How can one not discuss DC’s Rebirth? It is the topic of conversation at multiple industry tables. At the moment, DC walks a threadbare tightrope from its current shaky status to that of a healthy role as an IP farm for multiple mediums. Perhaps I am optimistic, but I firmly believe DC can make this work. I also believe that this is their last chance to do so without the upheaval of a regime change to ensure the faith of retailers and readers.
However, should there be a regime change? Geoff Johns would not be ousted. Can you think of another creator who is as adept at strip-mining the works of Alan Moore for mass-market appeal? Is there another who could take a half-formed idea buried in the detritus of 30 years of continuity and polish it into a brass (power) ring for retailers to grasp? Morrison perhaps. Waid maybe. But none with the company loyalty and love that Johns has for DC. None so wholeheartedly drenched in Americana and the superheroic as Johns. He is the best man for the job.
He has done what some consider the unthinkable, but what any individual who has followed the industry would know to be the inevitable—not only folding Moore’s Watchmen characters within the DC universe but possibly setting them up to be the literary scapegoats for the darker themes and changes that so many have been unhappy with during DC’s recent Flashpoint, New 52, and DC You upheavals. Indie darlings might gasp as DC handles Moore’s work as a music mogul would a dead rapper’s catalog, but company men know that Moore is going to be rightfully dissatisfied no matter what they do. And as my grandmother always said, I’d rather wipe my tears with a linen handkerchief than a wad of tissues. If one is to be lambasted by Moore in the press, it might as well be over something fantastically lucrative for all involved.
That said, the preceding move would be a gift to independent companies such as Image and a damaging blow to Vertigo should measures not be taken to counteract it. What creator would be insane enough to bring his characters to Vertigo given how DC has treated Moore? That is certainly the question I would ask loudly and repeatedly were I Eric Stephenson or Mike Richardson. And I would certainly want to control how that question is answered were I Dan Didio. DC needs an arena where non-superheroic IP can flourish and later be harvested by television and film. And that arena is Vertigo.
Unlike the oft-neglected imprint that is Marvel’s Icon, Vertigo can still be of value and its name carries fond memories and industry recognition. DC will need to put money and effort into Vertigo to keep Rebirth from being its death knell. I would target notable indie creators by offering solid, fair contracts and what Image cannot provide—cash in advance. There is no way a new wave at Vertigo armed with anchors such as Ennis and Morrison but also surprise acquisitions like Sophie Campbell or Nilah Magruder would not be successful. Bringing in independent editors (Karen Berger, Joseph Illidge, Jay Rachel Edidin) to make said creators feel more at home would be an even wiser move.
We simply cannot talk about a rebirth for DC without discussing the elephant in the room. There are still men working at DC who make women feel uncomfortable. Until those men have been removed from the company or have been quarantined in a dead-end department—one that does not affect the career trajectories of these women—the future of DC appears grim. Yes, DC can successfully woo back a decidedly white, male, and aging “Wednesday crowd” with the return of Wally and company. In fact, they should take great pains to do so because those readers are important (though small in number) and dependable. But to try to build a new world for the future without the input of women given female literacy rates and purchasing power? A world that includes female icons such as Wonder Woman and Catwoman? To try to revolutionize an American entertainment company that fields accusations of being dated without the input of African Americans—a group that American youth are almost frighteningly (and exhaustingly, to be honest) obsessed with? One is simply doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. How sad it would be to go to the well for the last time only to water a fresh crop of “Dad’s Comics” destined to drop to 20,000 a month in sales.
Rebirth will keep the home fires burning. From the gorgeous previews released the work appears to be the classic soapy serial longed for since the conclusion of Blackest Night. I like it. Others love it. DC needs to dig in and build on that good will immediately. But it also needs to impress upon new readers and potential audiences that it will keep and nurture the best of the New 52 and DC You as well. How can it accomplish this? Through digital initiatives and a careful reconstruction of its B-list with eyes focused on current and future demographics. Tradition and diversity are not mutually exclusive concepts. Though DC sadly did not cash in on the ‘70s Blaxploitation and Asian martial arts crazes that afforded Marvel the lion’s share of its multicultural mid-tier IPs, characters such as Ms. Marvel show that it is never too late to begin building. Luckily for DC, its animation department has provided it with a phenomenal foundation.
Perhaps it is due to my tendency to root for the underdog, but I hope that DC is able to arrive on the other side of Rebirth successful and stable. I hope it can rid itself of the problems that plague it during the journey. Only time—and a carefully calculated marketing strategy—will tell.