We discuss the build-up to DC REBIRTH, and the first wave of titles from the new-again/old-again DC Universe.
September, 2011 will go down in comic book history as the month the DC Universe was stolen from us. Sure, when the New 52 was announced – a marketing stunt that was supposed to bring the DC Universe back to square one so the fabled new readers and lapsed DCU fans would have a convenient jumping on point – hope sprung eternal.
A whole month of 52 number ones? Comics that will usher in a whole new DC Universe? It sounded like a line-wide version of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. It sounded gutsy and creative; it sounded like a chance for comics most dynamic creators to rewrite myth and legend. Yeah, fans would have to say goodbye to many old friends, to the Golden Age greats of the DCU, to Wally West, to Donna Troy, and to many more, but to rekindle a DC Universe from scratch? It sounded fascinating, a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness creation itself. And at first everything seemed like it was going to work out, sales were astounding and the buzz was deafening, but some cracks were beginning to show.
First off, when the creative teams were announced, many writers and artists that were supposed to guide the DC Universe into tomorrow were the voices of yesterday. Creators like Scott Lobdell, Ron Marz, and most puzzlingly, Rob Liefeld were chosen as the guides into the future, yet their talents resided in the more classical, traditional comics of a previous era. Not taking away from these gentlemen’s contributions to comics, one has to admit while DC was barking about the fresh, new, and unexplored, one expected newer voices and visionaries to be the architects of tomorrow.
But sales were tremendous on the first months of the New 52, even the first year’s, but the 52 narratives that made up this new version of the DCU were convoluted at best and haphazard at worst. Creative teams came and went while familiar characters were barely recognizable. Most perplexing, some DC icons had been completely rebooted while others, Batman and Green Lantern most notably, were barely altered by the reboot. DC called it a soft reboot, and shop owners called it a successful stunt, but after a few years of fans desperately missing beloved versions of characters now lost, many called it an abysmal, creative failure.
Before we go any further, let us repeat the following: the initial idea was successful with many retailers saying the New 52 saved their businesses. Unfortunately, DC’s head-scratching approach to these new books castrated the New 52 before it could really get started. Continuity errors involving a continuity that was only a few months old popped up almost immediately. For example, Teen Titans was an absolute mess with some New 52 books claiming the Titans were a brand new team while others tried to establish a Titans legacy. At DC, the left hand had no idea what the right was doing, and the new DCU, still wrapped in its creative placenta, was already a narrative mess.
There Were a Few Bright Spots…
For five years, creative changes and lack of editorial coherence plagued DC’s new line. Of course, there were standouts of quality; Batman, Batgirl, Justice League, and a few more notables bucked the trend and were original and fresh takes on the DC heroes. But for the most part, chaos reigned. Green Arrow had something like 5 writers in a little more than a year as DC failed to take advantage of the mainstream success Oliver Queen was having thanks to the hit CW TV series Arrow. Supergirl and Superboy were barely recognizable; the Legion of Super-Heroes all but disappeared; Wonder Woman had become a convoluted mess despite the fact that writer Brian Azzarello delivered a unique, horror-minded take on the character; and concepts came and went that seemed to have no purpose or direction.
In 2015, DC tried to give its line a post-modern refresh with its DC You initiative. Once again, there were stalwart stand-outs such as Black Canary and Midnighter, but sales on DC’s line were dire. One only had to take a look at any comic-con to see that fans of all ages were still very much in love with the DC pantheon. There are always plenty of cosplayers (a fact which DC took advantage of through the only new hit of the New 52 era, the perennial Harley Quinn), DC TV is bigger than ever, and there is plenty of buzz around the DC Cinematic Universe, so the fans were there. What was missing was a sense of purpose, history, and legacy.
And Then…There Was DC REBIRTH #1.
Things were dark in DC land until June of 2016, the month DC found its history and legacy. In DC Rebirth #1, Geoff Johns had Barry Allen echo DC fan sentiment everywhere when the Flash asked the returned Wally West, “How can I forget you?” A more meta statement was never uttered by a fictional character as Barry’s words seemed to be a condemnation of DC editorial. Throughout this opening Rebirth salvo, Wally West continually reminded fans that something horrible had taken DC’s rich history and tossed it away. Something terrible indeed – something that looks exactly like editorial incompetence and marketing inconsistency.
But this month, characters that have been an echo of their former glory have returned fully formed to the DCU.
Batman was never broken and he remains strong through the writing styling of Tom King (The Vision), but in addition to the forever quality, core Batman title, DC has finally found an intriguing direction for Detective Comics. One of the most simple-minded and silly marketing stunts that occurred during the New 52 was the renumbering of Detective Comics and Action Comics, two titles that only existed because of legacy and history. Recently, DC has installed a tea of Batman allies into the pages of Detective and the results have so far been fascinating.
The renumbered Detective Comics never had a solid purpose and direction as over seventy years of continuity and momentum was thrown away for an issue #1 sales bump. Now, Detective’s numbering is back as is the quality many have come to expect on one of DC’s flagship titles. This new team consisting of Cassandra Cain, Batwoman, Spoiler, Tim Drake, and Clayface is an interesting twist on the Bat-team concept as the classic Detective Comics has become a brave new world for DC. Ironically, things got fresh and new after DC returned to the glorious numbering of old.
Speaking of Renumbering, We Have Action Comics.
Towards the beginning of the New 52, Superman and his family of titles were an absolute mess. The legendary George Perez was replaced on Superman before you could say “Last survivor of a doomed world. And and while Grant Morrison got to finish his run on Action Comics, the timelines between the two flagship super-titles never synced up.
Once Morrison left, both Superman and Action became a hodge-podge of ideas while Superman himself was one of the greatest casualties of the New 52. The red underwear may have been gone as far as the New 52 Kal-El was concerned, but so were many fans’ interest and comic book dollars. The super-family suffered the same ennui as both Supergirl and Superboy both fizzled; it seemed fans did not want darkened versions of these traditionally lighthearted characters. And heck, can you imagine that DC did not publish a Supergirl comic even when the CBS TV Supergirl TV series catapulted the character to new heights of fan love?
Now, in the first month of Rebirth, fans were treated to a return to super-greatness as everything old was new again. The classic, pre-New 52 Man of Steel and his super-family has returned to the new DC Universe. Clark, Lois, and Jon Kent all have arrived to the Rebirth era fully realized as a bit of the classical has put a fresh coat of paint on the super-titles. Credit goes out to new super-writers Dan Jurgens and Peter Tomasi for finding a balance between the old and the new as both writers have recreated the world of Superman with a new super Lex Luthor, a brand new Superman Family, and the return of Doomsday.
This combination of a new direction combined with a sense of legacy and history has also breathed new life into Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, The Flash, and most profoundly, Teen Titans.
Dan Abnett has brought Aquaman back to the glory of the Geoff Johns run on the book as Aquaman and Mera are quickly swimming into new territory, but the two classic underwater champions are back to glorious and traditional form.
Greg Rucka has tried to make sense out of DC’s convoluted history of Wonder Woman and has crafted a meta-textual story that is trying to untie the Gordian knot that is Wonder Woman continuity. In doing so, Rucka has found a spark for the character that had fizzled in the New 52 era.
The Flash was a barely readable mish-mash of ideas before Rebirth with a number of different creators trying to find new takes on characters that fans did not want to see. Fans wanted something akin to CW’s The Flash series and now they have it as writer Nathan Edmondson has found a way to combine the sensibilities of the TV series with a sense of the classical Barry Allen to create a narrative rooted in history. If you want to see what happens after the Rebirth one-shot, The Flash should be your go-to book.
Green Lantern & Green Arrow
Geoff Johns and Sam Humphries have put a new coat of emerald paint on the Green Lantern concept by delving into two new human Green Lanterns, Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz. Before Rebirth, the Green Lantern family of books turned into a Geoff Johns cover band, but this new direction has breathed new life into a concept that was kind of on life support. Even Green Arrow, the book that arguably suffered the most under the New 52 banner (except for the all too brief Jeff Lemire run) has found a fascinatingly new, yet familiar direction as Green Arrow has rekindled his lost love with Black Canary.
And then there’s Teen Titans. No other New 52 book strayed farther from history and legacy that the New 52 Teen Titans. Characters matched their traditional counterparts in name only as unfamiliar and rather unpleasant versions of Beast Boy, Raven, and other classic Titans members arrived to the sound of complete fan disinterest. Now, in the Rebirth Teen Titans, classic members of the team have literally woken up thanks to the returned Wally West as Dan Abnett has begun a new era of Titans tradition. With Wally, Donna Troy, Tempest, Lilith and other Titans greats back, it really begs the following question: why were these icons taken in the first place?
With Rebirth rolling along, it feels like the New 52 era was a bad dream, a nightmare where the familiar was replaced by the unimaginative, and where the beloved was replaced by weak echoes of tradition. But with Rebirth things are moving in the right direction; people are talking about DC again. You can’t go on social media without people debating the incorporation of the Watchmen in this new, yet familiar DC Universe and wow, can we take a second to absorb the sheer ‘ballsiness’ of the inclusion?
But this new DC era isn’t driven on controversy. One month in and we were treated to books that stand on their own merits and pay tribute to tradition and legacy. In this reborn DCU, continuity and history are tools and not crutches as DC is now a playground that has cleaned the razor blades off the slides and the broken glass out of the sandbox. welcoming everybody to come and play in the coolest playground in comics. It’s early; there’s still time for the whole thing to implode, but as of right now, it is time to celebrate everything that makes DC great.
In July, we get treated to a gaggle of new titles. Hopefully, DC’s talent can stick to this new bi-monthly schedule and keep giving fans versions of characters that are as fresh as they are familiar. It’s good to have you back DC. How could we ever forget you?
June, 2016: The Month the DC Universe Was Reborn.