A Fix-Up, Not a Reboot: One Month into DC’s Rebirth

rebirthBatmanA 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.

Want to learn more about how comics publishing and digital comics work?  Try Todd’s book, Economics of Digital Comics.

Comments

  1. Kris says

    Would just like to point out that the GREEN ARROW title is virtually the opposite of ARROW right now. GA was most closely aligned with the TV show when Guggenheim wrote an arc a few years back, but they dropped him pretty quick. The aim with this is literally to get it back to the goatee-rocking left-wing Black Canary-loving GA who disappeared after Flashpoint.

  2. says

    @Kris I think you mean Andrew Kreisberg not Guggenheim,

    Todd keeps pointing out the thematic return of things if not thier physical (for want of a better word), I’m curious if that’s such a bad thing? Maybe it comes down to how you read the DC Universe Rebirth issue, I read that as a meta apology-promise by Johns promising a better DC future as he jetted off towards hopefully fixing the DCEU. The actual mechanical way in which you “fix” the DCU though is well comic book macguffery, it dosen’t reaaaly matter how so much as the intent and the story being told with it. Comic Book macguffery is a too cherished at times, look at the Cap Steve Rogers stuff people splitting hairs on what is or isn’t “mind control” or someother plot device to the detrement of a pair of really good issues looking at how hatred is built up an weaponized.

  3. Creon says

    Green Arrow has a lot of problems with it. It comes across as self-important and narcissistic, eager to announce to the world that it’s tackling political issues without actually putting forth the work. It also tries too hard to resemble the old Green Arrow without any of the humor or charm from the 2000 series.

    Batman was absolutely stellar, arguably the best of the Rebirth books, really. It successfully created a high-tension sequence that used action and spoken dialogue to subtly bring its theme up to the forefront. Detective Comics, on the other hand, feels like a heavily decompressed X-Men book.

    Superman could be very interesting, as it follows the growth of Jon Kent as a hero. That’s actually more interesting than the Mr. Oz mystery.

  4. Marquesas Joseph says

    With all that’s happened to the DCU, I think one of the biggest problems in it is a sense of consistency. A lot of people complained about the writing, which I’ll admit was not great. However that’s not a problem that can’t be fixed. Instead, it felt like they would throw in an event that would “change” the universe again. Between the New 52, Forever Evil, Trinity Wars, Convergence, it’s all very confusing. I also believed that they drop series that had a lot of potential. Stormwatch, Static Shock, Voodoo just to name a few. Now, while they weren’t continued for one reason or another I thought these characters were kind of interesting. Not only that, but how many other characters has DC acquired over the years that have been tossed aside without a second thought. Milestone and Wildstorm are names that most people don’t even remember, yet the individuals born into these universes had so much substance and character they would have been a welcome addition and a great contrast to those of the DCU. DC “tried” to integrate these elements in the beginning, with few actually making the cut. But I digress, if DC really wants to become something great again, that’s where they need to start, in my opinion. How can they expect us to care, if they can’t show the same effort?

  5. Mike B.risbois says

    I want a true ‘identity crisis’ wherein every DC character suddenly “remembers” their pasts in every continuity –a Batman who remembers the TV show and the New 52 and 1938, a Wonder Woman who remembers fighting in WWII and yet also *not* fighting in WWII, a Superman who remembers all the contradictory Kryptons, all the contradictory Legions. I want a crisis that leaves us with *everybody* remembering *everything* despite the contradictions –infinite continuities all converging into one universe where all the heroes remember all their pasts– and then take it from there.

    If everyone remembered all their past continuities, who would they be now?

    If they could choose/discover their own identities, who would they choose?

    Existential Crisis

  6. DarbytheHutt says

    I feel a lot of the complaints were, “DC’s publishing of trades sucks” more than anything else. If you’re a trade waiter and then jump into reading floppies, then yeah, there are going to be some confusing elements. I don’t understand why the author of the post was complaining so much about that. I do share the annoyance of the Bat-titles being dragged into a crossover with just their second arc.

    DC does have a draconian publishing schedule for their trades though. It’s absurd that it takes six months for a trade to come to market. It’s part of being a “book publisher” instead of a “comic publisher.”

    Personally, the new Superman titles have been an absolute blast. Having a Superman who isn’t mopey (we already have that in the film version, which a lot do not care for) and cocky. I felt DC had maybe two or three good arcs with New 52 Superman that were ok and the rest were not worth purchasing. There is no mention of how the past Superman died because Tomasi and Gleason said they only wanted this to be about one Superman.

    Rebirth was a breath of fresh air, especially with Marvel’s faltering of late. I am so sick of events that are merely rehashes of past events. Secret Wars was good because that was the culmination of Hickman’s run. But Civil War II? Can they do something besides have heroes fighting heroes? DC Rebirth is coming at a great time for me and I’m spending more dollars on DC than Marvel right now. Image is close behind DC.

  7. Other Chris says

    Don’t hold your breath, Mike. Not only is that idea unfeasible and complicated, it also requires way too much work from this modern era of work-for-hire writers. We’re still living in the Age of Bendis, so don’t expect too much in the way of something like Morrison’s Batman.

  8. Chris Hero says

    I don’t think there are any readers coming in cold. The Rebirth books are selling to the same core group of people who were buying DC before. Every time DC or Marvel do one of these sales stunts, they lose some readers and don’t attract any new ones in. The market for floppies is contracting and it will be interesting to see what the sales are a year from now.

  9. Sean Fitzpatrick says

    I would say that Wonder Woman is the only book I would not recommend. It is slow, meandering and repetitive. The at may be nice, but I hope a story emerges. Rucka is excellent, but he is a horrible Wonder Woman writer…. Very bland book.

    Flash is wonderful and Action Comics is great. My favorite of the lot this far. Titans is good conceptually, but I want to know a bit more about it. Superman, Detectibe and Batman have potential… But that is all at the moment. Just my own thoughts on the books.

    For me this feels fresh and interesting. It’s okay if not all the books hit — more than two good books would be great from DC. A vast improvement from where they were and steps in a good direction… Color me happy!

  10. Steve says

    Surprisingly, Superman Rebirth number 1 was (in effect) Last Days part 9. Unfortunately DC probably confused most of the people who bought it. I wonder if they just rebranded a “New 52” story of if they intended to shoot themselves in the foot.

    Steve

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