All April long, we'll be highlighting the wonderful world of comics, from interviews with creators and a look at the way the industry works to deep dives with our favorite characters, storylines, and controversies. Stay tuned for more throughout the month, and let us know what you think in the comments or on Twitter @blastr!
DC Comics made a big splash at Wondercon with its Rebirth presentation, where they revealed the creative teams for 30 ongoing titles. After their live stream event, Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns talked to a select panel of press for a deeper look into their latest initiative and talked about other topics regarding the DC Universe side of publishing. Blastr was among the attendees of the panel, where the upper brass of DC Comics was honest and up front about missteps while committed to prove Rebirth is not to be missed for DCU fans.
Having seen the art, the creative teams and understanding how they came to this decision and how they are trying to retool their creative and editorial process, it's all very encouraging. While it's easy to be skeptical about any overhaul of the DCU, this massive effort gives plenty of reasons to be optimistic, too.
Receiving harsh feedback and initiating change
Something that was nice to see in the DC Rebirth presentation was some humble sentiment on the New 52 and admission that some books didn’t work and, as DiDio put it, they “lost their way” on some of the titles. DiDio also shared a story with the press panel wherein he wasn’t asked a single question about story at his DC panel during last New York Comic Con. He claimed that was the first time he had seen that in all of his convention travels, and that, when the panel opened to fan Q&A, half the audience left. He saw first-hand that they lost the connection with their readers.
Dan DiDio said: We noticed it first. When we’re reading the books, we have a little disconnect. We’re longtime fans, so one of the first things you think of as a longtime fan is that there’s a new reader, maybe that’s in there for them more than it is for us. In some cases, that’s true. What Geoff’s talking about is the core, the heart of the characters. Certain things that are undeniable. When you talk to the creators, they have this intrinsic want to put certain things back in the story because that’s sort of what got them into comics. We get a lot of feedback from different sources, whether it’s fans from conventions or through talent, themselves, and their own conversations. Ultimately, we realized we have to be true to our own nature. We can change certain things to contemporize them but, at the core, we have to identify that heart that exists. Geoff and his team have identified that in so many different media right now, so that’s why I think it’s working so well. We have to put that same heart back in our own books. This was a chance to re-examine ourselves. First thing everyone should be willing to do is admit a mistake or admit we might have made a wrong choice. Every choice we made had a reason to be made, but at the point now, it might be worth re-thinking it a little bit. Rebirth is a perfect place to start.
Geoff Johns said: Rebirth is not about discounting anything. If you look at the New 52, Batman worked really well, Aquaman worked really well. There’s a lot that worked great and there were things that did not work so great. I think it’s important to be honest about it. We missed the boat on this, the execution was bad, or this character has lost the magic or we can’t screw up Aquaman again. Taking a step back and talking to the editors and creators and being honest about it and asking what do we love and what needs work and re-examine that? What’s the best foundation for the character moving forward? That was a process, but a great one to have. Everybody should have that.
The difference between the New 52 and Rebirth
One popular criticism Rebirth is getting since the initial word came out falls along the lines of, "here we go again, another reboot, just five years after the New 52 launched." But there is a difference to the approach. The New 52 was like taking jumper cables to a dead battery and throwing a ton of energy and ideas all at once to revive the line. The result was 50+ titles scattering in different directions, some leading readers towards somewhere definitive, while others wandered aimlessly. Rebirth will be a gradual overhaul from May through October. But the planning is much more careful this time around, and intense efforts to plan and map out the first six months to a year ahead on every Rebirth title should give readers more confidence on this time around.
Jim Lee said: I (still) think the New 52 was the right instinct and right thing to do. Sales were low across the board for all companies, so there was a bit of a malaise, so the idea of jump starting the line and doing something for the first time in 15 years since the Silver/Golden Age as the right thing to do. That said, we did a blank state for everyone to go forward, assuming that everyone knew where to take these characters, like what Scott (Snyder) and Greg (Capullo) did with Batman. There’s always an opportunity to have people who have vision for a character and lose their way. The difference between New 52 and Rebirth is the amount of hours Geoff has logged in sitting with the editors and writers and figure out who these characters are. If we’re going to publish 30-50 books, each should have a different voice, and not necessarily the same voice. If we do one thing over with the New 52 launch, it was spending more time thinking about where these books were going to go a year from now. But (back then), it was just a different situation at the time.
Publishing Twice Monthly
When readers look at Rebirth from the outside, they will see 17 twice-monthly titles, 13 monthly titles, and 23 one-shots launched over the course of five months. All of the monthly and twice-monthly books will be priced at $2.99. Though there’s no telling how long this reduced cost will last, the reduction in price will help soften the blow of all of those twice-monthly titles.
Dan DiDio said: Every book has its own rhythm and each writer and artist works at a different pace. Some people can do a monthly book, other people can put one out every six weeks. Our goal is to ship two books per month on a monthly series, and it’s up to the editors and talent to manage their schedules and build stories and arcs that make the most sense. In some cases, the art styles are similar; others are working in two, three, four issue blocks. It forces the writers to write a little bit earlier so that the artists can jump from one arc to the next. We have 17 books that are shipping twice monthly, we are committed to that for an extended period of time for as long as these books succeed, but if we start to see it being a detriment doing it twice monthly, then we could shift those books to a monthly schedule, and that’s why we’re looking at other books and other ideas (not yet named) and holding them at bay. So, while some of these books could start to slow down to a normal monthly pace, we’ll have new series to replace what happens when a books stops shipping twice monthly.
Jim Lee said: So, for example, the Harley Quinn Suicide Squad April Fool’s special is 30 pages. I drew 20 pages and the mains story is about Harley in a concussive state, and so she hallucinates this whole 10-page scene in the middle of the story that Sean “Cheeks” Galloway draws. I pitched this idea to (Suicide Squad Rebirth writer) Rob Williams to help with these deadlines, which could be, to be honest, quick and unrelenting. Maybe the flashback is about a character created in the 1970s, so maybe we have Neal Adams illustrate that little five-page sequence. So, you can have a lot of fun with it and make sure it feels organic to the story, if I can say it in that fashion. It’s a creative business, so you can take this need for multiple artists and use it in a number of different ways to get very cool, different results.
Getting creators to buy into the intense schedule and process
There was some concern over the absence of creators such as Babs Tarr and Brendan Fletcher (artist and writer on New 52 Batgirl), who decided to go the creator-owned route, and David Walker (writer on New 52 Cyborg) has also moved on. When you look at the creative teams, you'll notice that some titles are monthly and a majority are shipping twice monthly. It's an intense schedule that is not designed for every creative team, but that has led to creative solutions. Having worked on both creator-owned titles and work-for-hire, Lee said that each works out different creative muscles. Also, some creaetors just want to tell stories and not deal with the business end. Creator-owned books and work-for-hire books each have their own kind of enjoyment, but there's really no convincing that DC needs to do with creators, because there's always at least one character they're dying work on.
Dan DiDio said: It was a daunting task to find people ready to commit to twice-monthly shipping. I mean that honestly. It was that level of commitment, us saying we need you there, not just once a month, but twice. There was a lot of negotiation going on, but the reality is, we needed people committed to this concept. Once we had that commitment, Geoff got them in a room and said, if we’re going twice a month, this can’t just be about one arc. This has to be about the characters...get to the heart of it...we’re rebuilding. We don’t want a rushed story.
Geoff Johns said: When we talk about breaking story with the writers and the editors, it's, "Let’s get the editors involved in the process. Let’s talk about the characters and why we love them." Cyborg, for example. John Semper pitched a lot of really fascinating character moments and I said, "You got to let those breathe." Like, when Cyborg is taken to a club to hear live music, and it affects him, let that scene breathe. Too often, I think we’re too worried about double-page spreads with characters beating each other up. Action will come out of character and story, but not just to have action pages. This has to be more focused on character. That means letting the character stories really line up. Sometimes, I think we just blow past that stuff way too quick. If you don’t care about the characters, who cares if they punch somebody or get hit? It doesn’t matter.
Dan DiDio said: We created a structure in a way to do a book and everyone is coming up with creative solutions on how to work their way through it. You understand what the problem is, and rather than just washing their hands of it, they’re all attacking it in ways to keep the schedule and creativity up there.
Diversity in Rebirth
DC continues their ongoing effort to have the faces of the DC Universe reflect the real world. In the Rebirth presentation, one of the reveals that triggered a positive reaction was the inclusion of two rookie Green Lanterns to the Justice League: Simon Baz, a Lebanese-American introduced in 2012, and Jessica Cruz, the first female Earth Green Lantern. Johns and Lee talked about the importance of the rookie Lanterns, and diversity in general, within the DCU.
Geoff Johns said: We wanted to bring these two new characters to the forefront and really play up the cop aspect of the Lanterns. We thought their personalities were going to be great for story. When we talked about it and they were centered on Earth, while Hal’s in space, it made sense to have one in the Justice League. I asked Bryan Hitch who he wanted to have, Jessica Cruz or Simon Baz. After he knew the dynamic between the two of them, he thought it would be fun to have both. They’re both rookies in over their heads, to bring humor and fun to the book. Simon’s more aggressive and brash, while Jessica is just more reserved, but better, and they’re going to teach each other things about being Green Lantern, and about fear.
Jim Lee said: I would say it was a non-discussion. We just did it because it felt right. So, when we look at creating a line of superheroes, it’s less (about) filling quotas or creating a list. It’s about creating cool characters and how do we make characters that people haven’t seen before, and this is one of the ways of doing it.
Geoff Johns said: I think it’s really important. It’s organic to all the characters we’re introducing. Dan says it best: our world of heroes has to reflect the real world, and it would be ridiculous if we didn’t take that into account. I don’t want to hear strong female characters being the reason we’re publishing a book story-wise, because all of our characters are strong female characters. That’s just a given, guys. It’s really important to have great characters of all genders and all enthicities.
The evolution of the current readership
The upper brass of DC Comics talked at great length about the ever-changing landscape of comic readers, understanding that “Wednesday warriors” are no longer the only type of reader in comic shops. Casual readers with fixed budgets, those who wait for trade paperbacks, and those simply choose digital over physical copies need to be considered, too. Go to any major comic convention, and you’ll see half the attendees are women, and the increased profile of WB shows like iZombie, Supergirl, Arrow and The Flash has brought in younger eyes to their library of books. DiDio, Johns, and Lee broke down how Rebirth and their process will attempt to capitalize on that, but that initiative, alone, won’t do it. There are also Vertigo titles and digital releases like Bombshells and Batman ’66, and more announcements in the future that will continue to cast that wide net of appeal for any type of reader.
Dan DiDio said: The reality is that the readership hasn’t finished evolving, yet. You’re in the middle of that riptide between one type of storytelling and a new type, and people are finding their way through it. How do we approach this? We learn from our mistakes and our successes, we looked at what worked, and what didn’t work. What you see now is an amalgam of many different initiatives that we tried over the years. We see a lot of the constructive world-building storytelling in the ramp up to Infinite Crisis, you see a lot of the freshness and new ideas and reinterpretations in the launch of the New 52, and then you see the diversity issues and things we have to reach out to approach a new audience and what they like, to bring that into the mix. That’s the great thing about the process. What you have is Geoff and Jim really leading the creative charge, because they have this elevated view of seeing how it works. Not just from the comic book side, but from the multimedia side, what works in this area, and how do we make this into something that plays true to our core but doesn’t chase anybody who might be attracted. We have to get younger, smarter and inclusive as possible. Hopefully, (Rebirth) does that.
Geoff John said: (The process includes) bringing in new writers and having them work with established artists, having a real freedom of creativity, comics and characters, real honest dialogue about what’s worked and what hasn’t. Looking back at what we’ve done and what other publishers have done, and what we love about it and what other people love about it. For me, the difference in process is that we’re having these huge creative meetings and discussions; they’re almost like a writer’s room for television or even film, where, before we get to story, we come together talk about why would we publish a Birds of Prey comic, what do you have to say with this book and these characters and who is it for? It’s always changing.
You have to take into account that a lot of people are getting exposure to the characters from other media, and we want to offer them something different. We have so many shows on the air and I love our shows and work on our shows, but we want our comics to have their own universe that is much more complex and in-depth and expansive. We want to make the comics the focal point of this initiative.
Jim Lee said: Rebirth isn’t the sum total of our publishing efforts. Above and beyond, we have a very cool announcement at Emerald City Con that will address that question, and two or three things we have in the works that we have not revealed that have different tonalities. They’re driven by star creators that are big names in their own respective audiences.
If you look at what Hope Larson is doing with Batgirl and what she wants to do on the book, and the continuation of the success we had with Brendan (Fletcher), Cameron (Stewart) and Babs (Tarr). Even Supergirl is going to have a different kind of voice on it. What we’ve realized is that it’s very creator driven. You can’t just say, ‘This is for new emerging readers,’ and they’re going to eat it up. It doesn’t work that way. A good comic is hard to make, regardless of who you’re trying to sell it to and it’s all really determined by the creators you get.
Geoff Johns said: We’re not about homogenizing our comic line, because we have individual voices and characters and books have different tones, but they all live and breathe in the same universe. That doesn’t mean we’re going to have crossovers all the time, but they do cohabitate.
The Rebirth Talent
In case you missed the Rebirth live stream event, we’ve listed the titles along with the creative teams below. Johns and Lee spoke about some of the returning talent and new creators coming on board to the DCU for the first time.
Geoff Johns said: We have a couple classic guys coming back, like Dan Jurgens. Obviously, I’m super excited about Christopher Priest, who is a great writer, and Greg Rucka, one of the best ever, coming back is a big deal. It’s great to get different, new voices, like the Benson sisters, Sam Humphries and John Semper (animator on Static Shock and Spider-Man: The Animated Series) is someone new to comics, is a great writer, and loves the characters. That’s what we want - we just want great writers. I met the Benson sisters through other people and knew them as writers. Julie was a huge fangirl, and her sister, Shawna, didn’t know much about DC, but brought a great perspective. When they wrote their first script for Birds of Prey, I was blown away by the dialogue and the take on the characters.
Talking about the differences in writing for animation, live-action television or screenwriting, there is a different language to comic books, so we would come into the writer’s room again and talk about laying out a story, what are some tricks to panel layout. As a writer, it was exciting to get all of these different perspectives on our characters, and learn something myself about how to approach character.
Jim Lee said: As I said in the presentation, we wanted to have a wide diversity of artists, but also wanted to incorporate the feedback we got from the New 52, some subtle things, like costumes. So, if you look at Starfire’s costume, for example. Superman and the Justice League look a little more streamlined, and that was crowdsourced by all of the different artists working on the books, themselves, with Mark Chiarello and myself art editing the whole look with the editors, showing it to Geoff and Dan for their feedback and input. At the end of the day, we got a real nice blend of stuff we launched in the New 52, but also stuff that’s clearly paid an homage to the stuff in the past.
Liam Sharp was one of the big gets for me. He was out of comics for a long time, and I encouraged him to come back, but he’d send me illustrations that he’d done; you could tell this was a guy who was hungry to get back into the trenches. I just thought the level of ornateness and detail and thinking that went behind everything that he drew when composed to an image would work great when working on a character like Wonder Woman. You need that kind of depth to sell the idea that this character has been around for ages. Everything in her world has a prior history and that’s what he brings to the table. That’s what all the best artists bring to the table.
DC Universe Rebirth Special One-Shot by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez, Gary Frank and Ethan Van Sciver
Aquaman Rebirth #1 by Dan Abnett, Brad Walker, Jesus Merino, and Phil Briones
Batman Rebirth #1 by Tom King and Mikel Janin
Flash Rebirth #1 by Josh Williamson, Carmine DiGiandomenico and Neil Googe
Green Arrow Rebirth #1 by Ben Percy, Otto Schmidt, and Juan Ferreya
Green Lanterns Rebirth #1 by Geoff Johns, Sam Humphries, and Ethan Van Sciver
Titans Rebirth #1 by Dan Abnett and Brett Booth
Wonder Woman Rebirth #1 by Greg Rucka and Phil Winslade
Twice Monthly titles
Action Comics #957 by Dan Jurgens, Patrick Bircher, Tyler Kirkham, Stephen Segovia
Aquaman #1 by Dan Abnett, Brad Walker, Jesus Merino, and Phil Briones
Batman #1 by Tom King, David Finch, and Mikel Janin
Detective Comics #934 by James Tynion IV, Eddy Barrows, and Alvaro Martinez
Flash #1 by Josh Williamson, Carmine DiGiandomenico and Neil Googe
Green Arrow #1 by Ben Percy, Otto Schmidt, and Juan Ferreya
Green Lanterns #1 by Sam Humphries, Robson Rocha and Adrian Syaf
Superman #1 by Peter Tomasi, Pat Gleason and Doug Mahnke and Pat Gleason
Wonder Woman #1 by Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott
Batgirl & The Birds of Prey #1 by Julie Benson, Shawna Benson, and Claire Roe
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps Rebirth #1 by Rob Venditti and Ethan Van Sciver
The Hellblazer Rebirth #1 by Simon Oliver and TBA
Justice League Rebirth #1 by Bryan Hitch, Tony Daniel and Fernando Pasarin
Nightwing Rebirth #1 by Tim Seeley, Javi Fernandez and Marcus To
Red Hood & The Outlaws Rebirth #1 by Scott Lobdell and Dexter Soy
Batgirl #1 by Hope Larson and Rafael Albuquerque
New Superman #1 by Gene Luen Yang and Viktor Bodganovich
Titans #1 by Dan Abnett and Brett Booth
Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #1 by Rob Venditti and Ethan Van Sciver
Justice League #1 by Bryan Hitch and Tony Daniel and Fernando Pasarin
Nightwing #1 by Tim Seeley, Javi Fernandez and Marcus To
Blue Beetle Rebirth #1 by Keith Giffen and Scott Kolins
Cyborg Rebirth #1 by John Semper, Will Conrad and Paul Pelletier
Deathstroke Rebirth #1 by Christopher Priest, Carlo Pagulyan, Igor Vitorino, and Felipe Watanabe
Supergirl Rebirth #1 by Steve Orlando and Brian Ching and Emmanuela Lubacchino
Suicide Squard Rebirth #1 by Rob Williams and Jim Lee
Trinity Rebirth #1 by Francis Manapul and Clay Mann
All-Star Batman #1 by Scott Snyder, John Romita Jr., Jock, Sean Murphy, and Tula Lotay
Batgirl & The Birds of Prey #1 by Julie Benson, Shawna Benson, and Claire Roe
The Hellblazer #1 by Simon Oliver and TBA
Red Hood & The Outlaws #1 by Scott Lobdell and Dexter Soy
Superwoman #1 by Phil Jimenez and Emmanuela Lubacchino
Cyborg #1 by John Semper, Will Conrad and Paul Pelletier
Deathstroke #1 by Christopher Priest, Carlo Pagulyan, Igor Vitorino, and Felipe Watanabe
Harley Quinn #1 by Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Chad Hardin and John Timms
Suicide Squad #1 by Rob Williams, Jim Lee and Philip Tan
Batman Beyond Rebirth #1 by Dan Jurgens and Bernard Chang
Teen Titans Rebirth #1 by Ben Percy and Jonboy Meyers
Blue Beetle #1 by Keith Giffen and Scott Kolins
Supergirl #1 by Steve Orlando and Brian Ching
Super Sons #1 by Chris Burns, Dennis Culver, and Jorge Jimenez
Trinity #1 by Francis Manapul and Clay Mann
Justice League America #1 by TBA
Batman Beyond #1 by Dan Jurgens and Bernard Chang
Teen Titans #1 by Ben Percy and Jonboy Meyers
On the rumor that Rebirth would reflect aspects of movies and or TV shows
Geoff Johns said: That’s pure speculation. I’ve said it before: We’re not trying to emulate the movies, animation and TV shows. This is our comic universe and it is its own thing. Maybe when something cool like Diggle pops up (in Arrow), maybe it makes sense. Jimmy Olsen was introduced in a radio play, but it’s not our goal to mirror anything. Far from it.
Dan DiDio said: What we like to do is look for things that work and that people react to. A good idea is a good idea.
How does a reader off the street navigate Rebirth, and how long before readers can expect a company-wide event.
Geoff Johns said: They all live in one universe. The DC Universe Rebirth one shot is going to bring it all together and take a real hard look at it and sets things in motion. Each book has their own storyline, where some will affect each other, some won’t. I don’t think we want to get into publishing events or what’s coming next, but it will be clear as we move ahead. I don’t think we want to spoil it.
Will Rebirth be given the same time DC allowed Rebirth models Green Lantern Rebirth and Flashpoint to take shape?
Geoff Johns said: Yeah, it’s all about getting these stories right. It’s like HBO. Even HBO, the best network in the world, doesn’t have all the great shows. The point is, we want to make sure the quality is there, and the character is there, and see what’s working, first. We don’t want to rush. We also don’t want to repeat storylines. I don’t want to do another version of this person’s origin.
On the perception that the New 52 was over-editorialized:
Geoff Johns said: When I hear people say they don’t like something and say, 'it’s editorial,' it’s really a lot of different things. Sometimes, it’s execution. Sometimes, it’s bad direction. Sometimes, you put people on a title and it doesn’t work. Sometimes, it actually is editorial interference. I think it really is a little bit of meandering. Everything’s gone off and some is good, and some is not good, but there’s no feeling of what the DC Universe is about anymore. The hard reboot between Flashpoint and New 52, which there’s a whole story behind that, they said it was great to do at the time, but in retrospect, everyone should do this. Nothing’s perfect. In retrospect, there were some things that were lost, that dropped out, that frankly, we want back.
The economics of comics make tough to expect readers to buy a majority of these releases; not every book is going to appeal to every reader and certainly, DC recognizes that. Plus, people still feel burned or burned out from the New 52 as a whole. I just want the stories themselves to be good enough to ignite the desire for 30-50 percent of the Rebirth titles, even if I'm able to buy only 10-20 percent. Whether they be monthly or twice monthly, and regardless if they are priced $2.99 or $3.99, each reader will find the format that suits them and their wallet, be it digital, single issues or in trade. Rebirth does appear to be more carefully constructed than the New 52. Using Green Lantern Rebirth and Flashpoint as the models for the initiative is extremely encouraging.
Personally, DC Comics has me on board to try a couple handfuls of the Rebirth titles. Titles like All-Star Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Batgirl, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, New Superman, Suicide Squad, Deathstroke, and Batman Beyond have this particular reader excited, already, but we'll see how well they execute and if they can keep me engaged month-to-month. Readers will be justified to be in a wait-and-see mode. I wish that the launch didn't have such a high quantity of books, but I appreciate the rollout spanning five-to-six months. Also, based on the talent and the variety, I do think the numbers allow for a comic tailored for everyone, even if you're committed to just a few.
At the end of the day, readers just want good books, period. If it's good enough, word will spread and people will feel left out and catch up. For now, based on the Rebirth presentation, the returning and fresh talent involved and an encouraging new approach within the editorial and creative offices, things are looking up.
DC Rebirth kicks off with the 80-page DC Unverse Rebirth One-Shot for $2.99 out in stores May 25th.