A lot’s been said about DC’s Rebirth being an attempt to get the pre-New 52 fans (realistically, the fans who quit prior to New 52) back into the fold. Seeing as how I’ve been on the Silver Age Trivia panel at C2E2/Chicago Comicon for a very long time, I’m probably qualified to speak to Rebirth from the perspective of a longtime fan. I’ll be honest – I don’t see a “rebirth” or the implied reboot. I see a fix-up attempt and it’s only partially working for me.
From a reader standpoint, the good thing about New 52 was that it was *mostly* a full-on reboot and gave readers a definite starting point without the need for reading back issues to get caught up. I say mostly, because New 52 was rushed and not fully planned so you’d get ridiculous statements that amounted to “um, yeah… some of the old stories just happened, but we can’t tell you which ones because we haven’t thought that far ahead.” And that was the bad part. New 52 disenfranchised a lot of the back catalog, and the back catalog was one of DC’s real strengths.
Rebirth is trying to *selectively* fix that back catalog gap without either doing another reboot or formally undoing the New 52 reboot. The result is something that’s just a little bit awkward. We’re told that 10 years have been stolen from the universe. It’s implied that Doctor Manhattan did the stealing and also that the end of Flashpoint may have had something to do with it. Not everyone remembers the past, so Flash and the Titans are remembering changes and the rest of the characters don’t remember anything but are moving back towards the old status quo.
In particular, there seem to be moves to reversing that ridiculous upper editorial attitude about marriages and relationships from New 52, so Aquaman and Mera are back together (but not yet married) and Green Arrow and Black Canary are becoming a couple again. That’s a thematic return, not a reset to before the ten years were stolen. Confused? Yeah, you might need to look sideways and squint for the logic chain here.
Wonder Woman appears to be on the road to reconciling the new origin from the Azzarello/Chiang/Akins run with traditional origin(s).
Batman sold well, so it’s proceeding as though nothing happened and seems to be making some of the post-Convergence continuity a big part of the current runs, so that’s almost anti-Rebirth.
Superman’s… well, Superman’s a mess right now and we’ll come back to that in a bit.
It really goes back to one of my concerns with the Rebirth special: Johns sets the table for changes and then walks away from it. The Rebirth plot is now a background element and we see mostly thematic change, while those background elements will likely tease for a year or two before culminating in “Rebirth Crisis,” “Justice League Vs. Watchmen” or some similarly titled event.
What do I think of the individual relaunched titles? A couple caveats first.
- Those “Reborn” specials strike me as a lot like those old Marvel .1 issues. They sorta/kinda give you a recap if you haven’t been reading those titles lately. You could probably skip them and not be any more lost than you would be just picking up the first issue of the “regular” series. Green Arrow Reborn sets the table a bit more than most. Batman Reborn is tonally very different from Batman #1. Superman Reborn is the one that most needed some explaining and didn’t go nearly far enough.
- Given that how those Reborn specials were .1-ish, this isn’t looking at two issues. It’s more like 1.5 issues for most titles. If that. It’s not the full story for anything and it’s more of a hot take by necessity. You don’t necessarily know where the story’s going, since it’s mostly one issue of the real plot and an issue of background/intro/water treading.
There’s only one comic I can recommend without reservation after two issues and that’s Wonder Woman. Rucka had a pretty public falling out with DC several years ago and, along with Mark Waid, was one of the creators they could least afford to lose. Liam Sharp is back on a mainstream comic for the first time in ages and you’ll want to get reacquainted with him. Nicola Scott’s run hasn’t started yet, but let’s face it – there are no questions about whether she can draw Wonder Woman or work with Rucka. (The Black Magic comic they do at Image, which is on hiatus for Scott’s Wonder Woman run is well worth your time.) It’s not exactly a surprise this one starts out well, but it will still be a couple more issues to know what’s really going on.
For the rest of it, I wouldn’t say that anything is bad the way that a lot of the titles had gotten bad leading into Convergence. That said, I’ve only read three things DC has put out between Convergence and Rebirth: V.1 of the Prez, Doctor Fate and Martian Manhunter tpbs. I’d put Prez and Doctor Fate at or above what I’m seeing in Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter a bit above the rest of the initial round of Rebirth launches. Whether the rest of the line also improved after convergence, I couldn’t tell you. All I know is the sales estimates post convergence were BAD.
I feel like I _should_ be liking the Superman titles, but there’s a huge problem with the Superman relaunch. Near as I can tell, the Superman relaunch really started a couple months before Rebirth. The New 52 Superman is dead – the nature of his death and who did the deed are not recapped such that it’s understandable if you weren’t reading the previous two months. And, of course, the tpb of that is a few months off. I’m sure the dealers with back issues are happy and the dealers without back issues are annoyed digital is the easiest way to get those issues. The post-Crisis/pre-New 52 Superman and Lois and son are back. It had something to do with Convergence? That’s not properly explained. Is this a continuation of the Jurgens mini-series that spun out of Convergence? Too bad there’s no tpb yet on that one either. (A pattern?) Some references to a Mr. Oz floating around in the background, who I really, really hope isn’t Ozymandias. A Doctor Manhattan vs. Ozymandias proxy war might sound good in an editorial meeting, but the passing thought of it while reading one of those mysterious panels was an instant turn-off.
Batman #1 gave me massive suspension of disbelief problems. If we’re going to have a world of Batman where he’s steering a downed airliner with a set of reins and the jet from his ejector seat and then be confronted by campy super villains while being done in a hyper realistic/Jason Bourne-ish style… well, that’s pretty much everything that didn’t work in the opening arc of Uncanny Avengers, now isn’t it? We’ll see where it goes. I was expecting something very different after the more serious Reborn issue and King’s work on Vision. It’s well done for what it is, but whether it’s what everyone wants remains to be seen.
Detective Comics, the thematic successor to Batman Eternal is the epic Batman Family title. I’d recommend that one if you need a Bat-fix. Of course, they’ve already announced the first crossover, because even when they’re bi-weekly, the Batline is still expecting you to get the whole line every few months. Which is funny, since Detective is setting the stage to be self-contained for those sorts of stories.
The Flash is interesting for a couple reasons. First off, this is where a lot of the Rebirth plot threads are getting dropped like breadcrumbs… although definitely in the background for awhile, if the first issue is any indication. It’s also a clear attempt to try and reconcile the comics with the TV show. Josh Williamson has the opening narration down. It’s going to be a process though. Two Wally Wests could take some explaining.
Green Arrow is also really back to basics. I suspect it’s also trying to align itself with the Arrow show, but I honestly haven’t seen enough of that to tell for sure. Black Canary is back, but the politics are just too forced. If Ollie’s political rants can get a little more organic, this could be a good one and Otto Schmidt’s art is growing on me.
Aquaman looks like it could be decent, if you liked the Geoff Johns version. I suspect Johns was pretty active in editorial meetings for it. I’m not sure Black Manta isn’t getting a bit over-exposed, though.
And from there, things are essentially what I’d call library reads. They’re perfectly fine if you’re looking for something to read, but nothing stands out. (Worth noting – Titans is another title where the Rebirth plot threads should be handled, but it’s building off another Convergence era mini-series that hasn’t been collected. Whoops.)
I’m not nearly as excited by these titles as most of the market. Let’s face it, everyone wants to believe things are getting fixed. I do or I wouldn’t have been reading all these after what amounts to a year away from that universe. The floor has been raised, but the ceiling isn’t where it ought to be yet.
On the other hand, these early releases are the front line “story of the universe” titles. The “story of the universe” titles have been the more heavily edited in recent years. The more interesting reads frequently come from the less promoted titles where the creators have a bit more voice. I’m curious to see if Gene Yang has a free hand with New Super-Man or what Priest is planning to do with Deathstroke.
Marvel’s had the Wacker/Amanat office for a number of years where you could look for those creator voice titles like Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel and Daredevil. I’m not sure DC has such an office, but they could probably use one.
So overall, where is DC standing? In a fog trying to get the comics closer to the tone and feel of 10 years ago, but still clinging to recent continuity. Can they have their cake and eat it, too? The sales charts will tell us that in six months, but there have been some editorial gaffes mucking up the relaunch. From the obvious things like the backstory problems of Superman and Titans to simple things like not bothering to explain who Duke is in Batman. (I’ve seen the sales estimates on We Are Robin… there are at least 70,000 Batman readers who never touched that title.) There are general improvements, but editorial could have made things a lot easier on readers who are coming in truly cold.
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Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.