What’s With All The Rebirths?: Graeme on The Rumored DC Relaunch

January 27, 2016

Of course the rumor about the potential DC relaunch broke the very day after we recorded the last episode. Why would it break before we recorded, so that Jeff and I could’ve talked about it? Who would’ve wanted that to happen?

For those who missed it; Bleeding Cool ran a story last Friday that DC is planning to relaunch all of its superhero titles at #1 again this June, and later that same day, both Dan Didio and Jim Lee took to Twitter to share the following:

Now, there’s a chance that DC isn’t planning to relaunch everything in June — Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver, the creative team behind both Green Lantern: Rebirth and The Flash: Rebirth, have been tweeting to each other in such a way to suggest that “Rebirth” is actually a comic book series, as opposed to a line wide relaunch — but, let’s be honest; if DC wasn’t considering such a move before the rumor broke, they’d have to be nuts not to be thinking about it now.

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It’s not just the sales spike that should make the proposition enticing for DC — a chance, perhaps, to regain some marketplace from an increasingly dominant Marvel — but the fact that the June timing makes a lot of sense: it’s a year since the last big DC push (DCYou, which rolled out to some critical acclaim and crickets at the comic book store in June 2015), which allows for the illusion of annual promotional pushes and a seasonal approach to new launches. It’ll also be the month after the 12 remaining New 52 books hit #52, suggesting a somewhat appropriate end and time for relaunch, even if the “52” conceit has always been a somewhat haphazard one. (“Hey! There are 52 weeks in a year, let’s call the weekly series 52! And then we can have 52 alternate earths, and pretend that‘s the reason for the title! And then launch a new line with 52 books, because, uh, 52 was a success!”)

There are, in other words, ways to spin it that doesn’t seem like a retreat from what’s been happening before.

Not that a retreat would be a bad idea, in some places. After all, sales really are bad for the majority of DC’s line, with everything that isn’t Batman, Harley Quinn and Justice League in various stages of bad shape. The mid-section of the publisher’s offerings — Green Lantern, The Flash, that kind of thing… meat-and-potatoes books that really should be the bellwether for how DC is doing, as far as I’m concerned — are just doing fine, both creatively and commercially, when they should be stronger in both. It’s not just DC’s buzz that could benefit from a chance to do-over; a lot of the books being published are in need to a makeover, as well.

(In some cases, it could be minor; Green Lantern just needs to be refocused back to the original high concept some, Flash needs to — ironically — speed up and use a less busy artist. Other books need a more comprehensive overhaul coughWonderWomancough but not everything needs dramatic surgery, I feel.)

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A relaunch offers a number of pluses to DC: a chance to rethink and reposition some books (Creating a stronger midlevel being the most immediate aim, to me; one of the problems with DCYou as a relaunch was that it was a reaction against a superhero “norm” that, because of all the makeovers, only really existed in Flash. DC needs a line of regular straight ahead superhero books, I think, in order to “work”), revive some concepts and ideas that should return to usage (Legion of Super-Heroes! Vixen! Birds of Prey! Global Guardians! No, really, I’d love to see a good Global Guardians revival) and, most importantly of all, work out a way to promote its output in a way that makes sense for each title.

This is an ongoing complaint I’ve had not only wish DC, but also Marvel, in recent years. Followers of the Wait, What? Tumblr know how much I love old house ads from DC and Marvel comics, and that’s something that I’ve really missed in more recent (as in, the last decade or so, if not longer) Big Two comics — ads for specific issues of specific series that aren’t simply cover art and a generic design and/or tagline. Something that suggests that this issue and this series are individually worth your attention, and tells you why. (The ads should also be reasonably placed; don’t put Omega Men ads in Harley Quinn, for example, but make sure Prez ads go in there instead. That kind of thing.)

The war against renumbering and relaunching titles is, to be honest, lost; it’s not just Marvel’s repeated use of the technique as a sales tool, but also the fact that DC dumped more than 70 years of history with the 2011 relaunches, cutting both Detective and Action down to #1 after decades. Once that happened, it means nothing to reboot books from #50, or #52, or whatever. If this is the world we’re living in, the least we can hope for is that publishers will actually start using the relaunches as genuine opportunities to create new-reader-friendly issues, whether it’s for readers new to the medium, the character or simply that volume of the series. Done right, a DC relaunch — “Rebirth” or no — could be a good thing.

Of course, the question of whether or not it’ll end up being “done right” remains open until we know more, if it even happens…

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4 comments on “What’s With All The Rebirths?: Graeme on The Rumored DC Relaunch

  1. Mo Walker Jan 27, 2016

    If Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver are doing a ‘Rebirth’ book, I wonder if Johns allowed to write more comics again. Unless he will be leaving Justice League after the Darkseid War wraps. So many theories….

    I think it could be a little of both, a ‘rebirth comic’ and a branding/marketing campaign. Personally, I would love to see more DC titles set on an alternate Earth. This has always been one of the company’s strengths over Marvel. Though there have been some wonderful time travel/alternative reality comics at the House of Ideas. If DC wants to ‘align’ their comic and TV/Film properties, they should do so thematically. Alternate realities and time travel are core part of several DC’s TV shows, so why not have a line of books (the Multiversity Line).

  2. David Kilroy Jan 27, 2016

    What I want is evidence that DC, the publisher, not the multimedia corporation, have some sort of long view. TL;DR incoming!

    My brand loyalty lapsed ages back. I’m not signing onto anything DC pimps unless it’s a limited series or an attempt to alter some very, very shopworn patterns. The trade paperback market as it exists today makes miniseries quite bankable. For a major publisher, shorter works MAKE SENSE. They’re partly how Dark Horse & Fantagraphics built their reader bases: multitudinous miniseries with reliable creative teams (i.e. creators who’ve finished their tasks before promotion even begins) & clockwork publishing schedules, not an endless succession of scattershot, brand-happy sales pitches. The Image explosion of the last five years comes down to this: keep it tidy, keep it bite-sized, try to keep it on time. If you can’t, yank the solicits.

    Of the Big Two, Marvel’s taken point with readers b/c their approach of late has been the difference between the BBC & ABC, between The Thick Of It and Lost. The Pulido incarnation of She-Hulk, the Ellis / Wood retoolings of Moon Knight– these were titles I paid attention to because I didn’t simply want a jumping-on point, I also require a jumping-OFF point. The Ellis run guaranteed I’d taste Wood’s take, and that arc hooked me. Then my goodwill was squandered by the six subsequent issues of bottom-dollar hackwork. An endless ongoing cannot, will not, guarantee consistent quality or sales. Even Peter David’s legendary Hulk run had ugly hiccoughs. It has taken decades, but Marvel has finally recognized brief “seasons” are the way to go. Postmillenial DC seemingly refuses to.

    Put another way: I *loved* Nurse Jackie. So I knew s4 was the place to stop. The creative team was departing. There was a Happy Ending built into the s4 finale. For me, it felt earned. It was the ending my headcanon desired.

    Every tale needs some kind of ending, even if it’s only the ILLUSION of having ended. The New Gods could be retired for a decade without losing their magic– Levitz proved that. Kid Eternity could disappear. Jonah Hex could be shunted into a dystopian future where Mark Texeria was replaced by Keith Giffen… These endings, anticlimactic as many of them were, permitted the characters proper comebacks, both in terms of audience reception & sales. Sherlock Holmes was treading water until Reichenbach Falls. Squirrel Girl’s not simply a success because she’s the Tumblr flavor of 2015– it’s because she was, for the longest time, barely even peripheral.

    Despite evidence to the contrary, DC’s stewards keep at their corny carny pitches. If Hawkman’s annual relaunch sticks ze landing this time, why, it’ll CHANGE EVERYTHING. “A rom-com about a nightmarishly violent roommate with equally nightmarish taste in hats! Kramer on krokodil!” Should it fail, replace everyone, hit reset. This strategy has reduced the Joker to the threat level of a Cyberman on Nu-Who. Not that I would mind Mistah Jay being relegated to the status of wacky mascot to the Bat-family… But I was born in the 70s.

    All DC seems interested in is nonstop sales monsters. Yet without a consistent, reliable creative vision & coherent leadership you don’t have titles that hit targets. Outside of Johns’ GL– an incarnation I personally consider retrograde, success notwithstanding –post-millennial DC’s been doing nothing but spitballing. For a publisher that’s fatally shortsighted. They’ve provided the occasional surprise, but for every fun-but-doomed O.M.A.C. there’s a soulless, chundering Legion reboot. DC today has so much less focus & commitment to being a publisher than they did in the mid-to-late 80s, when the range of material they were releasing was arguably its most surprising: All-Star Squadron (& Infinity, Inc.); Jemm, Son of Saturn; ‘Mazing Man; the Question ongoing; Amethyst; Sword of The Atom; Secret Origins v3; prestigious wtfs like Ronin and Gilgamesh II…

    The road they’re on at present, their most venerable titles are going to be reduced to little more than merch for fans of WB television properties. Perhaps that’s what the parent corp. wants. In which case, DC, carry on like Gerald Thomas.

  3. Zaragosa Jan 27, 2016

    I heartily co-sign David’s thoughts on the sad state of DC today vs the mighty, creatively adventurous DC of the 80s. One fact that bears mentioning: DC’s publisher during that heady boom period was the extraordinary Jenette Kahn, the first woman to ever run a major comic company, and more importantly, a business/creative titan. Sure, she was at the helm for Watchmen, Swamp Thing, DKR, Ronin, Wasteland, Thriller, Twilight, and a zillion other creative triumphs… but Jenette also instituted creators’ rights and royalties at DC, previously unthinkable concepts at the big two. She also pioneered the “new format” with New Teen Titans and the original Omega Men, printing comics on purty white paper! And oh yeah, Jenette championed the formation of Vertigo, as overseen by Karen Berger. In short, Jenette Kahn’s bold, visionary stewardship of DC throughout the 80s was a primary reason (on a macro level, perhaps even THE primary reason) that DC experienced a creative renaissance in that decade, a zenith of achievement which seems unlikely to ever be matched in these latter days of craven corporate calculation. As the publisher, she allowed each book and creator to have a true “voice,” playing to the unique strengths of an idiosyncratic, handmade, mass medium (unlike Hollywood and its million chefs in each corporate kitchen). Jenette Kahn is not remembered enough and it’s a damn shame. She was one of the most significant figures of the last 50 years of comics history.

  4. Brendan Jan 28, 2016

    I sign off on all that was said before and more. Janette Kahn, Karen Berger, DC of the 80’s were all great. Like David got into, DC is stuck in a rut and I don’t know if the suits even know it. And finally to reply to what Mo said, if this really is just a Johns/Van Sciver event book, God save us from more Geoff Johns, and at this point Van Sciver is guilty by association.

    I think a through line of all the discussion here is that DC is losing the talent hunt on both writing and art. While they have managed to keep a few experienced greats in their company, no one new and upcoming, or remotely exciting will be sticking around, and that is because of the folks in charge.

    DCYou was stillborn because the publisher didn’t put any effort into nurturing something new, or into making it feel important in any way. Most shoppers at the lcs didn’t really know what DCYou was, exactly. And the branding was pretty tone deaf too. It was like DC was throwing new stuff in your face like “here, you take this Prez book, we don’t want it. And come back in a year for more Geoff Johns again.”

    But look who is in charge and you know why DC is so regressive: Diane Nelson, who answers to Warner more than anyone. Not her fault, but, she has bosses to whom the entire comics line represents a Christmas bonus; the widely despised Bob Harras; Jim Lee, who, does he even care anymore? About anything?; Geoff Johns, who cares too much, esp. about living in his own childhood for the rest of his life; and Dan DiDio, who probably doesn’t understand what is going on in his immediate area, let alone in the world of comics. You could not find a more backward facing group of people if you tried.

    Nice piece, Graeme. Here’s hoping it’s the reboot we are all hoping for. (I have my doubts, but also crossed fingers and butterflies in my stomach).

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