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I Have A Lot of Conflicting Feelings About DC’s Rebirth Announcement

I was at DC’s big Rebirth announcement on Saturday (second row, natch!) and I’m full of mixed emotions and big prognostications. Stick with me here, but I think that one-hour presentation effectively epitomized all the weird conflicts and awkward contradictions at this particular moment in superhero comics: everything good & bad, pure & cynical, innovative & hopelessly regressive and backwards-looking.

Picture little old me, rolling up to WonderCon with my pro pass and a tape recorder. (Okay, it was my smartphone, but still.)

I was surrounded by diehard DC fans, reacting exactly the way that DC’s marketing department wanted them to: gasping and applauding and getting a little teary-eyed at all the right moments throughout the presentation.

The guy sitting beside me was wearing a beautifully detailed, movie-accurate Desert Batman costume. He’d already seen the new Batman V Superman movie twice and loved every minute of it. I explained that I hadn’t seen the movie yet, and that I hadn’t liked Man of Steel all that much (Confession: I was being admirably diplomatic. It’s the only movie that’s ever made me literally cry with disappointment). Desert Batman initially looked a little disappointed in me, but then we had a really nice conversation about Superman’s essential alienness and the paradoxical, miraculous nature of his humanity. Desert Batman Guy and I don’t have much in common as DC Comics fans, but we certainly agreed on that.

Anyway, the presentation started. Jim Lee and Dan DiDio introduced Rebirth, defining the event as a focused re-focusing on The Comics at a time when TV, movies, and video games are often stealing the spotlight.

There’s your first weird, contradictory, zeitgeist-y moment right there: announce a refocusing on The Comics, and then have said comic plugged onscreen by Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, and Gal Gadot, noted—get this—movie stars.

Anyhoo.

There was no serious acknowledgment that, in the past few years, line-wide reboots have not gone particularly well at the Big Two. Alternate timelines and universes are super-alienating to new fans. Promising runs get cut off just as they’re hitting their stride with readers. Multiplying series and events make it difficult to keep up—financially and emotionally. When DiDio started his opening remarks by literally asking the question, “Why Rebirth? Why now?”, I totally expected people to respond with a little sarcastic chuckle.

They did not. There was no sarcastic chuckle. Rebirth, as I learned on Saturday, is about looking forward with optimism, enthusiasm, and above all, earnestness.

Speaking as someone who just enjoyed 48 hours at a comic book convention, nerding out over her favorite stuff… Actually, scratch that. Speaking as someone who’s heard a sales pitch from the Church of Latter Day Saints, DC’s Rebirth announcement was a decidedly, almost unsettling, earnest affair.

There was an earnest, adoring slideshow of iconic characters and images throughout the history of DC comics (Also, a slideshow that skipped over some pretty significant milestones and characters from the last ten years… but I’ll get back to that later).

There was an earnest video montage of earnest comics fans and earnest creators talking about their favorite DC moments (Almost all of these fans and creators were white men, but I’ll also get back to that later).

DiDio spoke earnestly—and convincingly!—about his desire to “reconnect” with fans, to remind himself (and us) of “why [we] like comics so much… Sometimes you lose your way… lose your connection to the fans… and characters.”

Re-birth. Re-connect. Re-mind. Re-focus. These words and concepts were the theme of the announcement. All indicating, of course, that something had been lost, or missed, and that we needed to get it back again. Strangely, a lot of people spent over an hour making this claim without ever specifying what that thing was.

There’s something a little disingenuous about making that argument in a hall packed with happy, enthusiastic comic book fans. I mean, of course we love looking at iconic pictures of Batman. Of course we cheer when we see a cool Justice League re-design. Being a superhero nerd is all about those awesome, purely emotional moments of wonder and recognition and nostalgia. That crap’s our bread and butter.

But there’s a difference between earnest, loving nostalgia and an underhanded snipe at nerds who also want a better, more inclusive Big Two. We want DC to be great. They want to Make DC Great Again.

Basically, DC is moving forward—boldly, optimistically, and above all earnestly—by looking back. And how you feel about this new philosophy is probably a matter of your perspective on the New 52 and DC You relaunches. For all of its various shortcomings, the New 52 was designed to reach a wider range of readers through a wider range of books, characters, and artistic styles.

With that said, DiDio was overtly anti-New 52, explicitly blaming that relaunch for DC’s recent failures to “connect” with fans and characters.

I’m not claiming that they were perfectly executed publishing initiatives, but there’s something decidedly unsettling about the implication that New 52 and DC You—i.e. the youth-focused, diversity-conscious events—are to blame for some insidious lack of connection, or history, or focus. In a decade that’s seen the Big Two slowly, incrementally begin to catch up with the diversity and interests of younger readers, I’m not sure I care for the implication that DC’s bright future depends on putting everything back how it used to be, and reconnecting with “The Fans” (The million-dollar question, of course, is exactly how we’re supposed to understand DiDio and Lee when they talk about “The Fans”? Am I one of The Fans? I really loved The Movement, so I’m not sure sometimes).

And I’m not just making a political argument here—I’m making a financial one. DC is, of course, more than able to make decent money catering to the same old group of 40-year-old straight white guys. I’m just making an argument that there’s also money to be made by catering to what the rest of us want, too.

I don’t mean to suggest that DC’s not making some canny moves here. And I don’t mean to bury the lede (Crap. I may have buried the lede) because the Rebirth announcement also encompassed what I think is one of the smartest, boldest, and most exciting superhero publishing moves in years.

DC Rebirth is going to include fewer books. And they’re going to be cheaper—just $2.99 per issue, including the upcoming, 80-page Rebirth introductory volume.

This is how you bring in new readers. And this, markedly, is almost the mirror opposite of Marvel’s All New All Different direction, with its sky-rocketing prices and multiplying event titles.

So, here I am again, back at this strange feeling of contradiction.

I admire the savvy strategy of DC Rebirth’s new, more affordable, more focused lineup. It’ll probably be better for streamlined storytelling, easier for new readers, and more comforting to old-school Fans.

But here’s the thing about focusing: what are you choosing to focus on, and what are you leaving out?

Namely, there is a glaring, huge, utterly embarrassing disparity in the creative teams, and especially in the writing teams, that DC announced on Saturday. DC Rebirth’s writers are overwhelmingly white and male. Thank goodness for Amanda Conner and everything, but why is there not a single, solitary female writer on any male-led book? (Is this a company policy or something? Because it’s driving me up the darn wall.)

It’s not like there’s no diversity in the lineup. We’re down to two LGBTQ-led titles (Harley Quinn and Hellblazer), but at least we still have two. (Here’s glaring at you, Marvel.) Overnight sensation Midnighter is conspicuously absent, but rumor has it that he’ll be showing up in Nightwing’s book. Steve Orlando is assigned to Supergirl for a story about being an outsider and crossing cultures. Gene Yang is writing a cool-sounding Super-Man, reimagining Shanghai as a real-world Metropolis. In Green Lanterns, Sam Humphries is introducing rookie Green Lanterns (and new characters!!!) Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz. And John Semper is definitely onto something special with Cyborg that has him name-dropping Ray Kurzweil and contemplating real-world race relations in Chicago. Nobody mentioned it at the announcement, but the excellent DC Bombshells is still happening, albeit in its digital-first, alternate-continuity capacity.

So there are positives. DC teased us with some really cool-looking costume redesigns. There are some capable, proven teams being announced to these books. There will be, at the very least, some competent, dependable storytelling going on. I’m not going to lie: I’m curious about the Joker teaser (Watch the video if you’re not afraid of spoilers). I can’t wait to catch another glimpse of Carmine Di Giandomenico’s Flash. Julie and Shawna Benson are promising on Birds of Prey. Scott Snyder’s probably going to continue to be Scott Snyder (That’s a compliment, okay?). Wonder Woman is not—as briefly, deliciously rumored—being written by Marguerite Bennett, but at least she’s being drawn by Nicola Scott.

So there you have it. The good and the bad, the hopeful and the pessimistic, the old and the… well, it’s mostly old, isn’t it? Like I said, this is all about re-focus. It’s a matter of perspective. It’ll be interesting to see what gets re-invented, and what gets left behind entirely.


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