DiDio & Lee Say Early "Rebirth" Response is 'Uncharted Territory' for DC Comics

Thus far, DC Comics' 2016 has been defined by "Rebirth" -- a line-wide refresh teased early in the year and launched in late May with the "DC Universe: Rebirth" one-shot, written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis. The stated goal of Rebirth is to bring DC's core characters -- starting with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and branching out into "Titans," "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey," "Deathstroke" and more -- closer to their core concepts, in effect undoing or lessening a number of major changes brought about in 2011 with the "New 52" reboot.

In its first few weeks, Rebirth -- with many books released twice-monthly and new #1s for every DC Universe title except for "Action Comics" and "Detective Comics," which returned to their legacy numbering -- appears to be a success. The comics have sold well, with Rebirth titles taking nine of the top 15 slots in June 2016's single-issue direct market sales, a much more encouraging response than the comparatively muted sales of last year's "DC You" initiative. And, in contrast to the much more controversial New 52, Rebirth reaction from critics and fans alike has been largely positive.

CBR News spoke with DC Comics Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee at the DC booth on the convention floor of Comic-Con International in San Diego, to discuss the Rebirth reaction thus far, and what bringing superheroes closer to classic conceits means for greater experimentation in the rest of DC's publishing line -- as seen in the soon-to-debut Vertigo-esque "pop-up imprint" Young Animal (the home of "Doom Patrol," "Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye," "Mother Panic" and "Shade the Changing Girl"), and the alternate takes on Hanna-Barbera classics on display in DC's current "Flintstones," "Scooby Apocalypse," "Future Quest" and "Wacky Raceland" titles.

CBR News: Dan, Jim, we're now a few weeks into the "Rebirth" era, so let's speak frankly about it -- in the past few years, DC has had sales success that got a mixed reception from fans, and then things like DC You that had a positive reception, but didn't take off in the right way. Thus far, Rebirth has seen great sales, and a largely positive response from fans and critics -- on a personal level, how does that feel for both of you?

Dan DiDio: Uncharted territory. [Laughs]

Jim Lee: Even a broken clock is right twice a day, right? It's validating. What can I say? It's exciting. Honestly, the New 52 was a big success for us, too. Regardless of how some people might have critiqued it or received it, we're really proud of the fact that it brought a lot of new people into the stores, a lot of lapsed fans; that's what we heard as the primary feedback from retailers. Beyond how the books were received, it was a big shift in the demographic and the business that lifted all boats. Not just ours, but the entire industry. That was really positive.

What we love about Rebirth is, like you said -- people love the content, and the numbers reflect that. I think it also signals a new paradigm for us in how we do our business; doing books twice monthly. We've done weekly books before, but doing it on this scale is new for us. I think there's a greater sense of community amongst our talent than before -- people always felt ownership of their books, but now you know that no one can do a book twice monthly. We all know we're platooning, there's more a sense of collaboration, of team effort, than ever before. The fact that Geoff Johns is lending his insight and creativity, sitting down with the writers, and people are really checking their egos at their door, working on what makes these characters great, and how can we elevate these stories and make them the best possible that really reflect the original conceit -- the best conceits -- of these characters.

All that, really, is reflected in the content and reflected in how the readership is reviewing the material. It's really interesting to see the gamut of reactions and how almost universally positive they are. Second issue sales are outselling, sometimes, the first issue. It's fantastic, man. This is as good as you could dream it to be, honestly.

DiDio: For me, it's like the culmination of my time here in an interesting way. When we did "Countdown to Infinite Crisis" up to "Infinite Crisis" through "52" the weekly series, that was a real tightening of continuity, and tightening of story, and stories building on stories -- world-building. When we did New 52, it was about fresh start, new beginnings, jump-on points without the sense of past history. In some ways, Rebirth is a combination of those two sensibilities brought together, as well as -- as Jim was just talking about -- bringing in the work ethic of the weekly series now to the twice-monthly shipping.

So much of what we've done, experimental-wise, I feel this is the culmination of it all, and I feel this really is a Rebirth of the company. It's a "Rebirth" on so many levels. It's a rebirth of our characters, bringing them back to their core conceits. It's about a new company that's been in two portions for over five years coming together in one, single location now, with almost a new staff. We don't talk about 2015 much any more, but we went through that transition of moving cross-country. We had a turnover that most companies would have stopped dead on, and we continued to publish through that.

We learned a lot of things from DC You, also. We learned how to diversify a little bit better. You can't do it all at one time. It has to be more organic in the assumption of moving forward. We're bringing in that new audience, as well as really building upon the base of the audience that we had.

I want to talk about Jim's contribution, which is really important -- he's talking about platooning. We talk about the selflessness of the talent of the teams working together as they share books right now. We did that on the weekly series, and everybody knew that they had to be a part of a team. When you have people like Jim, who can really command his own book, his own time and his own rules, being part of a platoon, it allows other people to take a half-step back and say, if Jim Lee is taking part on this, I should be able to take part on this as well. It's leading by example! And it's an important thing to have people leading by example. I think that's one of the reasons why we're seeing as much success as we are.

Believe me, it's a frustrating process. A hard process. It's a lot of work, it's a lot of re-writing, a lot of re-drawing to get it all right, because people are moving at different paces. Pieces come in, and you're like, "In order to line this up, we have to fix something over here, because we're working six months in advance, and the book coming out next week has something that's different." I'm hoping that smooths out as it goes further. There's a lot of re-working going on, but I think everybody's knowing there's a great cause they're working towards. The fact the return has been so big is enabling us to go, "It's actually for a reason." You're seeing the result at the end. We're seeing numbers we haven't seen on books before. I think that allows people to double-down and commit twice as much.

Following up on those comments, as noted, the trend at DC was streamlining things for quite a while -- there was only one Flash in the New 52 era, for example. Now, we have Barry Allen and Wally West as The Flash -- in fact, now we have two Wally Wests. Was there a change in philosophy somewhere along the line? The idea that type of thing is OK, and fans will get it. You see these ideas becoming mainstream -- look at "The Flash" TV series. By the second season, there's time travel and multiple earths, and that's a huge mainstream hit. Was that a shift in thinking? That DC can have a lot of of this different stuff out there, and it's not the deterrent it was thought it would be?

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