Rebirth Revisited: What Can We Learn From DC’s Previous Rebirth Series?
This weekend we finally learned more about the titles making up DC’s new Rebirth initiative, including creative teams and creative directions. However, the eponymous DC Rebirth #1 by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez, Ethan Van Sciver and Gary Frank, which promises to kick things off with major returns and the “biggest secret in the DC Universe,” remains a mystery.
In the promotion for DC Rebirth, Johns, who is DC’s chief creative officer, regularly calls to mind his previous two series with Van Sciver, Green Lantern Rebirth and Flash Rebirth, and how he believes they refocused and reinvigorated the franchises. With DC Rebirth on the horizon, we’re looking back at the earlier Rebirth series to see where they succeeded and where they failed.
Green Lantern Rebirth tells the story of the return of Hal Jordan, who at that point in continuity was The Spectre, after spending several years in the early '90s as the villain Parallax following the destruction of Coast City. The series reveals that Parallax was in fact an ancient fear entity that possessed Jordan through his ring, and his downfall was orchestrated by his arch-nemesis Sinestro. It ends with Hal teaming up with John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner and Kilowog to defeat Parallax and begin to re-establish the Green Lantern Corps.
In the Rebirth announcement video from mid-February, Johns details what he considers was the core of Green Lantern Rebirth, in that it wasn’t just about bringing Hal Jordan back, but bringing back Sinestro and Kilowog and Guy, and re-establishing the Corps. It was also about embracing the present, with Kyle Rayner, making sure that Kyle was at the heart of the story and that he didn’t go anywhere following it.
To look at whether Green Lantern Rebirth succeeded or failed, you need to look beyond those six issues and at the next ten years of comics. It was followed by not only a new Green Lantern series, but by Green Lantern Corps: Recharge, re-establishing the Corps and providing a new ongoing series for Kyle, Guy, and John. The franchise’s popularity exploded with the "Sinestro Corps War," which encouraged DC to make Blackest Night a line-wide event centered around the Green Lantern books.
There was even a movie! Ryan Reynolds played Hal Jordan in a Hollywood film that took cues, including Parallax, from the recent comics. Regardless of whether you think it's good or not, it's undeniable that a Green Lantern movie would not have been made if it was not for the franchise's popularity post-Green Lantern Rebirth.
When The New 52 was announced, the Green Lantern franchise was a line unto itself with four books: Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians and Red Lanterns. Hal, John, Kyle and Guy each had their own ongoing comic in The New 52 until fairly recently, and are still around in books like Green Lantern: Edge of Oblivion and The Omega Men.
Flash Rebirth is a bit of a different story. Barry Allen had already returned in Final Crisis, and the book sought to give his return a Flash-related reason, rather than the one already established. It also gave Barry a dark backstory to brood over with the retcon of his mother’s death and his father’s false imprisonment, but the retcon was a story point as it was revealed Professor Zoom went back in time to kill Barry’s mother and frame his father. Flash Rebirth also saw the return of Max Mercury, plus Liberty Belle became Jesse Quick again and Wally West’s daughter Irey became the new Impulse.
It seemed like Flash Rebirth was setting up that franchise for a similar re-invigoration, but for a number of reasons, I’d class it as a failure. At the Rebirth announcement this weekend, Johns talks about how Flash Rebirth was about going inward to look at Barry Allen, which it does, but he also talks about how it was about Wally West and the Flash Family, which is considerably less true.
Following Flash Rebirth, Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul launched a new Flash series with Barry Allen as the lead character, but it was announced that there would also be a Kid Flash series starring Bart Allen, to be written by Sterling Gates, and an anthology title Flash: Speed Force, which would star characters like Wally West, Jay Garrick & Jesse Quick.
None of that ever materialized, and Barry Allen never got to find his feet under Johns because that volume only lasted twelve issue before Flashpoint happened and the entire universe rebooted into The New 52. In The New 52, it was just Barry Allen. There was no Wally West at that point, no Jesse Quick. Jay Garrick was on Earth-2 as a completely new character, and Bart Allen turned out to be a literal war criminal from the 31st century named Bar-Torr, with no connection to Barry.
We can see where Flash Rebirth failed compared to Green Lantern Rebirth, but why did it fail? It seems that Geoff Johns’ concepts can only survive when he is around to support them, because a similar thing happened with the Green Lantern books. After Johns left, the new Green Lantern of Earth, Simon Baz, all but disappeared from comics and the line shrunk from four ongoing titles to just one, plus the miniseries The Lost Army and Edge of Oblivion. Johns is returning to the franchise to co-write Green Lanterns, starring Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, but how long will it survive on its own?
If that trend continues, what does it mean for DC Comics and its universe after the publication of DC Rebirth #1? There were some interesting books announced, but will doubling down on the core audience as opposed to the new readers work? The industry seems to be trending the other way, with comics like Gotham Academy, Ms. Marvel and Lumberjanes opening the door for new readers, but DC seem to think the answer lies elsewhere.
I’m not saying that Geoff Johns is the only person who can make the DC Universe work; if anything, it might be time for a new creative direction completely for DC Comics. The past twelve years of DC Comics have been built on nostalgia for the Silver Age, but it’s a construct that's tied to the vision of a single designer, and without him it's a house of cards that may keep falling down.