In his video introducing DC’s Rebirth publishing plan, Geoff Johns calls it a “third rebirth” for DC. At first I thought this referred to the original DC, Silver age Flash and…something else? But he was actually referring to reimagining Green Lantern and the Flash characters with better, more motivated origins. Perhaps more accurately, from an external viewpoint, its the third rebirth of DC in the Diane Nelson era, following the New 52, DCYou and now a new line based on core characters. Or as he put it, in the video’s most quoted line, “It’s not just an event, it’s a mission for us.”
I can’t imagine any DC exec looking at recent sales hasn’t wished for a mission to find new customers. Say what you will about the contents, the New 52 was a slam dunk/home run/hat trick that brought back old readers and excited new recruits like nothing in recent memory. But once standard attrition set in, and a corporate relocation radically altered the creative structure, it was time to hit the gas pedal again to get the car up that hill. And while DCYou fit in with DC’s own internal research that showed a changing audience for comics—and certainly satisfied a certain vocal element of the comics interne—it was clearly outside the comfort zone of both editors and readers. It was quirky, imaginative and a bit slapdash, and sort of a disaster.
This new rebirth is, at least from the looks of things, a lot more Geoff Johnsian in its outline—right from the quote that gives this post it’s title, the opening lines of his 80-page Rebirth special. When the New 52 was planned—at a time of similarly bad sales and on a similarly fast tracked timeline—Johns was against the renumbering of the line. It was Dan DiDio’s scheme to start everything over and this plan won out; however, you’ll note that the Green Lantern universe was changed the least of all the reboots. That was Johns all the way.
This time out, DC appears to be literally doubling down on its old school fans by asking them to buy their favorite books twice a month. Based on the publishing schedule released, the line has been trimmed from 52 to 32 titles, but with double shipping the number of books coming out will be about the same. And at $2.99 a pop people will have less reason to complain about the price.
In his CBR interview, John makes all of this explicit:
This definitely sounds targeted at more long-time fans, more lapsed fans — what about newer or more casual readers?
If you look at “Green Lantern: Rebirth” or “The Flash: Rebirth,” absolutely it’s targeted to fans who’ve read a lot of comics. Who have as many comics as me. But at the same time, people can pick it up, and there’s enough in “Green Lantern: Rebirth” for someone to pick it up who has never read “Green Lantern” and understand what’s happening. With “DC Universe: Rebirth,” it’s the same thing. If you have, like me, long boxes of DC Comics, you will be very happy. If you’ve never read a DC comic before, you won’t be too lost. This is definitely for comic book readers more than it is for casual readers, just like “Green Lantern: Rebirth,” but that doesn’t mean it’s exclusive of them.
For some new readers, “not too lost” doesn’t exactly sound like a deluxe welcome wagon. Getting the kind of excitement among non-DC readers that the New 52 achieved won’t be easy this time out; younger comics readers are interested in causes and creators that they feel a personal connection with. It’s very much the feeling Johns himself has with the Flash and Green Lantern; translating that to the new audience that DC needs might not be as easy when its based on a nostalgic legacy.
In another part of the interview, Johns says:
To build on what I’ve said before, I’ve got a lot of comics, I’ve read a lot of great stories, and one of the most compelling things about published, periodical comic books in a mainstream, comic book superhero universe, is that it’s part of a larger universe — and we’ve got a great story to tell about it. A big story.
A huge universe to learn can be fun and excited — or a daunting turn-off. There’s always a chance that this could be be yet another jumping off point for people. However, that said, DC is doing what every candidate running for president knows about in this election year: they’re rallying the base. Given the frankly dreadful sales trajectory of a lot of DC titles, this is a necessary move. Now, I’m not sure how big the base of 40-something DC readers with 60,000+ comics collections really is. But you gotta start somewhere and staying in the comfort zone of what they know how to do is probably a better idea at this point.
From tweets and exclusive announcements, you can guess that the creative teams for Rebirth won’t be as “out there” as the DCYou creators. Or maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised. WonderCon should be interesting.
Finally, props to DC for the roll-out of this. The ComicsPRO presentation, along with information released to news outlets and social media created a big buzz that got the word out. (Dennis Barger isn’t at ComicsPRO so there was no live tweeting from Bleeding Cool, alas.) And the only books that seemed to leak were actually phony—and thank god because they sounded kind of awful.
DC’s Rebirth rollout has people talking. And excited and curious. It’s already a success from that standpoint.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.