SDCC: Behind the Scenes of DC Comics's "Rebirth"

DC Comics is closing out its Saturday programming at Comic-Con International in San Diego with a panel devoted to its new "Rebirth" universe as a whole. Panelists include Geoff Johns, DC Entertainment's Chief Creative Officer and the writer of the "DC Comics Rebirth" one-shot; Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee; artists Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Liam Sharp, Rafael Albuquerque; and writers Christopher J. Priest and Shawna and Julie Benson.

Johns said "Rebirth" began with DiDio coming into his office and saying, "I want everything to end at #52." "As often happens, Dan threw a bunch of crazy ideas out there," Johns said, eventually landing on "I want to relaunch everything and call it 'Rebirth.'"

After "Green Lantern: Rebirth," one of Johns' earlier successes and one that reinvigorated a franchise, Johns said the term meant a return to what is great and an opportunity to move forward.

"I wrote down everything I missed about the DC universe," Johns said. "We talked about what the DC universe was missing, and it was a sense of history and, because the history had been negated, was the emotional connections between the characters, and that's what DC means to me. And that's where Wally West came in."

Johns said, "I've never been nervous about a comic book coming out before, but I was nervous for this one." He said he'd put "a lot of myself into the book," and was heartened to find "people loved the DC universe the way that I love it." Johns also mentioned that he knew this would be the last comic he would write "for a while," so he wanted it to be special.

Johns said he and the writers got together to discuss what they loved about the characters. "What do we love about 'Birds of Prey? Easy, they're cool," he said. "That's been the process and it's a really cool process."

Though the process in films and television is different, Johns said "the compass is pointed in the same direction," and his approach to the characters is the same.

Johns cited an early success of "Rebirth" as "Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance knowing each other again," which fans have responded to enthusiastically.

"Legion, JSA, Dr. Manhattan, the seeds have been planted," he said of broader plans for the universe.

Johns advised fans to "watch 'Detective Comics'" and follow Mr. Oz's clues.

He added that "I one-thousand percent have plans for Justice Society," and the team will also be appearing in "Legends of Tomorrow."

"Kyle was left off of that spread deliberately because of what's coming up for him in 'Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps,' and his next evolution," Johns said. "We didn't want to give it a way, but he will be doing something very important to the new DC universe."

Johns then had to leave the stage to catch a plane.

For "Rebirth," Lee said it made sense to adjust costumes for a fresh start. "And we're not in a space where costumes need to last for 20-30 years, there are sometimes multiple versions of the same character at the same time." He noted that he wanted to incorporate some innovations from movies, games, and TV, but "the difference is in comics you have to draw that costume again and again on every page, which I learned to my dismay in 'Justice League - I was cursing my own name."

Julie Benson said that even before coming on to "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" she was an avid comics reader and loved "Birds of Prey. "I had ten longboxes, I had to go digital, I had no more room." By contrast, Shawna Benson said, "I was more familiar with the 'Birds of Prey' television show."

Sharp said that he'd done a Barry Smith-esque Red Sonja piece that "I'm only really happy with one piece about every five years, and I was happy with that one." After thinking whether it would be abusing his access to Jim Lee's cell phone to text him with it, he sent it over and said, "You could do Wonder Woman like this." "He wrote back, 'damn right you could!'"

DiDio joked that Reis and Prado are always called on to draw the most complex scenes, with the greatest number of characters. Reis joked, "you know, for a writer, it takes 15 minutes; for an artist, it's days," especially for intricate images.

"When Marie [Javins] called me for Deathstroke, my first question was, is he black?" Priest said. "She said no, I said, 'keep talking.'" In more seriousness, he said he'd be updating the core character as envisioned by Marv Wolfman and George Perez.

Priest said his time as a novelist was as a result of his being assigned "Green Lantern" novels. "I fell in love with the written word," he said.

He said that "Deathstroke" would examine "what if instead of a book that's about violence, what if we do a book about the consequences of violence." Slade Wilson, then, is "a guy that's paying a terrible price for this addiction - and that's what it is, an addiction - to the lifestyle that he has."

Asked about how he keeps his work on "Suicide Squad" separate from everything else that's going on with the property, Lee recounted the story he'd told at earlier panels that, despite opportunities, he hasn't seen the upcoming movie because he doesn't want his own take influenced.

"Sitting down with Rob [Williams] and Geoff [Johns], we came up with ideas that could fill 10-15 issues worth of stories," Lee said, adding that as the villains "go on adventures, you're finding out who these characters are."

A young fan asked whether there would be further exploration of Grant Morrison's "Multiversity" universes, but DiDio said that "for right now we're going to focus on the main universe."

Sharp said it was "an amazing privilege" to work on "Wonder Woman" during her 75th anniversary. "When you have an opportunity to work on an icon, everything changes," he said. "When Nic [Scott], Greg, and I talk, it's almost like she's in the room."

The artist said that "Wonder Woman" is a book for everybody - "it's a book for men, it's a book for women, and everybody in between. She's not of any race on this Earth, either - she's from Themiscyra."

A fan spoke of her emotional response to seeing an equal-gender split for the Batman creatives at a recent WonderCon panel and asked how this greater equity has affected the company. Lee said that discussion around gender, race, and other representation issues did play a role. He cited the talent development program led by Bobby Chase as another way DC has sought to bring new voices in.

"It's an ongoing mission of ours to increase the diversity of our creators," Lee said, also noting that it shouldn't just be that, for example, black writers are hired to write black characters.

In response to another fan question, DiDio suggested a Flash/Batman crossover is in the works. "You're going to see an investigation between our top detective and our top forensic expert," DiDio said of the "Three Jokers" mystery and the bloody button from "Watchmen."

Lee asked for more patience with the Milestone "rebirth," but added that Priest would be involved and new characters would appear on what's being called Earth M.

DiDio said that DC entered a period of "self-reflection" when, at a New York Comic Con panel, "we opened the floor to questions and everybody left. Nobody had any questions, and those that were asked were inconsequential to what's in the books." "That connection had been lost," he said, "and we decided to fix it."

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