After weeks of speculation and teases, DC Comics has revealed its plans for its next major event: DC Rebirth.
Or, as chief creative officer Geoff Johns puts it: "It's not just an event, it's an ongoing mission for us." One thing DC isn't calling it though is a reboot, even though it appears set to realign DC continuity once again.
Everything kicks off in May, with the one-shot DC Comics Rebirth #1. Written by Johns and with art by Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Gary Frank and Phil Jimenez, the mammoth 80-page story -- most comics are only 20 per issue -- sees super-speedster The Flash at the forefront, bringing about a change that actually restores parts of the DC universe that were wiped out in 2011 as part of the New 52 reboot.
Let's back up for anyone not versed in comic book metaphysics: DC reboots its timelines a lot. Since Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986 -- an actually much-needed reboot that condensed dozens of alternate realities into one streamlined continuity -- there have been half a dozen other "event" stories that have massaged existence. Zero Hour, The Kingdom -- itself a sequel to the grim alternate future tale Kingdom Come -- Infinite Crisis, 52, and Final Crisis all went a bit "wibbly wobbly timey wimey", nudging history here and there, before Flashpoint threw the baby out with the bathwater and started the whole thing over from scratch.
Flashpoint lead to the aforementioned New 52, a linewide reboot where every series was cancelled and restarted from issue one. DC played loose with which previous stories now "counted" but it was eventually revealed that this was a whole new reality, with only broad similarities to what came before. That decision meant DC lost one of its richest narrative resources -- legacy. Unlike arch-rival Marvel, DC characters died or retired, with new characters taking up their mantles. Its pantheon dated back to the 1940s but in the New 52, superheroes only appeared for the first time five years before the first issues of the relaunched comics.
DC Rebirth is bringing that legacy back.
Whatever the events of the story, the outcome will be the return of the publisher's heritage. Classic heroes such as the Justice Society -- traditionally consisting of the first versions of the Flash, Green Lantern, Doctor Fate, Hawkman and more -- and the original Teen Titans are set to return, along with a host of other favourites lost in the New 52. It will also see Dick Grayson, the original Robin and currently an alias-free superspy, return to the costumed identity of Nightwing, while DC also teases a return of futuristic super-team The Legion of Super-Heroes.
"There are a ton of characters that people miss. That I miss," Johns told Comic Book Resources "You'll see a lot of them back, but with a story. I don't want to throw characters back in just to throw them back in. They have to have a purpose. A story that has to be told."
It's not just characters that are returning either. Action Comics and Detective Comics, DC's longest running titles, will regain their traditional numbering, resuming with issues #957 and #934, respectively. Presuming no further reboots, they will once again be on track to become the first American comics to reach their 1000th issues.
As with the New 52, all currently published titles will be cancelled and relaunched with a brand new issue one. Unlike the New 52 however, it's not a total sweeping of the decks -- rather than relaunching everything in one fell swoop, overwhelming readers and comic retailers alike, the new line will be rolled out over the remainder of 2016, with new comics launching in waves from June onwards. Almost every title will have a "Rebirth #1" special, likely establishing each characters' new status quo, before the regular series begin.
There are some surprises in the new line-up, too. Along with familiar titles such as Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman -- which are among a number of bigger name series which will now ship issues on a fortnightly rather than monthly basis -- there will be several curiosities. The Super-Man, Super Sons and Superwoman all teasing strange spinoffs for the Man of Steel, while niche characters such as Blue Beetle get the spotlight treatment again, and fan-favourites including Gotham Academy -- think Hogwarts in Batman's stomping grounds -- survive the rebirth.
Sadly, DC hasn't yet announced creative teams for any of the new titles yet, so we don't know who will actually be guiding the superheroes' new adventures. There are also some concerns regarding the titles not returning -- amongst those gone and not getting relaunched are Midnighter, Doctor Fate, Secret Six, Black Canary, and Catwoman, removing a good chunk of diversity when it comes to LGBT, non-white, and female characters. We'll have to wait until more details are revealed on the planned titles and the writers and artists involved to see how diverse the new-old DC Universe is.
Overall though, it seems like a positive move from DC. Fan response to the New 52 was largely negative and has never really warmed up for the line as a whole, though individual titles have won praise. If DC Rebirth isn't a wholesale reboot as Johns insists, it cleverly allows the publisher to bring back the best of its past, without losing face by completely backtracking on its 2011 change of direction -- a potential "win-win" for everyone involved.