Although the stories and good work of DC Rebirth are likely to continue, today’s release of Damage #1—the first book of DC’s fresher initiative, New Age of DC Heroes—marks a next phase for the publisher, similar to how the New 52 segued into DC You.
There are plenty of questions about this new phase, including whether the books will last, whether the superstar artists will stay past the early issues, and whether the publisher is forgetting that Rebirth succeeded by paring down and simplifying its line. These discussions are likely to continue long into the coming weeks and months, but, in our opinion, what they boil down to is whether DC is risking throwing away what worked in Rebirth for the sake of newer books.
With that in mind, we think it’s important to look at what worked best in Rebirth. The New 52 was unwieldy and inconsistent, and by the end of its run it sold poorly and failed to generate even passing interest in some of the greatest characters in comics.
Part of why DC Rebirth became such a critical and commercial success was that it took a long view and went back to basics, rehabilitating the universe and the publisher. Our list today looks at which characters and books benefited most from this. You won’t find Batman or Justice League, or any of the handful of other books that were doing just fine at the end of the New 52. No, what we’re discussing is which heroes and titles went from dysfunctional and forgotten, to books we now look forward to each Wednesday.
Superman / Action Comics
Superman is a great place to start. I was enjoying some of the work being done with the character toward at the end of New 52 by creators like Greg Pak and Gene Luen Yang (whose excellent New Super Man would be on this list if it wasn’t entirely new), but a problem was that Superman had undergone too major of a reimagining at the start of the New 52. Basically, of all the characters in the DC Universe, it was easiest to think of New 52 Superman as something entirely separate from the character we’d known.
Perhaps most frustrating was the loss of his romance with Lois, foundational as it was to the mythology for so many fans, both in comics and the mainstream. Considering this alone, it’s no surprise to me that bringing back the pre-Flashpoint Superman, as well as his family, has been foundational for Rebirth. That move sums up the initiative’s back-to-basics approach, as well as its deliberate decisions to preserve old continuity that had seemingly been lost (ahem, like red-headed Wally West).
Lastly, while I know others have consistently cited differences in quality between Superman and Action Comics, I haven’t seen that. I think Superman opened stronger, and that Gleason and Tomasi are a great team, but Action has also done some interesting things under one of the best Superman writers of all time, Dan Jurgens. I don’t separate them much in my head, not the way I do Batman (solo book) and Detective Comics (team book), even though I know Superman generally focuses on Clark and his family. Don’t @ me, I like it all!
Super Sons being next gives us a natural transition, because half of this two-hero team didn’t even exist at the start of the New 52 (that half being the current iteration of Superboy, Jonathan Kent). To be blunt, I love all things Super Sons. This book takes the classic Batman-Superman dynamic and boils it down into volatile and childish pre-teen form (is Damian 13 now? hey! stop being a stickler, you’re losing sight of what matters). It does a great job with humor and the heart strings, and Jorge Jiménez’s art here is among the best in superhero books right now, if not THE best.
Super Sons pulls double duty, appealing to what I’ve long seen as the two sides of the comic fan coin: kids looking for escape, and adults looking for escape from the pressures of having kids, or, in my personal case, preparing to have kids. With this book, you get all the teen hijinx, and you get characters you grew up with, Batman and Superman, in the background learning to be dads. This is a really special book, and I’m far from the first to say this, but I hope Brian Michael Bendis taking over writing duties on Superman soon does not disturb this title.
Green Arrow is an odd book when discussed in the context of Rebirth, as it kept the same writer from the New 52 and still seemed to undergo a significant increase in quality. My theory is that Benjamin Percy, a fantastic novelist and short story writer (who I actually was lucky enough to meet at a writer’s workshop several years ago and can attest that he’s also a nice guy), took over Green Arrow so late into the New 52 run, that Rebirth was practically on the horizon, about 18 months away, thus limiting what Percy was able to do at that time with the title. Also, when Percy came onto Green Arrow, the book was in a weird place, having been forced into a closer approximation of the CW show Arrow, which, love it or hate it, is a far cry from the Oliver Queen of the comics. My suspicion is that he wanted to go straight back to basics all along, but was told to save his ideas.
He’s said in interviews that he wanted to bring back Ollie’s relationship with Black Canary and was told to wait, which corroborates my theory. In the early days of Rebirth, Green Arrow was described by many as the biggest surprise, but I think if you read Percy’s very first (and best) New 52 arc, you see all the qualities that have made the new book such a success, ie the cultural commentary, the distinct sense of place, the top-notch villainy. The only thing that seems to have changed in Rebirth is the guidance and backing from editorial, which kudos to DC for recognizing what it had and not dumping Percy off the book just to stir up some hype.
Green Lanterns / Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps
The Green Lantern concept is almost tailor-made for today’s comic market, particularly the idea that holders of the ring are members of an ancient intergalactic police force, which allows DC to bring in new Lanterns without a major deal being made about honoring legacy or whatever. That concept, however, wasn’t being used effectively enough toward the end of New 52, with the Green Lantern corner of the universe being dominated almost exclusively by Hal Jordan.
Both of the Lantern books in Rebirth are among my absolute favorites in the line, and they take arguably the biggest risks in concept. Baz and Cruz as rookie Green Lanterns is certainly a new one, while Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps. Feels so grandiose and liberated, so creatively untethered that it at times reads like it was written by a bunch of comic fans sitting around saying, dude you know what would be awesome? And I mean that as a huge compliment. Both Sam Humphries and Robert Venditti have done awesome work with the Lanterns, and Tim Seeley’s stuff after trading Nightwing to Humphries for Green Lanterns has been promising as well, particularly his early characterizations of Simon and Jessica, the latter of whom has quickly become one of my favorite Lanterns.
Deathstroke by Christopher Priest is one of those books that has been so good it’s hard for me to write about without sound like—excuse my language—a kiss ass. After a convoluted start (which paid off for careful readers, I can attest to that after revisiting it for this piece), Priest has elevated this book to a rare place for superhero fiction. Deathstroke feels at once accessible and complex, rooted in the new continuity of the character as well as his past with the Teen Titans while at the same time also pushing forward with fantastic new ideas, like Defiance.
I read an interview where Priest, who was essentially out of monthly comics when he got the call for Rebirth, said that for a long time he used to get calls from DC or Marvel asking him to write a character, one that was always a person of color, and he would refuse them. Priest told CBR that somehow overtime he’d gone from being a writer to being just a black writer. When DC called to ask him to right Deathstorke, he had to double check and ask them if the character was black. When they said no, he said keep talking.
And for us fans, it’s a great thing they did. Priest, who’d been out of monthly comics for almost a decade, is now writing Justice League, arguably DC’s biggest book behind Batman. This anecdote about Priest, and the incredible stories that have grown from it, is really encouraging as this new initiative moves forward. It suggests DC is determined to recognize and reward good work, and to also hold onto its talent. The rise of Priest’s stock within the company in lieu of one of the best solo Deathstroke stories of all-time shows that the publisher seems to have learned from some of its past snafus with talent, as well as from some of its stumbles with managing its books, and that it is now hyper aware of what it has to learn from past mistakes. It is indeed a new age at DC.