We're about two weeks from when DC Comics releases the next details on their "Rebirth" title relaunch, and I wanted to take the opportunity to pause before that and think aloud a bit about what we already know and what it might or might not mean. I welcome your thoughts as well, and then we'll reconvene after DC's next set of announcements for more discussion of what we know next.
No WorriesI'm not really concerned about the health of the DC Comics company, which -- with three successful television shows currently on air and the "dawn" of a new move franchise about to begin -- I'm pretty sure isn't going anywhere.
But, I do remember when DC Comics series told great event stories without giant, multi-title, multi-month crossovers (our recent discussion of Superman: Panic in the Sky is a good example). Also we went years without world-changing, Crisis on Infinite Earths-type events, or at least line-wide new #1s -- yes, Zero Hour, and yes, Infinite Crisis, but nothing with line-wide new #1s from Crisis in 1986 to Flashpoint in 2011. And I recognize that "Rebirth" is not a "reboot" -- continuity is not changing overall, like Flashpoint -- but it is just five years since the last line-wide renumbering, and that feels awful fast to me when it took 25 years for the last line-wide renumbering to happen.
It also seems rather quick to me that in February 2015, DC heralded with much fanfare the coming of the "Divergence" or "DC You" titles, and now exactly twelve months later, a variety of those titles are gone and replaced by a brand new slate. What seems like a sudden course correction is potentially worrisome -- did Starfire or Robin: Son of Batman really do so poorly as to need to be replaced right away? And by something so drastic as a line-wide renumbering, to boot?
At the same time, I guess this isn't wholly different than the various "waves" or such of cancelling and launching new titles, usually every six months to a year. "Rebirth" seems like a big change, but it's kind of the same change that happens all the time, just fancied up a bit. And similarly DC does a line-wide event (or themed event) every year; here too the spate of "Rebirth" specials seem like something unprecedented, but there's precedent in the Futures End tie-ins, and "Zero Month," "Villains Month," and so on.
As a long-time fan I think the modern custom of new #1s at the drop of a hat values flash over substance (Flashpoint new #1s and then "Rebirth"; cancelling and immediately relaunching Deathstroke, Teen Titans, and Suicide Squad; renumbering the Superman and Batgirl trades). But, looking at "Rebirth" in terms of what it stands in for this year (yearly events, yearly relaunches) -- what it seems to be, not just what it looks like -- makes me far less concerned about the apparent "suddenness" of this "relaunch" or what it means for DC's overall health.
That said, the key missing piece, of course, is creative teams. If for instance Brenden Fletcher is writing the new Birds of Prey title with an artist like Babs Tarr or Annie Wu, that's a lot different -- and says something different about the success or not of "DC You" -- than if that creative team turns out to be (just as an example) Scott Lobdell and Eddy Barrows. In the same way who gets Supergirl, Blue Beetle (and which Beetle it is), and what Super-Man, Superwoman, and Super Sons turns out to be should all be fairly illuminating.
The Number One ProblemWe perceived around Flashpoint that one reason for the line-wide renumbering, including the long-running Action Comics and Detective Comics, was the belief (among publishers at least) that readers were hesitant to try high-numbered series. But given the serial nature of comics, renumbering is always a temporary solution -- the best-case scenario is that if a new title starting at issue #1 today is popular, it'll continue so long as to reach issue #100. But if an issue #100 is seen as anathema to a publisher, then that means the line will always have to be artificially re-set at some point.
This seemed to me a built-in problem of the New 52 relaunch, that what was intended to be fresh could not by its very nature stay fresh forever. And so it does not surprise me in the slightest to see that numbering refreshed now as the original titles hit their issues #52. Something to watch is when this batch of titles is itself refreshed; I am skeptical that the new batch of "Rebirth" titles will have their numberings left alone long enough to reach their issue #100s in the next decade.
This doesn't affect me necessarily, as being a trade-waiter I think issue numbers to some extent tend to fall away in favor of storylines or creative teams (except when they renumber the trades, which we'll discuss). But again, I think "it's always got to be new" fever is probably bad for the DC line overall. It cheapens the concept of a title really being new, and fans, being savvy, will begin to see though this kind of thing ("This is Superman #1, but really it's just Superman #53 with a #1 on it") and be less excited about it, and then the publisher will have to do something even more sensational to create line-wide excitement.
Again, we don't know creative teams yet, but the hope is that there's some really dynamite creative teams going to be announced. New #1s are speculative, meant to entice speculators who still think the first issue of a 2015 Superman title is worth something. It brings a short-term interest bump, but that won't be worth much if the new teams can't keep the new readers. If this is just the same old teams with new #1s, I don't think that trick will work a second time.
The flip-side to this, of course, and what really caught my attention about all these announcements, is Action Comics and Detective Comics returning to their original numberings with issues #957 and #934 respectively (I imagine someone's checked that and the numbering works, else we would have heard about it). I'm glad, because I've been excited for these titles to reach their #1,000 issues since Action Comics #600, #700, ad so on; I knew DC would recognize it somehow even with the New 52 numbering, but having the actual numbering is even better.
And I think it's entirely compatible to have two "legacy" titles on the line even as the rest of the books keep getting renumbered over and over -- that Action and Detective will be in the #900s doesn't, I think, contradict that there's an overall push to keep issue numbers low. And Action and Detective might hit issue #1,000, but I'm far less certain they'll make it to #1,100 with their numbering intact.
Whatever Happened To ...?Looking at the titles alone of the "Rebirth" line, I'm most curious, as I think we all are, about Superwoman, Super-Man, and Super Sons, because they're kind of oddball titles, and also I suspect something in there relating to the pre-Flashpoint Superman. I count about eight Bat-titles, but these "Super-family" titles bring that line to six, which is nicely bigger than it's been in a while. Blue Beetle is interesting, though my preference is for a Jaime Reyes and not Ted Kord series. There's Titans, though experience has shown me people want to want an adult Titans series more than they want to read one. Green Lanterns (plural) is a funny name for a series, and in the mouthful that is Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, I think DC overestimates Hal Jordan's name recognition; in the same way I think The Hellblazer underestimates John Constantine's name recognition.
I'm surprised, as I mentioned before, that the "DC You" titles passed so quickly -- or at least, that's how it seemed to me when I first read about "Rebirth." Actually, seven "DC You" titles are continuing/being relaunched versus eight being cancelled (seven more were always miniseries, and Dark Universe and Mystic U were never published), so almost as many are continuing as going away. Doomed, Dr. Fate, and Martian Manhunter don't surprise me; We Are Robin probably didn't have the main character name recognition to be grabbed by a casual browser on the shelves. That Robin, Son of Batman doesn't continue does surprise me some, though I haven't had a chance to read it yet (that's coming).
Also coming is my review of Black Canary Vol. 1: Kicking and Screaming, which DC Comics recently launched this week with much fanfare and a three-song soundtrack. That's a lot of attention to pay on the collection of a series that's guaranteed only to have one more volume and then no more. For me, Black Canary was really the face of "DC You"; also Midnighter and Starfire, but Black Canary was the title that really looked different, courtesy of Annie Wu, and that most specifically spoke to the "Batgirl-ing" of the DC Universe courtesy of Brenden Fletcher.
I'd like to think we could read something in the Black Canary fanfare, maybe that Fletcher and Wu continue to Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, which would then be essentially a continuation of Black Canary under a different title. Worst case would be for "DC You" to be considered a failed experiment, and that "Rebirth" is in some way an answer to "DC You" (going backward, and especially to the extremes, seems to me a significant mistake).
All About That TradeIn the end I'm curious about the trades that will come out of "Rebirth," but also already slightly disgruntled. I'll abandon the high-minded predictions I made at the beginning of the New 52 that maybe every title would get a hardcover, and instead I'll venture the trade program, physically, will probably look the same as before. I even doubt much in trade dress change given that the trade dress just did change, and I wonder if DC will use any "Rebirth" branding or if that's a lesson learned with having to loose the bonds of the New 52 branding.
What rankles is that Superman and Batgirl, specifically, just got new trade numbering. Superman, in the new numbering, will have two volumes, while Batgirl will have three, before both undoubtedly go back to Vol. 1. Though limited to these two titles, I think this creates some unnecessary confusion, with veritably three Batgirl Vol. 1s post-"Rebirth," making it more, not less, difficult for a new reader to know where to start. No less confusing, but it makes me slightly nostalgic for those days when trades weren't numbered at all, which at least takes away a publisher's impetus to constantly renumber just to keep the volume numbers low. The best trick would be, if both Superman and Batgirl keep their "DC You" creative teams, would be for them to continue their "DC You" volume numbering, stitching the last renumbering together with the current.
And that's where I am on "Rebirth" so far. Are you really excited? Got relaunch fatigue? Chime in and let me know!