Full disclosure: I ate the donuts. Donuts shaped like “D” and “C” were being handed out in droves during seating. I grabbed two C’s and came to terms with the loss of my journalistic integrity as I wolfed those puppies down. The third and final nail in the coffin came when I eagerly accepted a Rebirth lithograph signed by Jim Lee on the way out the door. As a fan, I was excited. As a journalist, I was worried about having gotten donut on my favorite button-up shirt.
What is there to say about the DC Rebirth press conference at WonderCon that you couldn’t have found out from reading CBR’s exceptional, up-to-the-minute panel write-ups, the now available online preview catalog, or from my Twitter feed as I viciously live-tweeted each creative team announcement? The broad details are that Jim Lee, Dan Didio, and Geoff Johns came up to talk around the New 52 being a mistake and using Rebirth as “the next chapter” by which they would rededicate themselves to the fans and characters alike. In practice, that ended up looking mostly like fixing some bum costume designs and bringing back some elements that long time readers have been missing since the New 52’s tabula rasa.
Nightwing’s costume being blue doesn’t have any bearing on what the quality of that comic is going to be but there was still a large pop for the revelation that it was coming back along with some strong laughs from the crowd when Didio and company alluded to his many attempts to “kill” the character over the years. Geoff Johns delivered some unexpected shade against five years’ worth of creative teams when he declared that “every great Green Arrow story has a great goatee.” The intention was clear: DC Comics as an entity is looking to recapture the audience they feel they may have lost with the DC You initiative’s attempt to branch out towards different audiences. Along with the throwback costumes and old dynamics, the double-shipping of 17 titles starring “core characters” is a shot at squeezing out more money from a segment of the fan base that will buy books like Batman and Detective Comics twice a month at $2.99. These books already have built-in rotating art teams that were said to have been chosen for their complimentary styles so, if a reader is willing to accept that these double-shipping books may not be reflective of a unified creative team, they may end up sporadically consistent. For everyone else, there are 14 monthly titles to choose from.
The dedication to once again “holding the line” at $2.99 is nice to see as a reader with the biggest announcement about that being that the 80-page DC Universe: Rebirth Special will come in at that $2.99 price point. Of course, that will drop May 25th after DC Comics has already published several oversized and overpriced #50s and #52s. For myself, I only became excited over a single bi-monthly book: Wonder Woman written by Greg Rucka with Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott drawing alternating issues that tell different stories. If readers don’t want to read the contemporary issues drawn by Sharp, they can pick the book up once a month for the six issues of Scott’s Wonder Woman: Year One (which, it should be noticed, is promising considering Rucka may be utilizing his work on Wonder Woman: Earth One before he was booted off unceremoniously in favor of Grant Morrison).
Rucka brings us to another aspect of this Rebirth conference: the talent. Specifically, who was chosen to write and draw certain comics. Before the press conference, writer and Scott Snyder protégé Marguerite Bennett was rumored to be pitching for Wonder Woman but launched a Patreon campaign just before the press conference where she mentioned having recently “lost a major project.” Even if one thinks Rucka writes a better comic than Bennett can, it’s still indicative of an approach favoring what has worked previously with a former company man who has written the book previously getting the job over a younger, female writer who may have brought something new to the project. The readers and the press don’t know what these pitches looked like (or if Bennett was pitching at all) but they do know how the situation looks from the outside.
The press conference wasn’t a He-Man Women Haters’ Club, though. There was a palpable surge through the crowd when DC introduced the first team of creators, those assigned to the Bat-books, took to the stage with Hope Larson and Julie & Shawna Benson. Yes, Larson and the Bensons were on Batgirl and Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, respectively; it’s a victory for including women in the writing of female characters but also a bit of a bummer because sometimes it’d be nice to see women writing the big male characters more often. This is Larson and Claire Roe (the artist on the Benson’s monthly Batgirl and the Birds of Prey) first superhero work which is nice to see as an element on what so largely felt like an event geared towards bringing out a lot of familiar, male creators at the start.
So, yeah, there was some disappointment when the Superman and Wonder Woman crews came out together (starting with four and going to five) with all of them there being men. Dan Jurgens is a writer that seems to have held on to what readers liked about his work years ago so it’s hard to be too upset with him being handed the reins to Action Comics especially with it going back to the original numbering. This is just what it looks like when you return to what worked in the past.
The real excitement was seeing Steve Orlando take the stage with the Superman crew. Orlando is newer to DC Comics, currently close to wrapping up his run on Midnighter (DC’s first solo ongoing title with a gay male lead), but he’s signed an exclusive contract with them and will be writing Supergirl. It’s a bummer to see the diversity in the publishing line take a hit with the loss of Midnighter but the value in having an openly bisexual writer like Orlando being brought into the fold in such a way is still immense. When speaking to him on the floor, Orlando noted that readers could expect some thematic similarities between Midnighter and Supergirl but, “there will be no decapitations in Supergirl.”
Similar to the excitement in seeing that Steve Orlando sticking around was the presence of more newcomers to DC Comics, Sam Humphries and John Semper. They’re both writers who have built a career for themselves away from the publisher, Humphries over at Marvel as well as his self-publishing and Semper in the realm of animation. Humphries will be picking up Green Lanterns, a book starring two leads who are people of color (Geoff Johns creations Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz), and teased this “Lethal Weapon with alien technology” even further in an interview after the press conference with the vague but evocative phrase “Hell Tower.” Semper teased his book, Cyborg, with one word at the press conference: “Soul.” He’s writing a book about a young black man living in Detroit who is also living in a state referred to as “the singularity” which Semper illustrated with a hypothetical scene in which Cyborg reveals he has heard every recorded song in existence.
Generally, there was something or someone to be pleased with in each presentation of a “family” of books. James Tynion IV, another openly bisexual writer, will be writing Detective Comics with the original numbering in contrast to Dan Jurgens of the Old Guard writing Action Comics. He spoke enthusiastically at the DC booth later when discussing the mandate to take the book to new and exciting places that stem from returning the characters to their “iconic core” his book. Tynion also took to describing the first scene of his “Gotham boot camp” Detective Comics:
“You see a figure running down an alleyway and you realize that figure is Azrael. You see a bat-shaped character in pursuit and you see that character take Azrael down brutally. And then you see Batman arrive at the scene. You don’t know who that person who took him down is.”
Amanda Conner being signed exclusive to DC as she and Jimmy Palmiotti undergo the transition from writing a monthly to a twice monthly comic was a strong move, ensuring that Conner will be drawing at least three books a year for the company in addition to her writing. When talking with her, she was enthusiastic about the possibility of popping in to draw the zanier Harley one-shots that tend to crop up throughout the year around events like San Diego Comic-Con.
It was also a welcome relief to see Gene Luen Yang among the creators brought to the stage in order to discuss his book New Super-Man where he’ll be able to combine his interest in Chinese culture with his love of Superman. Yang being brought onto the main Superman titles months ago was a decision that was praised unilaterally as he’s a phenomenal comics creator who has reached an immense audiences with American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints. Didio sounded pleased with Yang at the conference, referring to him as an ambassador of sorts for comics to a wider audience, and there was an infectious energy to hearing Yang described “taking an ideal and playing with it in a new cultural context” thanks to the book’s newly created Chinese protagonist. Being given the opportunity to create new character on a new title after a somewhat rocky run with the character that built DC Comics is a tremendous show of faith in Yang’s work.
The people creating the books speak well, they speak quickly and excitedly; they seem to believe in the work that they are doing.
The creative teams don’t look bad. There are teams that look good, teams that look bad, and some that overlap in that diagram to create a category for those that look like the same thing we’ve already been getting. I’m ostensibly the audience for books like Green Arrow and Aquaman and I’d like to check out Christopher Priest on Deathstroke because that’s something people definitely weren’t expecting to see. He’s a relatively big get which made the throw-away reveal of his presence in the line-up during the rapid fire display of all the books without a “family” to belong to an odd note to end on.
The press conference seems to have been a success but it won’t be until DC’s sales numbers for June and the staggered releases afterwards come in that the success of Rebirth can be properly gauged. DC You, launched after a middling event series that only succeeded in giving the publisher room in their schedule to move across the country, seemed to have been declared a failure before the first round of story arcs had been completed with Rebirth being announced before a single trade collection was released. Will this be the success that gives DC Comics a much needed shot in the arm?
Don’t ask me. I don’t know. I cheered for Nightwing being blue and Green Arrow growing a goatee. I ate the donuts.
You can listen to the entirety of my brief, 2-5 minute interviews with creators after the Rebirth press conference stitched together here. Also, I’d be remiss to not mention the fantastic work by Clark Bull and the rest of DC Comics’ publicity team in wrangling creators and press alike amid the chaos of that day. Those men and women do good work.
(In order of speaking we have: Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, Sam Humphries and Robert Venditti, James Tynion IV and Tim Seeley, and Tom King.)