With the DC Comics Rebirth a colossal success for the company, you might think Geoff Johns knew it would work all along... but the truth is, he was the first person to doubt whether it would really work. That's hard to believe, given just how powerful Johns's own DC Universe Rebirth #1 issue was, kicking off the entire Rebirth/Watchmen mystery still looming over the DC Universe while paying unparalleled levels of fan service. Not to mention paving the way for undoing the errors of DC's New 52.
There were some who doubted the event when it was first announced, seeing it as yet another comic book reboot in an industry obsessed with erasing what came before for the sake of 'new.' But Geoff Johns was among the first to tackle those complaints on a personal level, famously promising to buy any disappointed Rebirth reader's comic back out of his own pocket. There was no need in the end, as Rebirth stunned fans, kicking off runaway sales numbers for DC Comics in the following months.
But as Johns explained at San Diego Comic-Con, he was also unsure about the publisher's intentions, particularly the use of the "Rebirth" tag that he had made so iconic in the history of DC. When the launch of the Rebirth was raised by DC co-publisher Dan DiDio as now clearly in the rearview mirror, Johns revealed that the relaunch's origins weren't the no-brainer or 'course correction' from Johns that some may have believed:
The DC Rebirth Special... you know, my first reaction was, 'I don't want to call anything Rebirth. That's the name that's on Green Lantern: Rebirth and Flash: Rebirth, I don't want anything else to use it.' And [Dan DiDio] said, 'Yeah but it's such a great name and it means so much.' And I said, 'Well, let me tell you what it means.' And the more I talked about what 'rebirth' the word meant to me, the problem was... Well actually, it would really work [Laughs].
In hindsight, the fact that Johns felt ownership over the "Rebirth" title is a fitting reflection of the immediate response from some fans. Geoff Johns had personally crafted Green Lantern: Rebirth and The Flash: Rebirth out of deeply personal affection for the characters, so DC branding what looked to be another New 52-esque reboot with the same idea brought accusations of trading on Johns's accomplishments. Of course, once the ball got rolling, Johns was left making the same clarifications he had to the first time around: the DC Rebirth was not a reboot at all.
As Johns clarified later in the conversation, he's not a fan of "negating" the stories that have come before. His Green Lantern event was about returning Hal Jordan to the hero he once had been. And the same was true for The Flash star Barry Allen. History may see Johns's own DC Universe Rebirth#1 as him personally launching the creative surge to lend credibility to all other titles, and dropping the first clues of the larger Watchmen story coming in Doomsday Clock. But as he explains, his penning of a first issue - and the well-chronicled creative summits he held with each Rebirth title's creative teams that preceded it - had just as organic a beginning:
I said, 'Dan if you want to do this, I feel some ownership over the word, and I know what it means to me. And I really want to communicate what it means to me to all the creators and artists that will be working on this stuff, so that we can have a cohesive universe.' And to do that, I needed to write something to kick it off, and I thought a one-shot-- I said 'I'm going to write the BEST one-shot I could possibly write.'
An issue that wouldn't just, for me, put the heart back in the DCU, but make people almost cry, or cry when Wally West gets pulled out of the Speed Force. Because to me, I was like, 'I need a personification of what I'm feeling is lost, and I need to feel like it's almost ripped away, then I need to feel like it's not because it's too strong and powerful to ever go away... Once the story came to me, the story didn't change from the day I pitched to Dan.
The results are hard to dispute, since the nearly universal praise that poured onto social media and into comic book reviews confirmed Johns and DC had achieved their goal. The enthusiasm surrounding the DC Rebirth skyrocketed, with the moment shared between Wally West and Barry Allen among the most emotionally praised. To know that the obscure, fan service moments of Rebirth's first issue were there from the start is at once hard to believe, and exactly what fans have come to expect when Johns pens a universe-spanning story.
In the end, it was one more example of why DiDio and Johns have proven a powerful editorial team in recent years. Not to mention a good sign of how Geoff Johns may raise the DCEU up by sharing his inspiration, as opposed to micromanaging. Now, what the DC Rebirth will mean for the DCEU... that's a question we're eager to see answered in the coming years.