Rebirth Anxiety: Our Hopes And Fears For DC’s Latest Not-Reboot
It’s been roughly a month since DC Comics announced its latest publishing venture, DC Rebirth, and outside of the titles of the comics, and the news that over half the line will be published twice-monthly, we don’t know a whole heck of a lot. Big announcements are expected at Wondercon on March 26th, but we can’t wait that long, so we’ve put together a list of our biggest hopes --- and our most realistic fears --- for DC’s line-wide relaunch this summer.
The strongest books from DC in recent years have been produced when new voices have been given the chance to break through and tell exciting new stories with tried and tested characters. Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics run, Gene Luen Yang on Superman, and Steve Orlando on Midnighter are key examples of what new and diverse writers bring to the table, and we want to see what fresh takes new writers and artists can bring to DC Rebirth.
The creative teams are what everyone’s going to be talking about very soon, so let’s hope that DC can create some real buzz with surprise assignments, and much-needed representation.
It’s about time Wonder Woman had an all-female creative team; why not get Marguerite Bennett and Stephanie Hans, fresh from Marvel’s only LGBTQ-fronted book, Angela: Queen of Hel, to tell new stories with DC’s highest profile female character? Let’s get Joshua Williamson on a Batman book, or Kelly Thompson on Teen Titans, or Alex de Campi on Suicide Squad, and really shake up DC’s entire line.
One of the most disappointing things about The New 52 was just how “Marvel-in-the-early-90s” it felt, with creators from that era popping back up left and right. Comics has often been referred to as a boy’s club, but it’s rarely been so apparent than it was at DC Comics in recent years. Ever since former Marvel editor-in-chief Bob Harras took an executive role at DC, there’s been a noticeable uptick in talent from his era of comics at the publisher.
Older white male writers have a place in the current comics industry; if anything, this year has provided a successful revival for creators like Gerry Conway, Len Wein and others from their peer group who are still telling exciting stories, often with characters they created in the 70s. We just want to see more great books from new and diverse voices, rather than guys getting hired because they were friends with the boss when JNCOs were cool.
The highlight of DC’s DCYou initiative was how it expanded the diversity of DC’s books in an intersectional fashion. There were more books with people of color, more books with female leads, more books with LGBT leads, and it didn’t feel forced. DCYou felt like the natural progression of superhero comics that we should have seen about five years ago. Catwoman came out, Harley came out, and Cyborg finally got an ongoing series after thirty-five years.
From what we know about DC Rebirth, Midnighter and Catwoman no longer have ongoings, and while they may still be around, it’s a step backwards in terms of DC’s diversity. So we want to see better representation across the board, in terms of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, ability, faith, and more. We want Bumblebee as a Titan, not stay-at-home mother. We want Kate Spencer on Birds of Prey. Heck, we want to see Apollo on the Justice League of America.
So what can DC do, based on the books we’ve already seen announced? Well, for one, it’s way past time that DC acknowledged Wonder Woman as a queer woman, and one of comics' highest profile LGBT characters. Marguerite Bennett is currently writing a queer Diana in DC’s Bombshells, so we know DC is at least open to the concept. Let’s take it all the way.
The most worrying thing in Geoff Johns’ announcement of DC Rebirth is that word, Rebirth. It’s been intentionally chosen to remind people of both Green Lantern Rebirth, and to a lesser extent Flash Rebirth. To a lot of people, DC’s Rebirth stories are returns to greatness, and a distillation of what made that concept so great in the first place, but to many others, Rebirth just means more boring white guys from the 70s.
Hal Jordan and Barry Allen were gone for ten and twenty years respectively, and the DC Universe moved on. We got a new Flash, a new Green Lantern, new Green Arrow, Atom, Blue Beetle, and the DC Universe moved on. When DC brings back all the old boring white guys from the 70s, it sends a message to many readers that “This is not for you anymore.”
There’s been a lot of gatekeeper language surrounding DC Rebirth, specifically Johns’ quote, “This is definitely for comic book readers more than it is for casual readers” which seems to prove that DC is banking on its aging fanbase rather than new readers. It’s a bold strategy, considering some of the most popular comics of the past few years are ones most often associated with “casual” readers, and we fear that Rebirth is going to alienate these new fans with notions of continuity and legacy that just aren’t necessary.
One of the things that Geoff Johns has promised with DC Rebirth is a return to the classic DC that we know from childhood, as if there’s one version of that nebulous idea. It’s hard to parse what Johns means by this outside of abstract ideas that differ from person to person, but we hope it at least means a return to a more classic sense of costume design, and the eradication of those Jim Lee high-collars.
We don’t need to have Superman in red trunks anymore, but the costumes need to be less busy than they currently are. Superman’s currently rocking armor, as is The Flash, and can someone please tell me what’s up with those three lines on each side of Batman’s logo?
If DC is going to rebirth anything, the costumes and general design sense of their current universe needs to be high up the list. If DC want to conjure up that childhood feeling in its readers, we need a Green Lantern who looks like a superhero, as opposed to one who looks like he sleeps in his car.
While we hope DC has a complete overhaul of its aesthetic, what’s most likely is that it goes whole-hog in the other direction and embraces the look of their cinematic universe in films like Batman vs Superman and Suicide Squad. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Batman come out of Rebirth with that chunky Frank Miller bat logo on his chest, or even to see Aquaman looking a lot more 90s than usual, based on early looks at Jason Momoa’s costume in the film.
The bigger worry is less the costumes and more the tone and palette of the films, especially BvS which looks to be grey, grey and a bit more grey for good measure. Superhero comics have already been through their grim ‘n’ gritty phase, and barely made it out alive; no-one wants to go through all that again.
While these seem realistic changes, we’re still hoping we can at least retain a more classic Joker, because no-one wants to see Jared Leto’s creepy mug staring back at them from a comic page, with DAMAGED scribbled across the top of his forehead.
If the you think about the comics that have been big critical and/or commercial successes in recent years, they’re the individualists, the ones that stand out from the crowd. Books like Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, and Batgirl are perfect examples of an entire creative team working together in harmony, and they look like absolutely nothing else on the shelves.
With the upcoming Rebirth books, we’re hoping to see more of that individualism in the interior art of DC’s books, and we’re hoping for some left-field choices for some of the top-tier flagship books. Imagine a Superman book with Ben Caldwell on art, or a Batman book that someone like Matt Kindt is allowed to both write and draw. Hopefully when it comes to time to assign artists for the Rebirth books, DC casts the net a little wider and brings back some real exciting surprises.
Since the beginning of the New 52, there has been a noticeable “DC House Style”, and a lot of the time it’s made up of unremarkable but servicable superhero art like you’d find on the back of an action figure packet. A lot of the DC house style is inspired by frequent Johns collaborator Ivan Reis, who is undoubtedly a phenomenal artist. However, when you have Reis drawing your most important stories, and then tie-ins and smaller stories have artists going for that exact same style, it's hard to get a sense of each book's individual voice.
What we really don’t want to see when we open a DC Rebirth book are the muted tones, grimaced faces, and snarling teeth that are still hanging around from the mid-90s. We know that’s going to be present in at least some of the books, because we have our third volumes in five years of both Deathstroke and Red Hood incoming, but maybe Justice League could be a bit more colorful and exciting?
The absolute highlight of the DCYou publishing initiative was seeing just how much freedom the creators were given to tell stories their way, and from that we’ve had great new takes with established properties like Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda on The Omega Men, or Rob Williams and Eddy Barrows on Martian Manhunter.
It would be a real shame if that creative freedom was reined in with the advent of DC Rebirth, because when creators have that room to maneuver, some of the best stories and runs are born. We already know DC is playing it fairly safe with the titles announced for Rebirth, so there’s definitely some space there to allow the creative teams to stretch out and establish their voices on the new books.
One of the biggest worries with DC Rebirth is how much the creative teams will have to fall into lockstep with the rest of the line when it comes to not only this event, but future events. We already know that most of the books will be getting a special Rebirth issue before their new #1s start, but how much will the line be inextricably interlinked come the summer?
In DC’s defense, The New 52 so far has been fairly event-free, and events like Forever Evil, have been quarantined in their own miniseries such as Rogues Rebellion and Arkham War. However, no-one wants another Convergence, which dominates every single title DC publishes for two months straight and ultimately goes nowhere.