‘Rebirth’ brought up a single eyebrow

The announcement was made today, DC Comics’s Rebirth will not be a reboot but a “movement to restore some of what fans have been missing from DC’s publishing line in recent years.” In an interview with CBR, Geoff Johns talked about wanting to bring back a shared universe (“build back to a shared universe and big stories”) (populated by DC’s heroes and characters), the shift to a twice-monthly shipping schedule, and legacy. That’s all great to focus on but I don’t think that that’s enough.

DC Comics has been floundering for a long while. Six months into their New 52 reboot, DC sales started to steadily decline leading to book cancellations and a shuffling of talent on books. The New 52 relaunch, and all the press that followed, raised some eyebrows to start. For one, they released some exciting new alternative books like G.I. Combat, Blackhawks and Batman Incorporated. On they other hand, they brought in writers and artists whose heyday was the 90s and those big, brash books that had been pushed out of the zeitgeist years ago. The alternative books disappeared (despite many of them being really good) and DC seemed to double-down on the 90s talent that sold so well in my childhood. While Marvel brought in some indie voices they bucked the trend and floundered because of it. Even when DC tried to bring in indie creators (Jeff Lamiere and Matt Kindt, for example) they lost them quickly because of internal problems, I’m led to believe, that focused on editor meddling and mismanagement.

The goal with Johns at the helm, one would hope, is to learn from mistakes. To build out a comics company for audiences of the DC film and TV properties. Yet he’s talking about legacy and as someone who has read DC for a while, legacy means something specific.

DC Comics used to be about the legacy and passing the mantle of characters. From Dr. Light to Citizen Steel, characters have gone from family member to family member (sometimes generationally), from personality to personality. It was something I always enjoyed. That characters can change.

The problem is that this is something Johns hasn’t held fast to. Instead of embracing the current Green Lanterns, he wrote a story about Hal Jordan’s return. Instead of Wally West being lifted up and used, he brought back Barry Allen. That doesn’t speak to legacy but of regression, and that’s where my fear lies. Sure, many of the new Green Lantern and Flash comics under Johns were damn good, but they didn’t so much celebrate the legacy of the character and where they are today as run the time-treadmill and bring us back to where we were.

I say this ignoring Johns’s work on Justice Society of America (one of the best books he worked on) for the reason that if this is how he’s imagining going forward, I’m down. JSA addressed legacy by bringing old and new together, showing how the older generation of superheroes inspire and teach the new generation. It’s the perfect metaphor for what needs to happen at DC. The relinquishing of editorial mandates and bringing back as many characters as are popular, whether in their own book or as ancillary.

Johns is talking a lot about building a shared universe, but the fear is that “shared universe” means what it did back in the day when Bill Willingham wrote JSA. He wanted to have certain characters show up but editorial rejected his desire explaining that those characters were being used elsewhere. This the universe where Batman appears in six books a month and fans don’t care. Based on the stories I’ve heard, the problem began and ended with editorial fearing that fans might question the use of characters in so many books without remembering that what’s being written is a fictitious world with superheroes. Suspension of disbelief comes with the cover price.

It seems like Johns wants desperately to appeal to everyone. He wants to make DC respectable again by being everything to everybody instead of focusing on pushing the creation of great books. Sure, that exclusive deal with Tom King is a big boon for DC, but that’s not enough. It’s anyone’s guess if Rebirth will help sales, rebrand their line and improve their image publicly, but I hope they get back on track and release the kinds of comics they’re capable of releasing. Because I can’t forget the times of Rucka, Brubaker and Simone. Let’s hope that with King on board, the DC Comics line can get back to the legacy we were used to.