straight months can emphasize DC's history a lot more than a random "thirtysomething" issue ever could. Furthermore, "Action Comics" and "Detective Comics" will be 43 and 66 issues away from 1000, respectively. DC's got some time to think about renumbering, but it should get some serious thought.
A CAUTIONARY NOTE
In conclusion, when putting together this educated-guess wish list, I couldn't help but think about the initial New 52 roster.
It included unusual and eclectic books like "Batwing," "Men of War," "Blackhawks," "Mr. Terrific," "Legion Lost," "Resurrection Man," "I Vampire," "Red Lanterns," the "DCU Presents" anthology, "Red Hood," "Frankenstein," and "OMAC." Not all of those titles were cancelled quickly, but by and large few of the New 52's experiments are still around today.
Without getting into specifics, the differences between then and now highlight the ways in which the market views DC. If the point of the New 52 was to hype DC's superhero line through shakeups and wholesale change, the point of "Rebirth" seems to be reassurance in the face of too much change. Naturally, we'll have to wait a little longer for the details, and until the summer to see how "Rebirth" is received. At its most basic level, though, "Rebirth" has the same goal as any other line-wide revamp: to provide a solid foundation upon which to attract and build a faithful readership.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more information DC's upcoming "Rebirth."