DC Rebirth: Cautious Optimism

For months we in the comic book world have been hearing about DC Rebirth.  This company-wide initiative is designed to reinvigorate the creative juices at DC and inspire a new direction that will allow for innovation in comics, and… Synergy? Unity? (I’m running out of buzzwords…)

You know what, lets just say it: Rebirth is about making money.  Plain and simple.  And please, let us not pretend to be offended by that fact.  In all honesty, DC has to do something.  Ever since “DC You,” they have been getting crushed by Marvel in the sales column, and it is not as if the sales are an aberration.  Marvel’s creative output has been close to flawless, and, unlike DC, their ventures into the mainstream have been extremely well-received, particularly on the cinematic front.  So what is DC to do?  Well, apparently you turn to Geoff Johns, and you have him write a Rebirth story.  It has worked in the past, so it will work again, right?  Personally, I am cautiously optimistic about this whole thing.  However, there are some warning bells that I believe we should be aware of.  Therefore, before next weeks giant 80 page spectacular, I believe it would be prudent to examine some of the things that make me more “cautious” than “optimistic.

A Dearth of Big Name Creators

Let us travel back in time to the launch of the New 52.  When the reboot was announced, most of us marveled at the veritable murderer’s row that DC was rolling out.  You had Geoff Johns on Justice League, Aquaman, and Green Lantern.  Scott Snyder, as the number one up and coming writer in the business, took over the Batman title.  Grant Morrison was on Action Comics.  Gail Simone was on Batgirl.  Brian Azzarello was given Wonder Woman, a fact which surprised many people, due to his typically dark subject matter.  Granted, there were some missteps, but for the most part DC was actively trying to get the nest possible creators for their New 52 lineup.

Flash forward now to the end of March 2016.  The titles have been announced, but we are waiting to hear who the creative teams will be.  After all, they are having a massive presentation to tell us who will be doing what, so surely they have some big names lined up for this massive Rebirth.  Vance and I were literally drooling over the possibilities.  Would Morrison be given a title?  What is Scott Snyder going to do?  Would there be any surprises?  And so we huddled around our phone and waited for the bombshells.  And the sad fact is… we are still waiting.  Here is what we got:

Peter J. Tomasi on Superman

Dan Jurgens on Action Comics

Scott Lobdell (danger Will Robinson) on Red Hood and the Outlaws.

No Greg Pak.  No Cullen Bunn.  No Babs Tarr, which is really strange considering how successful her Batgirl has been.  It is almost as if every creator who wrote strong titles for the New 52 has been excised from Rebirth.  And understand, with the exception of Lobdell (who has already had one much maligned run on Red Hood and the Outlaws), I do not have any problems with any of their creative choices.  Jurgens and Tomasi are seasoned vets at this point.  But where have all the up and coming creators gone?  Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart, and Brendan Fletcher redefined Batgirl.  Cullen Bunn wrote a fantastic Sinestro comic.  Remember all the hype David Walker was getting for his Cyborg comic?  Where did he go?  And why did DC stick Gene Luen Yang on a comic no one is going to read? Also, remember how Jason Fabok was going to be the next big artist?  Where is he at?  Granted, Tom King is taking Batman, which should be great.  Tim Seeley on Nightwing and Joshua Williamson on Flash both have a lot of potential.  And of course, there is Greg Rucka on Wonder Woman.  But even with Rucka’s announcement I found myself excited and at the same time thinking, “We have seen this before.”

And before I get accused of being pessimistic, then compare Rebirth’s strategy to what Marvel has done with Black Panther.  When Marvel needed a knockout writer to create the Black Panther mythos for a new generation of readers they went out and got Ta-Nehisi Coates (New York Times writer and winner of the MacArthur Genius Grant).  When DC needed a writer for their new Superman comics, which are each supposed to launch a new direction for Superman, they let their best Superman writer walk (Greg Pak), stuck their closest equivalent to a Ta-Nehisi Coates (Gene Luen Yang) on a comic that will be cancelled in 6 months, and went with two guys who haven’t written a best selling comic in at least 10 years in Dan Jurgens and Peter J. Tomasi.  I cannot help but find this troubling.

Rebirth is a Completely Reactionary Event

Here is an actual quote from the DC Comics Preview Guide for April, regarding the new Green Arrow title.  “Readers are aching for the reunion of Green Arrow and Black Canary, and we’re finally going to give it to them.  Also returning?  Green Arrow’s goatee.”  Sign me up!  I was iffy, and then they mentioned facial hair.

In all seriousness, within that quote from Ben Percy (who I actually think will do a bang up job on Green Arrow) lies one of the major problems with Rebirth, namely, that the entire endeavor seems to be a reaction to the whining of the old guard DC fans.  I am actually shocked that they  haven’t killed off the new Wally West and brought back the pre-new 52 Wally.  My least favorite aspect of this is what they are doing with Superman.  From what I can gather, the New-52 version of Superman is going to die and the pre-Crisis version of Superman is returning.  Which, in my opinion, negates everything that has happened in the New 52 with the character.  And make no mistake, they did a lot with the Superman character.  They gave him a new love interest in Wonder Woman.  They gave him a new power in the “solar flare.”  Now, apparently all that is going away.  Does this mean that 2011-2016 will be remembered as this time when we had a fake Superman, and the rest of his 75-plus years we had the right Superman?  I know the argument will be, “Well actually they are both the real Superman, because they are from different universes/timelines.”  All that is fine, but it still means that 2011-2016 will have an asterisk next to it, when it comes to Superman, because that Superman was replaced.  Hey remember when Marvel tried to tell its customers that Ben Reilly was the actual Spider-Man, and Peter Parker was a clone?  How is this any different?

This all stems from the fact that there is a contingence of fans who have complained about everything the New 52 has done.  They hated Superman’s armor, they hated the collar on his costume, they hated his relationship with Wonder Woman, and they want their old comics back.  However, say what you will about the New 52, but it was anything but reactionary.  In fact, the only thing it was reacting to was the fact that DC had literally told every story they could.  I mean, they had the Infinite Crisis, they had Rebirths of both Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, they had the Sinestro Corps war, they had the Final Crisis, both Blackest Night and Brightest Day… what else was there to do?  By resetting the timeline, what they essentially did was allow everyone to jump into comics without having 30 years (or more) backstory explained.  Contrast this with Rebirth, which seems to want to add everything back, so that we can have things like 2 Clark Kents.  It could work, but I am a little skeptical.  I’m not sure this will please longtime fans, and I do not see how it can bring in new fans.

The Last Stand of Geoff Johns

When Geoff Johns came on stage during the Rebirth presentation at WonderCon, he was introduced as if he is the Michael Jordan of comic books.  This really isn’t too far from the truth.  In the 21st Century only Brian Michael Bendis has wielded anywhere near the power or has had a hand in as many epic events.  His influence is evident all through the comic world.  And, when Johns wants to be, he is, arguably, the best comic book writer in the world.  And yet, if Rebirth is his baby, then where is he in all this?  He is writing the giant Rebirth Special, and is helping Abnett on a future Aquaman story, but other than that he is not writing anything for Rebirth.  This troubles me, because if DC has two assets in their pocket, they have Scott Snyder and they have Geoff Johns, and yet Johns seems to be taking on an overseer’s role.  Will this work?  I’m not sure.

Here is what I know: 95% percent of the time Geoff Johns has delivered for DC in a big way.  It appears that his hands are all over this initiative, and that is, ultimately, a good thing.  When you strip everything else away, Geoff Johns is just a guy who loves comic books.  And that is what gives me hope.  Even within my reticence, I am willing to give this Rebirth a shot, because it is rare that Geoff Johns lets the comic book community down.

All that being said, who do we think is getting their arm cut off in the Rebirth Special?