Birth can be a painful and scary thing, which is why the Internet is losing its collective mind over a supposed “rebirth” heading to DC Comics this summer. As we reported on Friday, a rumor emerged online purporting that DC will be relaunching all its titles with new issue #1s, and was quickly followed by tweets from DC bigwigs Jim Lee and Dan Didio of a single cryptic teaser featuring only the word “rebirth” projected on a Superman-blue curtain. Further evidence has added fuel to the fire, such as Scott Snyder’s forthcoming move from Batman to Detective Comics, and continuity changes in series like Lois & Clark and Titans Hunt.
The original rumor claims that the new line will be “even more dominated with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn/Suicide Squad-related titles,” in order to cater to audiences of the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad films, as well as the future audiences of the eight other movies they have planned for their burgeoning cinematic universe by 2020, not to mention their already sizable TV slate, which includes Arrow, Flash and Supergirl, among others. “Anything tying in with a film and/or TV show like Flash, Green Arrow will be okay, anything that’s not is less so,” the rumor states.
Response to the idea has been mixed, with some saying that it’s motivated by corporate troubles at Time Warner, while others are looking forward to a creative shakeup. At this point, there’s not a lot to go on to predict what exactly “Rebirth” is, but assuming the rumor of a line-wide relaunch of some sort is true, here are five things DC Comics needs to do if they want to ease their birthing pains.
1. GET FANS AND CREATORS’ TRUST BACK
Working behind the counter at a comic shop, I’ve heard plenty of fans express how little faith they have that DC books will stick around, or have the same creative team from month to month. DC has lost a lot of good will with fans, the most prominent example being the cancellation of a number of the titles launched as part of the DCYou initiative. Originally promising fans twelve issues, Prez, Green Lantern: Lost Army, and Omega Men were all cut to six, though Omega Men reverted to twelve issues following fan outcry. Practices like this make customers less likely to pick up DC series, because they don’t have faith that the book won’t get cut short.
This lack of commitment extends to creators as well. While I’m certainly not saying there aren’t talented people at DC, they have lost many prominent creators. Under various circumstances, writers James Robinson (Scarlet Witch), Jeff Lemire (Descender) and Charles Soule (Uncanny Inhumans) have all jumped ship to go exclusively with Marvel, and they’ve also lost staple artists like Kevin Maguire (Justice League), Andrea Sorrentino (Old Man Logan) and Kenneth Rocafort (Red Hood and the Outlaws). DC has a serious problem holding on to talent, and they need to change their editorial environment to make it one that creators want to work in again. The DCYou initiative was a step in the right direction with an injection of new talent, but many weren’t allowed space to create, such as Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) being left to pick up the pieces of Geoff Johns’ Superman run and then being immediately thrust into a crossover. DC needs to convince fans and creators that they will deliver on their promises.
2. UTILIZE THE WHOLE DCU, NOT JUST BATMAN
Batman-related titles made up a third of the titles DC listed in their March solicitations. I know we all love the guys and gals of Gotham, but I think we can agree that’s a bit excessive. Classic properties like Doom Patrol, Plastic Man, Blue Beetle, and the Legion of Superheroes are nowhere to be found, while new Bat-family and Justice League titles seem to be added every month.
DC should learn from Marvel’s success revitalizing properties like Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel and Inhumans by selecting a handful of mid-list titles with untapped potential and media buzz, and give them big creative pushes and fresh hooks. Why is there no Supergirl comic right now with the show? Where are characters like the Atom or Firestorm, who are receiving boosts in recognition thanks to Legends of Tomorrow? What happened to the books promised for Shazam or the Milestone characters? DC has a much deeper bench than a look at their current line would lead you to believe, and they need to utilize it going forward.
3. BE SMARTER ABOUT MEDIA INFLUENCE
According to the rumor, DC plans to reflect TV and movie versions of the characters more heavily. Presumably, this includes their current shows, like The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, and Gotham, as well as the slate of films they have planned through 2020, beginning with this year’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, and continuing with Wonder Woman, a two-part Justice League movie, The Flash, Aquaman, Shazam, Cyborg and Green Lantern Corps. It’s unknown at this point how closely they will reflect the on-screen versions of the characters, but hopefully they won’t be held too strictly to the films, seeing as only one film in the universe has been released so far, and to lukewarm reception. Banking on a positive reception for the films could lead to disaster for the comics, if they aren’t careful.
DC shouldn’t feel completely beholden to movie audiences, because it’s a losing game. While superhero comics should strive to be accessible to everyone and always looking to grow their audience, there’s never been a real correlation between movie releases and influxes of new readers to superhero comic books. Trying too hard to force the comic book universe into the shape of the live action ones leads to messy stories and a loss of what makes the comics special. Just look to Marvel for examples of clunky and unnecessary meddling, like the ham-fisted change of Nick Fury’s race, to the un-mutant-ing of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Forcing changes simply so the characters are more similar to other versions doesn’t make for better comics. Only adapt what benefits the characters and the universe.
But they still shouldn’t be hesitant to take what works, and not just from the new movies. Why not look to the Teen Titans and Young Justice cartoons for inspiration on how to fix the suffering Titans franchise? Allow for a broader cast and a more cohesive universe by having the Justice League comic reflect Justice League Unlimited, a show that already had enough cultural impact to make general audiences wonder why Ryan Reynolds wasn’t black in the Green Lantern film. Don’t try to force Barry’s family dynamics from the show into the comic, but do borrow its sense of wonder, scale, and tone. There are plenty of concepts and interpretations from throughout DC’s history in animation, movies, TV and videogames that, with a fresh coat of paint, could greatly benefit the DCU. Use other mediums to inspire and enhance the comics, not tie them down.
4. LEAVE THE PAST IN THE PAST
DC needs to stop leaning so hard on old classics and start creating ones instead. Dark Knight Strikes Again was critically panned fourteen years ago, did we really needed another one? Why aren’t creative resources like Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert instead not given the reins of an underutilized property to reinvigorate it? Think of what they could do with even a short run on a character like The Question, for example. The same goes for the creative capital put behind Before Watchmen and Sandman: Overture. I don’t necessarily hate these stories, but if they are serious about giving their line new life, getting powerhouse creative teams to tell new stories rather than hiring them to rehash old ones would be a good place to start.
The same pattern is evident in how often DC re-tells origin stories. I love Superman: American Alien, and was impressed by the first issue of The Legend of Wonder Woman, but did the world need yet another retelling of the early days of either of those characters? There’s even another Wonder Woman origin coming in a few months in Grant Morrison’s Wonder Woman: Earth One. These quality creators are telling the umpteenth version of classic stories when they should be put on the main titles, making new classics.
5. LEARN FROM YOUR SUCCESSES, BUT DON’T DO THE SAME THING OVER AGAIN
The past few years may have been a bit rough for DC, but they certainly weren’t devoid of critical darlings or commercial hits. During their DCYou initiative last year, DC was rumored to be internally using the term “batgirling” as shorthand for mimicking the style that has made Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher and Babs Tarr so successful on Batgirl. While it’s a good book to use as a template, it’s important to recognize that its success comes from their clear creative direction and unique place in the DCU as much as it comes from the hip aesthetic. Harley Quinn has been a breakout character as well, and for similar reasons.
It boils down to this, DC. If your “Rebirth” is going to be a success, you need to let good story, good art and good creators sell the books, because your characters are nothing without them. No one will be surprised that there are new first issues of Aquaman, Green Lantern and Green Arrow come summer, but they will be surprised if they look like must-read books. You can slap all the #1s on as many titles as you want, but it won’t mean anything if you haven’t learned from your mistakes. You really do have an opportunity for a rebirth here DC, take care it isn’t another nail in the coffin instead.
What do you think? Any suggestions to add for the next revolving reboot event for DC?