Trade Perspectives: Thoughts on DC Rebirth

Thursday, March 10, 2016

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 Worries

I'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 Problem

We 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 Trade

In 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!
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  1. I have been of really mixed feelings about this Rebirth thing. I've been reading DC for almost 30 years, so I went into the New 52 pretty excited and came away feeling really burned by it. I do not feel like I am a part of their intended audience any more. The announcement about Rebirth came at a good time for me, because my DC pull list has shrunk to about 4 titles a month from a high of somewhere between 16-20 titles a month and I was seriously thinking about dropping all of those titles except Justice League. One thing that has me feeling okay about this is that Geoff Johns seems to be the spokesperson for it instead of Dan Didio (for a long time now I have not trusted that Didio, Lee, and Harras actually know what they are doing, and I have been feeling more and more that those 3 need to be replaced). That said, I will be looking closely at the titles and their creative teams once announced and being very, very selective about which ones I think will be worthwhile to read.

  2. I'm hoping we get a lot of the old continuity back with this. I want a married Superman with underpants on the outside, and the old Superboy (though not the original Superboy/young Clark). And I miss the real Wally. And the Legion. *shrugs* Guess we'll find out soon enough.

    btw, do you check your email?

  3. Yeah, really hoping for the old continuity to have a presence again. No need to get rid of the New 52, just do what Marvel did with their Ultimate universe or something.

    1. I'm unsure, but I kind of think what I don't want is some sort of combination continuity where the pre-Flashpoint Superman is running around the New 52 Earth alongside the New 52 Superman. I was happy with the pre-Flashpoint generational continuity where the Justice Society preceded the Justice League, and I was happy with the New 52 continuity where the Justice League was the "first heroes" and the proto-Justice Society's adventures took place on Earth 2. I don't even mind ex-continuity characters living in Telos-ville or wherever (haven't read Convergence yet). But having the pre-Flashpoint Superman around all the time must necessarily lessen the current Superman; the current Superman is never good enough because there's a built-in character around whom writers will constantly use as the voice of "In my day, we did it better."

      And the New 52 continuity, at least, was straightforward -- the Justice League came together to fight Darkseid -- whereas as soon as you have to get into "Well, this Superman is the survivor of this universe that existed before this current universe existed," I can see casual fans eyes glazing over. That's an effort in your storytelling explaining away publishing decisions (which are really just, our characters were getting aged so we started over), whereas I want my stories to do less continuity-fixing, more good storytelling.

      If there's such a want for pre-Flashpoint stories -- Superman, Titans, etc. -- then DC should publish series set in those continuities, totally separate or at least mostly separate from the post-Flashpoint titles and continuities. But I have concerns about multiple continuities tripping over each other on the same planet.

  4. I'm of the opinion that the New 52 reboot left DC's overall line in much better shape than it was immediately before Flashpoint, but when I think of the many creative teams that excited me back then, I realize almost all of them are either gone or replaced by lesser ones, and Batman and Justice League are the only books that still excite me as much as they did at the beginning, if not more.

    The "DC You" soft relaunch added some pretty good books to DC's lineup (Omega Men, Midnighter and Black Canary are my favorites, and Prez was the best mini in years), but the sales just weren't there, so something clearly had to be done. Like Wayne, I'm encouraged by the fact that Johns is the one spearheading it instead of DiDio and Lee, but the problem is that I'm not sure how long he'll be able to stay involved in it. He still seems to be prioritizing his work on other media, and even though he and Fabok seem to be cooking up a new project (JSA maybe?), I'm quite bummed that they won't be on Justice League anymore.

    1. I'm concerned about how long Johns might stay, too. I'd love to see him do a JSA, Green Lantern, or Flash-sized run again, and I guess Justice League is that, though I'd be happier to see Johns on a lower-tier title again, something without so much weight on it where the story can be the thing. Like, Johns on the new Blue Beetle would be awesome.

      I'm just surprised six months of Omega Men, Black Canary, or Midnighter is enough to gauge success or failure (because you have to assume a couple months lead time for planning "Rebirth"), but maybe that's naive on my part how long until a publisher decides what a title can do.

    2. I think six months of a title that is selling poorly is enough for any company to make a decision on whether a books is successful or not.

      Sales at six issues in:

      Omega Men: 9,709
      Black Canary: 21,666 (around 14K by issue 8)
      Martian Manhunter: 17,038
      Midnighter: 12,186
      Dr Fate: 13,090
      Prez: 7,716

      As of the 8th or 9th issue, all of these titles are even worse. There are certainly sales trends, and they're not good, unfortunately, as these were some great titles.

  5. I've been loving New 52 more so than other people, mostly because it actually got me further into DC comics. And while I'm loving what I'm hearing about rebirth, I can't help but think that this is the publisher being pushed around by the fans. I mean, when the New 52 started many fans boycotted it, which is stupid, and still do to this day by trashing DC left and right. I mean really, does anybody give a flying pancake about whether or not he's wearing red underwear? The suit doesn't make Superman Superman, what makes Superman Superman is him.

    Anyway, that aside I'm a little miffed that DC is acting like a kid being bullied, but even I as someone who loves the New 52 have to admit that some of their decisions were questionable. What I really like about DC as a company overall, is that they weren't trying to be fresh every time. Like, their issues going to 50 astounds me, honestly. Marvel hasn't had an issue go to 50 in how many years now? I just hope that this event will satisfy enough people, because if they can find that balance between Pre and Post Flashpoint, then it will really cut down on the DC hate, which I'm so pancake sick of. I have high hopes, and I have a lot of trust in DC, so until I read Rebirth my mind will be open.

    As for the trades, I really do hope they don't go down the Marvel path. One of the reasons I stopped reading Marvel books was that they kept renumbering them after every year. Or at least the books I was reading. And when I tried to get into other books, like Waid's hulk run, I just got confused because I picked up volume 1, but it was his second series and it was tied to his first so even though it was number one I still felt like I was missing a lot of story. Same thing with his daredevil run actually. From what I've been seeing it looks like DC is testing this method (superman 1 when yang was on it) and I really hope they just do continuous numbers, or at least don't renumber the trades when it's the same writer. I understand renumbering when a new team hops on the book, but it's just stupid when you have the same people. All that's going to do is confuse casuals, newbies, and quite possibly old fans trying to get back into comics.

    As a massive GL fan, I think you're underestimating Hal Jordan's name. So many GL fans claim him as the only GL, or the only GL that's worth following. Personally Hal is my least favorite GL, but his name alone will draw fans. The only thing I hate about the GL titles is that we may get double doses of Hal. I mean, Green Lanterns isn't like Corps. I'm assuming it's taking Corps' place, but something tells me they're going to focus on the human GLs, which feels silly. The reason there were so many GL books in the New 52 is because they had enough main characters that fitting them all in one book wouldn't do anyone justice. So, I'm very curious on the GL front.

    1. Right, my concern too is that "Rebirth" is some sort of answer to "DC You," like there's some sense "DC You" didn't work so now every book will be traditional superheroics drawn in house style. I'm hoping that's not the case; while Dan DiDio isn't getting a lot of love in this thread, I do actually believe his interest in diversifying the DC Universe. I don't necessarily see a lot of room for that in the "Rebirth" line, but I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised -- like Green Lanterns is Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz, or Batgirl and the Birds of Prey is Fletcher and Wu or something. I'd like to embrace "legacy" too, without being worried that "legacy" means "not diverse."

      On Green Lantern, my assumption was that Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps takes the place of Green Lantern proper, going back to some of what Venditti was doing (I'm guessing it's Venditti) with Hal as leader of the Corps out in space (which, if still with Billy Tan on art, I'd be very happy about). For some reason "Green Lanterns" suggests to me just two Lanterns, and as it's separate from Corps, I'm still thinking some sort of non-traditional Lantern partnership title, like Cruz and Baz.

  6. A few thoughts, in no particular order*:

    1. Is there any industry that fetishizes numbering the way comics do? The closest thing I can think of is sports and the obsession with statistics, but even that's not really the same thing. I can sort of squint and see the attachment to books like Action or Detective that (pre-2011) had never been renumbered, but Justice League has been relaunched and renumbered, like, a lot of times. Does it matter whether June's issue is #1 or #51 or #112 or #612?

    2. Rebirth absolutely is a response to DC You, and DC You absolutely was a (commercial) disaster. Whether that's a failure of content, or marketing, or just bad luck, or some combination thereof, it flopped. Hard. So they're pulling back and focusing more on proven properties - that's pretty much the only sane response they could have under the circumstances.

    3. I'll eat a hat** if there aren't some kind of continuity tweaks in Rebirth designed to contextualize the New 52 continuity in terms of the rest of DC's histories. False memories seem to be all the rage in DC books at the moment, and it wouldn't be terribly hard to use that as a plot device to suggest that much of the old, discarded continuity still counts but has been forgotten.

    * Because I'd hate to fetishize numbering.

    ** It will be a very small hat. Possibly a gummy bear that vaguely resembles a hat. But still.

  7. I'm very excited for Rebirth, but I have to admit, while I've been into/reading/collecting comic books since my first Detective Comics issue in Aug 1988, I have never really collected DC before the New 52. Huh, how about that? I was always in love with the DC Universe, but I collected X-MEN and Marvel books and of course Image in he '90s, but now, I collect and read Justice League books in trade, Earth 2, I've read Forever Evil, Flashpoint (pre-New 52 but you get the idea) and nearly all of the Bat family books, again all in trade, except for Batman titles, which I buy in mostly in trade - but within the last year I began subscribing to single issues. The New 52 worked! At least for me, it did exactly what DC intended, and reinvigorated my love for comic books, and made me a DC convert. I barely read or pull Marvel books today.

    With the coming Rebirth, and the original numbering of Action and Detective Comics, which I think is a wonderful idea (I love tradition and these books have such a strong heritage) we seem to be getting what most of us were missing, i.e. the books/stories/characters of our youth, at least in spirit. But again, the New 52 thankfully brought me back into this world full time, instead of just occasionally.

    As for Detective Comics, bring on Scott Snyder (again). I just hope that he gets a great artist/inker like he had with Capullo. It just won't work with a lesser artist...

  8. Honestly, this all just comes across as DC pandering to retail stores. Retail stores were vocal about their dislike of titles like Midnighter, Prez, and Omega Men simply because they don't know how to sell them. Double-shipped Batman and Justice League titles? It's easy to get those into the hands of customers, no matter what the cover date on them say.

    And DCYou itself was kind of doomed from the start. Convergence was a two-month opportunity for people to take a break, and it being horrible, written by a nobody, and featured characters from World's End didn't help either. And the A-list characters of DCYou (outside of Batman) were in terrible places. Why would anyone give Midnighter or Omega Men a chance if they can't get Superman or Wonder Woman right?

  9. I am a longtime DC fan (since 1974) and I am mostly excited about Rebirth. Like everyone else, I want to know concepts and creative teams before making any judgment calls on what I will read. I am disappointed that Doctor Fate and Grayson are coming to an end. Who would have imagined that a series featuring Dick Grayson as a spy could be so entertaining? And Doctor Fate by Paul Levitz, Sonny Liew, and Lee Loughridge is by far my favorite of the DCYou launches.

    The New 52 left me cold for the most part as it threw out a lot of babies in the bath water. The New 52 missteps, in my opinion, were the requirements that everything had to have started within the past five years, making Darkseid the big-bad throughout the multiverse, and the total lack of respect for DC's original super-team, the Justice Society of America. While I could -- and did -- enjoy James Robinson and Nicola Scott's Earth 2 for what it was, it suffered under the writers who followed and is only now, under Dan Abnett, beginning to show promise again. The artists who followed Nicola Scott have been interesting, to say the least, and not in a good way.

    In regards to Starfire, at a recent mini-convention where Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner were guests, Jimmy mentioned that he and Amanda had signed on for only 12 issues of Starfire so they would have been leaving after issue 12 anyway.

    1. Absolutely shocked Grayson isn't continuing into "Rebirth," and I can only guess Tom King and Tim Seeley are writing the new Nightwing series. I get that some titles didn't catch on, but I thought Grayson was printing money.

  10. Seeley & King have both confirmed their run on the character is over. It's a bummer.

    1. Any chance that's a "leaving Grayson ... joining Nightwing" kind of thing? There's a big difference, certainly, between a Seeley/King/Janin Nightwing and a Lobdell/Barrows Nightwing.

    2. They've said on Twitter that they're off Grayson, but go nonresponsive whenever someone asks if they're doing Nightwing. They've hinted that they've got something big involving Dick Grayson though

  11. I'm pretty sure they said they were done with Dick Grayson, but as ever I could be mistaken.

  12. Some people like dc you and a lot hated it.