This week everything changes for the DC comics universe again… kind of. All the talk of DC Rebirth lately—especially the recent news about events kicking off this new story—might have you a bit unsure of what’s ahead for Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, and friends. But don’t worry! We’re here to explain exactly what’s going on.
It’s Not a Reboot
Lets get the obvious one out of the way. When DC first began teasing Rebirth months ago, everyone assumed—including us!—that the initial scuttlebutt of the branding meant that the controversial “New 52″ reboot that had began in 2011 and wiped out the continuity of almost three decades of comics, was coming to an end.
Then they revealed a few weeks after all that rumor-mongering came about that it was in fact not a reboot, which just left people confused as to just what the hell it all means for the DC comics. So what does that mean?
This Means This Is Still the New 52
For all of DC’s talk about Rebirth bringing back the legacy of the pre-New 52 universe to the comics, this is still the same universe we were introduced to in 2011—and mreost importantly, this means that all the crazy stuff that DC have been doing in their comics recently still all happened, and matters to the journey of their characters.
Wonder Woman is still the god of war. The Justice League still had Darkseid War, and all the god-induced madness that that entailed. Bruce Wayne still died, came back, and let Jim Gordon be Mecha-Batman for a bit while before returning to the bat-mantle.
It also means Superman still got his identity exposed and lost most of his powers, setting him on a path of personal exploration (and general misery). But about that…
Superman Is Dying
Before Superman went on this rollercoaster of a journey over the last year, we need to take a quick step back. Last year, DC’s summer event Convergence placated fans still upset at losing the Pre-52 versions of their favorite characters by bringing them back for brief miniseries of comics, culminating in the DC Multiverse—the collection of alternate realities that was closed off when the New 52 began—being restored in the new canon.
One of those Convergence series, Superman: Lois and Clark, focused on the old Superman, who was still married to Lois Lane and had a son named Jonathan. It was so popular that DC brought it back in the New 52, meaning that there was now two Supermen running around: the version of Clark Kent that had been in existence since 2011, i.e. the “main” Superman, and now the classic Superman from the old DC comic universe. This classic Superman decided to operate in secret, hiding Lois and Jon—now the White family, rather than the Kent family—away and trying to prevent some of his greatest villains from coming to prominence in this new universe.
But when DC officially revealed its slate of DC Rebirth comics, there were a bunch featuring Superman… except it wasn’t the New 52 Superman. It was the old Superman from Lois and Clark, and the current Superman was nowhere to be found. There’s a reason for that: the Superman of the New 52 is dying. After the events of the past year put Clark through hell, the toll placed on his body during his final fight with Vandal Savage (and the regaining of his powers) being the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
With a countdown to his demise ticking—and about to conclude in this week’s Superman #52—Clark has been on a trek saying goodbye to his friends and allies. But there’s also been some mysterious forces coming into play that will see Superman’s powers be passed on to other people. Clark himself is currently battling one such human who now thinks he’s the real Superman, but it’s also going to lead to the creation of a new Chinese Super-Man: Kenan Kong, leader of China’s answer to the Justice League.
There’s a Big Twist Going on With the New 52
While Rebirth is still very much still in the New 52, recent news has confirmed that the story arc will delve back into the Flashpoint event that rebooted DC’s continuity into the New 52 in 2011. Turns out there was something rather nefarious going on in the creation of this universe—and there’s a surprising antagonist behind it.
Yesterday DC revealed two elements at play in this week’s release of DC Rebirth #1, the one-shot comic book that will kick off the story of this new era. One is the return of the original Wally West/Kid Flash, who has been missing in the New 52 (he was replaced by a new Wally, a bi-racial speedster) since its beginning. This original Wally will be a herald to the heroes of the world, warning that a mysterious entity altered the fabric of time when the new universe was made in Flashpoint—stealing 10 years of history from the world and rendering the heroes of the DC universe brand new novices when the New 52 began, rather than the legends they were.
The other element is the culprit behind that manipulation: the godlike star of Alan Moore’s Watchmen series, Doctor Manhattan. Speaking to USA Today about the reveal, DC executive Geoff Johns confirmed that the move will see the heroes and events of Watchmen, long separate from DC’s wider universe, merged into DC continuity—a story arc, including Manhattan’s seemingly antagonistic nature, that will unfold over the next few years.
New Books and New Teams
So while Superman’s turmoil and the arrival of Doctor Manhattan might be the biggest change going on in the pages of the comics, Rebirth has plenty of big changes are happening behind the scenes, too, in a move to bring a more diverse series of creatives into DC’s current staff of writers and artists.
Pretty much every comic continuing from the current slate into Rebirth will have a new team of writers and artists associated to it, from Action Comics to Wonder Woman, on top of the new series joining the line-up, like Batgirl and the Birds of Prey or The New Super-Man. If you want to see a breakdown of all the creative teams DC announced for Rebirth, you can check them out here.
Which Means Some Comics Are Canceled
All these new comics and shifting creative teams means that some of DC’s current series are going away. Hardest hit are many of the comics introduced just last year in DC You, which was a publishing initiative that set out to bring in a more diverse range of comics and characters to DC’s slate, as well as experiment with their biggest characters (DC You was where Superman lost his powers and Jim Gordon became Batman, for example).
Titles like Black Canary, Dinah Lance’s punk-rock-aesthetic solo series, or Midnighter, starring a fascinating gay superhero, or the James-Bond-ish adventures of former Robin Dick Grayson in Grayson are nowhere to be found in the new line-up. As some of their staffs have been confirmed as writing other comics, there’s quite a few of DC’s current series that won’t be returning after Rebirth begins in earnest.
So Why Bother?
If it’s not a reboot, and we’re just getting some new creative teams and a few new books, why bother with all the hype? DC would love to tell you that this change is happening to shake things up in a fresh, exciting manner, and bring back some fan-favorite concepts from their old comics that went away in the New 52. In a way, they’d be right.
But honestly, the real reason is that DC You’s launch last year has been a spectacular flop in terms of sales, despite critical praise. (In my opinion, DC has been putting out some of their best new comics in years with the likes of Prez, Midnighter, The Omega Men, and more, and they’ve been experimenting with their traditional characters in really interesting ways.) But those new series haven’t just been selling poorly, they’ve been barely selling at all—in the latest figures we have for physical comic sales, many DC You series are struggling to sell more than 15,000 copies, while DC’s most popular series are selling 40-50,000 in comparison.
So think of Rebirth as DC You take two. It’s change, but change rooted in keeping the status quo of what currently works for the company, while cutting the more experimental, diverse series that hadn’t been selling—while tossing in die-hard, fan-friendly bonuses like the return of the classic Superman, and new stories with the cast of Wathcmen.
It won’t be long now before we find out if it’s a success or not. Rebirth begins this Wednesday, May 25th, with a special introductory comic, with the first wave of new series kicking off in June.
A version of this article was published April 5th, 2016.