DC has started to pull back the curtain on this summer’s Rebirth event. There is still a lot that’s unknown, but what the publisher has revealed so far raises some issues.
Geoff Johns, one of DC’s key writers across its publishing and film properties, provided some of the details about Rebirth. It kicks off with a big special, written by Johns, and leads into the re-launch of DC’s line this Summer and Fall. The main DC Universe line, at least in the early days, will consist of 32 series. 17 will ship twice monthly, another 15 will put out one issue a month. Each new title will be preceded by a Rebirth special.
Creative teams and story directions are still to be revealed. Johns’ comments indicate that Rebirth doesn’t constitute a “reboot.” It also doesn’t appear to be a wholesale undoing of the continuity begun in The New 52 almost five years ago. Rather, the initiative aims to restore certain elements that fans have been missing from favorite characters. What that means and what specific story events trigger those re-jiggerings hasn’t been revealed. Johns notes an ultimate goal of a DCU that’s more cohesive and feels like a shared universe.
One word that Johns mentioned more than once in his comments was “legacy.” For a lot of long-time fans that was the element that was most missed in The New 52. Prior to that, DC had been in the unique position of having multiple generations of heroes active and interacting in their main line of books. The disappearance or “demotion” of various characters, as DC looked to shorten its characters’ histories to about five years, still rankles a lot of fans.
If DC can use Rebirth to re-establish some of those connections, that would be a good thing. Recent series Superman: Lois & Clark and Titans Hunt that used pre-New 52 character concepts were well-received and look to continue in the Rebirth era, albeit in new formulations. One of the more intriguing nods to legacy is that core titles Action Comics and Detective Comics, rather than starting over with new #1 issues, will resume their historic numbering (with #s 957 and 934, respectively presumably in an effort to catch issues 1000 in due course).
Rebirth is bringing about the end or reformation of numerous titles. Some current books will be re-worked in new directions or have different names. Lois & Clark, for example, appears to carry on as Super Sons, while the current Red Hood/Arsenal looks to revert to the New 52 title Red Hood and the Outlaws. Some well-received current titles are going away because their stars will be featured in different contexts. So the excellent Black Canary series will wrap so its lead character can co-star in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey. Starfire was retroactively declared a limited series and the alien princess will turn up either in Titans or Red Hood. Team-up books Batman/Superman and Superman/Wonder Woman are merging into a new monthly Trinity series, featuring all three of DC’s flagship characters in one ongoing series. High concept action/spy series Grayson will end so that the lead character can resume being Nightwing in a twice-monthly ongoing.
Several series, some quite acclaimed, are wrapping with no apparent correlates in the Rebirth line-up. Midnighter, Secret Six, Swamp Thing, Doctor Fate, The Omega Men, Martian Manhunter, Justice League 3001, Robin: Son of Batman, We Are Robin, Catwoman and Sinestro have no obvious successor titles. Where those characters might turn up in the re-launched line has not yet been disclosed.
A couple of characters not recently featured in regular books will get another crack under Rebirth. Supergirl and Blue Beetle haven’t led their own books for some time. But both characters have high profiles from their television appearances, so DC clearly wants to work that synergy with new ongoings. Birds of Prey wrapped its New 52 incarnation a couple years ago, but is getting a revival with Batgirl in a headlining role. And Superwoman is a mystery at this point, as to whether it will feature a familiar iteration (such as the Earth 3 Crime Syndicate villainess) or a new character.
Several titles that fans expected to make a comeback aren’t obviously present in the Rebirth line-up. Earth 2 will remain in the slate (dropping the Society sub-title), but many were hoping for the return of the original Justice Society of America in an active role. With all the recent discussion surrounding the Legion of Super-Heroes, fans felt sure that team would return to a regular series after a lengthy absence, but they’re not on the docket. Other characters who have recently sustained well-received books, like Animal Man and Batwoman, aren’t getting another shot. Nor is Shazam, in spite of an impending movie version. And with the end of Midnighter, none of the Wildstorm characters have an obvious home; there’s no new chance for StormWatch or The Authority.
The Rebirth line-up is heavily focused on DC’s highest profile characters. Concepts that are receiving multimedia exposure are prominent in the line. DC is doubling down on those key franchises. But many fans will miss the quirkier, offbeat books that DC has been producing over the past few years. Though not sales blockbusters, many had loyal followings. The disappearance of those kinds of creative swings is a disappointment.
The twice monthly schedule for many of the “core” series is a question mark. DC has had decent success with a variety of weekly series, so there’s some precedent for publishing more than one issue of a title per month. The difference is that DC’s weekly series always fell into the “event” category. They told a specific story and were designed to last only for a limited time. How DC will manage 17 series producing multiple issues per month on an indefinite basis remains to be seen.
How that schedule will impact creative teams is also a concern. DC’s weekly series have required multiple writers and rotating art teams to keep on schedule. Even with strong editorial control, that can be a momentum drag. Most writers can produce two books a month, though how long they’ll want to devote that kind of time to a single title remains to be seen. Multiple art teams will be a necessity. How DC manages that will be crucial. Inconsistent art can turn fans off of a book rather easily. Subbing in less talented journeyman artists who can work quickly but without inspiration isn’t a path to success either.
These issues beg the question of how effectively DC can manage its line in the Rebirth era. The size of DC’s slate is already a concern. While cutting the total number of series should help in terms of focus and ability to promote books, it also puts a lot of DC’s eggs into only a few baskets. Since the actual number of issues being produced each month won’t be decreasing significantly, that’s still a lot of product on the shelf competing for limited reader capacity.
There’s too much still unknown about Rebirth to make final judgments. Some optimism appears warranted, based on Johns’ comments. But there are enough red flags to give fans justified concerns.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on February 22, 2016.