I don't post very often anymore (mostly because my thoughts about comics can be found on ESN.fm's Giant Size), but the post this site is most known for is this timeline of the creative quagmire which was the first year of DC's New 52 publishing initiative. It was a long time ago in comics' years (and things eventually stabilized, it seems), but the post still gets traffic, so in some kind of spirit of fairness, I thought I should give some attention to DC's latest line-wide shake-up -- DC Universe Rebirth.
In truth, DC took some great creative gambles immediately after Convergence, their last big cross-over event, trying out new titles like Prez, Cyborg, and Grayson. The sales just didn't follow. Some of this may have had to do with the fact that the Convergence mini-series was a dud, and the tie-in books were mostly weird hero-versus-hero two-parters that played strictly to the die-hard continuity nuts. The post-Convergence monthlies felt like baby steps towards what we're looking at now, which is a dedicated sales push to get people to actually read all the DC heroes again (and not just Batman).
It's honestly been refreshing hearing DC's execs admit that New 52 lost its way. Jim Lee, Dan DiDio, and Geoff Johns seemed to have awakened after some four year slumber to talk about making their books interesting again. Why they couldn't have done this exact thing from go is anyone's guess, but now they're saying the "right" things -- that legacy matters, that the characters have unique core strengths and characterizations worth exploring, that they are 100% committed to telling great stories.
Cool? Cool. And are the books any good? Yes. But first, a bit about the execution...I swear this isn't just grousing, but the launch, in modern DC fashion, is close to a complete clustercuss.
There is one event book titled DC Universe Rebirth, chronicling the return of the original caucasian Wally West (New 52 Wally is black and he's still around). Spoilers about the first issue went up the very second the book hit stores, but even without its meta twist ending, it's a satisfying emotional rollercoaster as West's incorporeal form attempts to remind the DCU of his existence. The second issue will bookend the launch of all the new monthly titles. Simple enough.
As for the rest, some books in the first wave got their very own Rebirth #1 and a new first issue, within two weeks of each other. Some did not. So, there's a book titled The Flash: Rebirth #1 and one that's just The Flash #1 but both have the DC Universe Rebirth branding on the cover. Good luck, retailers. Meanwhile, Action Comics didn't get a Rebirth #1 nor an Action #1, so #957 becomes the jump-on (because they are going to toot their horns so, so loud when that book gets to #1000). DC told everybody everything Rebirth is an excellent point to start reading. I get it; they got books to sell, but it's not wholly true.
Most of the Rebirth #1's are bridges for the last of the New 52 readers. The Rebirth #1's for Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Titans, and Green Lanterns are mostly connective tissue to get to their actual first issues. The Flash: Rebirth #1 is a retelling of DC Universe Rebirth #1 from Barry Allen's perspective of the events in that comic. That leaves Green Arrow: Rebirth #1 as the only book which treats its Rebirth issue as an actual first issue, which then creates its own headache when that means Green Arrow #1 is actually the second part of a story arc. Meanwhile, Detective and Action went back to the numbering they had before the New 52, just because.
Until I actually had all of the books in hand (and thank heavens for DCB packaging these as a group because there's no way I'd have figured this out on my own at the local shop), I didn't have any of this junk figured out. Beyond that confusion, I'm not sure it makes any kind of sales sense at all to front load the entire first wave with all of DC's heavy hitters (save for Justice League) and then leave the second and third waves to books like Superwoman, The Hellblazer and Red Hood and the Outlaws. You'd think they could've saved a Batman or a Superman monthly for the next couple of months' worth of releases, but what do I know. All the hype is focused on RIGHT NOW, and I sympathize with any creators whose books are left in the rocky wake of this initial push.
Now...Let's talk comics. My relationship with DC pre-Rebirth? I was reading more Vertigo than ever before (Art Ops, ftw), but that doesn't count. Other than the gravely disappointing new Swamp Thing mini (because I am a sucker for anything Swampy) and the first arc of Patrick Gleason's Robin: Son of Batman, I am not/was not reading any monthly DC books.
(Note: I'm only listing the artists on the monthlies, and not the one-shots.)
The Flash: Rebirth and The Flash #1
Writer: Josh Williamson (Ghosted, Nailbiter, Birthright, all from Image)
Artists: Carmine Di Giandomenico (X-Factor), with Ivan Placencia on colors.
The Flash is finally a book that fans of the TV show will recognize, which should make it easy to sell to the millions who are watching yet not reading the Scarlet Speedster's adventures. Di Giandomenico recalls the style of long-running Flash artist Scot Kolins, but it's the best elements of Kolins and not a direct aping. The Flash: Rebirth #1 has some hints at mysteries involving the Speed Force that will eventually affect the regular Flash book, I'm sure, so I'd recommend both if you're interested.
Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1 and Wonder Woman #1
Writer: Greg Rucka (Gotham Central, Black Magisk, Lazarus)
Artists for Wonder Woman #1: Liam Sharpe (Incredible Hulk), with Laura Martin on colors.
There's too much obvious hand-wringing in Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1, which attempts to reconcile every version of Wonder Woman by having her wonder to herself via captions why there are so many versions of her own story. If interested, skip ahead instead to Wonder Woman #1, which divides its time between a possible security leak that involves Steve Trevor (zzzz) and Wonder Woman's quest to find an answer to a mystery from an very unexpected source. Rucka is a top-of-the-line brand name creator, but these two issues feel hesitant and oddly stiff-legged. The final page of Wonder Woman #1 is a killer, but I can't say the whole book is. On the plus side, Rucka will be alternating between two storylines, with odd-numbered issues in the present (with Sharpe) and even-numbered issues in the past (with his Black Magick collaborator Nicola Scott).
Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1 and Green Lanterns #1
Writer for Green Lanterns #1: Sam Humphries (Citizen Jack, Star-Lord)
Artists for Green Lanterns #1: Robson Rocha (Earth 2) with Jay Leisten inking and "Blond" on colors.
Green Lanterns: Rebirth #1 is one of the more fulfilling bridges from the New 52 to Rebirth, helping provide some context for who the new Lanterns are (Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz, making Green Lanterns the only monthly superhero book with two minority leads) and what Lantern vet Hal Jordan expects of them. Green Lanterns #1 reads like a typical superhero first issue, throwing Cruz and Baz into the action and finding a new purpose for Atrocitus and the Red Lantern Corps as serious antagonists instead of anti-heroes. The overall tone is not dissimilar from the New 52 Lantern books, which pretty much sold just fine, so I guess they're not fixing what ain't broke in their eyes.
Superman: Rebirth #1 and Superman #1
Writer: Peter Tomasi (Batman & Robin)
Artist for Superman #1: Patrick Gleason (Batman & Robin), with Mick Gray inking and John Kalisz on colors.
Superman: Rebirth #1 is a difficult, as Tomasi and company work harder as house cleaners than comic book creators. They have to clarify a lot of info about the New 52's status quo, which included two different version of Superman (the young one from New 52 and the "original" post-Crisis Superman), before they can get to the good stuff. Superman #1 is the good stuff, with Tomasi and Gleason once again exploring the father-and-son heart that they did so splendidly with the New 52's underrated Batman & Robin. Clark and Lois have settled down and have a kid and now the kid is starting to feel his oats a little with his manifesting Kryptonian super powers. The first issue was very good; the one-shot can be skipped.
Action Comics #957 and #958
Writer: Dan Jurgens (Superman)
Artist: Patrick Zircher (Nightwing, Cable & Deadpool), with Tomeu Morey on colors.
So, the New 52 version of Superman is supposedly dead, which leaves an opportunity for Lex Luthor to declare himself Superman, which he does, until the other Superman (the post-Crisis one) comes around and causes conflict. And if that wasn't enough, Jurgens trots out Doomsday again. This is not significantly different from Jurgens' work on Superman in the 1990s, which means it is a completely solid Superman action book. The Doomsday stuff is a bit of a naked nostalgia grab, but it also feels "classic" at a time when DC could use a dose of classic, so all's fair.
Batman: Rebirth #1 and Batman #1
Writer: Tom King (Omega Men, Vision)
Artists on Batman #1: David Finch (Forever Evil, The Dark Knight), with Matt Banning inking and Jordie Bellaire on colors.
In the one-shot, King gives closure to a character from We Are Robin (who is never addressed by name, so count that as a fail on the new reader front) and introduces a new body horror take on Calendar Man. It's a bit of a thin read. Batman #1 is one lengthy, ludicrous action sequence wherein Batman attempts to divert the crash of a jumbo jet. Finch handles the action storytelling pretty well (it's almost charmingly overblown), but King's pacing leans decompressed. This first issue is fun enough and the last page hook is weird and compelling, but there's not a lot of story in here to be honest. Your enjoyment may vary.
Detective Comics #934 and #935
Writer: James Tynion IV (The Woods, Batman Eternal)
Artists: Eddy Barrows (Teen Titans), with Eber Ferreira inking and Adriano Lucas on colors.
Detective is now the "Gotham City" book, with Batman taking a side role to an ensemble that includes Batwoman, Red Robin, Spoiler, Cassandra Cain, and Clayface (!?). Batman's not even the leader really, instead entrusting Batwoman to come into her own and lead a team when they discover they're under the surveillance of a mysterious, high-tech militia. This feels very much like the Arkham series of video games in the way that it adds importance to Batman's cast as well as creating a threat that is both city-wide and personal (and faceless enough at this point to picture as video game beat 'em up fodder). By moving the focus away from Batman, ever so slightly, Tynion and Barrows have given Detective its own unique reason to exist other than being the "other" Batman monthly.
Titans: Rebirth #1
Writer: Dan Abnett (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Artists: Brett Booth (Backlash, Teen Titans), with Norm Rapmund inking and Andrew Dalhouse on colors.
Notable for introducing Wally West's latest costume, this issue finds Wally reaching out to individual members of the old Titans to make sure each one remembers who he is. Booth, a veteran of Wildstorm's Image heyday, is fine at leaping and punching, but not as great at the smaller character moments (I'm not convinced Booth has ever seen someone eat pizza), which this book has a ton of. One must assume this plays to the Titans hardcore geeks only, because its magic didn't work on me. There's a sameness to all of Wally's individual interactions with his former teammates, and with no over-arching conflict, there's also no drama. Titans #1 will be tough sell to newbies on the heels of this one-shot.
Aquaman: Rebirth #1 and Aquaman #1
Writer: Dan Abnett (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Artists on Aquaman #1: Brad Walker (Sinestro, Superman), with Andrew Hennessey inking and Gabe Eltaeb on colors.
If you read New 52's Aquaman #1, Aquaman: Rebirth #1 mimics that book's textual desire to tell you that the character is much more cool than you might think he is by reputation. You can't go to that well too many times because if you keep telling me that a lot of people perceive him as lame but wow he's totally not, I'm going to wonder why you're doing that instead of letting me decide on his cool factor for my own self. So, moving on to Aquaman #1, we get into the meat of this new brightly colored monthly, with Aquaman and Mera running a sort of Atlantean cultural exchange center called Sundrift Station. Mera is a big part of this relaunch, and I'm glad because I walked away from Johns' run on Aquaman totally sold on Mera as a valuable, badass woman in the DCU. And who doesn't like Black Manta (besides Aquaman)? This isn't going to set Aquaman's corner of the DCU on fire, but it's a Perfectly Acceptable Aquaman Comic Book™ and that's okay too.
Green Arrow: Rebirth #1 and Green Arrow #1
Writer: Benjamin Percy (Detective Comics)
Artists: Otto Schmidt (The Korvac Saga)
I saved the most surprising Rebirth book for last. I've never read Green Arrow on a regular basis, but I have an affinity for the character and an idea of who Ollie Queen is; one that doesn't jibe with the version of Queen we see on Arrow. The New 52 followed Arrow's lead for a while, and that makes business sense, but I really like old-school cantankerous bleeding-heart Ollie. This is that. Percy has a great handle on what makes Queen tick (and what makes him a contradiction), and he gets to do Green Arrow and Black Canary for the "first" time, since the two haven't had a romance since the launch of the New 52. It is all great fun. Schmidt's work is beautiful from top to bottom, and just like that Green Arrow is elevated to the top of DC's line. Good job, folks.
All in all, Rebirth is stable. Storytelling fundamentals and overall quality books shouldn't have to be an "event,' but you have to get attention where you can. This isn't clearing the table in the way New 52 did, but so far, Rebirth is a rare moment when a corporation says "We've listened and we want to address the problems." For this longtime DC fan, that means something. We'll see where it goes. I'm optimistic.