Next week's DC Universe: Rebirth #1 one-shot may give a story reason for the changes coming this summer at DC — as DC combines the spirit of its post-Crisis universe with the “New 52” — but there are also a few business reasons for the continuity shift and what comes after.
Not only is DC rolling out new #1 issues, trying to get new eyes and "returned" readers to its line-up, but they're switching to twice-monthly titles for their best-selling characters, putting expanded teams of writers and artists on each book to make sure they come out in a timely, twice-monthly schedule.
The company's marketing for Rebirth is also an admission that "something's missing" in the “New 52” universe, the rebooted continuity that launched in 2011 and made their characters younger and less experienced, while also eliminating several fan-favorite concepts from the past.
Newsarama talked with DC Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee about some of these business reasons for the changes to the DC line, how Rebirth "synchronizes and harmonizes pre-52 with New 52 continuity" according to Lee, and how the elimination of the Crisis on Infinite Earths finale opened the door to eliminating all the major "stops and starts" of the DCU.
Newsarama: Dan and Jim, with Rebirth being such a status quo-changing event, are you seeing this as something the “New 52” needs to move on? One of the tag lines was that "something's missing" from the “New 52.” Was that the way the “New 52” felt, and what brought about Rebirth?
Jim Lee: I think as exciting as the “New 52” was, it didn't address certain elements that were very unique and identifiably DC. And I think over the years, as we moved the “New 52” forward, we realized we were missing an opportunity by overlooking things like legacy and generations and the things that were hallmarks of the DC Universe.
So what that allows us to do is talk again about, was there a Justice Society?
Talk again about a multi-generation of heroes and sidekicks.
And in a way, this was all there before Flashpoint, before the “New 52.”
Geoff came up with this brilliant story that basically allows us to seat the “New 52” within the continuity that preceded it.
So it really synchronizes and harmonizes pre-52 with “New 52” continuity, I think in an elegant way that allows, I think, long-time fans to have their cake and eat it too, and all the new fans that we got through the “New 52” to keep up with the fact that the universe is continuing to grow and evolve and is exciting and new.
Dan DiDio: You know, as an overarching plan, it really was about trying to find ways to align all the storytelling, to bring it all in to some sort of harmony.
It felt like we had these cold starts and stops in the DC Universe, but it's all one, continuous universe moving forward.
Nrama: Yeah, speaking of starts and stops, let's talk about Convergence, which had a surprise ending where the Crisis on Infinite Earths was basically erased from current history. That eliminated one of the best-known "start and stop" moments from DC history. How important was that to kind of open the doors for Rebirth? Were you not only trying out this idea of eliminating the "starts and stops," but also dipping your toe into the potential for the post-Crisis characters and concepts in today's market?
Dan DiDio: Yeah, on a character-by-character basis, what Rebirth is really doing is getting them back to the core concepts of what makes those characters great. We did some exploration of that with Convergence. We did looks back into periods of time that people remember very fondly.
But here, what we're doing is really extracting what we think are the great characteristics, or the essence of these characters that makes them great, and in doing so, really finding a way to connect with as many fans as possible of DC.
Nrama: One of the biggest changes coming with Rebirth is that you have several of your key books shipping twice a month. Can you explain where that idea came from? Is that because of the success you've had with the weeklies?
DiDio: Yeah, there are a couple of things at work here. We've had incredible success with the weekly series, since the original series 52. And what I like to say very proudly is that we've never shipped a weekly book late — ever — for the number of series we've done over all these years.
And what we wanted to do is focus on our core characters, the ones that sell better, and really get people re-invested in them, and deliver these stories in a slightly quicker manner, twice monthly, so that we can be more engaging.
I mean, at the end of the day, we look at things like a Batman series of something like Gotham by Midnight. And I loved Gotham by Midnight, but it never got the sampling that a Batman book would. But if we did that Gotham by Midnight story and integrated it into the Batman series that was shipping twice monthly, there was a better chance for people to see those characters, get excited by those characters, and more importantly, if we ever decided to thin them out, maybe we'd have a stronger audience and a better chance for series like that to succeed.
But going back to the scheduling part of it, as I said, we've never shipped a weekly book late, and what we're doing now is we've got communities working on books — one or two writers, two to three artists, working on a twice-monthly shipping series. And by doing that, they all take ownership of the series. So if somebody's not able to maintain the schedule, someone else can step in and help them move it further.
And editorial's working further in advance than they've ever done before, in the plotting of these books. And our goal is to make sure that we don't ship any of these twice-shipping books late at all.
When we launched the “New 52,” one of our greatest achievements is that every book shipped on time, with the exception of two books coming one week late. We want to make sure we achieve that same level of success with our schedule, because it's important for us, if we're making a commitment for a book to be on the shelf at a particular time, we need to have that book there. It's a commitment to our fans, if they're coming into a store, to find a book on a particular day. That book should be there.
I also think it's an interesting testing of the waters. We live in an era of binge-watching and immediate access to all the content you could want. And accelerating on series that people want to read and buy, I think it will be interesting to see how the audience and the retailers embrace it as we go forward.
Nrama: It's interesting to hear you put it that way, that you're waiting to see how they embrace it. Was there any discussion of whether you might be spreading your key brands a little too far, and causing some type of fatigue with readers? Did you take that into account?
DiDio: We're putting out, I believe, just as many or slightly less Batman product, with the double ships. What we did was eliminate some of the lower ranked titles, and we're trying to incorporate those ideas into the main books themselves, because we feel that makes the main books stronger, Fatigue only occurs if the stories aren't good.
We're hoping the quality of the material carries the day, moving all these series forward.
Lee: Right. There's like 17 twice-monthlies and 14 monthlies, so the actual title count is less than the “New 52.”
And one last thing also, Vaneta, is that we do have breaks in our schedule, where we'll decide whether or not a double-ship is working. And you might see some of these things slow down to monthly status at a later date. And we're going to be examining that on a regular basis. We're not going to keep book double-shipping if we don't think the demand is there.
Nrama: And possibly make a monthly into a twice-monthly book?
DiDio: There's no plans in that direction yet. We felt, when we looked at the titles, that we thought the ones we had in place seemed to be the strongest for the double-ships.
Lee: And you need a long, long runway to move from a monthly to a twice-monthly shipping schedule. Ironically, it actually makes the writers on twice-monthly books plan out much further in advance, because sometimes they might be starting an artist on the seventh issue while they're working on the first issue. So they need to have more visibility to where they're going, much further out than they typically would on a monthly. So it's tricky going the other way.
Nrama: Another approach you're taking is spreading out the #1 issues over the summer, as opposed to the sudden release of everything at once. I know that Marvel tends to relaunch and have events that signal change quite frequently, particularly over the last five years while you guys kind of ran with the “New 52” and then, to a smaller degree, with “DC You.” Now that you're having a status quo-altering event that goes over a few months, do you feel like the market needs that more often? Or do you think you're sticking with this another 52 issues?
Lee: I think there's a danger of diminishing returns when one goes back to the well too often. The plan is not to do that.
We want to create sustainable comics.
We realize we get an initial bump by doing first issues, but we have a long-term game plan, and everything we're doing is about retaining customers and creating demand, getting in the stores every week. And you only do that, ultimately, with great stories. That's the bottom line.
That's why we brought in Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns to work with all the individual writers and editors on their books, really focusing on these characters, deconstructing them down to their core DNA and building out story arcs based on that DNA, which really focusing on why these characters are special and unique within the DC Universe.
And even the variant covers, we're only using specialty variants with comic book shops and variant covers in judicious ways. We're not going to have a gazillion SKUs across the entire line. We find that, at that point, why publish a story inside at all, if you're just going to build a business based on variant covers.
We're still using variant covers, but we're actually using one variant cover artist for each book. They sort of get tenure, as it were. And they're going to be responsible for being the alternate cover artist on that book. And we're only doing it on our top-selling books.
Nrama: That said, Dan, I look back at — I know a lot of people got really excited about Infinite Crisis and all the mini-series leading up to that, and the "One Year Later" event. There wasn't a ton of that in the “New 52,” although you had your September events and the break for Convergence. Do you think that'll still be part of your publishing plan, as you get past the new #1 issues and get all the "new" legacy characters incorporated?
DiDio: What we'll do is look at things very much on a character-by-character, book-by-book basis first. Part of what we're doing is that we're trying to re-establish the status quo.
You mentioned before about companies doing these continuity-altering and time-altering, earth-altering, character-altering events back-to-back. The problem is that, as you keep on changing things so often, you get further and further removed from the core of what makes the character great.
This is almost like a reset. We're getting back to the basics of the character again.
It's not a reinvention. It's not a reboot. It's just going back to what the core strengths of what the characters are, reinforcing them, understanding clearly what the characters stand for, what their motivations are about, who they are.
And that way, when we start to cross them over and start to do events, you can really understand why they're participating in this story, what their role is in the story, and then hopefully how they add to the overall make-up of the entire universe.
So we've got to get these characters back to where people recognize them, are comfortable with them, and are excited by them. And then from there, we can start to move the story forward and then start to cross them out and grow the universe as a really interactive world.
Nrama: You mentioned Geoff Johns' role in this, and I've talked to a few writers who have described the process of sitting down with Geoff for some time and discussing the stories they were writing. But is Geoff not writing anything himself for Rebirth after the DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot?
DiDio: I think… you know what? As of right now, Geoff isn't writing anything. He's got a lot of other demands that have been put on him. But as you said, the good thing is that he's been directly working with the writers and working with the editorial team, and really helped spread the sensibilities we were looking for throughout the line.
Nrama: Wow, that's probably the biggest change though, with Rebirth. DC doesn't have a Geoff Johns book. I just realized it.
DiDio: Oh we realized it beforehand!
Nrama: But they're all sort of infused with Geoff Johns I guess.
Lee: Yeah he meets with the editors once a week, and we brought in writers that he sat down with for, you know, four to six hours over days, with editors and writers. And he has experience working in writers rooms, and that's very much the approach he takes with it.
So his influence is felt across the entire line. And that is a trade-off. But at the same time, I think we have some awesome stories that speak to what makes these characters so unique and exciting.
Nrama: Are we still going to have a varied multiverse going forward?
Didio: We haven't really dug into the multiverse, to be honest with you. We're really still focused on the prime DC universe, the prime world. We want to make sure we get this right.
We're still continuing our Earth 2 series, but as for an exploration of the multiverse of itself, Rebirth is really focused on our core characters, our core world.
Nrama: We've heard some hints about characters coming up, such as Captain Marvel and, as you mentioned earlier, the Justice Society. I'm surprised some of these aren't announced yet. Will we see some of these things in Geoff's Rebirth issue next week? And will we get a feel for what might be coming down the line? Or are you going to be announcing things as we go?
DiDio: What's great about Geoff's book — it's 71 pages — is that there are a lot of surprises, and there are things that are going to excite people and get them pumped up for what the future of the DC Universe might be.
But what's great about the DC Universe is that we have so many characters. And I'm going to say the same thing I said at the start of the “New 52” — you don't want to use every character right away, you don't want to put every character on the table at the start. Because you run out of places to go.
We've slowed down the roll-out of the #1's, with them occurring over a period of months. And we also want to play out how characters come back, so we make sure that everybody comes back with the same level of importance we think they deserve.
Nrama: Any characters you want to tease that are coming up?
DiDio: You'll have to talk to Jim. I'm not allowed to tease anything anymore.
Lee: No, you know, I have to acknowledge and respect Geoff Johns' wishes. His book has so many amazing reveals and twists. I think readers will want that experience that Geoff had, where you bought the comic book and didn't know what was inside until you got home and sat down and read it. And next week, I guarantee you, people are going to be blown away by this story, by all the things he sets up, and the things he teases and puts into motion.