A Closer Look at DC’s Line-Wide Relaunch:

The Big Guns

Unless you’re hiding under a rock, you’ve heard that DC is relaunching its entire super-hero line, including venerable mainstays like Action Comics and Detective Comics, in the wake of the company’s Flashpoint crossover.

There will be 52 new #1s in all, echoing a number that has come to be important in the DC Universe (which, following the weekly series 52 is said to be a multiverse composed of 52 universes). At the same time, DC has alluded to continuity changes, and it has stated that the relaunch was designed to make the characters more accessible and more diverse.

The initial resistance to the idea seems to have died down, and more fans seem to be embracing the idea than when they first heard about it. And there’s no denying that it’s a smart move, since DC’s won tremendous publicity from it, as the company rolled out new information slowly to keep the press going.

Hell, I’m even these annotations to the company’s entire relaunched line. But now that details have been released about what all of these 52 titles will be, it’s a good time to examine them together to determine what the implications are for DC’s overall line, how DC’s stated goals of diversity stack up to its offerings, and which titles look like good bets for success.

The Justice League Franchise

The first rebooted title is Justice League #1, offered on 31 August, the same day Flashpoint concludes. Justice League is written by Flashpoint‘s scribe, the talented but quite fanboy-ish Geoff Johns. He’s a smart choice, given his high profile and work on Flashpoint, not to mention that he’s responsible more than any other writer for the entire direction of the current DCU, with its regression to Silver Age status quos now certainly complete.

Equally smart is the artistic team of Jim Lee and Scott Williams, though I’m sure fans have already begun to wonder whether Lee will be able to meet the title’s monthly schedule and how long he’ll last on the title.

The new team seems to be based on the League’s founding seven members, with Martian Manhunter swapped out in favor of Cyborg. Grant Morrison used the original seven members when he began JLA, but his Flash and Green Lantern were successors to their Silver Age counterparts. Thanks to Johns’s regressing of the DC Universe, Barry Allen and Hal Jordan are back, so this is arguably a truer return to form than Morrison’s. This is another smart move, even if it’s easy to gripe about the regressions that made it possible. Few people will miss Martian Manhunter, who was always the weakest link in terms of popularity and has never been able to sustain his own title for long. (To a lesser extent, neither has Aquaman, but DC’s making another go at that, hence his presence here.)

Cyborg has likely been included because he’s black, or at least that’s what fans suspect, given that DC’s announced that its rebooted titles are intended to be more diverse. Cyborg’s been a part of the League before, so his presence is neither revolutionary nor an unacceptable shift for the title. He should play well with the others.

For the record, this is the fourth time the League has been relaunched: the first was after crisis (as Justice League, then as Justice League International), the second was for Morrison’s JLA, and the third was (as Justice League of America) after Infinite Crisis, only a few years ago.

The Justice League franchise has been popular on and off since the Silver Age, and it’s often spawned spin-off titles. This relaunched DC Universe is no exception.

The first of these is Justice League International, featuring many of the characters from that period. It’s a period still much beloved by fans, an the characters from that period have been teamed up routinely in the past several years (most recently in Justice League: Generation Lost). Some characters, like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, have even gotten their own new series, though both have now ended, the latter immediately before this line relaunch.

Booster Gold was helmed by that character’s creator, Dan Jurgens, who’s writing this new Justice League International series, which features art by Aaron Lopresti. This series might thus be considered a successor to Booster Gold, and readers of that title will probably migrate to this one, along with Justice League fans, especially those who are fond of this era. Add Batman into the mix (perfectly reasonable, since he did participate in the classic era to which the title refers), and you’ve got a title likely to sell at least decently well, even if it’s unlikely to wow the critics.

For the record, this team is said to consist of Batman, Booster Gold, Green Lantern Guy Gardner, August General in Iron, Fire, Ice, Vixen, and Rocket Red.

A bit more puzzling is Justice League Dark, the title of which has already drawn criticism for being ludicrous. In fact, it’s unclear how much this will even be a Justice League title, and the name may simply be an attempt to pull in readers. The title is actually part of DC’s revived magic initiative, which will be using many characters previously published by the company’s Vertigo imprint under a “mature readers” label, a move that has fans justifiably nervous. Justice League Dark thus mixes DC magical characters Deadman and Madame Xanadu with Vertigo mainstays John Constantine and Shade, the Changing Man.

Getting the tone right, in this as in all of the Vertigo imports, will be key. It’s therefore at least a bit reassuring that the series is written by the always able Peter Milligan, who not only has written extensively for Vertigo (having created the incarnation of Shade, the Changing Man used in this series) but has written offbeat super-hero material (most prominently creating Marvel’s X-Statix) before. If he’s allowed a bit of free reign, this title may end up being surprisingly successful, at least critically; on the other hand, this could end up being a train wreck.

Art for the series is by Mikel Janin, with covers by Ryan Sook.

Notably absent among the relaunches is any Justice Society title (although Society member Mister Terrific gets his own title). I initially guessed, given how badly DC’s attempts to get rid of the Society after Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zero Hour had backfired, and given how Geoff Johns, currently quite influential at DC, had championed and revitalized the Society, that the omission of a Justice Society title was likely a reflection of the fact that Justice League of America was seen to have floundered a bit after Johns’s departure. It now seems that, in DC’s rebooted continuity, Superman was the first super-hero — a status he hasn’t held since Crisis on Infinite Earths put almost two whole two generations between the World War II-era Society and Superman’s debut. DC has hinted that the Justice Society will return, however, suggesting that it will be in another universe, perhaps one closer to the pre-Crisis Earth-2.

The Batman Franchise

Batman has had a lot of series over the years. But those have run alongside Batman and Detective Comics, which have never been rebooted. That’s about to change.

Also about to change is the overall direction of the Batman titles. After Bruce Wayne / Batman’s apparent death in Final Crisis, former Robin (then Nightwing) Dick Grayson took over as Batman. Wayne returned, but left Grayson as Gotham’s Batman, while Wayne went around the world and recruited international versions of Batman, in an attempt to brand himself like a corporation. All these changes were helmed by celebrated writer Grant Morrison, who had migrated from Batman to Batman and Robin and then to Batman, Inc.

With the relaunch, DC seems to be taking a “back-to-basics” approach. Its description of Batman #1 reads, “In the series, Bruce Wayne once again becomes the only character taking on the Batman name.”

The new Batman is written by Scott Snyder, with art by Greg Capullo, who is known for his work on Spawn for Image Comics and who has never worked for DC before.

The new Detective Comics is written and illustrated by Tony S. Daniel, who’s been working on Batman for a few years now. DC’s description gets some mileage out of pointing out that, because Batman didn’t appear until the original Detective Comics #27, this will be the first first issue (if that makes sense) of Detective Comics in which Batman will appear.

Accompanying these two is Batman and Robin, written by Peter J. Tomasi, with art and covers by Pat Gleason. In its original incarnation, the title was conceived as a way to explore the relationship between Dick Grayson, then newly Batman (for the second time, actually), and Damien, his illegitimate child raised by super-criminals. Since it’s part of DC’s Bruce-Wayne-is-the-only-Batman approach for the relaunch, this second incarnation of the title will star Bruce Wayne as Batman and, in a surprise, Damien as Robin. (Meaning that it’s essentially Batman and Son, the title of Morrison’s initial arc on Batman in the 2000s.)

The fourth core Batman title is Batman: The Dark Knight, which is getting a relaunch after only a few issues. In fact, the current title has run quite late, and fans are concerned whether its storyline will be concluded prior to the relaunch. David Finch remains as writer and artist of the title, and it’s largely his artwork which has made the title so commercially successful. Doubtlessly, it will continue to be so.

DC has announced that Grant Morrison’s Batman, Inc. will also continue, although it won’t be relaunched. It’s not clear how the series will fit into the Bruce-Wayne-is-the-only-Batman mandate, since the series is all about the opposite, though it’s possible that it will conclude its run and entirely place before Flashpoint.

In addition to these four relaunched titles starring (or co-starring Batman), the Batman franchise has seven additional titles, for a total of eleven, just under 20% of all the relaunched titles. And that’s not counting Batman, Inc. (or any forthcoming Batman mini-series or specials).

Interestingly, the two of the seven Bat-family titles that have gotten the most buzz both star female characters. Two more of the seven also star women, adding up to a majority of these titles. In addition, one also stars a black character, so it’s clear that the Bat-family titles are to be the location of much of DC’s push for diversity. That said, there are a number of complaints about these specific choices.

By far the most controversial of DC’s relaunches has been Batgirl, because it stars Barbara Gordon, who’s been paralyzed in a wheelchair since 1988, acting instead as the hero Oracle. The implications of this, both for disabilities and for DC’s regressivism, are profound, and I’ve already explored them here. But it’s worth mentioning that, in terms of DC’s stated goals of diversity, it may gain a successful title starring a woman at the cost of its most successful disabled heroes.

The title is written by the quite capable Gail Simone, who wrote Oracle’s most fondly-remembered stories, and features art by Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes, with beautiful covers by Adam Hughes.

The second Bat-title with the most buzz is the long-awaited Batwoman, written by J.H. Williams III and Haden Blackman, with art on the initial story arc by Amy Reeder, with covers by Williams. The title, which spins out of Batwoman’s back-ups by writer Greg Rucka and art by Williams, was announced about a year ago with much fanfare, based on the stunning success of those back-ups and on Williams’s art. It’s surely a title to watch, but critical expectations run high with this one. Whether the final product sells or wins critical acclaim remains to be seen.

There’s also a new Catwoman series, written by Judd Winick with art by Guillem March. The character’s costume hasn’t changed, and there’s no sign of much in the way of a new direction, outside of being new-reader-friendly.

More ominously, while ostensibly part of DC’s push for diversity, the cover of the first issue features Catwoman, high atop a building, apparently after another of her heists. Nothing untraditional there, at least for the character, even if she and the discarded elements of her costume appear to defy gravity just a bit. Upon closer examination, however, she seems to be keeping her stolen diamonds in what looks like a bright blue condom. And she’s dripping those white diamonds all over her chest and arms, cavalierly letting them fall to the (inexplicably neon pink) city below. The illogic of a jewel thief discarding her loot is less of a problem than that the bright white diamonds are an obvious stand-in for semen. If critics only knew this qualified as diversity, they’d have been praising hardcore pornography for years.

Rounding out the female-starring (I won’t say female-dominant) Bat-title is a relaunch of Birds of Prey, a team book entirely starring female characters that has always been somewhat tertiary to the Bat-universe. The relaunch is written by Duane Swierczynski, with artist Jesus Saiz.

Next up, we have Bat-titles starring Batman’s first and second Robin, respectively. The first is a new Nightwing series, written by Kyle Higgins, with art by Eddie Barrows. There’s nothing new here, outside of Dick Grayson stepping down as Batman and reassuming his old identity as Nightwing, complete with a retooled costume. But Grayson has a strong following, and Nightwing consistently seems to sell adequately, baffling outsider who see the character as a cheap Batman stand-in with a dearth of memorable stories. Expect that to continue.

Meanwhile, Jason Todd, the martyred second Robin who was brought back in the mid-2000s as an anti-hero, sometimes going by the Red Hood, is back in Red Hood and the Outlaws, written by Scott Lobdell, best known for his 1990s work on Marvel’s X-Men (and who’s also writing (The Teen Titans and Superboy as part of the relaunch). Lobdell is joined by artist Kenneth Rocafort. In the series, the Red Hood “finds himself unwillingly elected as the leader of an all-new team of outlaw vigilantes,” which includes Starfire and former Green Arrow sidekick Arsenal, neither of whom have been known for taking the law into their own hands before. If this one lasts more than a year and a half, without a massive redirection, or gets any above-average reviews, it should be counted a success.

Absent in these offerings for former Robins, for the first time since the 1990s, is a Robin title starring Tim Drake, who had been Robin before Bruce Wayne’s disappearance. Judging by Batman and Robin, it looks like Damien will continue in that role, despite Bruce Wayne’s return. Where this leaves Tim Drake is anyone’s guess, though he’s been confirmed to be alive in the continuity of these relaunched titles, since he’s participating in the relaunched Teen Titans.

The final Bat-title is instead Batwing, starring a black version of Batman introduced in Grant Morrison’s Batman, Inc. Obviously, this indicates that DC’s Bruce-Wayne-is-the-only-Batman mandate is to be interpreted rather broadly. The series is obviously intended to echo DC’s diversity mandate, and it’s official description includes this:

This September, join with us in this historic moment when the first black character to wear the Batman mantle will be the first to star in his own ongoing series.

The series is written by Judd Winick, with art and covers by Ben Oliver.

With eleven Bat-titles, it’s a sad statement about comics readership that DC doesn’t attempt to combine some of these. Surely, readers don’t need the same amount of Catwoman, Nightwing, and Red Hood each month, nor are creators likely to come up with the same amount of great (or even good) stories for each. Logic would seem to dictate that some of these could be combined or turned into back-up features of varying length, which would also give DC more flexibility than a monthly, fixed-format title does. The result would also be cheaper for readers. But logic holds little weight with comics readers, who tend to eschew back-ups and anthologies (as I’ve complained about before).

The Green Lantern Franchise

With a feature film coming out shortly, all eyes are on the Green Lantern franchise, which has exploded in the last half decade under writer Geoff Johns — and which is, more than anything, the work on which Johns’s reputation rests. Since the Green Lantern titles are doing well commercially, DC doesn’t seem particularly interested in upsetting the apple cart.

First up is a relaunched Green Lantern, written by Johns, with art by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy, with covers by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado. The series, which stars Green Lantern Hal Jordan, promises “change,” but it’s not clear what change hat might be, with the same writer in place as before the relaunch.

The spin-off title Green Lantern Corps similarly continues with its existing writer, Peter J. Tomasi, with art by Fernando Pasarin and Scott Hanna, with covers by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy. The series stars fellow Green Lanterns Guy Gardner and John Stewart, the latter of whom is black and may count towards DC’s stated goal of diversity.

The new Green Lantern: The New Guardians, written by Tony Bedard with art and covers by Tyler Kirkham and Batt, focuses on a new team of characters using the old “New Guardians” moniker, previously used for a Green Lantern spin-off in the 1980s.  This time around, the team seems to be composed of members of the various rainbow-colored, emotionally-connected outer-space teams that Johns has created, led by Green Lantern Kyle Rayner. (The figures in the cover are blacked-out… presumably because someone might recognize them. Or care.)

Red Lanterns focuses on another segment of that outer-space rainbow, this one being the Red Lanterns, led by Atrocitus. This series may well be particularly successful, since it is written by the able Peter Milligan and illustrated by the celebrated Ed Benes, aided by inker Rob Hunter.

The Superman Franchise

Once upon a time, Superman was bigger than Batman. That hasn’t really been true since the 1980s, but the gap between the two has especially increased since the mid-1990s, when both franchises were greatly expanding. (That was also the last time Green Lantern had a big franchise, except it was contracting exactly while Batman and Superman were expanding.) In the 2000s, the core Superman titles, which once numbered four, dwindled just to two (the long-running Action Comics and Superman), while the wider Superman-family also contracted. Of course, there was also the fairly successful team-up book Superman / Batman.

That’s gone now, in the wake of the relaunch. Superman keeps two titles, Supergirl stays afloat, and Superboy gets his own title for the first time in many years.

By far the most interesting of these — and perhaps the most interesting title in DC’s entire relaunch — is the new Action Comics, helmed by writer Grant Morrison. Anything Morrison does is worth exploring, and his All Star Superman has been hailed as one of the few classic Superman stories of the past couple decades. In fact, Morrison was part of a group of writers (also including Mark Millar, Mark Waid, and Tom Peyer) who sought in 1998 to take over the (then four) Superman titles. So taking over Action Comics, especially as that historic title is relaunched, must be a dream come true for Morrison. And whereas he’s sometimes been saddled with some less-than-stellar artists, he’s joined on Action Comics by the excellent Rags Morales (of Identity Crisis fame).

The first issue, at least, is also extra-long.

Details are sketchy, but DC promises that “This momentous first issue will set in motion the history of the DC Universe as Superman defends a world that doesn’t trust their [sic] first Super Hero.” Interviews have also suggested that the story will retell Superman’s origins.

(DC’s description also includes what seems like a call for speculators to buy the issue: “The first Action Comics #1 is now the most sought-after comic book of all time.” Any comparison between the two #1s, of course, ignores the fact that the first Action Comics #1 is valuable because it is scarce, since comics, then seen as disposable pablum, were rarely preserved carefully in 1938, were printed on cheap paper that decayed quickly, and were recycled en masse during World War II. Such citations, ignoring these differences, are common among those trying to encourage people to buy comics as an investment, or among publishers encouraging fans to buy multiple copies for the same reason. It’s in DC’s interest to make such statements, and the company only states a fact, letting readers draw the obvious but erroneous inference. Critics and the public, however, have an obligation to warn people not to draw precisely this same inference.)

While less star-packed, Superman: The Man of Tomorrow is nonetheless written by the legendary George Pérez, who has issued statements clarifying that he is also laying out the artwork for this series. Over these layouts, Jesus Merino will provide the finished art.

Unlike most other relaunches, this one promises a “startling new status quo” for the character. It’s unclear what this might mean, but it’s worth noting that the accompanying cover image not only features Superman on a rampage, apparently demolishing the Daily Planet building, but also features a revised costume, with a different belt and with quasi-futuristic boots.

According to rumor, Superman is going to be de-aged as part of the relaunch, making him considerably younger than he has been. Perhaps his earliest adventures, in the current continuity, are going to be said to have occurred to Superboy instead.

It’s also worth noting that, for the first time since 1939 (excluding three months following Superman’s 1993 death), DC will not be publishing a title called simply Superman.

Supergirl also gets a costume makeover, as her new series launches, courtesy of writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson, with art by Mahmud Asrar.

Meanwhile, Superboy returns in his own series, after a long delay, during which he was killed (in Infinite Crisis) and brought back (nobody stays dead in super-hero comics, but nobody especially doesn’t stay dead in recent DC comics). Reportedly, this was because of the successful lawsuits brought by Superman’s creators. (The history of Superman’s copyright is a long one; for a good introduction, click here.)

This new series clearly stars the DC Universe’s most recent Superboy, a clone of Superman and Lex Luthor (though the latter is subject to change, the issue’s description does call Superboy “a combination of Kryptonian and human DNA.” The series is written by Scott Lobdell (who’s also writing Red Hood and the Outlaws and The Teen Titans for the relaunch), with art by R.B. Silva and Rob Lean.

The Big Guns without Franchises

The new Flash is helmed by Francis Manapul, the artist who was working with Geoff Johns on the title prior to this relaunch. In fact, Flash was only recently relaunched under Johns, and his departure for this new one is a bit disconcerting. True, Johns already had a long run with the character, back before he was a huge name. But he returned to bring back Barry Allen as Flash in Flash: Rebirth and then in a relaunched series, which received lukewarm reviews. Now that the series is getting relaunched yet again, Johns’s departure may hurt the title, especially when contrasted to his long-term commitment to Green Lantern.  In lieu of Johns, DC has elected to promote its artist, Francis Manapul, to both writer and artist status, now aided in both by Brian Buccellato.

For this event, Flash’s costume has received a small redesign, apparently at the hands of Jim Lee. It’s a minor element, but Flash’s newly-added chin guard looks ridiculous, especially when its size is exaggerated, as in his depiction on the cover of the new Justice League #1.

The early issues of Flash are likely to sell well, coming off of a crossover based around the character. How the title fares six months or a year later is another story.

This is the fourth relaunch for the title, having previously been relaunched (with a different character, Wally West, in the title role) after Crisis on Infinite Earths, then again (with a different character, Bart Allen, in the title role) after Infinite Crisis, and then again after Johns’s Flash: Rebirth cemented Barry Allen’s return. So while this is the fifth Flash title, it’s only the third to star Barry Allen.

The new Wonder Woman title is scripted by Brian Azzarello, perhaps still best known for his Vertigo series 100 Bullets. He’s a talented writer, here accompanied by artist Cliff Chiang. Not much is known about the new title, though it will keep Jim Lee’s controversial recent redesign of the character. In fact, Lee’s (largely modestly) redesigning characters across the entire line for this relaunch. Even his redesign (and J. Michael Straczynski’s writing) didn’t spark much interest in the character, whose announced TV series was recently cancelled prior to production. Azzarello and Chiang aren’t likely to change this.

This is the character’s third relaunch. The first was after Crisis on Infinite Earths and the second after Infinite Crisis.

Read the Rest

This examination of DC’s line-wide relaunch has two other installments:

Tomorrow’s “The Rest of the Super-Heroes” examines the rest of DC’s new super-hero offerings, including a promising new Aquaman series, new WildStorm-based titles such as Stormwatch, and many more.

The next day’s “Non-Super-Hero Offerings” examines the relaunch’s ostensibly non-super-hero titles, including (1) its “dark” magic initiative (tied to the above Justice League Dark), which incorporates some Vertigo characters into the DCU, and (2) the relaunch’s three non-super-hero, non-supernatural titles.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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