‘Rebirth’ Roundtable: Comics Alliance Takes On DC’s Latest Announcements
The biggest news to come out of last weekend's WonderCon was unquestionably the announcement of DC's new "Rebirth" initiative, which featured an all-new lineup of DC titles that mix familiar faces with a few surprises --- in terms of both characters and creators. With a few months left before those titles actually hit stands, we're due for weeks of speculation, conjecture, and reaction to the new titles. And that starts with us.
We convened a roundtable discussion for a quartet of ComicsAlliance staffers --- Elle Collins, Kieran Shiach, Chris Sims, and Andrew Wheeler --- to offer up their thoughts about the announcements, including what they're looking forward to, what they're skeptical about, and how they think the upcoming Rebirth titles compare to DC's last few new directions.
Andrew Wheeler: The announcements are (almost all) in, and we've had a couple of days to digest. How does the DC Rebirth line stack up for you against the two most recent branded DC relaunches, The New 52 and DC You?
Elle Collins: There aren't nearly as many high collars and seams, so that's a plus. But there also aren't as many total surprises, which is a shame.
Kieran Shiach: My biggest problem with it was how safe it is. New 52 and DC You had a bunch of esoteric titles that you'd never expect, but everything about DC Rebirth so far seems fairly predictable, outside of say, New Super-Man.
Elle: Yeah, I agree with that. DC You in particular felt like it was all about trying new directions. And even New 52 had Westerns and war comics, and Wildstorm imports. This just feels like superhero DC by the numbers, with a couple of exceptions.
Chris Sims: I think those exceptions are really notable, though, for being some pretty interesting concepts mixed in there with the standard superheroes. You mentioned New Super-Man, and of all the ideas being tossed around for Rebirth, that's certainly the one that I find most intriguing.
Elle: Yeah. And it feels like an idea that must have come from Gene Yang, that DC was willing to get behind. And that's cool.
Kieran: It's worth noting as well, with the seventeen double-shipping titles, there's less room to be experimental.
Andrew: What else stands out besides New Super-Man? Are we excited about Super-Sons? All-Star Batman? The extent to which this line-up clings to the tentpoles of the DCU is really noticeable --- and at the cost of some of the freshness and diversity that made DC You so interesting.
Chris: I'm interested in how some of the more long-standing titles are getting a shakeup, and --- not surprisingly --- I'm drawn to seeing how that plays out in the Batman books. I'm pretty intrigued by Tom King and Mikel Janin being promoted up to Batman after their work alongside Tim Seeley on Grayson, and the idea of relaunching Detective Comics as a Batman Family team-up book that somehow includes Clayface is definitely something that I don't think we've seen before.
Elle: Yeah, and I'm excited about Batwoman having a central role in that book, especially since it's being handled by a queer writer, James Tynion IV.
Andrew: A big worry for me is how even some of the interesting books have something baked into them that turns me off. Janin and King on Batman is a no-brainer, but David Finch's overly-busy style doesn't appeal to me at all, to the extent that it'll keep me away from that book. Christopher Priest doing almost anything is interesting to me, but it turns out my "almost" doesn't reach as far as Deathstroke.
Elle: I feel similarly about Batgirl. The team looks awesome, but I'd have been happy for Barbara to stay in Burnside, and the "backpacking through Asia" storyline sounds like treacherous ground. I'll still read it, I'm just nervous.
Andrew: Is the danger here that DC is trying to serve too many audiences at the same time, at the risk of losing all of them? Why doesn't DC just use different books to reach different readers?
Chris: As a reader, I think the New 52 era of DC was often marked by being both unified and inconsistent in all the wrong ways. Matt Wilson wrote an article a while back about the prevailing house style, and I think that extended to storytelling in a really weird way. You could see a tone for the universe, but there were all of these outliers that were breaking from it. That's normally a good thing, but recently, the feeling I got was less that there were diverse themes being used for adaptable characters, and more that I wasn't quite sure what to think of the universe as a whole.
Regardless of whether you liked it or not, a book like Justice League sometimes didn't feel like it was taking place in the same universe as Batman or Action Comics, let alone something like Black Canary. I think that's part of why DC You felt so weird for a lot of readers --- even the books that were set in that core universe felt like they were a big departure, so you don't have that sense that if you already like X, you might also enjoy checking out Y. Where does someone go if they like Gotham Academy and want to see more, you know? Do they go to Batgirl because it's in the same corner of the world? Do they try Titans Hunt because they like teen drama? Those are two very different routes to take.
It's a tough line to walk, because I think we all want to see more diversity in terms of theme, approach, creative teams, and what those books are trying to accomplish, but when you're working within a shared universe --- any kind of shared universe --- you still want there to be some kind of consistency that links everything. Batgirl and Justice League can (and should) feel like very different titles, but you shouldn't have a hard time imagining them taking place in the same world, and I think that's something DC's been lacking for a while.
Elle: I'm not invested in that concern, and I think it's because I can only imagine DC publishing a Batgirl that feels more like it takes place in the Justice League world, and not vice versa. And that's a Batgirl I'm less interested in reading than the one we've had for the past year and a half or so.
Kieran: I think the sense of a shared universe is why we liked books like Justice League United so much, because of how DC Universe they felt. Batgirl of Burnside was on that team, and I don't think she felt out of place at all.
Chris: Sadly, I think the number of people who were super into seeing Batgirl, Steel, and Robotman fight Enemy Ace and GI Robot is not that much larger than the number of people in this room right now.
Elle: Is that what went on in Justice League United? Because I haven't read it, but you've just convinced me I probably should.
Kieran: While we do love seeing GI Robot showing up, the quote about Rebirth that got everyone worried was along the lines of "Casual readers won't feel too lost" which seems to be opposite to where the rest of the market is going.
Chris: One thing that bothers me about calling it "Rebirth" is that, historically speaking, that's the term DC uses for going backwards. It was a "Rebirth" when we got Hal Jordan and Barry Allen back, and while those were certainly successful and resulted in stories that a lot of readers loved, basing the whole approach to the line around "bringing back old stuff" makes me almost as skeptical as I would be if they'd brought out "Crisis” one more time. Then again, I'm not really in a position to be leery of anything with a bit of nostalgia to it at this point, so...
Elle: Also Green Lantern: Rebirth itself was a miniseries that came out more than a decade ago, and it's really weird how Geoff Johns can't stop talking about it every time he tries to explain the exciting "new" direction for DC.
Andrew: Geoff Johns remembers the things that excited him as a kid, and mistakenly thinks those are the things kids find exciting. What I wonder is whether DC can balance nostalgia with invention, aned old audience with growth audience. I see them trying with each iteration, but they're not there, and I think part of that is a lack of conviction that the growth audience is worth pursuing.
Kieran: I don't think there's enough here to appeal to the new readers that got into comics with the likes of Gotham Academy, and I think DC is making a mistake by not embracing them more. They tried with DC You, but they got scared before the trades came out, rushed into panic mode, and that got us here. Axel Alonso said this week that although Unbeatable Squirrel Girl's single sales aren't spectacular, its collected editions' are. I think the DCYou books will see a similar popularity now they've been collected. I've seen several retailers say that they're struggling to keep Midnighter Vol 1 in stock.
Andrew: I think saying "they tried" with DC You is being generous. They pitched a bunch of comics aimed at new readers and then freaked out when they didn't sell to old readers. Those books were tested against and marketed to the pre-order audience. They never got a serious chance to sell through bookstores.
Chris: I guess we just weren't ready to "hashtag this."
Elle: I sort of wonder how much of the abandonment of DC You is because a "What can we do to help sales" conversation was overtaken by a "Geoff Johns has a really exciting idea to take things back to basics" conversation, and any ideas about getting sales up without a total reboot were left in the dust. I'm just speculating, but the rhetoric around Rebirth gives me that impression.
Kieran: I like that most books have been announced with at least two artists. One of my concerns with double-shipping is that we won't get as many defining writer/artist runs on characters, like Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo on Batman.
Andrew: That speaks to another problem; too many books for DC to clearly get a message out there. Slimming the line helps a lot in that regard, but double-shipping to ensure the same volume is a risk, and trying to pass off that double-shipping as a cost-saving to readers when it's all about market share is cheeky as heck, to put it mildly.
It's not clear how long this double-shipping plan will actually last for. Greg Rucka said Wonder Woman is only doubling up for six months, and then it goes monthly. How long can DC keep that pace on other titles, or that price point?
Elle: I'm really excited to read more Greg Rucka Wonder Woman, but there is no writer that would possibly feel more like an attempt to get adult male comic book fans to buy Wonder Woman than Greg Rucka.
Chris: Don't get me wrong, I think there are plenty of good ideas that have fallen by the wayside and could use a return, and generally speaking, the big "Comeback Runs" that we're slated for are pretty exciting to me. I'm really glad to see Blue Beetle returning, for instance, with one of the creators who helped launch Jaime Reyes back when his first ongoing started. I feel the same way about Rucka and Nicola Scott returning to Wonder Woman, too. And, of course, Nightwing's finger-stripes, the second-most notable omission of the New 52.
Andrew: I feel like DC has learned from some of the mistakes of the New 52, but hasn't taken the right lessons from DC You.
Elle: I agree. If this was the thing that came after New 52, with no DC You in between, it would feel more like a positive step.
Andrew: And I think you're exactly right, Elle, that they abandoned DC You too quickly, not because it couldn't work -- it never got the chance to succeed or fail with its target audience -- but because there was a flurry of excitement to try this thing instead. And one could frame this as the Geoff Johns vision of the DCU, versus New 52 as the Dan DiDio vision and DC You as perhaps the [Batman group editor] Mark Doyle vision.
Kieran: I think DiDio has as much responsibility over this; Johns mentioned the original idea was presented to him by DiDio at the WonderCon announcement.
Andrew: I think the idea DiDio presented him with was, "OK Geoff, we'll try it your way".
What other books stand out that we haven't really touched on? All-Star Batman certainly feels like a lofty project.
Chris: As much as I like the big, theme-oriented stories that Snyder and Capullo have done, like Zero Year and Superheavy, I've been waiting for years to see him do smaller stories with the classic villains. Doing it this way, with a roster of big-name artists? That's super exciting.
Andrew: Getting to offer your definitive take on Batman villains with a host of amazing artists is the sort of prestige gig you really have to earn, and Snyder has certainly earned it.
Elle: Oh for sure.
Chris: It's also really refreshing to have big, highly promoted Batman stories that are built to move quickly. They're announced as, what, two-issue stories for each villain?
Kieran: I'm excited to see what artists like Tula Lotay and Afua Richardson do with Batman and his villains. The highlight for me is Joshua Williamson, Carmine Di Giandomenico and Neil Googe on The Flash, because I'm still a big Flash fanboy at heart, even if it does have to be Barry Allen. I think I might be alone in this, but I've enjoyed Bryan Hitch's JLA a lot, and I think he could do some good work on the Justice League book that matters, for a lack of a better phrase.
Andrew: The Flash, Green Arrow, Harley Quinn, Suicide Squad, and the de-emphasis of anything that isn’t the Trinity, that all lines up with the idea that DC is pegging its comics to its movie and TV properties. Miracle of miracles, even Supergirl has a book!
Elle: I'm really excited to finally have a Supergirl book again, and this one looks pretty great. The costume is perfect, and Steve Orlando is a writer I like a lot, although again, it would be nice to have a less male creative team. But of course that's a problem across the board.
Chris: The TV costume really works well, too. I like it a lot more than her New 52 suit.
Elle: Any Supergirl costume is better than that uncomfortable looking high-collared cape and mega-weird snap-off crotch panel. Of all the New 52 costumes, hers might have been my least favorite.
Chris: While we're on the subject of costumes I think they somehow managed to make a worse one for Superman than his New 52 armor. It has fewer lines and seams, which is nice, but those blue boots make it look like a onesie. They're Superjammies. He looks like if Superman made a guest appearance on Home Movies. Of all the things to fix with the New 52, I still can't believe anyone thought Superman's costume was one of them.
Kieran: I feel like I'm at a point where I need to compromise with DC. I'll let go of the red trunks, but give him a better belt and boots.
Chris: Trunks Or We Riot. Also the name of my Dragonball Z fansite.
Andrew: I remain an ardent believer that the underpants look stupid, but the old costume works anyway because people are used to it, so maybe just go with the dumb pants? It's Superman; he's not meant to be realistic.
Chris: I mean if we're going back to old stuff already, we might as well get this:
Elle: Oh you mean the costume that everyone knows is what Superman looks like, and which still appears all over marketing and kids' merchandise? Surely not.
Kieran: Are there any books that you're surprised aren't part of the line-up. I expected there to be a Shazam book by now.
Elle: Literally what I was going to say.
Chris: That Hanna-Barbera line makes me glad to be alive right now. Such times we live in, that something this weird is happening.
Andrew: I hoped Midnighter would get another shot, but DC is not Marvel. It does not try and try again with anything that isn't Deathstroke or Jason Todd.
Chris: But yeah, definitely surprised that Shazam doesn't have a title. After Cyborg finally got an ongoing --- which I'm glad to see is sticking around, even if David Walker won't be writing it --- that was the biggest unexplained absence of the New 52 era.
Kieran: This is the first time in years that Catwoman hasn't had a book, right?
Elle: On the subject of Superman, does it seem weird to anyone else that the Rebirth DCU has four different Supermen? Five if you count Cyborg Superman, who's in Supergirl. It's one thing to have a bunch of Green Lanterns or Flashes, but that seems like a whole lot of Supermen.
Chris: Lex just straight up saying "heck it" and declaring himself to be Superman is seriously one of my favorite Lex ideas in years. It's such a baller move. "No, you know what? I'm Superman now." It’s hilarious, and I mean that genuinely. I’m looking forward to it.
Andrew: There’s only one Wonder Woman book, and she continues to be part of the Superman office.
Chris: Now definitely seems like the time to finally launch a second Wonder Woman title. I'm really shocked that the "Wonder Woman: Year One" story isn't being used to launch a second book, rather than being incorporated into a single ongoing.
Elle: And with two Wonder Woman titles, you could have Rucka's Wonder Woman and also one written by a woman, at the same time! Just imagine...!
Kieran: There are two digital first Wonder Woman books, but only one print book.
Chris: I'm genuinely surprised that Marguerite Bennett doesn't seem to be involved anywhere, after the stellar work she's done on Bombshells. Is that book --- and the whole DC digital-first line, I suppose --- going to continue after Rebirth? Is it a separate thing?
Kieran: It's a separate office entirely, I believe.
Elle: Bennett has confirmed that Bombshells is continuing.
Chris: Oh, good. Also read that book, if you're not. It's a hoot.
Elle: The current digital-first Legend of Wonder Woman series written and pencilled by Renae De Liz has also been excellent, and I'd have loved to see her brought into the DCU proper.
Andrew: One thing I said while the announcements were still going up on Saturday is that I hoped to see as many women writing male solo titles as men writing female solo titles. Because that seems only fair, right? And we got the men --- Rucka, Orlando, Phil Jimenez, all on female-led books in the Superman office --- but we did not get the women. Not on male solo books, and not anywhere much else either. No Bennett, no De Liz, no Ming Doyle, no Gail Simone, no Amy Chu, no Becky Cloonan, no Meredith Finch. No DC debut for Mairghread Scott, or Marjorie Liu, or Kate Leth, or Taneka Stotts, or...
Elle: Also no Annie Wu or Babs Tarr. I realize you're just listing writers, but their contributions to the DCU both felt exciting, vibrant, and youthful in a way DC all-too-rarely does.
Andrew: Yeah, and they're world-builders and storytellers through and through. That DC brought three women who have never worked for DC before out in the first announcements (all in Mark Doyle's office) and then nothing until Amanda Conner --- who has gifted DC a bonanza through her work on Harley Quinn alongside Jimmy Palmiotti et al --- was the biggest disapointment of the day.
Elle: Agreed. I got all excited that there were multiple women in the first group, and then that was basically it.
Andrew: Expectations raised. Expectations dashed. Do we have any other thoughts on the announcements as they stand?
Chris: Looking over the list, there's a lot in here that I feel like trying out --- New Super-Man is probably at the top of the list, but also new teams for Batgirl, virtually all of the Batman stuff, and a new high-profile origin story for Wonder Woman, which is the kind of bookshelf-ready project that character has needed for years. But more than anything else, I'm curious to see if there's a unifying theme for the relaunch, and what that theme might be, and I'm hoping it comes through.
Elle: As much as I don't sound that enthusiastic, it actually looks like I'll be buying more DC titles post-Rebirth than I've been recently. Detective Comics is actually the one I'm most unreservedly excited about, which feels slightly strange, but I'm definitely going to give several others a try. That new Wonder Woman origin is particularly exciting.
Kieran: As a longtime DC Universe reader, I'm excited to see what "the biggest secret in the DC Universe" is in the Rebirth special, but like Andrew said on Twitter, it doesn't really matter, you can just make up whatever.
Wheeler: They were all dogs in man-suits this whole time.
Chris: That is the most adorable outcome. If Batman was suddenly a cool dog with a bandana, we'd be back at six million copies a month, guaranteed.
Elle: He still never smiles, but now he wags his tail affectionately.