If you’ve been following along with my (admittedly all over the place) twitter feed at all this weekend, some of this is going to sound pretty familiar to you. Wondercon was this weekend and with it came a flood of information and announcements regarding DC’s new not-a-reboot event, Rebirth, followed up by an official list of June solicits.
The good news is, some of the unknown variables of Rebirth have been cleared up. The bad news is, most of them haven’t.
The press conference, held Saturday morning at the convention, served really as a vehicle to announce creative teams for the upcoming new titles with talent on hand to speak a little about the direction each team plans on taking their new book.
I want to start out by saying that I’m feeling (read: trying to feel) generally hopeful about Rebirth. There are a handful of things that I’m over the moon about and I’m going to talk about them. But first, I want to hash out some concerns that I’ve had ruminating for a few days.
The crux of Rebirth is “legacy” says Geoff Johns. Bringing back a missing piece that got lost in the shuffle to the New 52 continuity back in 2011. Johns, Didio, and Lee all spoke about their love of comics and their commitment to the medium. In a clear attempt to squash the “Rebirth means a comic universe that’s more in line with the cinematic universe” rumors, the trio put a strong emphasis on the comics being the point of origin and source material for DC’s successful movie and TV ventures.
So the comics are comics and they’re staying that way. That’s one thing that’s pretty clear. Do with that information what you will.
The “legacy” bit got a bit fuzzy, though. Promotional images and covers were show from new team and solo titles but baring a small handful of instantly recognizable teams, there didn’t seem to be a clear narrative thread or logic informing rosters and focal characters. There’s a perplexing mix of New 52 original characters, newly returned pre-reboot characters, and Rebirth original characters standing side by side with one another on many of these covers. That’s not inherently a bad thing but the incongruous nature of the characters and their placements sends a bit of a muddled message when your event’s keyword is “legacy”.
Legacy characters that were key players prior to the New 52 like Bart Allen, Connor Hawke, Connor Kent, Mia Dearden, Cassie Sandsmark among others are all missing in action in Rebirth, regardless of what their role (if any) was in the New 52 universe.
Other characters are having their legacy status remixed or altered completely. Wally West is (thankfully) remaining black thanks to his New 52 update, but being de-aged and demoted from his position among the core 5 original Titans and sent to work with the Teen Titans as Kid Flash instead. Wally is the only one of the core 5 Titans to whom this is happening.
Jonathan Kent, the son of Clark and Lois, who formerly existed only outside of main continuity is being brought in to participate in the team book “Super Sons” along side Damian Wanye (who will also be joining the new iteration of the Teen Titans.) The new Teen Titans line up has, apparently, removed every member of the current Teen Titans line up save Gar and Raven. What happened to the others? We don’t know.
This really begs the question: what legacies are we talking about, exactly? From where? And when? Obviously the definition is varying from book to book, which seems understandable, but the lack of clarity in articulating this idea is a little scary to me.
Prior to the New 52, DC defined “legacy” as a largely generational thing. You had mantles that were passed from hero to sidekick between communities of people. The “tiers” of these generational connections were defined by character relationships and also by teams. Groups like the Teen Titans, the Titans, the Outsiders, the JSA, and the Justice League all served as touch-stones for quick and easy definition of which characters were connected to which generation, which in turn provided a simple and understandable short-hand for things like shared character experience and relationships. Characters who were formally Teen Titans who were now Outsiders could relate to one another in ways that two people who were strictly members of the JLA or the JSA couldn’t. So on and so forth. You get the idea. It created a fleshed out, hugely populated world with genuine, meaningful connections.
That’s the sort of legacy system I’m hoping to see restored in Rebirth. But at this point, I’m not…really confident in that at the moment.
Johns, Didio and Lee were also quick to press that Rebirth is not a reboot, which is something we’ve been hearing since the teasers first began to drop. These are comforting words to fans who are understandably gun-shy at the prospect of having the runs swept out from under them.
However, the Not-A-Reboot tagline seems to be just as open for interpretation between groups and titles as the legacy concept. We heard creative teams talk about books like Nightwing, Batman, Titans that are clearly tied to and stemming from arcs that are present in the New 52 iterations of these books or events right this moment. Other books like Supergirl, Action Comics, Justice League, and Teen Titans seem to be presenting takes on characters that only have vague connections, if any, to the current New 52 books, or are connected to titles that currently sit outside of the main DC continuity.
Others, like Batgirl & The Birds of Prey are rebooting select elements of the canon that were erased in the New 52, like Barbara’s time as Oracle. How that will be executed and integrated into the other books still, obviously, remains to be seen.
Again, not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but the disparity between titles and groups as far as source material and continuity are concerned is a bit of a red flag right out of the gate. The New 52 was promoted as a complete continuity reboot, but in execution only ended up rebooting select pieces of the universe. Rebirth is being promoted as not a complete continuity reboot, but (at least on paper) looks like it’s going to be completely rebooting select pieces of the universe.
It’s a challenge to enjoy comics that are, theoretically, supposed to be taking place in a massive shared universe when those comics are all dramatically out of step with one another. It’s the biggest issue I take with the New 52 universe and something I had hoped Rebirth would be addressing.
It’s a concern, though obviously at this time it can’t be damning one. The fact of the matter is that we simply don’t have enough information at this time to really understand how the execution phase is going to shake out, and we won’t until the massive 80-page Rebirth #1 issue (which will, despite it’s size, stick to the $2.99 price point according to Didio) hits shelves in May.
And then there’s the deeply concerning matter of representation. Of the announced creative teams working on Rebirth we see a whopping 75 men and only 8 women. Add to the fact that popular queer characters who have carried solo books like Midnighter and Batwoman are being folded into teams and guest spots while others like Bunker of the Teen Titans have disappeared…It feels shaky at best and dismissive at worst.
The start of the New 52 did a similar thing with it’s representation of both queer and non-male identifying characters with prominent spots in teams or solo books. The new continuity’s kick off was accompanied by the erasure or downplaying of nearly all representational work the preboot continuity had done. Efforts to replace and reestablish these characters or actively seek out more female creators didn’t earnestly become visible for years. The idea that we could potentially be about to start this cycle anew is, frankly, exhausting.
It’s not all bad or worrisome, though. Greg Rucka will be returning to DC to helm the bimonthly Wonder Woman title, Sam Humphries will be writing a new Green Lantern team book titled Green Lanterns which stars not one but two people of color as title characters, and (my personal favorite) Tom King will be helming the bimonthly Batman title. Scott Snyder has signed exclusive to DC and will be writing a new in continuity monthly book called All Star Batman that will focus each arc on a new iconic Batman villain. Detective Comics will now be a Batfamily team book with Batwoman as a title character. Gene Yang will be writing a new Chinese superhero who becomes a Superman-like figure in China in the book New Super-Man.
I spoke with some creative teams very briefly at Wondercon and I can confirm this for you: the overall mood amongst the writers and artists is a sense of very genuine excitement. These are teams of people who want to tell great stories for things they care about and that are excited to face the challenges laid out before them. That’s probably the most comforting thing I can tell you right now.
Here’s a (very) quick breakdown of some plot details and information I was able to glean in speaking with teams:
- Rebirth Justice League is “not concerned” with stepping out of the event Darkseid War according to artist Tony Daniels.
- Supergirl, Action Comics, and New Super-Man will (eventually) feature connections to one another in much the same way that Action Comics and the Superfamily books do now according to Jurgens, Orlando and Yang.
- Supergirl “may even” feature appearances by people outside of the Superfamily.
- Supergirl is going to be about Kara’s arrival on earth, but this “is the Kara” that has been existing in the DCU currently as a Red Lantern.
- Kara’s father will be a new incarnation of Cyborg Superman.
- Midnighter will be in the first issue of Nightwing says writer Tim Seeley.
- Spyral characters like Tiger will also be showing up in Nightwing.
- Nightwing’s first arc will be infiltrating the Parliament of Owls.
- Batgirl & The Birds Of Prey will be focusing on the Oracle legacy in it’s first arc. Will have a page dedicated to examining the Killing Joke, according to writers Julie and Shawna Benson.
- Batgirl will be leaving the country in her solo title and not connecting with the Batfamily at large says writer Hope Larson.
- Burnside side characters like Frankie will still exist in Batgirl & The Birds of Prey but will not be a focal point.
- Duke Thomas will be Bruce’s new ward in Tom King’s Batman.
- Damian’s feelings on this matter are very complicated.
- King describes his Batman run as a “hell yeah Batman” story about a Batman that is “a social creature” with family and friends, rather than a loner.
It’s also worth noting that Johns has spoken briefly about other new titles that have yet to be announced or even teased yet. Books like Shazam!, JSA, and JLA are still, according to Johns, coming up. The intent is for this first wave of announcements to be given “room to breathe” before chipping away at other parts of the DCU.
Now, whether or not that excitement and enthusiasm makes it through the translation from pen to page still is yet to be seen.