DC: Reboot, No, Relaunch, I Mean Rebirth

DC recently announced its don’t-call-it-a-reboot-even-though-it-totally-is multi-universe event, “Rebirth.” Everyone I’ve talked to had reactions ranging from “again?” to “no, please don’t” to “*sigh*.” On the face of it the very notion of a relaunch sounds like something full of thrilling potential, but in reality we’re probably looking at a redux of the mess spawned from the New 52 a few years back. So far the only real positive I can glean from the whole thing is that the Finches won’t keep ruining Wonder Woman anymore…

Assuming DC continues to be risk-averse and won’t make many major changes in terms of their characters’ gender, race, or sexual identity, diversity in “Rebirth” will likely be as dire as usual. Of the 32 new titles and 23 “Rebirth” specials being released, 9 star women (of those, 3 involve Batgirl and 2 are Supergirl stories). If the promo is anything to go by, Green Lantern will be a woman, but since Hal Jordan is getting his own title she’ll probably be stuck with the rest of the Corps as a teammate rather than taking a leading role. Only 2 titles star a person of color: Cyborg. If they go with Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle, we’ll have 2 more titles, but still no women of color. As for queer characters, I hope you like John Constantine because his 2 titles are it, folks.

Batgirl, Black Canary, and Gotham Academy are pretty much the only DC titles currently aimed squarely at young women, and that focus comes mostly from the directions their creative teams have taken, rather than tradition handed down by the publisher. (Remember the battle that ensued from DC pushing that awful “Killing Joke” variant on the Fletcher/Stewart/Tarr iteration of Batgirl? Exactly.) And Catwoman, Midnighter, and Constantine are DC’s only solo titles starring queer characters. Not that Catwoman, Midnighter, or Black Canary matter anymore, anyway, since they’re all on the “Rebirth” chopping block. We don’t know enough about the production teams on any of the upcoming issues, but if trends hold things will still be far from balanced in terms of either racial or gender makeup.

For a full list of the DC Rebirth titles, skip to the end of the article.

Diversity will probably improve on the character team front, but as a minority all this tells me is that I’m allowed to participate, but not lead. DC doesn’t lack diversity per se, but it does seem reluctant to grow its diversity beyond tokenism. Look, I’m a queer woman of color. I’ve long accepted that the chances of having someone like me star in their own series are slim, but I know that of the Big Two, Marvel will get to it years before DC and with better success. (No, The Question doesn’t count. A solo title means not having to share the spotlight.) “Rebirth” only reinforces this. DC’s un-reboot feels like it’s simply a continuation of half-assed attempts at representation in the least meaningful ways possible by largely relegating non-white, non-male, non-straight characters to teams and supporting cast.

Think of “Rebirth” as an attempt to get a do-over with the New 52. Instead of launching everything all at once and overloading the audience, DC will stagger fewer new titles over a few months, presumably leaving room to add more planned (but not announced) titles in the future if all goes well. Issue price will drop from $3.99 to $2.99, but since a lot of titles are moving to a bi-monthly format, many readers will actually pay more instead of less. In other words, expect to be just as inundated as you were with the New 52, but in more concentrated doses. I’m already exhausted at the thought of having to keep up with two issues a month and “Rebirth” hasn’t even launched yet. My excitement over new Supergirl has been drastically diminished by my wallet having a pre-release panic. Despite what the company seems to believe, the problem with DC isn’t quantity but quality.

Adding a Supergirl series is a no-brainer. Frankly, DC should’ve launched one months ago to coincide with the premiere of the TV show. Even if the show’s ratings were weak—and with a fairly level 7+ million viewers per episode, CBS isn’t worried—the comic book and TV show would, by default, market one another. I’m not a religious Supergirl viewer (mostly because CBS makes it obnoxiously difficult to watch in any way other than live viewing) yet I, like many other fans of the show, went straight to my shop shortly after the premiere looking to dive into the comic books only to be left disappointed. Once again DC leaves money on the table. I dunno, maybe they think girls have cooties or something? We’re ready and willing to spend money, just give us something worth buying! At least they’re looking ahead by releasing Suicide Squad and Harley Quinn in time for the movie. On the other hand, we have to wait until summer for Wonder Woman, thus deflating much of the interest sure to be generated by Batman vs. Superman.

What “Rebirth” does, intentionally or otherwise, is reinforce the divide between trufans and the rest of us. Geoff Johns, the Chief Creative Officer pushing “Rebirth,” said in an interview: “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.” No, Johns, I don’t have long boxes of DC comics. I wasn’t lost with the Green Lantern Rebirth storyline, but I don’t care about it either. Nor do I care about the world’s greatest heroes having epic battles with the world’s greatest villains.

I jumped onto Grayson, Batgirl, Constantine: The Hellblazer, Midnighter, Gotham Academy, Catwoman, and Black Canary because of the shift away from that tradition. I want to see Batgirl take on petty hipster criminals and Midnighter bucking stereotypes. I want a Muslim Supergirl and female Flash and for Batwoman to finally marry Maggie. I want DC to take a cue from Marvel and hire creators like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kate Leth, or G. Willow Wilson. They need an America Chavez, Lunella, Kamala Khan, Carol Danvers, Miles Morales, Sam Wilson, Jane Foster, or Amadeus Cho.

Part of the reason Constantine: The Hellblazer (Ming Doyle and Riley Rossmo), Midnighter (Steve Orlando and Aco), Batgirl (Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart, and Brendan Fletcher), Grayson (Tom King, Tim Seeley, and Mikel Janin), and Black Canary (Brendan Fletcher and Annie Wu) are so much fun is because of the creative teams helming them. As one of those “casual readers” of DC that Johns and co. are so dismissive of, I’d rather see how certain creators and teams reinvigorate specific characters, rather than blindly following characters around just because they’re there. A publisher-wide overhaul that separates creative teams and characters that I like having paired together precisely because they ignored DC’s grimdark, un-diverse rules doesn’t bode well for my already lackluster DC purchases.

The key term for all this “Rebirth” talk is “legacy”: “But there are a lot of things in there that I think are unique to the DC Universe, and really need to be pushed back to the forefront. The world’s greatest heroes and the world’s greatest villains. The epic stories. The expanding mythology. The obscure and legacy characters getting their due alongside the classics. And then, the new and unexpected. The surprising. Inspiration. Threats. Miracles.” Johns and I apparently have very different ideas about DC. All that sprawling legacy he thinks needs to be brought back I see as already there. It’s so present that it’s what’s kept me from reading much DC (well, that and their shameful lack of diversity).

Moreover, given what’s been announced, DC has a very strange definition of the word “obscure.” Nearly two-thirds of the “Rebirth” titles are directly or indirectly tied to Superman or Batman. The Blue Beetle is about as back catalog as it gets. “Rebirth” the relaunch was inspired by the storylines of the same name from the Flash and Green Lantern back in the early and late aughts by, you guessed it: Geoff Johns. Of course he’s jazzed about this new announcement. Anything less than effusive praise would be akin to hating on his own DC legacy. Anyway, the two Rebirths were meant to tidy up the sprawling mythologies of the Flash and Green Lantern, and that’s exactly what DC intends to do across its platform. What makes the whole thing so off-putting to me is that rather than do something creative and representational with the mythology, it doubles down on an inherently exclusive tradition.

Ultimately, I’m not sure what the point of “Rebirth” is, other than PR. The end result will firm up what is already omnipresent while simultaneously pushing away casual and new readers. If DC really wants to reboot/relaunch/rebirth its universe, going back to the classics is the opposite way to do it. They need to push tradition out the window and take bold chances. They need writers and artists who can bring in new and casual fans and keep them hooked. They need to breathe new life into old characters in inventive and diverse ways. Retreating back to legacy to appease a shrinking number of fanboys isn’t just dumb, it’s a poor business model. As DC entrenches itself deeper into legacy, the rest of the world passes it by. I’m not the only one whose frustration with DC is increasing, if the sales for January 2016 mean anything.

There’s a real opportunity for DC to make a change in what and how they publish, but “Rebirth” isn’t it. Nothing I’ve seen so far indicates that’s where DC is going, which brings me back to “why?” Right now I only buy DC through cheapo used trades or Comixology, but once “Rebirth” comes around it’s doubtful I’ll even be doing that. Good thing there are plenty of Image and Marvel offerings ready to take my money.

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.


“Rebirth” Specials schedule

June

  • Aquaman Rebirth #1
  • Batman Rebirth #1
  • The Flash Rebirth #1
  • Green Arrow Rebirth #1
  • Green Lanterns Rebirth #1
  • Superman Rebirth #1
  • Titans Rebirth #1
  • Wonder Woman Rebirth #1

July

  • Batgirl & The Birds Of Prey Rebirth #1
  • Hal Jordan & The Green Lantern Corps Rebirth #1
  • The Hellblazer Rebirth #1
  • Justice League Rebirth #1
  • Nightwing Rebirth #1
  • Red Hood & The Outlaws Rebirth #1

Fall/TBA

  • Batman Beyond Rebirth #1
  • Blue Beetle Rebirth #1
  • Cyborg Rebirth #1
  • Deathstroke Rebirth #1
  • Earth 2 Rebirth #1
  • Suicide Squad Rebirth #1
  • Supergirl Rebirth #1
  • Teen Titans Rebirth #1
  • Trinity Rebirth #1

 

New Titles

June

  • Aquaman #1 (bi-monthly)
  • Batman #1 (bi-monthly)
  • The Flash #1 (bi-monthly)
  • Green Arrow #1 (bi-monthly)
  • Green Lanterns #1 (bi-monthly)
  • Superman #1 (bi-monthly)
  • Wonder Woman #1 (bi-monthly)
  • Action Comics #957 (bi-monthly)
  • Detective Comics #934 (bi-monthly)

July

  • Batgirl #1 (monthly)
  • Batgirl & The Birds Of Prey #1 (monthly)
  • Hal Jordan & The Green Lantern Corps #1 (bi-monthly)
  • The Hellblazer #1 (monthly)
  • Justice League #1 (bi-monthly)
  • Nightwing #1 (bi-monthly)
  • Red Hood & The Outlaws #1 (monthly)
  • The Super-Man #1 (monthly)
  • Titans #1 (monthly)

Fall/TBA

  • Batman Beyond #1 (monthly)
  • Blue Beetle #1 (monthly)
  • Cyborg #1 (bi-monthly)
  • Deathstroke #1 (bi-monthly)
  • Earth 2 #1 (monthly)
  • Gotham Academy: Next Semester #1 (monthly)
  • Harley Quinn #1 (bi-monthly)
  • Justice League America #1 (bi-monthly)
  • Suicide Squad #1 (bi-monthly)
  • Supergirl #1 (monthly)
  • Superwoman #1 (monthly)
  • Super Sons #1 (monthly)
  • Teen Titans #1 (monthly)
  • Trinity #1 (monthly)

 

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