written by Kate Danvers
“Our goal is never to be in a position where we are restarting, relaunching a line, ever again. Quite the opposite. What we really want to do is build on what we created from the launch of New 52, take what existed beforehand, integrate that in, to give us the best interpretations of the characters that organically move forward, and are all part of one big continuity, that is DC Comics.”
You might think those words are from Geoff Johns as part of his announcement of DC’s new “Rebirth” event, but they’re not. That quote’s from Dan DiDio…last July.
I read my first Superman comic when I was around nine years old. My mom decorated cakes for people as a hobby and she had to put the Superman emblem on a cake for someone, so she needed a reference image. This was before the internet, so buying a little $1 comic was probably the best option. She bought The Adventures of Superman #484. After she was done with the comic I asked if I could have it. I knew about Superman – every kid knew about Superman, but I had never read any of the comics before that. I had the basics down: Superman/Clark Kent was an alien from Krypton sent to Earth as a baby, blue suit, red cape, fights Lex Luthor, likes Lois Lane almost as much as he likes truth, justice, and the American way. I didn’t know his full comic history though. The issue opened with him and Lois burning dinner, him getting dinner out of the oven without potholders, and flying up to turn the smoke detector off. They were also talking about getting married, so I knew Lois knew his secret identity and that they were engaged. The issue also introduced me to Emil Hamilton, a scientist friend of Superman’s, and some villain I don’t remember the name of who I haven’t seen since. I was into it though. I didn’t need the story to start at the beginning for me, I didn’t need a long winded explanation, and I didn’t need Superman dumbed down or modernized for me to get him.
That Superman doesn’t exist anymore. He’s been rewritten and reimagined about half a dozen times since then. The more they change him, the less interested I become. I liked good-natured Clark Kent and sassy Lois Lane playing house together. That worked for me. DC decided that didn’t work for them though, so they’ve tried again and again to make the character more appealing to audiences.
Welcome to DC’s 30th Annual Reinvention of the Wheel.
There have been rumblings and vague advertisements for something called “Rebirth.” Recently, writer and Chief Creative Officer of DC Geoff Johns did an interview with Comic Book Resources where he…really didn’t say much. We’ve been assured that the upcoming “Rebirth” event isn’t a reboot (although I recall a time when we were similarly assured the New 52 wasn’t a reboot but a “relaunch,” and look how that turned out), and that its aim is to restore elements that fans have been missing in DC Comics. Johns was responsible for “Green Lantern: Rebirth” and “The Flash: Rebirth,” two stories that restored older, more familiar elements to both characters while introducing new things that would help them move forward. In Flash’s case, it moved us right into Flashpoint (grrrr). We can assume what’s happening to the DC Universe as a whole will be something along those lines. But what does that mean?
Let’s start with the good – all DC books will return to a $2.99 price point. Considering we’ve seen both companies try and fail to justify $5 event comics in recent years, this is welcome news…for however long that lasts, if it lasts at all. I’ll get to that in a second. Next, Action Comics and Detective Comics will return to their original numbering, and since both are in the 900s, #1000 issues are just around the corner. I’m okay with that – the numbers show the legacy of the comics and issue numbers aren’t exactly daunting for new readers. These two books especially are DC’s legacy, so it’s fine for them to eventually have four-digit issue numbers. Though I think this one may be less about legacy and more about co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee getting to brag that they published Action and Detective #1000. Honestly, I would brag too. More good: “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey” looks to be getting the old band back together, Blue Beetle and Batman Beyond are getting books, and there’s a Superwoman book.
Now the bad. Every book is going to have a one-shot Rebirth issue, leading to some hilariously long titles like “Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps: Rebirth” and “Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth.” One shots mean this is an event comic, and the actual launch and relaunch of these series doesn’t begin until after the specials. Speaking of specials, there’s an 80-page “DC Universe: Rebirth” special coming that despite what CBR says will probably cost more than $2.99. I do not see DC selling 80 pages at a low price point. 60 pages of ads and 20 pages of content three bucks, that I could see, but not 80 pages plus ads.
Also, this is another excuse to reset every comic to #1. Do you have Batgirl #100? I’ll answer for you – you don’t. Because even though there have been four separate Batgirl series (and Rebirth will mark the 5th), Batgirl has never gotten that far without being canceled, rebooted, retooled, or reimagined. The furthest it ever got was #73 during the Cassandra Cain years. And Batgirl isn’t the only book/character like this. There are probably far more ridiculous examples that I could cite here. It used to be that having “issue #1” of something was a big deal. These days if you don’t have issue #1 of a comic, just wait two or three years for the next one.
DC Comics has a reboot problem.
The same could be said for Marvel, but DC just announced Rebirth so I’m picking on DC today. DC is constantly struggling to find ways to make their characters more accessible. They reboot, they have events, they announce changes, they make TV shows, they make movies in desperate need of color correction, they spend years upon years trying to figure out how to reinvent the wheel. If you look back at the history of major DC comics you’ll see that events used to be a rare thing. Now we see several per year. More troubling is universe-changing crossovers that once happened every decade or so are becoming more frequent. Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, Flashpoint, New 52, Forever Evil, Convergence, Rebirth, etc. Every few years DC tries something to shake up the current state of the DC Universe. Even the events that don’t have huge changes make following a storyline nearly impossible. I can’t imagine what it’s like for the writers to constantly have to plan storylines around events or have their stories interrupted by a company-wide crossover that their characters are mandated to take part in. Heaven help the ones who write for the Bat, Lantern, or Super books because those are some of the worst when it comes to crossover events. On top of that, the writers have to worry about creative team shakeups every time a reboot comes around.
There are two reasons for the universe-altering crossovers and reboots. Either DC wants to do fresh new takes on a concept or their last fresh new take fucked up the continuity and they have to fix it. I remember reading a Zero Hour interview in a magazine where they talked about all of the problems that Zero Hour was trying to fix, like questions about Hawkman’s origin. But on the other side of the coin, it was causing issues because there was never a Clark Kent Superboy. Rebirth sounds like a “fix” along those lines. They’re trying to restore some of what the New 52 took away and trying to fix what the New 52 broke.
Is it ever going to be enough, though? Are they ever going to create a Superman or Batman who appeals to everyone of every generation, hardcore and casual fans alike? The answer is no. Everyone knows who Superman is, everyone knows who Batman is. For every nine-year-old girl reading the Superman comic her mom bought and getting hooked on the characters, there are thousands of others who love or hate Superman but would never pick up a comic. Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Aquaman aren’t going to appeal to everyone – even those who would pick up a comic. Reinventing those characters isn’t going to help. If the characters you have don’t appeal to a certain demographic, make new ones that do. Don’t keep reinventing the wheel if all you’re doing is rebuilding it with the exact same pieces each time.
If I were to make a guess about what Rebirth is going to be from what Geoff Johns has said, I would guess it’s a continuation of the New 52 but with the history of pre-Flashpoint DCU thrown in. If that’s the case, every title may soon become like Green Lantern or Batman were in the New 52 – fresh takes but with the old continuity preserved. But once again it’s just fixing what they broke before when they were trying to make their characters an concepts appeal to a wider audience.
Except there’s a problem. As people I follow on Twitter pointed out, Johns says of the target audience for Rebirth: “If you have, like me, long boxes of DC Comics, you will be very happy. If you’ve never read a DC comic before, you won’t be too lost. This is definitely for comic book readers more than it is for casual readers, just like ‘Green Lantern: Rebirth,’ but that doesn’t mean it’s exclusive of them.” Going back to how I began, my very first issue of Superman wasn’t for long-time readers of DC Comics and it wasn’t for casual readers either – it was for people who wanted to read a Superman comic. They shouldn’t have to insert or remove history to appeal to comic fans or casual readers. Their comics should naturally do that already. Continually rebooting and retooling their brand isn’t going to draw new readers or bring back old ones; it’s going to push more of them away because we all see a company that’s struggling with its own identity.
I think the best metaphor for what DC has done wrong are its films. People asked for a Batman and Superman movie, but instead of giving us a film where the two iconic characters team up against a great threat, we’re given a film that looks so dark and bleak that it barely resembles a superhero movie. Our “heroes” are shown to be at each other’s throats and stopping just short of saying how much they want to kill each other in the trailers. They took a character known for being a primary color-wearing do-gooder boy scout and tried to make him dark and edgy and alien to appeal to a wider audience. Meanwhile Marvel Studios takes an equally ridiculous concept and just starts figuring out who’s going to play the talking raccoon. I honestly think DC is ashamed of its own characters most of the time, and it keeps trying to fix them for us.
I like Geoff Johns’ work and I respect him as a writer. I don’t envy his job, though, especially since DC is sort of setting him up as the face of this thing by having him write the 80-page special and doing interviews like the one with CBR. I really hope he can pull this off, but even if he does it successfully, this won’t be the last major shakeup of DC Comics. I don’t even think it will be the last one of this decade. At the end of the Rebirth announcement video, Johns quotes from the beginning of his 80-page Rebirth special, “I love this world, but something’s missing.” I agree, but what’s missing is only what DC has taken away, and trying to put it back a different way isn’t going to fix it.
Let’s go back to that quote that started this article. “Our goal is never to be in a position where we are restarting, relaunching a line, ever again.” Seven months later, here we are again, and we’re only five years into the New 52 reboot. Five years from now, they will probably be doing the same thing as they struggle to find their identity. It’s going to be an endless cycle of reboots because the problem is that at a fundamental level, DC has no idea what it is, what it was, or what it wants to be.
Kate Danvers can be reached on Twitter as @WearyKatie.